About Music, Love, and the Kingdom

Adapted from an address given at Brigham Young University on November 4, 1976

Today I want to talk to you about your future and mine, about love, and about building the kingdom through your talents. These subjects will probably get all mixed in together because that’s the way they are in real life.

I can think of nothing more important than getting really excited about learning. I mean excited enough to want to learn all there is to know—not just what is required. Of course, you can’t accomplish this in the limited time before graduation, maybe not even in this life. But if you can acquire that excitement, it will enrich your living for years to come. Unfortunately, school sometimes conditions us to just fill graduation requirements, and these requirements tend to become final hurdles rather than the launching pads they were intended to be.

But just filling requirements isn’t enough, as you will discover when you leave school and try to get by in your first job using what you remember of what you have learned. When your first concert contract includes learning something new, you find that we just didn’t cover the right piece of music in that analysis class, and you have to do some authoritative analysis on your own. Or you get up in front of your seventh grade literature class and find out that they, too, are just filling requirements when you expected so much more. When these things happen, you learn fast that we didn’t teach you all you need to know. Besides, you can’t even remember a lot of what we did teach you that you will so desperately need.

This is the way you beat the system of filling requirements: You do more than is required. You muster together all your resources for a great effort of self-expression. You believe that you can learn all there is to know about your field. You approach every symphony or novel or painting with eagerness to experience the spirit of it in its fullness. You have to be determined enough to learn even more, and experience even more intensely, than those who teach you.

So you have to take all we can teach you and learn it faster and better than we have done. And you must then push back the boundaries of ignorance and insensitivity to inspire the Saints and the world.

Don’t be like the man who suddenly came into some money and decided to realize a lifelong ambition to be a conductor. So he bought an orchestra. The first day he was standing on the podium, obviously in seventh heaven, while his players were casting knowing glances at each other, wondering if it was worth the money to play under a conductor who knew so little about music. They began dropping a note here and there. He didn’t notice. They began leaving out whole parts of the piece—melody here, harmony there. He didn’t notice. Finally, the timpani player became so enraged at the obvious lack of qualification that he suddenly played a fusillade of loud bangs with hard sticks in the middle of a very quiet section. The conductor, finally shaken out of his reverie, dropped his arms to his side, glared at the orchestra with great menace in his eyes, and thundered, “All right! Who did that?”

I tell you this story to illustrate that technique is the liberator of spiritual communication. I can’t imagine anyone being convinced by the pronouncement, “Y’know, I … uh … really … y’know … think … like … the … uh … whatchacallit … O, yeah … uh, gospel … is … y’know … like … true.” Somehow your ability to control the elements of your expression must grow until you can express the Spirit of God and all it reveals to you with power and intimate conviction.

Up to this point we have been looking essentially inward. We also have to look at the challenges of leading the world of the arts, even when this world may appear hostile to us because of disagreement with real or imagined facets of our faith. If we are to build the kingdom, we must work to become better than the best in our fields. If we do well in what we do, we will stop the mouths of our critics, because they will respect our achievements. And so my encouragement to you is to achieve.

I would like to suggest that the place where we have the greatest opportunity to achieve is in the area of the spiritual aspects of art. The world is hungering for inspiration. When we can give it to them, they are grateful and responsive; prejudices disappear, understanding emerges, and the kingdom is strengthened. Most of all, people’s lives are blessed.

At a Church Music Department social, Elder Packer made a very interesting observation about Laman and Lemuel. You will recall they were reproved by an angel for their hardness of heart. Elder Packer pointed out that Nephi said they were past feeling and could not feel the words of the angel. (See 1 Ne. 17:45.) Brother Packer suggested that the role of music in the kingdom is to help us feel the words of Christ. There could not be anything more spiritual in music than that.

This is exactly the area where each generation needs to discover the basic insights anew. Although we can share our insights with you, only those that you take into your heart and make your own will be useful to you. If you can take what we have to give and then probe the Spirit more deeply than we have probed, you will be prepared to make a contribution not only to the kingdom, but also to the world at large.

The whole structure of our society needs you and what you potentially are. The Church needs you too. I don’t know if you realize it, but the Church is growing so fast that one of our greatest challenges in the next few years is going to be to provide even the minimum leadership for this expansion. Every month in Mexico enough people are joining the Church to create two new stakes. Worldwide, the Church is building new chapels at the rate of three each week. Emerging from this explosion will be demands for knowledgeable and spiritual artists of all kinds on a scale that can be either frightening or exciting depending on how you respond to challenges. Those of you who respond well will have more opportunity than you can imagine to build the kingdom through your art. I see not limits, but opportunities unlimited.

Now let’s be more specific: what do we really need for the future of the arts in the kingdom?

1. As I have indicated, we need you to reach higher than we have been able to reach. We need you to reach to the limits of your ability, and I assure you that those limits are much higher than you have ever imagined. How often do we come short of our potential because we have locked ourselves in our own little boxes with the limitations of our own restricted horizons? And how often could we achieve marvelous things by raising our heads above the day-to-day routines and attitudes that determine how far we see?

2. I think we have a great need for you to achieve the sensitivity and spirituality that would qualify you to serve the Lord in absolutely any capacity. All of you must develop the righteousness, humanity, administrative skill, political insights, and usefulness to the kingdom that will carry you into the ranks of great service in the Church.

3. I think we need some of you to “make it” in the world—to go to the very top in the arts and still retain your dedication to the kingdom. You need to represent us to the world because the world needs the inspiration of righteous achievement.

4. We need some critics and historians who are intensely concerned with the building of the arts in the kingdom, first to help us sort out issues and understand more of our potential and our roots, and second to collect and analyze and circulate the best we have to offer and help us as a people to understand ourselves and our artistic contribution.

5. On the everyday level of the Church, we need people well-experienced in both Church spirit and discipline who can inspire the Saints with the love of God by the way they teach, write, paint, act, perform, conduct, compose, and live.

I haven’t forgotten that I said at the beginning that I would talk about love. I don’t believe that you can edify anyone unless you love him. It matters not how well you perform, how scholarly your research, how carefully planned your teaching procedures, although these things are necessary for projecting your message. But if you really want to build the kingdom, you have to edify your fellowmen, and that can only happen when you communicate love to them. One of my favorite scriptures is found in section 59 of the Doctrine and Covenants. This section describes the various basic commandments and then enumerates several blessings that come from keeping them. The blessings are things that appeal to the senses. After the blessings are enumerated, the scripture says (note this well), “And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.” (D&C 59:20.) The Lord takes pleasure in giving us joy. I have had the experience of watching my own children on Christmas morning with the joy of their gifts and have experienced a deep feeling of pleasure at their excitement. That, multiplied by infinity, is what I feel the Lord was expressing to us in this scripture. He loves us and is pleased when the things he has prepared for us give us joy.

So if you wish to edify, if you want to share the deepest, most godlike experiences, do what you do because you love the people you are doing it for. I don’t care that you may not know the members of your audience personally. If you love them, you will strive to bring them great joy through your talents.

If you want to do that, you must first experience that joy yourselves, and then through your love express it to your audiences. If you are writing music, you will write things that can transport your audience and your performers beyond the mundane routine of everyday life into the realm where deep spiritual perceptions express your love of the gospel and your love for them. You have no better vehicle for expressing that love than your God-given talent.

If you want to beat your professors, surpass them in loving, surpass them in blessing the lives of those who surround you. This will bless us all because love begets love, understanding begets understanding, and spirit begets spirit.

So, lengthen your stride and be about your Father’s business. Build the kingdom. Muster your strength. Love art; love the gospel; love all mankind, including your neighbors; and have a beautiful life of happiness and of sharing that great blessing—your talent.

[photo] Contest winning photo by Bryce Rytting