Power of Music

My church life has revolved around primary for the past 6 years, during this time my opinion of the value of music as a teacher has been reconfirmed time and time again. Two years ago I spoke in sacrament meeting about the importance of teaching our children the primary songs. I hope this talk can motivate and encourage primary choristers and primary presidents alike to place a special focus on music.
When I graduated from college I moved to Russia for a summer to work in some orphanages and other group homes for children. The first few months I was there I worked with children from the ages of 8 to 18. These older kids knew and understood that I was from America and that, beyond a few dozen words, I did not speak Russian. They were fascinated by my appearance and they enjoyed laughing at my funny accent.
My last placement took me to a very large daycare. I was placed with the youngest class, which consisted of about 25 children from the ages of 15 months to 3 years old; roughly the age range of our nursery classes. This class had only 1 teacher. The first morning I walked in the room the kids were sitting around a table having lunch. The teacher was frantically trying to shovel food in their mouths as quickly as she could. Anytime a child tried to get out of their seat she quickly helped them sit back down. The teacher definitely had her hands full so I was excited to be of service. I have always been comfortable in the company of 2 year olds so I didn’t hesitate a bit to start feeding kids. But as I began talking to them they instantly started to cry. I tried speaking in English and I tried speaking in Russian. No matter what, every time I opened my mouth the children would start crying. There was no doubt about it, they were terrified of me and the sound of my voice. I went from being excited for the chance to help out to knowing that I was making things so much more difficult for their already stressed out teacher. I began feeding kids in silence.
As was their routine, after lunch the children were taken into a 6 x 15 foot utility room that was connected to their classroom. Each child had some form of a kitchen type pot or bowl to sit on. They were required to sit in this room until they had successfully used the bathroom. As you can imagine this was very stressful for most of these young children. If they stood up the teacher quickly helped them sit back down. After each of the children understood they had to stay in the room the teacher left to clean up lunch. I stood there watching these 25 crying children with tears running down my own face. I felt completely powerless. I had no idea how I could help them through this difficult time. After a few minutes I said a prayer and asked my Heavenly Father to please help me find a way to comfort these scared children. Almost immediately the answer came to me: I began singing I am a Child of God. By the end of the first verse there were only a handful of crying children, by the end of the second verse there were no crying children, and by the end of the song I actually had a few smiles. They enjoyed the singing!
Hans Christian Anderson once said, “Where words fail, Music speaks”.
I found this to be very true. I spent the next 2 weeks singing primary songs to these young children. I was absolutely amazed at how different their lives became. The first few days I was there I very rarely saw a smile, but things changed quickly. They went from being scared, missing their mom’s and feeling stressed by their strict routine to being happy and comforted. A little girl by the name of Alona, who cried the hardest, and struggled the most became my little sidekick. She loved the primary songs and her face beamed every time I started singing. (For those of you who have heard me sing, you know this was truly a miracle)
The new sharing time outline explains the requirements of singing time in Primary. It states, “Music in Primary should establish a reverent atmosphere, teach the gospel, and help children feel the influence of the Holy Ghost and the joy that comes through singing. A 20 minute segment of sharing time should be devoted to singing and teaching music.”
About a year and a half ago the Bishop called me to be the primary chorister. Having very little musical ability, I felt very unprepared for the position. As I thought of all the reasons I couldn’t teach music I kept having a thought come into my head that said, “Jayme, you love music and have a testimony of its power… that is all that matters.” As I spent the next year teaching music in primary my love and appreciation for the primary songs grew. I felt the spirit every week as I listened to the children sing. More than once I was unable to get to the end of a song without tears running down my face… the spirit was so strong.
The sharing time outline explains that Primary songs teach gospel truths in such a way that children will remember them throughout their lives. I would like to read part of the letter found in the preface of the Children’s Songbook. It begins: “Dear boys and girls, As you sing the Primary songs you may feel good inside. The Holy Ghost gives you warm feelings to help you understand that the words and messages in the songs are true. You can learn about the gospel in this way, and your testimony will grow as you learn. You will remember more easily what you have learned when you sing about it.”
As I teach sharing time I am constantly asking myself what can I do or say that will help the kids feel the Spirit and remember the lesson. This letter gives me my answer.
The letter goes on to say, “There are songs in this book on almost every gospel subject. The songs explain our beliefs about life in heaven; about prayer, thankfulness, and reverence; about the mission of the Savior; about the principles of the gospel; about the importance of home, family, and heritage; about the beauty of nature and the seasons; and about the need for fun and activity. The last section is music that can be played before or after a meeting – or in your home- to create a reverent atmosphere.”
What else could we, as parents, possibly want for our young children to learn and understand? All of the answers are right there.
I bear testimony that music is the very best way for us to teach our young children the principles of the Gospel. Music has changed my life by helping me through times of difficulty, loneliness and sorrow. I know that by teaching our children the Primary songs as well as the Hymns we are preparing them to be able to withstand the trials and temptations that life will deliver to them. I encourage you all to make singing a part of your lives… saying you do not know how to sing is not an excuse, if I can sing in front of a room full of primary kids and teachers you can sing to your children. We will be providing each family in the ward with a CD of the Sacrament Meeting Program songs. Please, listen to it often. Learn the songs yourself so you can sing them with your children. Help them to understand the meaning of the words. Revisit the song “I am a Child of God”. As the Primary President it is my desire that every child in this ward understands that He or She really is a child of God. If they have this knowledge as a foundation everything else can fall into place.
I want the primary kids to know that I know the church is true. I know that if we study the scriptures and learn the basic principles of the Gospel we will be happy. I believe in the power of music and its ability to teach, to heal, and to comfort. I pray we will all take the time to teach our children the primary songs and to make them a part of our lives.
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