Why do we sing as part of our worship? Why does music have such powerful ability to affect our moods? What types of music bring us closer to our Father in Heaven?
The First Presidency answers many questions about music in a place you may have overlooked: the preface to Hymns, the book of sacred music used in just about every meeting in the Church. The First Presidency also provides guidance in the Music section of For the Strength of Youth. In addition, other prophets and apostles have repeatedly given messages about the importance of music.
A Feeling of Reverence
“The 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,” the First Presidency says in the preface. “Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns. Hymns move us to repentance and good works, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end.”
The First Presidency notes that music has been a special part of Latter-day Saint culture and worship services since the early beginnings of the Church. “Three months after the Church was organized, the Lord, through the Prophet Joseph Smith, instructed Joseph's wife, Emma, to make a selection of sacred hymns for the Church: ‘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).”
Worthy music invites the Spirit, according to the First Presidency. It is also a protection against the adversary. In particular, “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.”
Spirituality for Families
The preface also includes counsel about music and families. “Music has boundless powers for moving families toward greater spirituality and devotion to the gospel. Latter-day Saints should fill their homes with the sound of worthy music.
“Ours is a hymnbook for the home as well as for the meetinghouse. We hope the hymnbook will take a prominent place among the scriptures and other religious books in our homes. The hymns can bring families a spirit of beauty and peace and can inspire love and unity among family members,” the First Presidency says.
Counsel for Youth
Speaking to youth of the Church, the First Presidency says, “Music can enrich your life. It can edify and inspire you and help you draw closer to Heavenly Father. Music has a profound effect on your mind, spirit, and behavior.
“Choose carefully the music you listen to. Pay attention to how you feel when you are listening. Some music can carry evil and destructive messages. Do not listen to music that encourages immorality or glorifies violence through its lyrics, beat, or intensity. Do not listen to music that uses vulgar or offensive language or promotes evil practices. Such music can dull your spiritual sensitivity.”
Music Is Powerful
“Worthy music is powerful,” says Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “It has the power to make us humble, prayerful, and grateful. … Music has power to provide spiritual nourishment. It has healing power. It has the power to facilitate worship … It provides power for us to express prayerful thoughts and bear testimony of sacred truths.”
Your Emergency Channel
Prophets and apostles also counsel that music can help us escape from temptation.
The First Presidency invites: “We encourage you to memorize your favorite hymns and study the scriptures that relate to them. Then, if unworthy thoughts enter your mind, sing a hymn to yourself, crowding out the evil with the good.”
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles says: “Sacred music can help us even where there is no formal performance. For example, when temptation comes, we can neutralize its effect by humming or repeating the words of a favorite hymn.”
And President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counsels, “Choose a favorite hymn or song. … Seek the guidance of the Spirit in making your selection. Go over the song in your mind carefully. Memorize it. Even though you have had no musical training, you can think through a simple song. Now use this as the course for your thoughts to follow. Make it your emergency channel.”
For Good or for Evil
President Packer often counsels that music can be a great force for good or evil.
“You cannot afford to fill your minds with the unworthy music of our day,” he warns. “It is not harmless. It can welcome onto the stage of your mind unworthy thoughts and set a tempo to which they dance and to which you may act. You degrade yourself when you identify with those things that at times surround extremes in music. Such music is not worthy of you.
“Be selective in what you listen to and produce. It becomes part of you. It controls your thoughts and influences the lives of others as well,” he says, adding that, “There is so much wonderful, uplifting music available that we can experience to our advantage. [We] ought to be surrounded by good music of all kinds.”