Words Cannot Speak: “The Song of the Heart”

Clyn D. Barrus was chair of the Department of Music at Brigham Young University from 1993 until 1996, when he became director of BYU’s newly organized School of Music. This article combines two talks—one to his department on November 5, 1991, and the other to the Church Music Workshop on August 2, 1994. Professor Barrus died on February 27, 1998.

Several years ago, I had a lengthy discussion with an LDS friend about the value of music in a spiritual context. My friend contended that while music may provide an aesthetical experience—that is, an appreciation for form, beauty, and nature—it cannot provide a spiritual experience unless it uses an inspired religious text as its basis. Even in this case, he contended, the spirituality comes not from the music, but rather from the scripture that the music uses as its basis—you see, the scripture comes from God; music comes from man. I felt strongly the falseness of his claim at the time of our discussion. I have contemplated his words for many years and have come to the conclusion that great music itself can express the deepest spiritual feelings we possess, if we are prepared both physically and spiritually to present them.

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