“We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all Song Practice Ladies, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”—Fabricated Quote from Joseph Smith circa 1842. Today’s guest post is by Matt Workman.
I was in the MTC when it happened, so it caught me by surprise when I was released back into the general population. I was sitting in Sacrament Meeting in an uncomfortable suit and things were going according to the usual pattern: song, prayer, business, sacrament, talks, music, talk, song, prayer.
When the final “amen” was hit, I was getting ready to stand up and leave the chapel when I was stopped in my tracks by a voice that said, “Thank you for coming out to Sunday School today, our opening song will be hymn number 149, and after that Brother Johnson will give the opening prayer and we’ll start song practice.”
Where to start?
First off, I was a little puzzled to be thanked for coming out to Sunday School. Truth is, I hadn’t really come out to Sunday School, I had merely failed to leave the chapel before this new guy got up and started speaking. Secondly, is 75 minutes not long enough to be sitting in once place watching something that’s not exploding? Were there complaints that Sacrament Meeting wasn’t long enough?
Whatever the case, I was stuck in some sort of “Groundhog Day” scenario where the past hour of my life seemed to be replaying, albeit with slight alterations.
While the changes in the meetings were all done under the guise of the Sunday School organization, it was clearly a power grab by the hymnal industrial complex and their newly minted foot soldiers, the song practice ladies. After the prayer and announcements of dubious importance, the song practice lady would get up and lead the congregation in songs that even the most faithful Mormon may not have known was in the hymnal. And no matter how famous or obscure, the song practice ladies almost always favored the longer hymns.
(Note to concerned readers: the term “song practice lady” isn’t really politically correct, I know. But come on, they were always ladies. There were never any “Song Practice Guys.”)
By the early 1990s, renegade song practice ladies were even leading congregations in what could only be described as analog versions of what would now be called mash-ups.
Example: “Did you know that you can sing ‘Dear to the Heart of the Sheppard,’ a hymn you’ve never heard of to the tune of ‘School Thy Feelings,’ another hymn you’ve never heard of. Why don’t you all get out your hymnals and give it a try…”
After a while my friends and I figured out that you could sing, “If You Could Hie to Kolob” to the tune of the theme from the Beverly Hillbillies. No song practice lady ever took us up on our offer to teach the ward this during song practice.
By the late 1990s, the tyrannical reign of the song practice ladies was over and we could all go back to standing up and walking out of the chapel after the closing prayer ends, like normal people. But some remnants of that era remain.
For instance, whenever a new ward chorister is installed, that person will almost immediately start grabbing more real estate in the church program. The most blunt instrument in the takeover is “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief,” which is almost always deployed during the first week of a new chorister’s tenure. When combined with “I Believe of Christ,” and conducted at a dirge-like pace, the opening and closing hymns can easily eat up 20 minutes of a church service. Then come the directives that the ward will be singing all the verses of the longer hymns, even the loser verses that have been exiled to the small print at the bottom of the page.
Perhaps the most audacious power grab I’ve ever seen came in August of 2000. I was visiting a ward in Salt Lake City and it was time for the special musical number. There was nothing on the program, but the bishop got up and made the following announcement, “The ward chorister has asked for ‘impromptu ward choir.’” He pointed to the side of the chapel I was sitting on and said, “Everyone sitting on this side of the room, come on up and join us here on the stand.”
And that was that. I had just been conscripted into some random ward’s choir. Moments later, I was being forced so scowl my way through a song for the pleasure of a bunch of strangers. I don’t remember what hymn it was, but I’m certain it wasn’t on the topic of free agency, nor was it the perfect ironic choice, “We Are All Enlisted.”
It is likely ward chorister tyranny will always be with us and there is little we can do about it except sit, smile, sing loudly, and thank heaven above that at least they took all of those Utah songs out of the hymnal in 1985.
So, what do you think? Do you have a tyrannical chorister in your ward? Do you think it’s important to song all 7 verses of “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief”? Did anyone ward ever have a song practice man? Do tell.