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Reader voices: Music enhances spirituality

By Roy Samuelsen

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Aug. 18 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Members of the young single adult Spanish speaking wards from the Salt Lake area line the sidewalks outside Temple Square to sing hymns before the Sunday after session of the 178th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City Sunday, October 5, 2008.

Jason Olson, Deseret News

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I have had the opportunity to have a career as a teacher and performer of great music. Few people can say that they have a job they are looking forward to each and every day of their lives, as I have. For nearly 50 years, I have been in the profession of music.

In that time, I have enjoyed a happy mix of teaching singing, and performing as a singer of classical music professionally in nearly 100 opera and oratorio roles, and numerous recitals and orchestra concerts.

Great music is a spiritual experience, and although the kind of music that brings tears to one person's eye, may not be the same that puts a lump in the throat of another.

Great music is in the ear and the eye of the beholder. Great music can increase our knowledge of the gospel as well as build testimonies.

Aside from folk music, which was passed from generation to generation by the aural tradition, composed music was initially essentially written for religious services and was based on religious texts. Some of our greatest music serves religion. There is the great "Messiah" by George Frideric Handel, the "Verdi Requiem" and Johann Bach's wonderful B Minor Mass, to name just three of the great religious works.

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is a large amount of music, and there is a great emphasis on music in our services. Church music helps highlight the word of God, because so much of it is based upon the scriptures.

Music can motivate us to do good works, and can also stimulate better ambition and work habits with more productivity in our lives and in the work force.

From early on, my wife and I wanted our children to experience the stately grandeur of Johann Sebastian Bach, the passionate intensity of Ludwig van Beethoven, the driving majesty of Richard Wagner and the lighthearted gaiety of a musical to the solemn devotion of a hymn. We wanted them to appreciate the great masters by experiencing their music, and if possible, even learn by participating.

Music teaches us a pure form of worship and draws us nearer to our Heavenly Father.

In Doctrine and Covenants 25, in a directive to Emma Smith to compile a hymnal, the Lord said: "lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better ... For 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 heads."

When I was still living in Utah and learning to sing, I had a great mentor whose guidance and advice helped me throughout my life.

Maurice Abravanel was the wonderful music director of the Utah Symphony Orchestra. He was one of the driving forces that brought the Utah Symphony out of obscurity and into national and even international limelight. Although he could, on many occasions, have accepted more prestigious posts, he chose to stay in Utah and half jokingly called himself an honorary Mormon, even though he was not a member of any church.

He took me under his wing and gave me advice and many opportunities to perform with his orchestra, which was at the time playing their concerts in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. They now play in the magnificent Abravanel Concert Hall, of course named after him.

Shortly before he passed away, my wife and I were in Salt Lake City and we took him out to lunch, where we reminisced about music and life in general. His parting words to me as we dropped him off at home were, "Roy, let me give you some very good advice:

"Try to live until you are 80, because then people will think you are so very wise."

I still remember his wonderful French accent as he told me that. I am rapidly getting there in age, but as far as the wisdom part is concerned, I am not so sure.

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