“Is it necessary for me to sacrifice my talent to Church responsibilities?” Ensign, Feb. 1976, 37
Merrill K. Bradshaw, professor of music and composer-in-residence, Brigham Young University Like most important questions, people have been asking this for many years. First, please recognize that in developing your talent you have not set your goals too high to be compatible with the Church. The Church has always encouraged us to develop our talents to the fullest degree. Your problem exists because you have set your sights too low. Let me explain:
A great talent is an awesome responsibility, involving far more than the mere refinement of technical skills—though that demands hours—far more than learning “repertoire” for recital programs. With great talent comes the responsibility to communicate the most profound spiritual matters through your medium in a way that people can understand. Someone has said, “You communicate what you are no matter how you try to communicate something else.” Even though this statement may be a bit overdrawn, it is certainly true that if you do not develop a profound spirituality, it is exceedingly difficult for you to communicate it.
If what I have just said is true, then there is no “sacrifice” of talent involved when you serve in the Church. Your purposes in developing your talent to the highest are served when you fill your Church callings in their highest sense. Conversely, as you become proficient in handling the technical requirements of your art, you also become a more effective tool for building the kingdom and edifying your fellowman.
One of the most productive periods in my own artistic development coincided with the four years I spent as bishop of a student ward. The spiritual impulse of that experience gave my artistic efforts a boost that still, many years later, energizes what I am trying to do. The difference between a Mormon artist and his worldly counterpart is to be found in spirituality, not mediocrity. If he is mediocre he is not an artist. If he is not spiritual, then he cannot be a Mormon artist.
This picture, of course, is the ideal; but it does not reduce the demands on your time. Developing a talent takes time. Developing a talent spiritually takes even more. This higher vision of what an artist is increases the challenge to you. Nevertheless, you will find that as you reconcile your artistic and spiritual development, the Lord will bless you greatly in your art as well as in the other aspects of your life.
Here are seven practical suggestions that I have found useful: (1) Always seek the Spirit in your artistic efforts and heed its promptings. Prayer and fasting can help solve artistic problems, too. (2) When involved in Church activity, always seek vigorously the spiritual objectives of the activity and learn to respond personally to that spirit. (3) Keep close to your spiritual leaders. Bishops and stake presidents have often been helpful to me when my priorities needed reordering. Asking their advice, especially when accepting a new calling, is always helpful. (4) Keep your eternal perspective. It would be a horrible thing on the day of judgment to find you had succeeded in developing your talent but lost your right to enter the celestial kingdom. It is not necessary to sacrifice either talent or spirituality: they will nourish each other if you will only let them. (5) Organize your time. A well-chosen plan can help you keep a wise balance. (6) Remember that you must communicate on many levels. Isolating yourself, especially in your attitudes toward those who do not share your talent, will estrange you from those you need most to edify. Most people have talents you do not share. (7) Give the Church a share of your talent—freely, humbly, thanking God for the gift he has given you. It is a great gift as well as an awesome responsibility, and he will bless you.