Music: Apples or Onions?


Who would win the eating contest? The cheerleaders nibbled deliberately at the big, beautiful, candy-coated apples … The athletes, using a bite-and-swallow strategy, consumed mouthfuls before realizing what was beneath the caramel camouflage.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to teach seminary at Timpview High School in Provo, Utah. I was excited to begin a new year and looked forward with great anticipation to what the future held.

I was somewhat apprehensive, however, about going to Timpview because it would be my first experience of teaching or attending school without spending my afternoons playing football or baseball or coaching. I knew I could do it, but I worried nevertheless. I suppose that is why I enjoyed pep assemblies so much. It was an opportunity to feel many of the same feelings I had had as a player and as a coach. You have probably had the same experience—chills running down your arms and the back of your neck when you enter the gymnasium while the band is playing and the cheerleaders are cheering. It’s exciting!

I remember one particular assembly before a big game. The cheerleaders had planned a special class competition involving cream pies. I don’t remember all the details, but I do remember that some of the athletes, you know the type, the ones who all sit together and won’t cheer except on rare occasions, got an idea to liven things up by throwing some of the pies at the cheerleaders. Somehow the activities the cheerleaders had planned were left in a barrage of pies being thrown, hairdos being ruined, and the student body cheering for the athletic culprits. I must admit, it was quite an experience.

Very little was said to these young men, that I am aware of, by the cheerleaders. Each girl allowed the boys to think they had really gained the upper hand and gotten away with a fast one.

The pies were soon forgotten, and another pep assembly greeted us a few weeks later.

This time, as we entered the gym, there were 12 caramel apples on center court. Big, beautiful, brown caramel apples, waiting for someone to eat them.

When everyone was settled down and the band had ceased playing, the head cheerleader walked to the microphone and began to explain that morning’s class competition. From the small piece of paper she read the names of six football players and challenged them to a candied-apple-eating contest. As each name was read the responding young man came down to the basketball court with confidence, raising his hands as if in triumph, knowing that he could eat an apple faster than any girl.

Myself and another teacher were called upon to judge this historic event. The cheerleaders explained the rules to me, and I then explained them to the young men. The young men, however, were not overly concerned because each was proficient in eating and eating quickly. The only two rules were (1) every apple on each team must be completely devoured and (2) the girls were to be allowed a ten-second head start.

After hearing the rules, the young men decided on a game plan: they would not chew—just bite, swallow, bite, swallow, until each apple was gone. With such strategy the contest began.

The whistle blew, and the girls began to eat with great care and deliberate actions. The boys, on the other hand, stood watching, waiting for their winning opportunity.

When the second whistle blew, each young man, without any hesitation or forethought, lunged toward the caramel apple before him. With no table manners evident, they began to devour them with great haste—bite, swallow, bite, swallow. Then suddenly, in unison, as if a light switch had been turned on inside each boy, heads raised in shock and disbelief as they realized they were not eating candy covered apples but candy-covered onions! The crowd roared when they realized what had happened. The cheerleaders, on the other hand, stood calmly, hands signaling the peace sign in recognition of their sly plan to deceive the football players.

By now these poor boys were looking as white as sheets and trying to get rid of the large bites of raw onion which were now floating throughout their systems.

I’ll never forget it! Those poor guys smelled like onions for quite some time, and it was not an easy task to rid themselves of the stench.

Since then I have told that story hundreds of times while speaking about music and its effect upon our actions, feelings, thoughts, and spirituality. In doing so I have thought very seriously about what happened that day at Timpview.

The cheerleaders had made the onions appear so much like the apples that the football players could not tell the difference until the onions became a part of them and it was too late.

No one ever dreamed that those “sweet” young ladies would be so mischievous as to use some thing these young men loved so dearly—food—to get back at and deceive them.

When I ponder that story I always ask myself, “Would Satan try to do the same thing to deceive us?” Would he use the things we love the most to deceive us and bring us down to destruction? Could he even use music, which most of us love dearly, to deceive us?

In Doctrine and Covenants 50:2–3 the Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith that one of Satan’s major objectives is to deceive us: “Behold, verily I say unto you, that there are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world. And also Satan hath sought to deceive you, that he might overthrow you.” [D&C 50:2–3]

He is the champion of all liars and does not care one bit about you or me. His only desire is to seek our misery.

Of course he would use music! Without question he knows that music is one of God’s greatest tools for good ever created. He must be aware that it is one of the most important and powerful influences in our lives. So, if he has this knowledge, don’t you think he could use music as one of his greatest counterfeits of all time? After all, isn’t listening to music one of the first things we do each morning, one of the first things we do when we get into a car, and one of the last things we do before we go to bed at night? Actually, everywhere we go, from the doctor’s office to the supermarket, music is being programmed into our systems.

Of course Satan would use it to his advantage if he could. In fact, 2 Nephi 2:11 states [2 Ne. 2:11]: “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.”

To me that means that whenever God creates something that is good, true, and beautiful, Satan, in his devious way, comes up with something that is false, counterfeit, and ugly, yet appears to be similar to our Father’s creation. He acts, if you will, in much the same manner that the cheerleaders did with the onions. He tries to deceive us into partaking of that music which is false, counterfeit, and ugly in hopes that we will not detect it until it is a part of us or too late altogether.

Elder Bernard P. Brockbank, of the First Quorum of the Seventy, has said, “Young people, do you think Satan has music in his program? Do you think the Lord has music in his program? … Satan’s music has a way of destroying the godliness within a human soul, and there is some … music that is definitely not from the Lord. It will tear down your spiritual strength and your divine nature. … Remember Satan will try to lure you away with conniving and deceitful practices so that you hardly know you are walking down the road with him” (in Conference Report, Glasgow Scotland Area Conference, 1976, p. 14).

Elder David B. Haight of the Council of the Twelve Apostles has also commented on this subject, “You are different. Pornography, filthy literature and movies, vile language, and suggestive music are not part of your life. They can destroy you” (Ensign, May 1981, pp. 41–42).

If music is that powerful, is it not vital that we make the proper decisions concerning what we will and will not listen to? The First Presidency, in 1973, made this statement: “Through music, man’s ability to express himself extends beyond the limits of the spoken language in both subtlety and power. Music can be used to exalt and inspire or to carry messages of degradation and destruction. It is therefore important that as Latter-day Saints we at all times apply the principles of the gospel and seek the guidance of the Spirit in selecting the music with which we surround ourselves” (Priesthood Bulletin, Aug. 1973, p. 3).

Now the question is, how do we choose between the musical apples and the musical onions? Between the good, the true, the beautiful, and the false, the counterfeit, the ugly? Satan has done so well in caramel coating some of his music that distinguishing “apples” from “onions” is sometimes difficult. However, the Lord has not left us alone in this decision.

In the book of Moroni, we have been given a way to discern Satan and his counterfeits in all aspects of our lives. From this scripture we learn how we can judge the difference between musical apples and musical onions.

“Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil … inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.

“But behold, that which … inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.

“Wherefore, take heed … that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil. …

“… the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for everything which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.

“But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him (Moro. 7:12–14, 16–17).

I don’t believe this scripture is saying that all “good” music must be of a religious nature or even that all music can be divided neatly into a holy or evil category. However, I believe verse 17 is explicit as to what we should not listen to. If our music persuades us “to do evil,” to “believe not in Christ,” or to “deny him,” or “serve not God” in any way, we should not be partaking of it. If it inhibits the Spirit of the Lord, it is not worthy of young Latter-day Saints.

The 13th article of faith is another great guideline in choosing what music to listen to. For example, is the music you listen to “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy”? Does your music persuade you to be “honest, true, chaste, benevolent … and [to do] good to all men”? [A of F 1:13] If it does, great!

Doctrine and Covenants 50:23–25 says [D&C 50:23–25], “And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.

“That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.

“And again, verily I say unto you, and I say it that you may know the truth, that you may chase darkness from among you.”

I suppose chasing this “darkness” from among us is one of life’s greatest challenges. However, if we can apply these correct and eternal principles taught in these and other scriptures, when choosing which music we will listen to, it will not be necessary to be familiar with all the specifics about the various musical groups performing today. We need not be told or commanded in all things in relation to which group or type of music is “good” and which is “bad.”

The Lord in his infinite wisdom allows us to make decisions on our own, yet leaves us responsible and accountable for the decisions we make. Whether those decisions are for our betterment or our destruction, we must be responsible for the consequences.

“For behold it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward” (D&C 58:26).

“Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Ne. 2:27).

Perhaps one of the values in the “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves” philosophy is that as time moves on, the performing groups will change and new fads will arise to replace today’s specific concerns.

If, however, we will follow the Lord’s teachings and look at our music (as well as other areas of our lives) with an eternal perspective, we will always know how to choose, and our methods will constantly be current. The old adage, “If you give a man a fish, he has food for a day. If you teach the man how to fish, he has food for the rest of his life,” is certainly true when learning to choose what music we should or should not listen to.

Of course, time could be spent on the effects that various types of music have on our actions, feelings, thoughts, and spirituality, as well as the effects of lyrics, rhythms, beats, volume, and intensity. Hopefully, the scriptures and our living prophets will be our guides and our lights in learning how to “fish” for ourselves. The Lord has spoken and he is now speaking if we will but take the time to search and have the courage to follow.

I realize as we approach this sensitive subject there are some who feel that the items discussed in this article don’t apply to them and that it really doesn’t matter what they listen to, and that listening to “appropriate” or “inappropriate” music makes little difference in their lives.

May I suggest that when we feel that it makes no difference, that we read 2 Nephi 28:21 and ponder it carefully. It states, “And others will [Satan] pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.” [2 Ne. 28:21]

When we feel that we are above temptation or more mature for our age and able to handle that which is destroying others, then perhaps we should look at ourselves more realistically and see if we, ourselves, are being led away so carefully that we don’t even know it.

In May of 1981 the Young Men Presidency of the Church stated, “This generation of young men [and we may include young women] is going to do deeds never done before. You are going to accomplish the seemingly impossible because you are on His errand. Your generation will fight the greatest army of Satanic hosts ever assembled. You will be severely outnumbered. You will need a deep and abiding faith in Christ to survive—and you will survive. The Lord and His servants will triumph, we do know that” (Church News, 9 May 1981, p. 9).

I agree! We will survive! If we can establish a deep and abiding faith in Christ. But what if our faith is destroyed by the music we listen to? What if it is actually a musical onion rather than an apple and has become a part of us? Can we know? Can we get rid of the smell if it has become a part of us? Yes! We have been given several ways to do so.

Elder Boyd K. Packer has given us some timely advice: “Why not go through your collection? Get rid of the worst of it. Keep just the best of it. Be selective in what you consume and what you produce. It becomes a part of you.” (“Inspiring Music—Worthy Thoughts,” Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 27).

Yes, it becomes a part of you just like the onions became a part of my students. Knowing this and many other variables, can we afford to listen to that which we know will harm us?

I pray that we will have the courage to follow the counsel of the Lord through his scriptures and his ordained mouthpieces in making our decisions concerning music. The decision is yours. You must decide for yourself whether you will listen to “onions” or to “apples.” The decision is not an easy one. However, as the poet Robert Frost put it, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference” (“The Road Not Taken,” lines 18–20).

[photos] Photos by Eldon Linschoten

[photo] If our music persuades us to do evil, we should not be partaking of it. If it is virtuous and praiseworthy, then great!