In my early parenting days, my two-year-old daughter insisted on a nightly bedtime routine. First, she had to have one of those giant vitamin C tablets, followed by a drink of water. Then came a bedtime story, a song, and kneeling in prayer. After that, she was tucked into bed with a kiss and given a final sleep-inducer: “The Sandman Song.”
Such traditions enrich our lives in daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly cycles. They become part of our identity and create lifelong memories that we can recall with pleasure. Even such simple, repeated ceremonies as the blessing on the food and family prayer can become treasured traditions that are transmitted to each new generation of children.
Music is one of the most effective tools we have as families to create family traditions. We don’t have to read music or have great singing voices to enjoy the benefits of music in our homes. The following suggestions can help a nonmusical family to become musical and a musical family to become more musical.
Create an uplifting home atmosphere. I’m mortified if the phone rings when one of my children has the radio tuned to a raucous selection. The disquieting atmosphere such music creates does not fit my image of a Latter-day Saint home.
Like cleanliness, order, and decor, music can color the mood in our homes. A good way to help create a wholesome home environment is to establish family guidelines on the kinds of music that can be played and when such music is allowed. In the evening, for example, quiet music can help the family to settle down and prepare for bedtime.
Invite the Holy Spirit. At times when we desire added reverence or peace in our homes, recordings of the hymns or broadcasts of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir can pave the way. Another way to invite the Spirit is to sing hymns and other appropriate music as a family. As we enhance our home atmosphere with music, we are making memories of happy times of togetherness in a gospel-centered home.
Enhance family worship. Worship is not limited to the chapel on Sundays. True worship is an important part of everyday living. Our homes should be places of worship, and hymn singing is one of the best ways we have of worshipping—of expressing our gratitude and devotion to our Heavenly Father. (See D&C 25:12.)
Teach the gospel. Hymn singing is one of the best ways to teach the gospel to our children. The hymns are full of scriptural themes that can be memorized and later recalled as a source of inspiration and blessing. Family meetings such as home evenings, councils, and devotionals provide frequent opportunities to reinforce and enrich gospel teaching in the home through prayer and hymn singing.
Work to music. Even the most unpleasant or laborious household task can be made more tolerable when accompanied by the right kind of music. From a John Phillip Sousa march to something more contemporary, music can energize us and help us dissociate the drudgery of some chores. Studies show that work efficiency improves when tasks are performed to music. One experiment conducted in Indiana indicated that even milk production went up 5.5 percent when cows heard music such as Beethoven’s Fifth and Haydn’s Seventh symphonies! (See “Music Soars, Milk Flows In Experiment,” Washington Post, 24 Nov. 1989.)
Exercise to music. The energy and rhythm of some music create an ideal stimulus and motivation for physical exercise. Some recordings designed for this very purpose help make daily exercise more pleasant, even for the nonenthusiast.
Create fun times. All kinds of family moments can be enhanced by activities involving music—from musical games such as those listed in the Family Home Evening Resource Book (1983, pp. 294–95) to songfests while traveling in the car, when a sing-along can break out spontaneously, blanketing the whole family with happy feelings.
Families can capture the spirit of holidays and celebrations with music that has become a family tradition. Through the years, songs such as “Over the River and through the Woods,” “Silent Night,” “Auld Lang Syne,” “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” and “Happy Birthday to You” have become part of our family tradition.
Solve problems with music. Familiar, beloved songs of solace and hope can comfort and strengthen a family in times of trial. Inspirational music can help us overcome despair and sorrow by reminding us of the Lord’s watchful care and power to heal heartache and deliver us. Many hymns have beautifully expressed messages that can influence the way we think and feel.
Bring beauty to life. There is a world of beauty available to us through music. Taking advantage of it can be as simple as tuning the radio to a station that plays the kind of music we respond to.
The community often offers many enriching cultural opportunities such as concerts, recitals, musicals, sing-alongs, and other musical programs. We may find that exposure to music will benefit our families by helping family members to “expand their frames, add fire to their spirits, improve their minds, and make them feel free and untrammeled in body and mind.” (Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 2:94.)
Broaden music appreciation. Because there is in different genres of music much that is “virtuous, lovely, or … praiseworthy” (A of F 1:13), parents would be wise to expose their children and teenagers (as well as themselves) to a variety of music. That kind of open-mindedness helps reduce the communication barriers that often arise between family members who do not speak the same musical language. “There is good music, indifferent music, and bad music, and they all exist in all types of composition.” (Henry Pleasants, The Agony of Modern Music, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1955, back cover.)
In addition to Church songs and hymns, classical music often has a depth and beauty compatible with the ideals espoused by members of the Church. A short list of recordings that might serve as an introduction to classical music might include Sergey Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, Benjamin Britten’s Young People’s Guide to the Orchestra, Camille Saint-Sans’s Carnival of the Animals, and Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.
A broad range of music including but not limited to semiclassical, broadway, folk, patriotic, jazz, pop, soft rock, country, new age, and easy listening selections can bring similar enjoyment, enrichment, and enlightenment to life.
All family members can learn to tolerate, and perhaps eventually appreciate, the musical tastes of one another. As they do, they may find that their own musical preferences evolve toward music that appeals more to their spiritual sensibilities; and parents concerned about the music their children listen to may find it easier to lead them away from unworthy music. (An additional help for parents in this situation is the filmstrip Worthy Music, Worthy Thoughts, 1976, based on the principles set forth in Elder Boyd K. Packer’s October 1973 general conference address printed in the Ensign, Jan. 1974, pp. 25–28.)
Develop talents. It is wonderful to be able to bless others through our musical abilities, but perhaps we are the greater benefactors. The qualities of our soul are developed as we apply our efforts to learning a musical skill. For example, studying a musical instrument teaches us self-discipline while it expands our appreciation of beauty and sense of harmony in all things.
Render service. In developing our musical talents, we prepare to serve and edify others by playing a musical instrument, singing in a choir, or directing music. Not only the afflicted but also the whole are blessed by visits in which inspirational music is presented by loving family members and friends. There is great joy for both giver and receiver as the gift of music is shared with others.
A tradition of music in the home is a noble gift—one worthy of being passed from one generation to the next. It is also a gift that we can all enjoy, one way or another, as we use that gift to improve not only ourselves and our homes but also the world around us.
The First Presidency has said, “Music has boundless powers for moving families toward greater spirituality and devotion to the gospel. Latter-day Saints should fill their homes with the sound of worthy music.
“Ours is a hymnbook for the home as well as for the meetinghouse. We hope the hymnbook will take a prominent place among the scriptures and other religious books in our homes. The hymns can bring families a spirit of beauty and peace and can inspire love and unity among family members.
“Teach your children to love the hymns. Sing them on the Sabbath, in home evening, during scripture study, at prayer time. Sing as you work, as you play, and as you travel together. Sing hymns as lullabies to build faith and testimony in your young ones.” (Hymns, 1985, p. x.)
Select a hymn of the week to sing at family gatherings such as devotionals, scripture study, prayers, and family home evening. In this way, the great messages of the hymns of the Church can become a ready source of strength and inspiration.
Create a family song. Invite family members to help create the melody and lyrics for a special family song. You may prefer to use the melody of an existing song and change the lyrics. The song does not need to be great to be good, but it will reflect your family’s unique interests and personality.
Enhance a special family moment. Express gratitude for mission calls and other blessings of a sacred nature in family devotionals that include hymn singing. Other kinds of music can be a fun part of family traditions at events such as reunions and graduations.
Sing in the car. The miles will melt as you become involved in singing together as a family. Often a simple game such as taking turns choosing songs on a certain topic or from a certain genre, such as nursery rhymes, will appeal to young and old alike.
Stage a family music festival. Set a concert date when each family member will perform or play a recording of a favorite song or two. You may want to add to the fun by printing a program and serving refreshments during an intermission.
Sing hymns as a family. Stand around a piano or gather in a circle and have each person take turns choosing a hymn. Learn to harmonize, and invite extended family members and friends to join you in singing.
Organize a neighborhood recital featuring family members, friends, and others in your area who have been developing their singing voices or other musical talents. Present the program in your home. This is a good way to create and strengthen friendships and enjoy a variety of music.
Learn a musical skill. President Heber J. Grant proved that one is never too old or too untalented to develop musical ability. (See “I Have Learned to Sing,” Ensign, Sept. 1984, pp. 40–43.)
Preserve your musical heritage by recording the voices of young and old family members singing or performing the songs they love. Remember the songs of your childhood and pass them on to your children.
Meditate to music. Take a vacation from the pressures of life by dropping everything and simply relaxing to music that is therapeutic for you.