Noteworthy Talents

by Darrin Lythgoe

Do you mysteriously lose your voice when it’s time to sing in church? Does the thought of leading music make you want to flee? If you answered yes, there’s something you should know: musical participation doesn’t have to be scary, boring, or embarrassing. In fact, with the right attitude, a little effort, and a bit of self-confidence, singing and leading hymns can even be fun. Here are a few notes to get you in tune.

Singing Solutions

The First Presidency has written, “Hymns invite the Spirit of the Lord, create a feeling of reverence, unify us as members, and provide a way for us to offer praises to the Lord. … Hymns can lift our spirits, give us courage, and move us to righteous action. They can fill our souls with heavenly thoughts and bring us a spirit of peace” (Hymns, 1985, pp. ix–x). To find that spirit, you might try to:

  • Take advantage of every opportunity to sing. Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t project golden tones. It’s the thought that counts, so give it your best shot and don’t worry about who’s listening. They’re probably as nervous as you are.

  • Try to sing your “part.” Do you know if you feel more comfortable singing alto or soprano? Tenor or bass? If you’re not sure which part is best for you or how to sing it, ask someone who knows to help you learn.

  • Watch the chorister for instructions, such as when to slow down or speed up, when to get louder or softer, and when to hold notes longer than normal.

  • Sit next to someone who sings well and isn’t shy about it. They’ll help you feel more comfortable about your own singing.

  • Tap your foot quietly to help keep time with the music.

  • Hold your hymnbook up off your lap, keep your back straight, and open your mouth wide.

  • Notice the scriptures listed below each hymn. They are meant to enhance the message. Look them up and read them when you get a chance.

  • Share your hymnbook with a friend or family member. As with most things, singing is more fun when you do it together.

Conducting Yourself and Others

Now that you’ve got the hymns down, there’s a good chance you’ll be called to lead the music sometime. Here are a few hints to make the job a little easier:

  • Prepare! Learn how to lead music before you’re called or asked to fill in. Read the section in the back of the hymnbook titled “For Beginning Music Directors.” It’s short and very good. Even if you already have some music experience, this is must-read material.

  • When possible get together with the accompanist and discuss the hymns you will lead. The pianist will be watching you too, so make sure you understand each other.

  • When you are asked to lead music on short notice, skim the song ahead of time to see if there are any surprises in the timing or verse repetition.

  • Stand where everyone, including the accompanist, can see you and make sure you have everyone’s attention before you start.

  • Smile while you’re conducting, and don’t forget to sing. People will be watching your mouth as well as your arms.

  • If you have access to a VCR, check your meetinghouse library for a video called “Music Training.” It’s very helpful.

  • If you get lost, stay calm, find your place, then start again. Never give up.

  • Watch the ward chorister conduct, and learn from his or her techniques.

  • Practice on your own in front of a mirror.

  • Practice with your family at family home evening.

Starting from Scratch

If you don’t know the first thing about music, the Church has a wonderful new program out called the Basic Music Course. It takes you from only having heard music a few times all the way through learning to play hymns on a keyboard. Find out if your ward has it in the meetinghouse library. The Basic Music Course can help almost anyone improve their music skills.

Leading the Blind

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to try to read a restaurant menu when you’re blind? How about going through a buffet line in a wheelchair? Joel Williams of the Carrollwood Second Ward did, and decided to do something about it for his Eagle Scout project.

He arranged a special day when teams would visit restaurants in the Tampa, Florida, area, and use a checklist to see how disability-friendly they were. He’d already gotten permission from the participating restaurant managers, of course.

Before the teams went out, however, he set up an “Insight Cafe” in the meetinghouse and assigned each team member a disability with which they would attempt to enjoy a restaurant meal.

When the project was complete, Joel compiled a “Guide to Dining Accessibility,” which is available to the public. It lists restaurants and the handicaps they can accommodate. This was one Eagle project that not only helped the community, but gave tremendous insight to those who participated.

Sudden Switch

After playing the violin for five years and attaining Grade V level, 16-year-old Peter Bradshaw of Sutton Colfield, England, suddenly discovered he is a saxophonist.

It took him less than one year to achieve Saxophone Grade V level. He now switches between both instruments in his school orchestra, and plays sax in the local Fairfax band.

Peter, an early-morning seminary student, says, “Church has taught me to persevere when things are difficult. This has helped me to get through hard music assignments and not give up.” It also helped him accomplish the many skills necessary to pass Bronze and Silver standard in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme.

Rules to Live By

One night at a Mutual activity, youth in the Billings Second Ward, Billings Montana East Stake, were asked to write down some of their favorite “Rules to Live By.” We thought you might like to see the results, and even try this in your own wards. Here goes:

  • Make the best of everything.

  • Drive slow in the snow.

  • You’ll win a few, and you’ll lose a lot, but you should always smile.

  • Learn from your mistakes.

  • If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always be what you’ve always been.

  • Go the distance. Don’t stop halfway.

  • Discipline yourself to do the things you don’t want to do that will benefit you.

  • Keep a good attitude and do your best.

  • Never give up.

  • Pray always.

  • Read scriptures.

  • Think before you speak.

  • Be polite.

Doubling Up

Doing what comes naturally brought top honors to Tracey Keogh, 17, and Brenda Richmond, 18, of Dublin, Ireland. Their school year was spent working to improve themselves and the community, and they received the country’s prestigious President’s Award.

Requirements for the award said they had to spend a certain number of hours each week working on community projects, a personal skill, and a special project. Tracey visited an elderly lady, recycled, and learned to use a personal computer. Brenda volunteered at a hospital, acted in a school play, and ran a small company.

Their projects went hand-in-hand with the Young Women Personal Progress program. Brenda said she couldn’t have done all she did that year without the Church in her life. “The Church, its principles, and its leaders have taught me a lot,” she said.

Waiting for a Friend

Best friends Daniel Dewey and Lyle W. Rogers had always planned on getting their Eagle Scout Awards together and sharing a Court of Honor, but their plans looked doubtful when, the day after he passed his Board of Review, Daniel was diagnosed with a severe type of adult leukemia.

Daniel had to undergo six weeks of chemotherapy, and his chances of coming home for his Court of Honor looked doubtful. Just about every Church member in Gooding, Idaho, prayed for Daniel, and his name was on the prayer rolls of several temples.

Finally, prayers were answered, and Daniel’s cancer went into remission. Daniel was able to make the two-hour trip from Boise, where he was being treated, to Gooding, and the friends’ Court of Honor was one of the most touching ceremonies most people who attended could remember.

After the ceremony, Daniel had to return to the hospital, but his cancer continues in remission and he has received bone marrow transplants from his little brother. He has been eager to get out and get back to Scouting.

Saved by the Family

“I can remember lying on the floor in my room and crying in the dark, wondering why God made me a ‘dumb child,’” writes 16-year-old Vanessa Wright, of Belmont, Massachusetts, who has struggled most of her life with severe dyslexia. “I was angry inside and very mad at life.”

“But my family saved me,” she continues. Vanessa has an older brother David, an older sister Loree, and parents John and Laraine Wright. “They comforted me night after night while I cried myself to sleep. They prayed with me, we studied the scriptures together, and most important of all they taught me that I am a daughter of Heavenly Father who loves me.

“They also said that everyone has challenges in life, and it is how we deal with them that is the true test,” she says.

“Who would ever have thought that now, in tenth grade, I would be the class president at an all-girls private school? My struggle with a learning disability is going to be with me all my life, but thanks to my family I am a fighter now, and I will not give up. Knowing that the Lord loves me and that my family is behind me, I feel like I can do anything.”

Now that’s inspiring.

Full Speed Ahead

Eighteen-year-old Keri Ainge of Sutton Coldfield, England, barely caught her breath after baptism before she was totally immersed in missionary work, both for the living and for the dead.

Keri helped the missionaries teach her own mother, and then together she and her mother started sorting out their family history. They’ve researched six generations back into the 1700s. “We searched one graveyard at Hockley, Birmingham, for three days hunting for one great-grandparent’s grave,” said Keri. “It was amazing when we found the right one.”

Keri has also spent several weeks helping the sister missionaries in Coventry and Northampton. This helped her love the work so much she’s determined to serve a full-time mission of her own just as soon as she turns 21.

Sealed with a Kiss

Laurel Brenda Byington of Moses Lake, Washington, was completely awestruck when former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev leaned over and kissed her on both cheeks, in the Russian manner, after accepting her presentation of a bouquet of flowers. “Beautiful girl,” he said kindly, in heavily accented English. Brenda was in Russia to attend the People-to-People Youth Summit. She had to work long and hard to earn the privilege of participating in the program. She got good grades and was involved in a myriad of service projects and extracurricular activities.

While in Russia, Brenda had the opportunity to visit schools, farms, government centers, and businesses. She was especially interested in Russian agriculture because she was raised on a farm in Washington. Brenda developed a sincere love for the Russian people and hopes to be able to do more for them in the future.

Photography by John Luke