Blessing Your Home with Music

One year ago I once again had the privilege of participating in God’s greatest miracle—the birth of a baby, complete with fingers and toes, a rosy complexion, a wailing cry, and a sweet spirit fresh from the presence of our Father in Heaven.

Oh, the emotions of overwhelming joy that flooded my soul as I thanked my Father in Heaven for the divine calling of being a mother! As I held that little bundle in my arms for the first time, I reflected upon the decisions along life’s path that had brought me to that very moment—decisions made when the lure of an exciting career in music dangled in front of me.

I pondered the day I auditioned for entrance to the master’s degree program at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. I felt the Spirit bless my performance, and when I received the news that I had been accepted to study with a renowned teacher and concert pianist, I knew the Spirit was guiding my path. I had set a goal early in life to study music at Juilliard, to obtain a master’s degree, and to bless the lives of others with the talents the Lord had given me. Those two years of intensive study and performance were the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

But there were other dreams in my life as well, nurtured from early childhood. As I approached completion of my degree, I spent many hours in prayer to my Father in Heaven, seeking his guidance once again in a major decision. Should I continue in New York City where I had had so many choice opportunities, or was there something greater in store? Prayer, fasting, and pondering my patriarchal blessing brought the answer; I decided to return to Utah upon completion of my degree. I will never forget the expression of shock and disbelief on the face of my piano teacher in New York as I announced to her my decision. But it was a decision I have never regretted, for shortly after I returned I met a young man who met every criteria—and then some—of the person I had always wanted to marry. This was Heavenly Father’s answer. What great joy and happiness Greg and I have shared in our marriage!

I have a deep conviction that nothing in my life, not even a concert career, can surpass the divine calling of being a mother. I have learned that all the honors, awards, trophies, and crowns in the world cannot compare to the rewards of motherhood. This is not to say that I have given up music to rear a family—far from it. Music is a very important part of my life and the lives of my family. It has richly blessed our home and the lives of others.

Two special people provided the opportunities for me to study music, sacrificed so that I might reap the benefits, and lovingly encouraged me to develop discipline early in life. There were many tearful moments learning the great lesson of discipline when I longed to play kick soccer with the neighborhood children rather than practice the piano—but I learned that practicing came first, then kick soccer. I remember the many times my father took time off from work to drive me to a performance in the far reaches of the state. I remember my mother faithfully attending my piano lessons week after week, and the many hours she practiced with me, though there were other pressing matters that needed her attention.

Thus, I have learned that music can bless the lives of children, and in turn can richly bless the home. We are striving to surround our children with beautiful music, ranging from the classic composers to the rich heritage of our Latter-day Saint hymns. What a thrill it was one night in family home evening to hear our 2 1/2-year-old sing the first verse of “The Spirit of God Like a Fire” (Hymns, no. 213.) Not all the words were correct, but he sang it with the spirit and fervor that he had heard so many times on the Mormon Youth Symphony and Chorus record, in our family home evenings, and in sacrament meetings. How exciting it is to see our children choose the sacred hymns of the Church over songs heard on TV or the radio. As I watch our children gain appreciation for Beethoven and the other great masters, I’m convinced that it’s not that they’re musical geniuses, but simply that they are developing a love for beautiful music through constant exposure. For it is true that the more we become acquainted with good music, the more we enjoy and appreciate it. One is never too old or too young to enjoy good music; even a young baby loves the hum of a lullaby.

We have discovered that listening to classical music during mealtimes adds a special spirit to our home. The boys take their naps as they listen through the intercom to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or the Mormon Youth Symphony and Chorus records. At night Greg and I sing the children’s favorite Primary songs during “cuddle time.” We use these times to plant the tiny seed of testimony, the seed of love for our Heavenly Father and our fellowmen. We’ve found that our children are responding positively to our efforts to instill a love for things good and uplifting.

When you encourage your children to be music-minded, you are making an investment that will yield dividends for a lifetime. Some psychologists and musical educators feel that the study of music has a beneficial influence in the training of the mind. They believe, for example, that children who enjoy music rate higher scholastically and develop more active imaginations. In a poll of two hundred American college and university staff members, 196 felt that youngsters with some musical training were definitely superior students to those who had no experience with music.

Music improves coordination between thought and action, encourages creative and orderly thinking, fosters mental alertness and, most important, builds what I call “staying power.” Music is often the first artistic activity that makes a child realize he must work hard to accomplish what he wants. It requires self-control.

Musical training develops concentration and memory, as well as the senses of sight, heating, and touch. Arithmetic and abstract concepts are also better understood. Trained to understand the complexities of rhythm and the exact relationship of harmonics, a youngster is more thoroughly prepared to absorb the abstract principles of physics and mathematics.

There are deep satisfactions in the world of music. Certain compositions can exhilarate and excite, others can soothe. This can be seen in the reactions of a child on hearing the stirring melodies of a march or the softer tones of a lullaby or gentle hymn. Music is not only a natural stimulus, but a natural outlet. Creative musical experience provides an effective means of gaining release from tension—and this has been especially true during the extremely cold winter months in our home in Wisconsin. There have been days on end when we have not ventured outside. My little children, filled with the typical energy of childhood, have enjoyed playing rhythm instruments such as the toy drum, rhythm sticks, and song bells. Then they will dance as I play favorite little songs for them at the piano. This is a wonderful energy release for them. Often they dance until their rosy cheeks indicate to me that a quieter activity will do.

I am reminded that there are some parents who regard musical ability as a special gift and think none but the talented should study. Not long ago a child’s musical training was abandoned if he did not show signs of talent by age seven. Today, many parents realize that finding out where a child’s talent lies can be achieved only by consistent study. It is sad to think how many great talents have never been developed simply because the people never knew they had them. The French composer Claude Debussy showed little promise as a child; he lacked even the beginner’s enthusiasm at the start of his training. Neither of his parents was musical, and it was not until a former pupil of Chopin heard the boy’s half-hearted playing that any real effort was made to encourage him. For a long time, Claude found difficulty in mastering certain techniques of music, and his teachers were not impressed by his endeavors. But when he became interested, he developed into a serious and dedicated student, and his perseverance won out. Today he is recognized as the foremost pioneer of musical impressionism.

I believe that parents are the key influence in their children’s attitude toward music. It lies within their power to make music an investment their children will enjoy throughout their lives, providing them with beauty, variety, inspiration, and comfort.

Let me emphasize that a mother need not be a music major to teach her children a love for good music. If a mother feels musically inadequate, she could simply turn on a record of hymns and sing along with her children. I would encourage families to sing together—sing in family home evenings, sing before bedtime, sing when someone is in a bad mood. The spirit of a home can quickly be set on the right course with good music because it has a unifying effect. A child will long remember the hours spent singing with parents and brothers and sisters in the warmth of the family circle.

I have a personal testimony of the power of music to teach, to edify, to bring the human spirit into harmony with God. I know that with Him as our source of power, we can provide our homes with stability and direction. And as we do so, we can surround our children with the beauty and happiness that abounds in life and that eternity holds in store for them.

[photo] Photography by James Wood

Sally Peterson Brinton, mother of four and a concert pianist, is Young Women president in the Milwaukee Wisconsin Stake.