Value of Gospel Music
Mormons love good music. They especially love good religious music. One leader pointed out a reason why when he said that “sometimes. . . we get nearer to the Lord through music than perhaps through any other thing except prayer” (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Conference Report, Oct. 1936, p. 111). Another leader agreed. He said that “there is something in the spirit of song. . . an influence. . . and inspirational power. . . that fires the soul in a way that it can't otherwise be touched or fired (Charles W. Nibley, Conference Report, Oct. 1917, p.75). But Mormon prophet Spencer W. Kimball was more specific about how music has such great effect. He said that “some of the greatest sermons that have ever been preached were preached by the singing of a song.” Others have pointed out that hymns and other religious music can lift and elevate our thoughts and actions and help establish a feeling of worship and love toward God and others.
Since Old Testament days music has played a part in worship. The Psalms of David and other books encourage worshipers to praise God and express their gratitude to him in song. Mormons believe that God delights in “the song of the heart” and that singing it will bring them blessings (D&C 25:12).
The apostle Bruce R. McConkie tells us in Mormon Doctrine that “Good music is eternal.” He points to the angelic choirs that sing hymns of praise throughout scriptures. Job mentions “the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” Notable, of course, was the angelic choir that sang at Jesus' birth in Bethlehem. He also says that “Music is given of God to further his purposes” (MD, p. 521). He cites that music helps soften people's hearts to receive the gospel and to sanctify and cleanse their souls after they receive it.
McConkie cautions that the best music will contain truth and not mislead listeners. He believes that the “songs that build faith and testimony and that teach the message of the restoration” are great musical compositions. He especially likes Come, Come Ye Saints; Now Let Us Rejoice; We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet; and The Spirit of God, which are LDS hymns. However, he says that “many of the great Christian hymns of all churches bear true witness of Christ and teach sound doctrine” (p. 521). He also says that “many religious Christmas carols are edifying and ennobling." Of course, it's probably well known that Mormons greatly admire Handel's The Messiah and sing it particularly around Christmas.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir's rendition of The Messiah is very popular even among non-Mormons. This 360-member choir, started in 1847 (Mormon Tabernacle Choir website), tours the world, singing for heads of state, religious congregations, and the general public, giving their testimony in song. They've performed at the inauguration of five U.S. Presidents, and President Ronald Reagan named the choir “America's Choir.” Of their numerous recordings, five have achieved "gold record" and two, "platinum record" status. The Battle Hymn of the Republic with the Philadelphia Orchestra won a Grammy in 1959 and the Choir was awarded the National Medal of Arts (for artistic excellence) in 2003. (Mormon Tabernacle Choir website) Members are proud of their choir, and those who have great voices jump at the opportunity just to audition for it. To sing in the choir is considered a calling in the Church, and Mormons who are privileged to serve this way spend many hours each week practicing and performing.
Mormon singers such as Gladys Knight also record gospel music, praising God and expressing their testimony in song. Over the years, the Osmond Family, including Donny and Marie, have sung religious songs in their performances, too. Countless other Mormon performers are well known among the Mormon community but may be less well known among non-members.
Individual Mormons listen to non-Mormon gospel music that appeals to them, and this music has been played alongside Mormon music as part of religious programs on radio and television in Utah and elsewhere.
Mormon Gospel Music
The Prophet Joseph Smith asked his wife Emma to gather hymns together to form the first hymn book which has been periodically updated, often adding children's hymns that contain particularly touching lyrics. The book also contains holiday hymns, patriotic songs, and songs such as Onward Christian Soldiers and How Great Thou Art which can be heard in many other churches across the country. Mormon meetings begin and end with the congregation, accompanied by organ or piano, singing from this book. Occasionally large meetings may include “rest hymns,” chosen from the approximately 341 hymns. These allow the congregation to stand before proceeding with the meeting. Except for special performances by members (which may be classical music, with voice and instrument), almost all music in Church meetings are from the standard selections in the hymn book. Mormons, at least in American congregations, vary from some other modern churches in that instruments used in meetings are usually limited to piano, organ, violin, flute, cello, clarinet or other symphonic instruments. Music is sedate and stresses reverence. In late years, the Church, taking cultural differences into consideration, has allowed a little variation in some congregations (especially non-American), with the intent, as ever, to promote deep and true worship.
During non-Sabbath meetings, such as talent shows, Family Home Evening, and other special activities, Mormons sing and play other kinds of music, but they always prefer uplifting and wholesome lyrics, even in secular songs such as dance music.