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New Harmony: What religion needs is more catchy tunes

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 28 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

Why did we stop using well-known and well-loved tunes as the melodies for our deepest religious feelings?

August Miller, AugustMiller/Deseret Morning Ne

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It's been said that baby boomers like me will know when we're sophisticated because we will listen to the "William Tell Overture" without thinking of the Lone Ranger.

I'll never get there — especially with a new Lone Ranger movie on the way.

Still, I think the creators of that old Western showed some savvy in linking their popular hero to an invigorating, memorable piece of music.

And the same thing can be said for many of the wordsmiths behind our favorite LDS hymns.

When the early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wanted to celebrate their leader ("We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet") they put their words to one of the most rousing and memorable dance tunes of the era.

I think there was a touch of genius in that.

It was like splashing a dash of Tabasco on scrambled eggs.

Mormons took something well-known and time-tested and gave it new meaning and flavor.

That happened when the text of "Who's on the Lord's Side?" was linked with the melody of "Over the Bounding Main." It happened again when the words "Praise to the Man" were laid over the blood-stirring battle anthem "Scotland the Brave," a favorite of bagpipers.

What's more, I can never sing the chorus of "Truth Reflects Upon Our Senses" without thinking of the toe-tapping gospel number "Railway to Heaven." The two songs not only share the same tune but the same words. (Check out Johnny Cash's version sometime.)

And finally, I don't know the origins of the music for "Called to Serve," but it was obviously written as a bracing military march that rivals the best of Sousa. In fact, add some football sentiments to the tune and you'd have a more memorable fight song than "Utah Man" and "Rise and Shout" together.

So, my question is this: Why did we stop doing that?

Why did we stop using well-known and well-loved tunes as the melodies for our deepest religious feelings?

Was it because copyright laws got in the way?

Or was it because we've come to prize "creativity" so much that each songwriter is determined to reinvent the wheel — to fashion new tunes that rival the old?

When did borrowing music become a sin?

There are plenty of tunes out there. All we have to do is put them to work. Companies, in their commercials, do it all the time.

Imagine if someone got the rights to add soaring religious thoughts to, say, the "Theme from 'Shrek.'" Barring that, we still have hundreds of catchy, well-known tunes in the public domain that could be given fresh life with a spiritual twist.

Putting popular tunes to work for religious causes is a time-tested tradition.

Taking the best pop culture has to offer and giving it a spiritual spin freshens the world.

Why not keep it going?

After all, as Martin Luther said, "Why should the devil have all the good music?"

Jerry Johnston is a former Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears every other week in Mormon Times. Email: jerjohn@desnews.com

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