My Life in Zion

The life and views of a Latter-day Saint in the 21st Century…

On Music

Music is powerful.

When I was a missionary serving in the Washington Seattle Mission of the church I was blessed to serve with a variety of companions who enjoyed singing the hymns as much as I did, and understood the power of the Holy Spirit that the hymns invited into our lives and our teaching. Elder Aaron Ball from Sugar City, Idaho was without a doubt my most musically gifted companion. He knew parts, could read music, and sounded like some sort of angelic choir boy (and yes, that is a compliment). But Elder Jason Sego of New Mexico was the companion I enjoyed singing with the most. He didn’t carry a perfect tune, and his pitch wasn’t always perfect, but we had a lot of fun in singing the hymns, and we would often sing at the end of each of our dinner appointments with the members of our wards. That approach to our congregations quickly endeared us to those ward members, and soon we were actually being asked to sing our most popular hit, “Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy“.

However, my favorite musical memory with Elder Sego was learning a hymn in Tongan to sing to one of our investigators.

Elder Sego and I were blessed to serve in the May Creek Ward of the then Renton North Stake of the church. And despite the best efforts of some truly amazing member missionaries, we spent a lot of time tracting in the cold winter months of early 2005. During one evening which seemed to be particularly cold, particularly dark, and particularly glum all-around we continued door by door down a far flung country road of the May Creek Ward boundries. Our door approaches had yielded us nothing but slammed doors and “We’re not interested” responses. But we continued on into the dark and cold eventually walking up to a rag tag trailer near the end of the road. This small single-wide trailer at least had their porchlight on, which seemed inviting, and we knocked, listening to the multiple people inside yelling “Someone’s at the door!” as small children peeked out the windows. As the door quickly swung open a kind middle-aged woman smiled at us and invited us in. We introduced ourselves as missionaries and were instantly asked to take a seat in an obviously hectic household as a dozen or so other people gathered in from around the home. And then we met the man of the house, an aging, gruff, Tongan Methodist man who respected us and what we were doing, but didn’t want us teaching his family about ol’ Joe Smith.

Our initial contact that night with that terrific family ended up turning into more than just a happenstance meeting. In fact, since the man of the house respected us,  whenever we were in the neighborhood we would stop by and offer to teach a lesson. We were always let in. We were never left in the cold or the rain. And although our first few lessons produced little interest, we persisted. In one of our weekly meetings with our other missionaries we mentioned this large and wonderful Tongan family, and as chance would have it, we had a sister missionary from a Polynesian family in our meeting. She suggested, since the Tongans have such a deep-rooted love of music, that we might sing to the family, and especially to the man of the house in his native tongue, to soften their hearts to the Message of the Restoration. This dear sister then wrote down the words to the hymn “Love at Home” in Tongan and gave Elder Sego and I lessons in phonetics and pronunciation. After a couple of days of practice we felt we were up to the challenge.

The evening we showed up to the family’s trailer it seemed especially hectic. A couple of the sons were outside working on a car, some cousins were over visiting, and the usual small throng of a dozen or so seemed to be bursting even larger. I was nervous, but my dear companion had nerves of steel and lead the charge in getting everyone rounded together into the small living room. “We’ve got something really special for you tonight,” Elder Sego kept telling everyone, and even the patriarch of the home seemed intrigued over what the young Mormons might be up to. Once everyone was gathered together my companion told the group that we were honored to be teaching their family, and we would love to be able to teach the new people who were there that night. “But tonight we have a surprise for you,” he said. “Elder Way and I are going to sing a hymn to you in Tongan.” The young kids laughed, the old man raised his eyebrows in intrigue, and I gulped, quickly feeling the lack of moisture in my mouth. I hadn’t expected to hold a concert for 20 native Tongan speakers, but it was too late to back out now.

“Lord, please help us,” I remember pleading in my mind as Elder Sego turned to me and smiled broadly. I gave him the nod that I was as ready as I ever could be, and we started.





By the time we had made it to the first chorus of “‘OFA ‘I ‘API” the patriarch of the home had teared up, and by the time we made it to the end of the second chorus with “KA AI’ A  E’OFA ‘I ‘API” everyone in the room had tears in their eyes. The way the Spirit of the Holy Ghost had descended in such a powerful and strong way during that hymn is something I will never forget.

Music is powerful.

The influence of music on society can be clearly seen from modern history. Music helped Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence. When he could not figure out the right wording for a certain part, he would play his violin to help him. The music helped him get the words from his brain onto the paper. He said it made him feel inspired.

Albert Einstein is recognized as one of the smartest men who has ever lived. However, a little known fact about Einstein is that when he was young he did extremely poor in school. His grade school teachers told his parents to take him out of school because he was “too stupid to learn” and it would be a waste of resources for the school to invest time and energy in his education. The school suggested that his parents get Albert an easy, manual labor job as soon as they could. His mother did not think that Albert was “stupid”. Instead of following the school’s advice, Albert’s parents bought him a violin. Albert not only became good at the violin, but he excelled at it. Music was the key that helped Albert Einstein become one of the smartest men who has ever lived. Einstein himself says that the reason he was so smart is because he played the violin. He loved the music of Mozart and Bach the most. A friend of Einstein, G.J. Withrow, said that the way Einstein figured out his problems and equations was by improvising on the violin.

When we study the power of music on these two individuals it is of little surprise what science has found out about music and its ability to affect memory. It is actually quite intriguing. Mozart’s music, and baroque music in particular, with a 60 beats per minute beat pattern, activate both the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The simultaneous left and right brain action maximizes learning and retention of information. The information being studied activates the left brain while the music activates the right brain. Also, activities which engage both sides of the brain at the same time, such as playing an instrument or singing, causes the brain to be more capable of processing information.

According to The Center for New Discoveries in Learning, learning potential can be increased a minimum of five times by using this 60 beats per minute music. For example, the ancient Greeks sang their dramas because they understood how music could help them remember more easily. A renowned Bulgarian psychologist, Dr. George Lozanov, designed a way to teach foreign languages in fraction of the normal learning time. Using his system, students could learn up to one half of the vocabulary and phrases for the whole school term (which amounts to almost 1,000 words or phrases) in one day. Along with this, the average retention rate of his students was 92%. Dr. Lozanov’s system involved using certain classical music pieces from the Boroque Period which have around 60 beats per minute patter. He has proven that foreign languages can be learned with 85-100% efficiency in only thirty days by using Boroque Pieces. His students had a recall accuracy of almost 100& even after not reviewing the material for four years.

Music is powerful.

Ever since I was a young child I have loved classical music. When I first got a CD player my first purchased music was a set of CD’s out of a K-Mart bargain bin. I believe I got about five hours worth of classical music for about $5. And it was such a blessing to my young and impressionable mind. At night I would put on my bulky headphones and listen as the movements of each symphony rose and fell, and it was almost like I could feel the sacredness of God with me. Only as a grown man did I come to understand that the classical composers I loved as a youth actually felt the presence of God with them too as they composed many of their classical pieces.

Once  during the first rehearsal of a new composition, the concert-master, a gentleman by the name of Schuppanzigh, complained to Beethoven that a certain passage was so badly written for the left hand as to be almost unplayable. Beethoven, not to be criticized, shrieked at him, “When I composed that passage, I was conscious of being inspired by God Almighty. Do you think I can consider your puny little fiddle when He speaks to me?” Although high strung at times, Ludwig Van Beethoven knew the source from whence his music came. He once said, “I know that God is nearer to me than to others in my craft; I consort with Him without fear.”

“No atheist has ever been or ever will be a great composer,” said Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. When describing how his music came to him he said, “The process with me is like a vivid dream.”

The talented Richard Wagner said about composing Das Rheingold: “I was in a semi-trance condition and when I awoke, I immediately realized that this vision was an inspiration — that my Prelude had taken shape in my inner consciousness.”

Joseph Hadyn said, “Never was I so devout as when composing The Creation. I knelt down every day and prayed to God to strengthen me for my work.”

The epic Giacomo Puccini, who wrote some of my favorite operas, said of composing Madam Butterfly: “The music of this opera was dictated to me by God; I was meerly instrumental in putting on paper and communicating it to the public.” – Powerful words from a talented man.

Johannes Brahms, one of the greatest composers of the Romantic Period, was once interviewed by fellow musician Joseph Joachim. Joachim, a famed violinist throughout Europe, loved Brahms works and considered him a mentor of sorts. In their now famous interview, Joachim asked the simple question of Johannes Brahms, “Where do the notes for your music come from?” The answer was humbling to hear.

I immediately feel vibrations that thrill my whole being. These are the Spirit illuminating the soul power within, and in this exalted state, I see clearly what is obscure in my ordinary moods. Then I feel capable of drawing inspiration from above, as Beethoven did…Straightway the ideas flow in upon me, directly from God,

Yes, he said “directly from God”. But continued on

and not only do I see distinct themes in my mind’s eye but they are clothed in the right forms, harmonies and orchestration. Measure by measure, the finished product is revealed to me when I am in those rare, inspired moods.”

How often do you hear the phrase “mind’s eye” outside of a religious setting? And yet Brahms continued,

The powers from which all truly great composers like Mozart, Schubert, Bach and Beethoven drew their inspiration is the same power that enabled Jesus to work his miracles. It is the power that created our earth and the whole universe.”

Brahms knew where his music came from, and the Power who guides us all.

But my absolute favorite composer has always been Johann Sebastian Bach. Perhaps it is because I grew up as a Lutheran and Bach himself was a staunchly devout Lutheran, but I have always had a great affinity for that great man. Born on 21 March 1685 in Eisenach, Germany, Johann Sebastian Bach was born the fourth and last son of Ambrosius Bach. He came into one the greatest musical families the world had ever known. Approximately 40 of his ancestors were practicing musicians. Johann Sebastian’s family were also devout believers in Jesus Christ. Rather than deny their faith, they left Hungary during the Thirty Years War. Johann Sebastian was orphaned at a young age when mother his died when he was nine, and then his father, a fine performer on the violin and viola, died eight months later. Johann Sebastian was taken into the family of his brother Johann Christopher, a church organist. His father had taught him the violin, his brother Christopher the clavier. He did well in school, where he studied catechism, French, Latin, Greek, history and music.

As a committed Christian and orthodox Lutheran, his faith was his comfort and strength in the great number of adversities he suffered throughout his life. His library was filled with theological works, including two sets of the writings of Martin Luther. When Bach was 48, he acquired Luther’s monumental three -volume translation of the Bible, which he studied intensively. Bach was a Christian who lived by the Bible, and for whom Luther’s concept of salvation by “faith alone” was absolutely essential. He sought for direction in his ministry in the Holy Scriptures. He commented on l Chronicles 29 that “music too was instituted by the Spirit of God through David.” For Bach the great doctrines of the Reformation started by Luther were not dry formulas, but living truths which could be taught and shared through his music. Bach felt that music was a gift from God to be used to His glory. He saw no difference between “sacred” and “secular” as a faithful Christian consecrated to Christ, and on many of his compositions he inscribed the letters “I.N.J.”,  “S.D.G.”, or “J.J.” , which stood for “In the name of Jesus,” “Soli Deo Gloria,” and “Jesus, aid.” For Bach all music he wrote was written and performed to the glory of the Most High God. The title page to his “Little Book for the Organ” declares that it was dedicated, “To the glory of God alone in the highest and to further the learning of everyone.” Even physically blinded by poor surgeons, Bach’s last composition “And Now I Step Before Thy Throne” expressed his belief that death opens the door to the eternal throne room of God.

It is from such composers and monumental men of faith that we have received some of the finest music in this mortal world.

Music is powerful.

Throughout the Old Testament there are countless references to music both spiritual and secular in nature. Remember that the Psalms themselves were originally set to music and sung, and music was a part of worship in the temple in olden times. David, the lonely shepherd boy who played the harp beautifully, went to Jerusalem before King Saul of Israel, and when King Saul was overcome with an evil spirit David played his harp and the evil spirit departed (1 Sam. 16:14-23). Angels sang at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:13-14), and the Lord and the Twelve Apostles sang a hymn after the Last Supper (Matt. 26:30).

Music is powerful.

In modern scripture the Lord Himself has stated

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 head.”

D&C 25:12

It is of no surprise that within the Church the hymns are sacred. The first hymn book in this dispensation was commissioned by the Lord Himself (see D&C 25 again). Personally I shall never forget my first mission president’s wife, beloved Sister Stephanie Hinckley, teaching with great love and fervency of the Songs of Zion. Her love for sacred music only deepened my love for sacred music. And I shall also never forget the day my second mission president, President Kevin R. Pinegar, stopped the opening hymn of our zone conference mid-verse to get up and rebuke us for not singing it with enough honor and power. Because of him I shall forever sing “Up Awake Ye Defenders of Zion” as if the enemy host is truly before me.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie said,

Music is one of the languages of God.”

We live in troubled times, a day and age when we need guidance from God more than ever before. We need to know His language. We need to hear His voice. So shouldn’t it be important to be aware of the types of music we are listening to each day? When we get into our cars are we listening to music that was ascribed to God by its authors, or are we listening to music derived from a more sinister source? Are we listening to the sacred songs of Zion, or are we giving heed to the ever-present invitations of Babylon?

This verse of scripture comes to mind:

Every thing 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.

Moroni 7:16-17

My friends, my brothers and sisters, I testify to you that music is powerful, and that it does have the power to bring us either closer to Christ or closer to things of the world. You don’t have to be a nerd like me and listen to opera or rock out to Handel every day. However, I would invite you to look at the music that is in your life, and ask yourself whether or not it has the power to persuade you to do good, or the power to persuade you to do evil. Will you listen to the likes of Nicki Minaj and her hit “Stupid Hoe“, or will you listen to those like Antonín Dvořák and a classical concerto. It’s up to you.

Long ago Elder Aaron Ball taught me to sing a hymn before going to bed each night, and I am thankful that the practice has stayed with me through much of the time since then. It brings that same spirit that was felt that night as Elder Sego and I sang “Love At Home” in Tongan, and it is the same powerful spirit that has touched so many composers and musicians throughout time.

I am thankful for the divine gift of music.

Music is powerful.

I hope and pray that in your life it is of a great power for good.

Your friend,

Stan Way

All quotes, studies, and facts came from the below references. To learn more about the powerful effects of music on our minds and the human body please reference the following:

  • Abell, Arthur M. Talks with Great Composers. Citadel Publishers, 1998.
  • Ballam, Michael. Music and the Mind; CD set recorded 2007.
  • Storr, Anthony. Music and the Mind. New York: The Free Press, 1992.
  • Jourdain, Robert. Music, the Brain and Ecstasy. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.,1997.
  • Lundin, Robert W. An Objective Psychology of Music. Malabar: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, 1985.
  • Scarantino, Barbara Anne. Music Power Creative Living Through the Joys of Music. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1987.

Also, just because this video touches me and inspires me every time I see it, I thought I would share. The power of music in our lives is truly incomprehensible…

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3 thoughts on “On Music

  1. thank you very much for sharing!

  2. This article had so much in it! My favorite part was about Einstein. I did not know that and now I do. Thanks!

  3. Y’all are very welcome! I love music and the way it can touch us, and I had been wanting to write something like this for a while; so this is the product of it. Now if I just played an instrument…lol

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