HONOLULU — IN HAWAII, everything feels seamless — the rolling waves and rounded hula moves, the sliding sound of the slack guitars.

Perhaps that's why Hawaii's called "Paradise." Everything blends. Edges disappear. The sharpness is gone.

That notion struck me while I was at the Polynesian Cultural Center the other day. I decided to run it by Naauao Panee, a singer and musician at the center who teaches at BYU-Hawaii. He had some interesting insights.

"It all seems to link," he said. "When the first missionaries came in, they banned the Hawaiian language. The language fueled the performing arts. So, for 50 years, many things were lost. Then a wise Hawaiian queen opened them up again."

In other words, in Hawaii, the poetry and stories bring life and breath to dance and song. The visual arts add their touch until all the arts blend together to give life to a culture and

a people.

That thought has stayed with me. And it makes me wonder if the same isn't true for the most successful LDS art as well. We're at our best when we're all together.

As with spiritual people, the spiritual arts want to blend in mind and spirit. They want to harmonize — become one — in a unified burst of praise.

Our Mormon stories take on elements of poetry. Then the poetry and stories take on rhyme and rhythm and eventually melody. The rhythms turn to dance, with all the visual elements added for effect. Every type of art becomes part of the whole.

Is that why we enjoy pageants and festivals so much? Like a community of saints, the community of arts comes together, enriching each other and supporting the greater goal.

In the secular world, however, just the opposite happens. The arts tend to starburst. Dance goes one way, poetry another and fiction a third. Soon the art is more about the creator (with a small c) than the Creator (with a large C).

The performer becomes more important than the performance.

The writer becomes more important than the writing.

Personality, not praise, rules the day.

But hidden deep in the pews, the true spiritual artist is not concerned with getting credit. He's more interested in giving credit.

All of us who create poetry, music and the other arts fall into that trap. Like the Pharisees of old, we want it both ways. The Book of Mormon talks of priestcraft, the tendency of those who deal in spiritual matters to want to attract fame, fortune and attention to themselves as they speak of holiness and humility.

We can never quite get out of the way of our message. Like a personal letter, we feel an impulse to sign it.

If we worried a little more about The Maker and not The Market, our work might well grow stronger.

But wherever that place is, we haven't arrived yet.

The last Psalm is Psalm 150. But it seems to me to set the tone for all the others. It is a Psalm about using our arts to praise.

"Praise him with the sound of the trumpet ... with the sound of the psaltery and harp ... with the timbrel and dance ... let everything that hath breath praise the Lord."

It doesn't matter "who" is playing the trumpet, the harp or even breathing the breath. What matters is "why" they are doing it.

I get the sense, too, all of those things in the Psalm are being done together, they are meant to blend in a seamless sound that is an emblem of our unity as a people.

So, too, with human beings.

If fact, if we could learn to pull that off today, we just might produce some "Adventures in Paradise" that would rival the best that Hawaii has to offer.


Jerry Johnston is a Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears weekly in the Mormon Times section.


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