My Number Two son, Piano Man, is a gifted pianist. He also plays the bass and the guitar, but the piano is his true gift. As it is with any talent, it chooses it’s form in which to present itself. Piano Man’s gift of music shows forth in the form of jazz and especially blues improv. Piano Man plays once in awhile for Priesthood where he cannot help but throw a trill or a bluesy chord into the prelude. He did this once as a young teen, and a young adult member jumped up from the audience to admonish him on not playing reverently.
It was amusing, as the member of the Bishopric in charge of conducting that week, was out in the hall and heard the prelude, but not the shaming, opened the meeting with, “We are thankful for Brother Piano Man who brought a little spirit and soul to Priesthood today.” Incidentally both gentlemen are converts to the LDS church; the Bishopric member was a born and bred southerner. The other fellow? Well bless his heart, he’s just a Yankee. *
Another time Piano Man was doing a sound check for a practice in the school auditorium. At the keyboard, Piano Man sat down and played some blues improv. One of the musical instructors, an African American gentleman, heard him playing; hollered in the spirit and tone of a preacher, “TAKE IT TO CHURCH!”
Piano Man confused as to his terminology and stopped playing blues improv and changed to a reverent version of Come, Come, Ye Saints.
Where in the gentleman began yelling and moaning, “WHAT IS THAT?”
Piano Man stopped and said, “church music?”
“NO! NO! Give me more soul!”
So Piano Man began playing early rock n roll improv.
More head shaking, “NO! NO! Not white church, give me black church!”
Piano Man started again with blues improv giving it more soul with minor seventh chords and “ripping it up” in the C Blues scale.
“THAT’S IT! TAKE ME TO CHURCH!” This time the gentleman exclaimed with praise waving his hands in the air.
Essentially what I am getting at is; church music is individual in taste. What we might call church music; is not church music to someone else.
Which now brings us to the how and why of Brother Ronnie Milsap . Ronnie Milsap has just released a Gospel Album and was featured recently in The Tennessean. The article tells the story of Ronnie as a young boy and his difficulty with faith, but his love of church music.
“My faith has never dwindled,” he said. “Now, that doesn’t mean that I go to a certain church on Sundays, or that I believe any one religion has all the answers. I grew up Baptist, and I was a Mormon for a while. People laugh at Joseph Smith and say it‘s a fairy tale, but there’s a lot we just don’t know on this side. I do believe that there is another dimension somewhere. I have hear that there is a review of your life that goes on by when you pass on, where you see bunch of pictures of what your life has been. I wonder if mine will go by in audio form, like a tape rolling backwards.
One reason Milsap’s flirtation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was fairly brief is that the Mormon music was neither familiar nor fulfilling to the Baptist raised performer… ‘Milsap’s faith runs deep on new album’ by Peter Cooper The Tennessean April 29, 2009
I have seen some changes in the LDS Church during my lifetime, and one more change I hope to see; is the addition of Amazing Grace** to our hymnbook. Don’t get me wrong, I love our LDS hymns. I would just like to hear more variety.
I have nothing but praise for born and bred southerners who join the LDS Church. There is indeed a true sacrifice in giving up your church culture and especially the hymns of the southern church, for hymns that call to mind Protestant Yankee New England. The Gospel of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gives us great knowledge, which is a tremendous comfort I assure you; but before I die can we please give the music a little soul, please?!
* In the South it is quite alright to insult someone cross-eyed and twice backwards on Sunday, if you preclude the insult with a bless his/her heart
** I am quite aware that Amazing Grace was written by a an Abolitionist English man (even more the reason it should be in our hymn book), but the melody was inspired by enslaved Africans. Amazing Grace in spirit is southern.