Monday, April 17, 2023
One Dark and Stormy Night . . .
Elder James E. Faust once noted: “Complete trust in each other is one of the greatest enriching factors in marriage." Trust is crucial in a marriage because it allows couples to build a strong, intimate, and secure relationship. Without trust, the marital relationship may struggle.
Now if you’ll just sit right back, I'll tell you a tale, a tale of a broken trust.
One dark and stormy winter night I became deathly ill. All the food I had eaten that day was exiting my body in the most unpleasant of ways, leaving me very weak. To deny all personal responsibility for what happened later, I’m going to say that because of this illness I was delirious, and most certainly not of a sound mind.
After an exhausting night of “losing weight” in the bathroom, I finally fell asleep or passed out in my bed from sheer exhaustion. I slept well—for a little while. However, at some point in the dark of the night, I woke up because something was wrong. Really wrong. It seemed to my delirious mind that I had awakened in a puddle of strange warm liquid. My delirious mind couldn’t make sense of this.
To determine the nature of the puddle, I put my hand into it. It was wet and didn’t smell right. Now this is where our marital trust was irreparably broken. For some strange reason, I awakened Heather and regrettably said to her: “Hey, feel this.”
Only one of us was delirious. Me. Now half awake, Heather trusted her husband and placed her hand into the warm puddle. Suddenly she was wide awake. Really wide awake. She had placed her hand into something that it should never have touched. Ever.
I’ll spare you all the gross details, but I think there was some yelling, bright lights, hand washing, hand sanitizing, bed sheet washing, scrubbing, bathing, cloroxing, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I think she also asked me; “Why would you ask me to touch that?” Delirium. That was my answer then and it remains my answer today.
The trust that is essential in a marriage had been violated. Dr. Internet tells me that rebuilding trust takes time and patience and to be prepared for setbacks and not to rush the process. Since the regrettable incident was decades ago, I recently decided to test her level of trust. I said: “Hey, feel this.” Not a chance.
Heather will still not “feel” anything that I suggest. Puppies? Silk? Stuffed animals? Marshmallows? All “no.” Unless she can carefully inspect the item beforehand, she’s still not touching anything I suggest.
Gautama Buddha once said; “Our sorrows and wounds are healed only when we touch them with compassion.” This wound will only be healed when my spouse trusts me to never again ask her to touch warm puddles in the middle of the night. She’s not there yet, but I think we're making progress. In the meantime, just to be safe, when we hold hands, I always hold the "clean" hand.
Wednesday, March 8, 2023
I can be an inpatient man. I'm not a fan of slow walkers, slow talkers, red lights, waiting for packages, escalator riders who don't keep to the side, people who walk side-by-side on busy sidewalks, shoppers with more than 10 items in the express lane, drivers who think that "yield" means "stop and wait", waiting for the elevator, slow wi-fi, people who wait until they get to the counter before looking at the menu, and slow hymn players.
Slow hymn players? Yes, just like slow driving in the fast lane leads to road rage, slow hymn playing may cause "hymn rage." Hymn rage is manifested by excessive finger tapping (at the appropriate tempo), "speed it up" hand gestures, and "here we go again" eye rolling. Even worse, some afflicted Saints go ahead and loudly sing at the correct tempo.
During a recent Sunday worship service, the congregation very slowly sang the opening hymn while the music director robotically waved his arms about as if he were chopping meat with a dull cleaver. I carefully watched the organist to see if she was keeping up. She never even glanced at the music director--her eyes never strayed from the notes on the page. The music director could have set himself on fire and she would not have noticed. She was setting the pace and she knew it.
Theoretically, the ward music director controls the pacing of the music and leads those who are trying to sing. In reality, the music director does neither of these things. It seems the main function of the music director is to encourage the congregation to sing by aiming disappointed glances at those who aren’t singing. Remember how your mother used to look at you when you disappointed her? Kind of sad and hurt at the same time. That's the look.
A long time ago in a congregation far, far away, I once saw the music director become so frustrated that the organist was ignoring his direction that he sat down in a huff, in the middle of the hymn. Few noticed. We just kept singing.
On one occasion, our organist played an entirely different hymn than the one that had been announced. I don't know if she didn't like the announced hymn or just had one in mind that she liked better. Regardless, everyone opened their hymnal to the announced page and began singing. One-by-one, we recognized that the words we were singing did not match the music and searched for the correct hymn. The discordant singing reminded me of a service I once attended where a third of the congregation sang in English, a third in Spanish and a third in Dutch. We sounded like that. Everyone singing their own tune. By the last measure, we all found the correct hymn. Not very melodious.
Each hymn lists mood and metronomic markings. Mood markings such as "energetically", "brightly", “vigorously”, or “solemnly” suggest the general feeling or spirit of the hymn. Metronomic markings indicate a tempo range (Google says this is “beats per minute”). Mellower hymns are played at 40-50 beats per minute, “bright” or “joyful” hymns are played at around 100 beats per minute. The mood for the vast majority of hymns is “brightly”, “energetically” or “joyfully.”
Since there are 10 times more “energetic” or “joyful” hymns than there are “solemn” hymns, why are so many hymns played “solemnly” or even “mournfully”? The hymn "We Are All Enlisted" notes that we are “joyfully marching to our home”. The hymn should be sung as if we're actually excited about it, not as if we're trudging off to the office. After all, the word "gospel" means good news, not "your pet just died." Just sayin.
Have you ever been cruising along in the fast lane at above the posted speed limit and run up against someone who is driving below the speed limit? Drives me crazy. Drives everyone crazy. Singing songs slowly is like that. When you finally swerve out of the lane and zoom past the offending driver, who do you see? Your ward organist—maintaining their own pace. As you careen past, instead of giving them a speed it up "gesture", you give them the "I'm disappointed in you look."
Now to be fair, many organists were born before the invention of the Hula Hoop and Mr. Potato Head and may not realize that the phrase “Today while the Sun Shines” is to be taken literally. According to a study published in the journal "Age and Ageing", the average reaction time for an 80-year-old is approximately twice as slow as a 20-year-old. What does that mean for our organists? No idea, but it’s possible that an octogenarian playing a hymn at less than the recommended metronomic range feels that they are actually playing so fast that they might spin right off the bench.
What to do? I've come up with a few ideas. First, maybe we can have an electronic device rigged up to the organist’s bench. When the playing falls below the recommended tempo, a small electric shock would notify the organist that they need to “put their shoulder to the wheel.” We'll call it the "PACEkeeper 2.0." Sadly, the Church's Risk Management team has forbidden this option.
Second, we could spike the organist's sacramental water with "pep pills." The downside of this is that "pep pills" could cause the partakers to experience agitation, anxiety, delusions, depression, nervousness, and rapidly changing moods. Not ideal for organists, or anyone else. Plus it's illegal, and in this case we do really believe "obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”
Third, we train the "I can text 200 words-per-minute with just my thumbs" generation to play the organ. Speed will no longer be a problem. With Gen Z at the keyboard, we’ll again be “Marching On to Glory!” In the 1890s we called missionaries to travel to Paris to study art. Today we could call young members as organ missionaries who would learn to play the organ at the appropriate tempo.
My final suggestion is to endure it well. After all, if we can tolerate slow internet speeds, spam callers, forgotten passwords, dying phone batteries and running out of closet space, we can patiently endure melancholy hymns.
Monday, January 9, 2023
Ye Simple Souls Who Stray
As you read the following, please keep in mind that my credentials to comment on anything music related include the ability to accurately locate "Middle C" on the piano. That’s it. That’s my singular qualification.
In my musical opinion (detailed above), our Congregational Music Leader has determined that we, the congregation, need to learn more of the obscure hymns in the hymnbook. My thought is that these hymns are lesser known and unsung because they are peculiar, uninviting, hard to sing, and out-of-date.
Regardless, our music leader perseveres and each week the result is the same. We open the hymnbook to the number noted on the hymn board and attempt (without much success) to match the words in the book to the sounds emanating from the organ. The outcome of our valiant efforts is a jarring, discordant mix of sounds that have no business being heard in church. Most of us congregants waive the white flag after the first verse. By the last verse it’s just the organist, chorister, and a couple of tone-deaf octogenarians who “endure to the end”.
In my expert opinion, here are a few examples of hymns that should forever remain unsung.
First up is a hymn titled “Nay, Speak no Ill”. It is to be sung “thoughtfully” (how fast is thoughtfully?). As near as I can tell, this hymn seems to be a lecture against evil speaking. The Hymn notes: “Give me the heart that fain would hide, would fain another’s faults efface.” Translated into English I think it says: ““Come, thou monarch of the vine, Plumpy Bacchus with pink eyne!” When properly performed, it sounds like a slow-starting engine—just when you think it’s not going to make it, there is one more verse.
The Hymn I’m a Pilgrim, I’m a Stranger is also to be performed “thoughtfully”. The title alone qualifies this one for exclusion. The final verse ends on this cheery note: “With the many that are now the vulture’s prey.” I don’t know about you, but when I attend church, I don’t want to be reminded that I might be “vulture’s prey.” The tune is also very dirgey.
Now the Day is Over qualifies mainly to prevent rogue music directors from sneaking this onto the program. We once sang this at 10:00 a.m. The final line reads thus: “With thy tend’rest blessing, may our eyelids close.” Imagine you’re teaching during the second hour to students who have just been encouraged to close their eyelids. Plus, at only 33 words, it’s too short to be considered a proper hymn. By the time most congregants find page #159, the hymn and benediction have concluded.
Here are a few more hymns that should never be sung:
Father, This Hour Has Been One of Joy. At a mere 27 words (the title/first line contains 30% of the total song). To compensate for so few words, the song is played “reflectively” meaning that you sing it so slowly that the 27 words seem like 270. Pass
Come, All Whose Souls Are Lighted. The title is just too strange. I can’t decide if I want my soul “lighted” or not.
Ye Simple Souls Who Stray. With my expert taste in musical lyrics, this one seems to say; with pity, we righteous few look down from heaven on you simple souls who stray and “throng the downward road.”
Here is my rule for congregational hymns in church. Sing only the chart toppers and leave the obscure hymns for trained musicians performing “special musical numbers.” There are easily 100 great hymns you can’t wear out by singing them once every few weeks or months. Singing How Great Thou Art, All Creatures of Our God and King, Redeemer of Israel, How Firm a Foundation, Nearer, My God to Thee, Christ the Lord Is Risen Today, Lead, Kindly Light, (insert your favorite here), never gets old and will never leave the chorister singing by himself. That’s my expert musical opinion. You may have a different (i.e., incorrect) opinion but that’s your right. Other than me, no one will look down on ye who “throng the downward road.”