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Five years ago if you had told me that I’d one day spend about $10 downloading Mormon Tabernacle Choir songs and then drive an hour listening to them while feeling a burning in my bosom and crying (good tears) I would have spit my coffee in your face.

But I did just that, just now.

It actually started a couple of weeks ago….

Two weeks ago I went to visit my kids for the weekend to see my daughter play on her football team. My ex-wife was actually pretty generous to make it happen and arranged for me to stay in her home with the kids while she found somewhere else to stay for 2 nights. We’ve done this sort of thing a couple of times before and I always appreciate it.

It’s a bit awkward being around all the furniture and “things” that I bought, especially when some of them even predate our marriage (I wasn’t thorough enough to go through everything with a fine toothed comb when I moved out. Asking for some of it now would just be awkward.  And nothing is so meaningful to me that it’s worth the ruckus it would cause anyway).

Some items are even a bit humorous …

…the church books that I bought and read, for example, and that I’m fairly certain she has never cracked (but which look impressive on a good Mormon’s bookshelf).

…then there’s the Greg Olson picture of Christ…the one I convinced her to buy (I found the Jesus to be hot).

Anyway, back to the point. There’s also the piano (not something I bought, but I’m the one who can play it). While I was hanging out with the kids that weekend, they were all doing their own thing and so I sat down at the piano and grabbed the songbook with the only music I know how to play. -the LDS Hymnal. By the time I left on my mission I was a barely adequate accompanist.  Then, in Brazil I was often the only person in the ward or branch that could play the piano – or the organ, and I got really good at playing hymns.  That’s really all I can play, but I can now sight-read almost anything in there.

I liked playing hymns and I really like some of the hymns. Granted there are the ones with horribly dissonant melodies (I Believe In Christ), or messages and words that cause me to dry heave (We Thank Thee O God For a Prophet, Praise to the Man), or military-like rhythms that are eerily cultlike (Put Your Shoulder To The Wheel).

But there are also some beautiful arrangements and even messages that I miss. And so this afternoon before a long drive home I downloaded a bunch of hymns.

Most of the best Mormon hymns are stolen from good ole folk songs, other protestant traditions or classical music, but some of them evoke some warm memories.

Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy – This is my all-time favorite.  It’s actually not sung much in Mormon meetings because the only arrangement in the hymnal is for men’s voices. What’s not to love about a song where a bunch of men sing the line…“some poor fainting, struggling semen”? (ok, ok it’s actually seamen, as in sailor, but how can you NOT giggle?). Another more familiar hymn employs the same melody (Should You Feel Inclined to Censure) but not as well. I love the message that we are all here on earth to watch out and take care of each other. I’m not sure of the origin but it sounds like an Scottish folk song to me and I LOVE it. My Mom told me that when my Uncle died, several of his missionary companions sang this a cappella at his funeral.

Remember that lady in every ward who sang just a little bit louder than everyone else and and always tried to set the tempo faster or slower than the chorister?

That was my Mom.

She loved to sing hymns and so they invariably remind me of her. I swear I can even hear her voice in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

I  remember being woken up on Sunday mornings hearing “Music and the Spoken Word” playing on the radio…which is odd because we lived in Southern California. I guess it aired there too. To me it is comforting and pleasant to hear the MoTab perform a classic hymn and they remind me of my Mom.

Tonight I listened to these hymns and felt like my Mom was sitting next to me. Here are my top 5:

The Morning Breaks: The Shadows Flee  This one is great for the Tabernacle Organ sound as well as the choir. It’s also not sung in church much but it brings back good memories for me.

Sweet Hour of Prayer  -Again it reminds me of Mom and I just find it beautiful.  I can even stomach the message. It just speaks fondly of that stolen moment of peace we all long for in our lives.

All Creatures of Our God and King – The is apparently a hymn with an German origin. It is a blast to play on the piano and I love the harmonies you can hear when the MoTab sings it (in the one I downloaded, not necessarily in this YouTube version). It’s basically a hymn to nature, saying essentially that God is everywhere.  I’ve been in nature and felt like singing out like this before.  I get it.

How Great the Wisdom and the Love – Believe it or not some of my favorite sounds are  traditionally Sacrament Songs. I actually like this YouTube version of a BYU-Idaho combined choir better than the MoTab version I downloaded. As a non-believer, I find I don’t have to wrestle with the message. Like a myth, there’s something universal and graceful about the imploring and the yearning you find in these songs.

Nearer My God To Thee – I’m fairly certain this is an old protestant classic.  If I’m not mistaken, I think they played it in the the movie Titanic as the boat was sinking. It’s just beautiful to me.  Here’s an awesome instrumental version that defies the LDS concept that brass instruments can’t convey “the Spirit.” I Need Thee Every Hour fits here too.

Runners up:

Ye Elders of Israel – Brings back such fond memories of the MTC.  No doubt the Mormons can put together a choir in a moment’s notice like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland can put on a show in a barn. I always found the MTC Choir amazing.  I like it sung a bit peppier than this version even though it does build.

High on a Mountain Top

How Firm a Foundation – I know, I know… this is one of those marching hymns that seem to shout “we’re right and everyone else is wrong!”, but it’s fun to play on the piano, fun to sing and it reminds me of my mission. Redeemer of Israel fits this description too.

Interesting… I felt that same depth of “spirit” listening to these today that I did while I was a “worthy” member when I had believed that it meant something was true… Now I just believe that those feelings mean I’m human.

Memories from childhood have a strong hold on us. I think if I’d been raised listening to Gregorian Chants or African rhythms they would invoke the same feelings.

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