Thursday, June 5, 2008

Personal Application of Joseph F. Smith's Advice on Boys Learning to Sing Before Missions

I came across this great advice from Joseph F. Smith at the October 1899 Conference that encourages young men to learn to sing before their missions a few years back. I was doing some missionary research for M. Russell Ballard and happened to come across it. I noticed that my primary aged son hardly ever sang in church so I decided to give him a form of hard mediation. I knew it was something that Joseph F. Smith would approve of.

I will share the quote and then my application. Joseph F. Smith related this:

"A certain incident was brought forcibly to my mind while Brother McMurrin was talking to us. Not long ago President [Lorenzo] Snow and his party attended a Stake conference, and I noticed that the choir was made up almost entirely of young ladies. There were perhaps two young men. One young man led the choir, and I do not remember clearly whether there was one young man in the choir or not besides the leader; but all the rest were young ladies. It was a beautiful choir, and they sang beautifully, but the absence of male voices was very conspicuous, notwithstanding. I believe during one of the services the leader of the choir was absent, and one of the young ladies had to step forward and lead it. I inquired why it was that the young men were not more numerous in that company of singers, and was told that the young men considered it was too effeminate, too womanly, for them to engage in the occupation of singing. I presume they might have felt more at home shaking the quilts, sweeping the floors, and helping to wash the dishes. I can remember when I was a little boy, hearing my father sing. I do not know how much of a singer he was, for at that time I was not capable of judging as to the quality of his singing, but the hymns he sang became familiar to me, even in the days of my childhood. I believe that I can sing them still, although I am not much of a singer. When young men go out into the world to preach the Gospel, they will find it very beneficial for them to know how to sing the songs of Zion. I repeat the admonition and request made by Brother McMurrin, who has recently returned from a lengthy mission to Europe, that the young men who are eligible to preach the Gospel, and who are liable to be called into the missionary field, begin at once to improve their talent to sing, and do not think it is beneath their dignity to join the choirs of the wards in which they live and learn how to sing. When we listen to this choir, under the leadership of Brother Stephens, we listen to music, and music is truth. Good music is gracious praise of God. It is delightsome to the, ear, and it is one of our most acceptable methods of worshipping God. And those who sing in this choir and in all the choirs of the Saints, should sing with the spirit and with the understanding. They should not sing merely because it is a profession, or because they have a good voice; but they should sing also because they have the spirit of it and can enter into the spirit of prayer and praise to God who gave them their sweet voices. My soul is always lifted up and my spirit cheered and comforted when I hear good music. I rejoice in it very much indeed. Now, I would like to encourage the young men of Israel to learn to sing, and especially those young men of whom I have been speaking. I would not like to tell you just where they live, because it might be considered a little personal, but it was down south; it was not very far down south either. It was somewhere near Sanpete Valley. I want the young men of Sanpete Valley to learn how to sing, so that when we go down to hold conference there again we can have the young men joining with the young women in the choir, and not leave the young women to do all the singing. This might apply also to all the other counties; especially should it apply to those counties or Stakes of Zion where the young men think it is beneath their dignity and their manhood to learn how to sing. I hope they will rise above such a foolish notion as this."

Even though that was nearly one hundred years ago I think it still has some value today. I had always encouraging my son to sing. My wife and I sang with our children in family home evening for years. Our daughters would play the hymns on the piano almost well enough for us to sing. My son I noticed would sing softly or not at all for many years. I decided I needed to teach him a lesson. Even though I am not the greatest singer I devised a nefarious plot to make him sing. Here is how it works. If I noticed my son not singing in Church I would tell him if I you don't start singing now and I can't hear you then you will have to sing with me later at home.

Usually that didn't get the desired result so later in the evening I would call him out in to the living room. I can't site read nor do I play any instrument so I can only approximate a hymn. I would make him lay down on the floor since I would be laying on the couch. I would hand him a green hymn book and then I would start on page one and try to sing as many hymns as I could in about an hour. You can imagine how embarrassed the kid was. The first time or two that I did it we literally sang for two hours. I wouldn't let him quit until he was singing to my satisfaction. This went on for about two or three years. As the years rolled by it started getting less and less until up until this last year he sang pretty regularly in church. Then I myself stopped singing for a few months and we fell out of the practice. Now that he is a deacon I realize it is time to start over. I figure we need those special bonding times and that the Lord doesn't care about the quality of our singing but that we are singing.

I remember from my mission that the coolest missionaries are those that can play the piano and sing they get all the good looking sister missionaries swarming around them like bees to honey. I want my son to be one of the cool missionaries who women flock to even if he can't do anything about it. I am going to make him play the piano again so he will be a well-rounded missionaries. It is the little things that make the difference between an average missionary and a superior missionary. I would hate to see the kid go through what I experienced as a missionary being unable to sing a hymn on tune. I wouldn't wish that on any kid of mine nor for that matter any kid of anyone else. If I have to I going to get him a vocal coach before his mission.

You might wonder why I am so fanatical about this matter. I want to relate something that happened to me as a kid growing up in a non Mormon Catholic home in the Midwest. When I was ten going in to the fifth grade all the cool kids parents bought them a band instrument. We all have free music lessons from kindergarten until fourth grade. In the fourth grade we all played a tonette. I could croak out a song as good as anyone my age and I was passable on the tonette. I saw a movie called Young Man with a Horn with Kirk Douglas at the local Majestic Theatre. I wanted to play the trumpet real bad but we were poor my day didn't finish high school and worked as a truck driver. In the winter we starved since he didn't have much income the only thing that saved us was my little Italian grandmother owned a house she rented to us and would give us a break on the rent sometimes. I told my mom I wanted to play the trumpet. She tried to get the local pawn shop to sell her a horn for twenty bucks which was a big amount of money back in 1965 but someone bought the horn out from under her. My dad then told me to forget it. I knew in my heart that if I had been allowed to play that horn I would have learned how to read music and been a great musician. But I never got that chance. So when my own son wanted to play the trumpet I plucked down that five hundred bucks to Summerhays Music. I feel the same way about singing as I do trumpet playing. I once paid with five of my eight kids in piano and voice lessons five hundred dollars a month. I know there are parents out there who want to see their kids achieve and sacrifice for them. I don't regret for one minute wearing shoes with holes or doing without lunch for five years. I have now spent thousands of dollars on kids who are at best mediocre at singing and piano playing but one thing for sure they can all sing a hymn in the choir. One day when my son stands before a congregation or in a missionary choir and sings a solo I will be smiling down on him from the Spirit World and it will all be worthwhile.

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