“A Choir in Every Ward,” Ensign, Feb. 1998, 59
I looked at the bishop in surprise. “You want me to be the ward choir director? But we don’t have a choir!” I exclaimed.
He quickly assured me that our young student ward needed a choir, and he wanted me to be the director. He then opened the preface to our hymnbook and read, “Latter-day Saints have a long tradition of choir singing. Every ward and branch in the Church should have a choir that performs regularly” (Hymns, x).
With his words resonating in my mind, I accepted the call. Yet I wondered whether the college students in my ward were too busy with schooling, work, or young children to squeeze in yet another commitment. Besides, I had never directed a choir. The thought of standing in front of my friends and exposing my ignorance unnerved me.
Then I remembered a sacrament meeting I had attended as a child when a soloist sang “O Holy Night.” About halfway through the song the soloist became so overcome by emotion that she couldn’t continue. Another singer, sitting on the front row, finished the song for her. In that moment, many of us in the congregation felt of the sweetness of Jesus Christ’s birth perhaps as never before.
Later on, when I was 16 and plagued by doubts about the gospel, my spirit was touched when, as part of a youth choir, I sang a choir number with words set to the music of Brahms: “How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts.” I was filled with the beauty of the music’s message, and my testimony was reaffirmed.
I also thought back to when I sang in the Messiah during my freshman year in college. Two hundred youthful voices joined together in worshipful praise of the life of the Messiah, and I felt more reverence for the Savior on that occasion than I had ever felt before.
Music has always been used to inspire, uplift, and express praise to the Lord. The earliest mention in scriptures on music is found in Exodus when Moses and the children of Israel “sang … unto the Lord” in gratitude for their deliverance from Egypt (Ex. 15:1). In King David’s time, the Psalms were sung, and at least 43 of them mention singing. Further, the Psalms invite us to “make a joyful noise” to the Lord, to praise him with harp, timbrel, stringed instruments, organs, and cymbals (see Ps. 100:1; Ps. 150:3–5). In the New Testament we read of Jesus Christ and his disciples singing a hymn before the Savior went to Gethsemane (see Mark 14:26) and of Paul and Silas singing praises from a prison cell (Acts 16:25). The Book of Mormon records King Benjamin’s hope that his “immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God” (Mosiah 2:28).
Choir practice continued each week, regardless of how many came. Eventually more singers straggled into rehearsals, and choir members became adept at inviting new ward members to join with us. Slowly we grew to about 15 strong.
Our first attempt to sing in sacrament meeting was well intentioned, but no one mistook us for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Still, we usually met our goal to sing twice a month. As we persevered we grew in our musical ability and spirit. The more we sang, the better we sounded. Our confidence increased, and our voices began to mesh together.
One week as I listened with my ear tuned to our rendition of “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee” (Hymns, no. 141), I realized that the choir’s sound—tentative and unbalanced a few months earlier—was now rich and beautiful. I cheered inwardly at our progress. Our choir was not merely singing words but communicating a powerful message of reverence and love for the Savior. “Jesus, the very thought of thee / With sweetness fills my breast; / But sweeter far thy face to see / And in thy presence rest.” I knew we were worshiping the Savior in one of humanity’s oldest and purest forms.
As we sang the final verse, choir and congregation alike wiped tears from their eyes. “Jesus, our only joy be thou, / As thou our prize wilt be.” No longer did I see overscheduled and stressed college students; I saw 15 people whose lives had been touched by the spirituality inherent in song. They personified words the Savior gave to Emma Smith over 150 years ago: “For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads” (D&C 25:12). Somehow, despite our limited resources and occasional blundering, we had succeeded in softening the prickly edges of our souls and reaching into the dark, forgotten corners of our spiritual selves to sing praises to our Lord.
Since the day the bishop called me to direct that first ward choir, I have enjoyed being associated with many ward choirs. I no longer doubt the ability of a ward or small branch to benefit from a choir. Our meetings need music, and the spiritual longings of our souls need worshipful expression.