In the Duncan, BC Ward of the LDS Church there are many amazing people. I was more than blessed to grow up among a large group of loving, caring, and definitely musical ward parents and siblings. I can remember off the top of my head about 6 different, very talented ward organists; 2 amazingly devoted and skilled ward choir directors; nearly a dozen ward choristers; well over a dozen talented piano players; and hundreds of talented singers.
I grew up with the notion that singing at about mezzoforte (medium-loud) was the norm in Sunday services. I knew that the organists were talented, that the songs had been carefully chosen to represent the topics of the talks, and to represent the sacredness of the ordinance of the sacrament. I could hear people all around me singing enthusiastically, or at least singing with their hearts. The only time I ever felt any trepidation about singing at all was when I was about 10 years old and I was nervous about everything. After my voice changed in pitch I joined the ward choir as a very young bass, and things settled down.
Our ward choir was led by an absolutely phenomenal director, Jeanine Powell. She found oratorios and christmas sonatas, she combined songs from her favorite LDS composers into holiday sonatas of her own, she directed impressive choral feats from us, her volunteer and largely unprofessionally trained choir. After my two years singing with the University of Lethbridge Singers, a group composed of undergraduate music students majoring in vocal performance, I realize what a hodgepodge of singers we were, and how outstanding Jeanine and a few of the singers truly were. I was impressed at their ability to direct us and expand our musical repertoire and to keep pace with the slower of us singers.
One year Jeanine introduced us to the song “Make us One” by Sally DeFord. That song stirred my heart and expanded my vision. I began singing it as I walked around my beautiful valley neighbourhood, and loudly too. I’m sure that to the neighbours who heard me it was strange to hear only the bass portion of the arrangement, but I felt like there were choirs of angels singing in my soul, and my voice was only a small part of that heavenly chorus. My friend Dallin Schmidt and I began changing the words to a more ridiculous version about swans since we were 16 and that’s what teenage boys do. I’ll never forget singing that song in public performances because I feel like I’ve never been as in touch with the spirit and message of a song as I have been that song. I was truly singing the song of my heart. On one occasion I came back to Duncan from my studies in Lethbridge and on that Sunday the choir just happened to be singing that particular song. I hadn’t sung it in years, but after a brief practice in the morning before the meetings I stood up on the stand with the choir and sang nearly the whole song without music in front of me.
In Lethbridge I’ve noticed a far different attitude towards music in church. I’ve never been in a ward that had a functioning choir year-round. I’ve never been in a ward that sings at a level above mezzo piano (medium-soft) on any day. I’ve never felt comfortable singing loudly since I know that everyone else is singing so softly. I’ve even had long stretches where I’ve felt so uncomfortable due to these factors and others, that I haven’t been able to sing in a ward at all. At first I put this change in attitude down to the fact that with all the new parents in our wards, no one could hold a hymn book and keep their kids from sprinting out of the pews. Then it dawned on me that there was something else amiss, but I don’t know what it is yet. I’ve lived in five different wards in Lethbridge, and none of them sang as loudly or as well as my home ward and home stake. If I had grown up in this area, I would not feel comfortable with my musical abilities since the atmosphere around music suggests that those abilities are discounted or unimportant, certainly they appear to be disliked.
The only times I have heard rousing choruses of any song in a church service in Lethbridge has to be in the Mountain Heights priesthood meetings. For some reason, having about 50 men packed into a small section of the gym with no piano, not enough seats, no hymn books, and a generally inept conductor is conducive to loud, bright, in tune, cheerful, powerful renditions of many hymns. We even sing parts as far as we can without hymn books. I’m nearly always floored by how loud and talented our group of men are when we’re sequestered on our own. We sing louder and with more energy than the entire congregation with an organist, chorister and plenty of hymn books. It’s a mystery to me why and how that happens, but it’s little surprise to me that priesthood and Elders’ Quorum are my favorite meetings every sunday, and the only ones where I feel open enough to share my thoughts and feelings with a class.
I’m excited to finally be done my undergraduate degree because that means that I will finally have time to join the ward choir, and hopefully contribute to it in a meaningful way. I hope that as I endeavour to dedicate more of myself to singing hymns to the Lord that I will become the change that I wish to see in the ward. I have such great role models to look up to like Jeannine Powell, Julie Anderson, Carol Ruttan, Spencer and Dallin and Kevin and Krista and Parker and Laurie and Kurt Schmidt, David Ellis, Scott Zeck, Heather and Marrianne and Richard and Janet and Rob Lyon, Jocelyn Lapointe, Brittany Jassman, Melissa and Mike Atwood, the Nalders, and many many more from both my youth and from my current ward, but none more than my beautiful wife. She is never one of the quiet singers even when her husband is too uncomfortable to sing. She sings bravely, with vibrato, and demonstrates her courage and determination as she sings no matter what the circumstances. I am so thankful that I found such a wonderful woman who pushes me to do and be what I should.