Do You Hear What I Hear?

Parents who will listen—to youth and to their music—have a better opportunity to guide them in applying the Lord’s standards.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

On Father’s Day, the senior Primary children in our ward sang a medley of songs, including “Love Is Spoken Here,” “We’ll Bring the World His Truth,” and “Sing Your Way Home” (Children’s Songbook, 1989, nos. 190, 172, and 193) in sacrament meeting. Never had the two of us felt the power of music more strongly than when we saw those young children so touched by the message of their songs that they wept.

On another occasion, Randy’s work as director of Brigham Young University’s Young Ambassadors took us to the People’s Republic of China, where we watched the Young Ambassadors open doors of understanding. As they sang and danced, it was clear that important messages of brotherhood were being communicated in spite of the language barrier. Our Chinese friends were so overwhelmed by the spirit projected through music and dance that they stood clapping in unison, demanding encore after encore.

The universal language of music has the ability to lift people to their feet and also to greater heights in their lives. Spirituality can be enhanced, physical abilities can be magnified, and emotions can be tempered through music. The Lord has always recognized its power.

Unfortunately, Satan is also using music in increasingly diverse ways to accomplish his own purposes. In 2 Ne. 26:22, we read the following: “And there are also secret combinations, even as in times of old, according to the combinations of the devil, for he is the founder of all these things; … and he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.” Satan is using catchy melodies and rhythms to teach lessons of immorality, Satanism, violence, and infidelity, bit by bit, line upon line, until he binds hearers with his “strong cords.”

One bishop recalls counseling a young man who found it impossible to make a decision about serving a mission until he let go of the heart-hardening music he was listening to. When his choice of music was altered, the decision to serve was easily made.

There is good in a variety of styles of music and dance. A broad range of composers, choreographers, and artists have created works that promote positive, uplifting thoughts and actions. On the other hand, there are artists, both classical and contemporary, who have been involved in questionable life-styles and whose works teach values and standards contrary to those that bring eternal happiness. The responsibility for selecting what is good lies with each of us. We decide what types of music and dance we will allow to shape our thoughts and feelings, just as we make value judgments concerning the books and magazines we choose to read.

As we send missionaries out to spread the message of the restored gospel to all the world, we pray for them, we encourage them, and we support them financially. Similarly, we might consider the recording artists and producers in today’s music industry as “missionaries” for a broad spectrum of values. When we spend money for a tape or CD, or perhaps much more for a ticket to a live concert, we are literally doing our part to fund the “mission” of the entertainers and the values they promote. And when we introduce a recording or video to friends, we become “missionaries” for the artists or groups, and we advance the performers’ causes—whatever they may be.

Why Is Obedience So Critical?

The reasons for choosing uplifting music and dance are no different than the reasons for choosing dress, friends, books, movies, and language that ennoble us rather than tear us down. Making the righteous choice says we are eager to be associated with all that is good and uplifting; making the unrighteous choice indicates our willingness to be associated with that which is bad and degrading. Lex de Azevedo has suggested that “our challenge is to look honestly at the true intent of any piece of music, judge its moral worth, and then, if it be found wanting, replace it with something better.” (Lex de Azevedo, with Chris Conkling, Pop Music and Morality, North Hollywood, California: Embryo Books, 1982, p. 64.)

The standards for music and dance as outlined in the Church’s For the Strength of Youth pamphlet are not arbitrary standards. They are the Lord’s standards, taught and sustained by his living prophet and Apostles. In the pamphlet, the First Presidency advises, “You must consider your listening habits thoughtfully and prayerfully. You should be willing to control your listening habits and shun music that is spiritually harmful. Don’t listen to music that contains ideas that contradict principles of the gospel. Don’t listen to music that promotes Satanism or other evil practices, encourages immorality, uses foul and offensive language, or drives away the Spirit. …

“When you are dancing, avoid full body contact or intimate positions with your partner. Plan and attend dances where dress, grooming, lighting, dancing styles, lyrics, and music contribute to an atmosphere in which the Spirit of the Lord may be present.” (For the Strength of Youth, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1990, pp. 13–14.)

We Must Never Stop Teaching!

We cannot relinquish our opportunity to guide and teach just because the pressures of life leave us weary and uninformed, or because today’s music and dance may be unfamiliar or unpleasant to us. We are wise if we use those years we may be granted with our children to teach and instruct, asking Heavenly Father for guidance through the Holy Ghost.

Choices in music and dance are not presented to us as a menu in a fine restaurant, where we quietly read and make our selection. The choices bombard our senses in films, videos, CDs, tapes, records, posters, radio and television programs, and multimedia concerts, all backed by millions of dollars and the best of marketing strategies.

It is impossible to “youth-proof” all music, but we can “music-proof” our youth by helping them gain confidence in their ability to make righteous choices. Parents who dictate what music, recording artists, or dance styles are acceptable do so at the expense of their children’s agency to choose, grow, and learn. But we have the opportunity to prepare our youth to make wise choices for many years to come, long after today’s recording artists and dance styles have been replaced by new ones.

Tips for the Parent/Teacher

It is helpful if we expose our children to a wide variety of acceptable music and dance styles while they are young. They do not need to like the rhythms, melodies, harmonies, and styles their parents prefer. They need to know that it is not wrong to choose something different from their friends or even their family as long as their choice is based on righteous principles.

Even if we do not have a background in music and dance, we as parents can educate ourselves to help teach our young people how to apply those righteous principles. The following approaches have proven effective for some of our friends.

Listen to the choices. Mary Helen Hyde turns on her tape recorder while working, traveling, and exercising. She listens to the music favored by her children and grandchildren. Some youth may feel personally attacked if Mom or Dad questions or criticizes their music whenever it intrudes on the parents’ consciousness. But parents who are knowledgeable, as Sister Hyde has attempted to be, can converse and explore instead of confronting.

Experience music and dance together. Cynthia Jacobson has attended selected rock concerts with her family. Being at the scene allows her to talk with her children about the merits of these experiences as they’re occurring. In addition, this type of activity often opens doors to the exploration of other music and dance forms. Attending the symphony, the ballet, or choral concerts can be a broadening experience for everyone in the family.

Capture teaching moments at home. As Michael and Lynne McLean watched music videos with their children, they discussed what they were seeing and feeling. Their sons and daughter concluded that the Spirit could not be present when their senses were being bombarded with so many captivating worldly images and sounds. Mom and Dad said little; the lesson taught itself.

Other suggestions for stimulating a lively exchange on music and its powerful influence can be found in the Church’s Family Home Evening Resource Book.

Explore community educational resources. Our family has enjoyed the influence of music and dance teachers in public schools and private studios. Countless teachers take seriously their opportunity to unfold a broad range of virtuous music and dance choices to our children; good teachers can be found in almost every community.

There is something magical that happens when two young boys dress up in their Sunday best to play Kabalevsky and Debussy at Saturday afternoon piano recitals. Listening to their peers perform stimulates their interest in a wide spectrum of musical styles and inspires them to further develop their own skills.

On another stage, a beautiful young girl in a modest, flowing dress, flowers in her hair, delights at presenting a dance she has created, choreographing it to a beautiful piece of music. She thrills at her own ability to feel the music; it is actually a spiritual experience!

Listen with Both Ears

In an informal setting, a group of BYU students discussed their memories of teaching moments in music and dance at home. From what they said, it is apparent that parents who are willing to listen, learn, and adjust are more likely to raise children who are willing to listen, learn, and adjust.

“My parents probably didn’t care for my music and dance styles, but they never said so,” one student commented. “Dad would come dancing real cool into my room when my music was blaring loudly and would ask who the artist was. He said things like, ‘If you like it, there must be something good about it, because I like you.’ That kind of feeling goes both ways.” This father’s response undoubtedly fostered self-esteem, trust, and love. (In addition, the music probably had to be turned down in order for the son to the hear the questions!)

Another student said her mother and father listened to a wide variety of music. “Mom always used to say, ‘You don’t want to eat hamburgers all the time or you’ll get sick of them.’ I got the message. I guess that’s why I get so excited about exploring all the alternatives. I enjoy many different styles of music and dance.”

One Final Note

So much is good and exhilarating in this wonderful period of the world’s history. Today’s youth can rejoice in being a part of their own time. And as parents, we can look forward to some fun-filled moments teaching our children to sort through current music and dance choices.

In helping today’s youth understand and embrace the Lord’s standards, we are not working with ordinary young men and women. We are taking an active role in molding “pure vessels to bear triumphantly the responsibilities of the kingdom of God in preparation for the second coming of our Savior.” (For the Strength of Youth, p. 5.)

[photos] Photography by Craig Dimond

Randy Boothe serves as bishop of the Spanish Fork Twentieth Ward, Spanish Fork Utah South Stake. Susan Boothe serves as the ward Primary chorister.