Chapter 18: The Song of the Heart

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, (2011), 164–71


When we sing the hymns of Zion in the proper spirit, we offer prayers to the Lord and invite the influence of the Holy Ghost into our lives and the lives of others.

From the Life of Heber J. Grant

President Heber J. Grant loved to sing the hymns of Zion, even though he had difficulty singing on key. In April 1900, while he was serving as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he dedicated an entire discourse to the importance of singing hymns. In this address, which he gave at the general conference of the Deseret Sunday School Union, he shared stories about his efforts to learn to sing:

“I have, all the days of my life, enjoyed singing very much. When I was a little boy ten years of age I joined a singing class, and the professor told me that I could never learn to sing. Some years ago [a man] told me that I could sing, but he said he would like to be forty miles away while I was doing it. …

“When I was a child, next to my own mother, no woman that ever lived took as much interest in me, gave me as much motherly advice or seemed to love me more than did Sister [Eliza R.] Snow. I loved her with all my heart, and loved her hymn, ‘O My Father.’ I remarked some four months ago to Brother Horace S. Ensign that I would be willing to spend four or five months of my spare time if I could only learn to sing that one hymn. He told me that any one could learn to sing that had perseverance. I said to him if there was anything that I had it was perseverance. So I suggested that we sit down and I would take my first lesson of two hours on that song. I have been continuing the lessons on it ever since. …

“I make these remarks because I feel that we ought to encourage our young people to learn to sing. From the standpoint of a singer, I have lost thirty-three years of my life. I was told when ten years old that I could never learn to sing. I did not learn until forty-three years of age, and I have spent four or five months trying to learn to sing the hymns, ‘God moves in a mysterious way,’ and ‘O My Father.’ I have learned one because of the sentiments and my love for the author, and the other because the late President Wilford Woodruff loved it better than any other hymn in the hymn book.”

Shortly after making these remarks, Elder Grant sang the hymn “O My Father.” Then he said: “I have but one object tonight in speaking and singing, and that is to encourage the young men and young ladies not to waste thirty or forty years of their lives before undertaking to sing. … By continued effort one can learn to sing that has no knowledge of music whatever, as was the case with me.”1

Teachings of Heber J. Grant

The song of the heart is a prayer to the Lord.

Singing is a very splendid part of the worship of the Latter-day Saints.2

The singing of our sacred hymns, written by the servants of God, has a powerful effect in converting people to the principles of the gospel and in promoting peace and spiritual growth. Singing is a prayer to the Lord, as He has 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.]3

Mormon Tabernacle Choir

The Tabernacle Choir in about 1920. President Grant counseled congregations and choirs to sing the hymns of Zion, which have “a powerful effect in converting people to the principles of the gospel and in promoting peace and spiritual growth.”

My soul has always delighted in listening to singing, having been passionately fond of it all my life, and I am delighted to be able today to pray unto the Lord “in the songs of the heart.” It is my opinion that if we will all remember the words of the Lord, that the song of the righteous is a prayer unto him, and shall be answered with a blessing upon our heads, and will frequently supplicate our Heavenly Father in the sweet songs of Zion, earnestly and honestly echoing in our hearts the sentiments of our beautiful hymns, that we are bound to have the promised blessings, which I urge upon the Saints to try and obtain.4

We must avoid songs that teach false doctrine.

Let us remember the kind of songs the Lord likes, songs with the Gospel in them. I have gone to conferences where I have heard three or four anthems, with the words of which I could not agree. They were sung to good music but they were not good doctrine.5

The more beautiful the music by which false doctrine is sung, the more dangerous it becomes. I appeal to all Latter-day Saints, and especially to our choirs, never to sing the words of a song, no matter how beautiful and inspiring the music may be, where the teachings are not in perfect accord with the truths of the gospel. …

… No individual singer, or organization of singers, in the Church, should ever render a selection unless the words are in full harmony with the truths of the gospel, and can be given from the heart of the singer. In other words, our songs should be in very deed “prayers unto the Lord.” [See D&C 25:12.] If we are careful to sing only such songs, then we are sure of the blessings which are promised by the Lord, because his promises are “true and faithful and will all be fulfilled.” [See D&C 1:37.]6

The singing of hymns can bring a peaceful and heavenly influence into our lives.

I feel grateful to the Lord for the inspiration of his Spirit to so many of our people in the writing of the beautiful music that we have for our hymns. … May God bless our composers and our poets who have given us such inspired words and such inspiring, sweet music.7

I am confident that the hymns of Zion, when sung with the proper spirit, bring a peaceful and heavenly influence into our homes, and also aid in preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.8

There is nothing more pleasing and inspiring than music in the home, and since I learned to sing, we generally have a hymn at our house each morning before family prayer. There certainly is a delightful influence which attends the singing of the songs of Zion, and it is my opinion that the Saints should make singing part of their family worship.9

Let us not forget our hymns when we go to the house of worship. Let the congregation sing; and by all means let the choir members become familiar with the beautiful sentiments that are contained in our hymns.10

I recall one incident showing how song has the power to soothe irritated feelings and bring harmony to the hearts of men who are filled with a contentious spirit. It occurred many years ago and involved a quarrel between two old and faithful brethren whose membership dated back to the days of Nauvoo. These men had been full of integrity and devotion to the work of the Lord. They had been through many of the hardships of Nauvoo, and had suffered the drivings and persecutions of the Saints, as well as the hardships of pioneering, incident to the early settlement of the west. These men had quarreled over some business affairs, and finally concluded that they would try to get President John Taylor to help them adjust their difficulties.

John Taylor was then the president of the Council of the Twelve Apostles. These brethren pledged their word of honor that they would faithfully abide by whatever decision Brother Taylor might render. … They did not immediately tell him what their trouble was, but explained that they had seriously quarreled and asked him if he would listen to their story and render his decision. President Taylor willingly consented. But he said: “Brethren, before I hear your case, I would like very much to sing one of the songs of Zion for you.”

Now President Taylor was a very capable singer, and interpreted sweetly and with spirit, our sacred hymns.

He sang one of our hymns to the two brethren.

Seeing its effect, he remarked that he never heard one of the songs of Zion but that he wanted to listen to one more, and so asked them to listen while he sang another. Of course, they consented. They both seemed to enjoy it; and, having sung the second song, he remarked that he had heard there is luck in odd numbers and so with their consent he would sing still another, which he did. Then in his jocular way, he remarked: “Now, brethren, I do not want to wear you out, but if you will forgive me, and listen to one more hymn, I promise to stop singing, and will hear your case.”

The story goes that when President Taylor had finished the fourth song, the brethren were melted to tears, got up, shook hands, and asked President Taylor to excuse them for having called upon him, and for taking up his time. They then departed without his even knowing what their difficulties were.

President Taylor’s singing had reconciled their feelings toward each other. The spirit of the Lord had entered their hearts, and the hills of difference that rose between them had been leveled and become as nothing. Love and brotherhood had developed in their souls. The trifles over which they had quarreled had become of no consequence in their sight. The songs of the heart had filled them with the spirit of reconciliation.11

Elders J. Golden Kimball and Charles A. Welch, neither of whom claim to sing well, while on a mission in the Southern States, were about to baptize some converts; a mob had assembled, and the brethren were given to understand that if they carried out their intentions of baptizing that the mob would throw them into the river. The brethren determined to go ahead no matter what the result might be. Before doing so, however, they sang a song. The song seemed to have such an effect upon the mob that they were almost transfixed. The brethren proceeded with their baptisms, and then went some distance to attend to confirming the baptized. A message came from the mob asking them to come and sing that song again, and the request was complied with. The leader of the mob, Joseph Jarvis, afterwards joined the Church, and he stated to Elder Kimball that the sentiments of the hymn, and the inspiration attending the singing, as above related, converted him to the Gospel. Brother Kimball’s recollection is that the hymn was “Truth Reflects Upon Our Senses.” [See Hymns, no. 273.]12

There is a great deal lost in the homes of the people by not having the songs of Zion sung therein. Many a missionary robs himself of strength and power and ability to accomplish good, and to make friends, by not knowing how to sing. … The songs of Zion bring a good influence into our homes.

It is not the eloquence that you possess which will carry conviction to the hearts of the people, but it is the Spirit of Almighty God that is burning in your hearts, and your desire for the salvation of souls. Brigham Young said that the Spirit of the Lord would do more to convert people than the eloquence of men [see Deseret News, 9 Feb. 1854, 4]. And I say that the singing of the songs of Zion, though imperfectly, with the inspiration of God, will touch the hearts of the honest more effectively than if sung well without the Spirit of God. Sing with the Spirit of God. Love the words that you sing. I love the songs of Zion.13

Suggestions for Study and Discussion

  • Why is it important that we sing the hymns of the Church? Why should we sing the hymns even if we are not naturally gifted singers?

  • In what ways can the singing of hymns help us worship the Lord at home and in sacrament meetings and other Church meetings?

  • How is the “song of the righteous” a prayer to the Lord?

  • What is the “proper spirit” for the singing of hymns? Why do “the hymns of Zion, when sung with the proper spirit, bring a peaceful and heavenly influence”?

  • In what ways have hymns helped you? What hymns have had a special influence in your life? Why are these hymns particularly meaningful to you?

  • What are some benefits of learning Church hymns that are unfamiliar to us? Why is it helpful to memorize the words to hymns?

  • Why are Church hymns and Primary songs the most appropriate music for sacrament meetings and other Church meetings?

  • Why are false teachings so dangerous when they are sung to beautiful music? Why is it important to avoid music with “teachings [that] are not in perfect accord with the truths of the gospel”?

  • How can parents help their children learn and love the hymns of Zion? In what ways can parents use hymns and Primary songs in teaching the gospel to their children?

Show References

    Notes

  1.   1.

    In Conference Report, Apr. 1900, 61–62; paragraphing altered.

  2.   2.

    Gospel Standards, comp. G. Homer Durham (1941), 168.

  3.   3.

    Gospel Standards, 168.

  4.   4.

    “Learning to Sing,” Improvement Era, Oct. 1900, 892.

  5.   5.

    In Conference Report, Apr. 1931, 132.

  6.   6.

    “Sing Only What We Believe,” Improvement Era, July 1912, 786–87.

  7.   7.

    In Conference Report, Apr. 1921, 8.

  8.   8.

    Gospel Standards, 170.

  9.   9.

    Improvement Era, Oct. 1900, 892.

  10.   10.

    Gospel Standards, 169.

  11.   11.

    Gospel Standards, 285–87; paragraphing altered.

  12.   12.

    Improvement Era, Oct. 1900, 890–91.

  13.   13.

    Gospel Standards, 170.