Harmony on the Highway


Learning hymns can help make a long commute enjoyable.

When my company moved, I was faced with the choice of moving closer to work, quitting my job in hope of finding something closer, or commuting a longer distance to work. With my family’s support, I chose commuting, despite the fact that the distance was now 100 miles one way. Not having access to public transportation, I had to spend at least four hours driving every day.

The slow traffic often bothered me, and I even occasionally struggled with sleepiness. I tried a variety of activities to pass the time productively, but one by one these techniques failed to sustain my interest. I became discouraged until finally, a year after starting my long commute, I found a solid solution.

I began to memorize the hymns, basing the idea on the counsel of President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He has taught us to use worthy music to drive out unworthy thoughts.

Since beginning this activity, I can say that the mental activity of learning and practicing hymns provides so much stimulation that I no longer get sleepy at the wheel. Meanwhile, the uplifting lyrics help protect me from the world’s aggravations and displace the negative feelings that formerly afflicted me.

As I have memorized the hymns I have learned a few lessons:

First, the project goes much faster if, when beginning, you concentrate on the hymns you are already somewhat familiar with. Later, as you expand into unknown territory, you will find yourself pleasantly surprised by the discovery of new gems.

Second, solicit help from others to help you learn melodies you do not know. Even if you can’t quite get the melody, learn the words and add imperfect songs to your repertoire. The hymns on audiocassette or compact disc are available at distribution centers, and playing tapes in my car has helped me learn faster.

Third, learn topical hymns a month or two before the event. Learn Easter hymns before Easter, patriotic songs before patriotic days, Christmas carols before Christmas, and so on. This technique has increased my motivation and learning speed.

Fourth, practice, practice, practice. Once I learn a hymn, I must sing it two or three times a week for a while to keep it locked in my memory strongly enough so that I can sing it with confidence.

Fifth, be open to the message of the words. Our hymns give us not only a review of gospel principles and doctrine but also guidance for our conduct and solace for our sorrows while they buoy up our spirits.

Sixth, sing sincerely. The Lord said, “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). Thus, avoid singing mechanically. Instead, sing each hymn as a personal prayer from a humble and contrite heart. You will thereby enter into sweet communion with our Heavenly Father.

My family and I have moved closer to my place of employment since I began this project. However, I continue to devote much of my driving time to learning and practicing the hymns. No longer do irritation and boredom divert my attention to lower plateaus and hinder my growth. Above the freeway’s frustrations, above the traffic’s tumult, I continue to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” (Ps. 100:1).

[illustration] Illustrated by Steve Kropp

Michael Yates serves as assistant to the high priests group leader in the Potomac South Ward, Washington D.C. Stake.