A Believing People

Literature of the Latter-day Saints


When I was an undergraduate at the University of Utah, in the 1950s, it was already fashionable there to condemn the LDS Church as invincibly anti-intellectual and the “local culture” as a wasteland. I remember one barrage of letters in the student newspaper about Mormon literature, music, etc. A proudly disaffected graduate student, after a caustic but actually quite accurate description of Mormon artistic achievement, said the deficiencies resulted from our theology and Church practice—our emphasis on opportunity for expression and development for all members as part of the very process of salvation; he then, with effective sarcasm, described the prototypical Mormon artistic offering as a rather sentimental Christmas cantata, sung in sacrament meeting by a large but somewhat unbalanced and unsteady choir made up of and led by volunteers and even joined in the climactic chorus by all the rest of the congregation, including the leaders on the stand, to form an unbroken ring of what he saw as mere enthusiastic mediocrity. Recently I participated in just such a Mormon artistic endeavor—one of the dedication sessions in the Solemn Assembly Room of the Washington Temple. At the climax of the service, after we had all stood to express our joy in that unique Mormon ritual of celebration, the “Hosanna Shout” following the dedicatory prayer, a volunteer choir, which like nine others for the other sessions had traveled by bus hundreds of miles from one of the various regions in the Temple District, remained standing in their places to the side of the room, facing at an angle both the audience on the main floor and the General Authorities and other leaders on the stand, and sang the “Hosanna Anthem.” We, our leaders, and the choir, all still standing and facing each other, then joined in singing at the Anthem’s close, “The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning” while the choir voices soared above us in a descant, welding us together in one unbroken ring of—not aesthetically great art, perhaps, but what is much more important—unparalleled spiritual unity and power and beauty, which the musical quality of the choir (diminished partly by the emotion they felt along with all of us) did not create but did in fact contribute to. I’ve heard and deeply appreciate some great music, written and performed by great musicians, including some great religious music by people of sincere faith, but I have never experienced any other music nearly as moving—or pleasing or “worthwhile” as that singing in the Temple.

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