“I Learned to Lead,” Ensign, July 1997, 59–60
When a counselor in the bishopric issued me the call to serve as ward music director, I explained that I did not have musical skills or a good singing voice. Neither he nor I understood the responsibilities involved, and he felt that the job would be mostly administrative, a matter of choosing hymns and arranging for musical numbers for sacrament meeting. I felt certain I could handle the calling.
A few days after I accepted, however, Sister Marchant, the stake music director, telephoned to arrange for my orientation. I didn’t see any need to be trained for my small responsibility, but I agreed to meet with her.
As I sat dumbfounded, she explained that I needed to take music conducting classes so I could lead the music in sacrament meeting. Then it got worse—she also asked me to organize a ward choir. And still worse—she asked me to plan on attending a nearby university’s music workshop that summer.
I explained to her that I didn’t know the difference between leading music and hailing a cab, that I couldn’t tell a soprano from a tenor, and that attending a music workshop with talented musicians would be the most humiliating experience of my life.
In reply, Sister Marchant promised me that if I would accept the challenges of the calling instead of just doing the minimum, I would be blessed with growth in many ways.
As I drove home, I still worried that music was not my thing. I felt the Holy Spirit so strongly, however, that I decided I must do as she asked.
Though both my husband, Bob, and I lack musical talent, we were blessed with children who have musical ability. Our 13-year-old son, Michael, suggested to me that if I could learn to speak Spanish, then I could learn to lead music. I sat on the couch listening halfheartedly as he spoke of quarter rests, fermatas, note values, and timing.
Suddenly, however, it was as if a veil were taken from my eyes, and I thought I understood. Could it be? It seemed so easy! While Michael played hymns on the piano for me, I carved out musical time patterns in the air. We practiced for half an hour. When we came to “O My Father,” the triplet confused me at first glance, but again I was blessed with understanding, and I knew how to lead the music.
That spring, Sister Metter from the ward helped me hone my conducting skills. Day after day, I led the Mormon Tabernacle Choir—or at least their voices on tape—in “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in front of my bedroom mirror. Tears streamed down my cheeks when I finally perfected it. The first time I led the music in sacrament meeting, I was certain that my heart was pounding louder than the organ was playing, but I felt the sacredness of leading a congregation in musical worship of the Lord.
My next task was to form a ward choir after years of silence in the choir seats. Besides blessing us with his own voice, Bishop Barber helped me organize the choir. Not only did the choir contribute an inspiring unity of spirit to our sacrament meeting worship, but it unified my family musically: Bob joined the choir; our 17-year-old daughter, Laura, played the piano; and Michael was called as choir director.
Sister Sal, our ward organist, had been encouraging me to attend a Brigham Young University music workshop because she had found it so beneficial. Once again, the Spirit was stronger than my excuses. The workshop turned out to be a spiritual and intellectual highlight of my life as I increased my appreciation of how music can elevate us closer to the Lord. What I thought would be a humiliating experience became instead a humbling opportunity to learn. Afterwards, I began attending other music workshops. With King Benjamin, I came to hope that “my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God” (Mosiah 2:28).
I know that we are called by the Lord to serve and bless others, but I feel that in this calling I received the greatest blessing. My newfound knowledge and appreciation of music has lifted my soul in worshiping the Lord. I am grateful to my bishop and to the Lord for the call that came despite my lack of musical skills. Like King David, “I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me” (Ps. 13:6).