Practice Makes Possible


From Improvement Era, vol. 3, 1900, 886; subheads added; punctuation and capitalization modernized.
Heber J. Grant’s music teacher said President Grant would never learn to sing. The teacher gave up in despair. President Grant did not.
President Heber J. Grant

My mother tried to teach me when a small child to sing but failed because of my inability to carry a tune. When I joined a singing class taught by Professor Charles J. Thomas, he tried and tried in vain to teach me when 10 years of age to run the scale or carry a simple tune, and finally gave up in despair. He said that I could never, in this world, learn to sing. Perhaps he thought I might learn the divine art in another world. Ever since this attempt, I have frequently tried to sing when riding alone many miles from anyone who might hear me, but on such occasions could never succeed in carrying the tune of one of our familiar hymns for a single verse, and quite frequently not for a single line. …

Just a Little Flat

While listening to Brother Horace S. Ensign sing, I remarked that I would gladly give two or three months of my spare time if by so doing it would result in my being able to sing one or two hymns. He answered that any person could learn to sing who had a reasonably good voice and who possessed perseverance and was willing to do plenty of practicing. My response was that I had an abundance of voice and considerable perseverance. … I would take my first music lesson of two hours upon the hymn, “O My Father.” Much to my surprise, at the end of four or five days, I was able to sing this hymn with Brother Ensign without any mistakes. At the end of two weeks, I could sing it alone, with the exception of being a little flat on some of the high notes. …

The Secret of My Singing Success

One Sunday, at the close of a meeting, upon telling Professor Charles J. Thomas that Brother Ensign informed me that I could sing, he said: “Didn’t you tell him I said no?” I answered, “Yes.” He said, “Why, you can’t even run the scale.” I said, “I am aware of that fact, having tried for half an hour this morning and failed.” My voice at 10 years of age must have made a deep impression upon Brother Thomas, seeing that he had remembered it for 33 years. Noticing that he seemed quite skeptical, I asked him to walk over with me into the corner of the building, so as not to disturb the people who had not yet left the meetinghouse when I sang to him in a low voice, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” At the close he said, “That’s all right.”

At the end of two or three months, I was able to sing not only “O My Father” but “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” and two or three other hymns … (Hymns, nos. 292, 285, 30).

It required a vast amount of practice to learn, and my first hymn was sung many hundreds of times before I succeeded in getting it right.

Today, my musical deafness is disappearing, and by sitting down to a piano and playing the lead notes, I can learn a song in less than one-tenth the time required when I first commenced to practice. …

The Singing Missionaries

President Brigham Young once remarked that the Spirit of the Lord would do more to convert people than the eloquence of man. The same is true of singing. It is not always the ability that a missionary has to sing in a creditable and entertaining way that will aid him most in his missionary work; but on the contrary, if he can sing some of our beautiful hymns with the spirit in which they were written, he will be able to carry conviction to the hearts of his hearers as to the truths of the gospel. As an example of this: 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, 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 converted him to the gospel. …

A Prayer unto Him

The Lord says in a revelation given to Emma Smith, the wife of the Prophet: “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).

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. …

Learn to Sing

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. I recommend to the youth of Zion, that they go to work with determination and learn to sing; particularly is this recommendation made to the young men, because, next to a familiarity with the scriptures, the ability to sing will assist them when they are called to the nations of the earth to preach the gospel. …

I have learned to sing; you can do the same; will you make the effort?

[illustrations] Illustrated by Paul Mann

President Heber J. Grant was fond of this wise saying: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do; not that the nature of the thing itself has changed, but that our power to do is increased” (see James E. Faust, Ensign, May 2000, 45).