As a boy I remember waking up each morning for family scripture study and coming downstairs with uplifting music playing to help set the tone and provide the right spirit in my home. I learned as a young boy the influence music can have on you emotionally and spiritually. I’m grateful I learned to recognize, appreciate and love worthy music, a gift that has served me well throughout my life.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where good things are constantly under attack. There is a satanic substitute for all that is uplifting and positive. As parents of nine children, my wife and I are constantly aware of how bombarded boys are today with filth, pornography, immorality, and violence, and that often they don’t even realize it. It’s so subtle and shrewd, and has the appearance of normal, that often if we don’t point it out to them they may not see it for what it is. How do we combat this? How can we have a greater influence than everything they see or hear at school, online, on TV, on the radio, or on their phones? Well, there’s not one answer that’s the same for each person. But there’s one thing that my wife and I do constantly that we hope will put the odds in our favor: continue to expose our children, especially our two sons who are the oldest, to worthy and uplifting music that will help them feel the Spirit and draw closer to Jesus Christ.
I still distinctly remember my first rehearsal with MCO as a baritone in the Grand Chorus. It was an all-day boot camp rehearsal where we were taught and trained by the directors. I remember the feeling and Spirit that was there in the rehearsal, and five minutes in, I felt a twinge of sadness. I was sad that I hadn’t auditioned for the choir a few years earlier when my friend had originally invited me. With work, a large and growing family, and other commitments, I dismissed the invitation. I was too busy, didn’t have the time, and didn’t want to put an unnecessary burden on my wife by being gone one night a week for rehearsal. But this time, with a new invitation to audition, I somehow felt differently, and my wife agreed to let me try out. There was something special at this first rehearsal that I had never quite felt before. My sadness changed to pure elation as the rehearsal continued. And it grew and grew that whole first semester with each week that passed as we prepared for the Christmas concerts. I still clearly and distinctly remember the overwhelming Spirit that filled my heart and soul as we sang “O Holy Night”. I had difficulty getting through that song each time we sang it. I remember being so proud to be part of this great movement and was so glad my wife was there to see in person what I’d been trying, unsuccessfully, to explain to her for a few months. There were tears in her eyes after as well, and we both knew we wanted our kids to experience this, especially our boys.
My oldest son, Drex, joined the Concert Choir a semester later, then my second son, Braden, a semester after him. And since then, we have been an MCO family, with my two oldest daughters also participating. There is nothing quite like hearing the buzz and chatter of my kids talking about MCO around the home. I hear things like, “Summer is the worst because there’s no MCO” or “There’s no way we can top that concert next semester…except that’s what I said after last concert”. And sometimes I feel bad for my wife and younger children at the dinner table in the weeks right before and after concert time as we rehash the entire experience and discuss our favorite and most memorable parts. MCO has been a binding and unifying light in my family, for which I, as a father, will always be grateful.
And that is especially true for my boys. They have felt the Spirit outside of church and the home, and in a way that only worthy music can provide. They recognize the power of singing sacred texts that serve as a prayer and a testimony of the Savior, whose life and example they strive to follow. They can now discern the difference between how good music makes you feel, and how questionable music drives away the Spirit. They have also shared with me that sacred music helps keep evil thoughts away and replaces them with light and truth, which is one of the reasons they love going to MCO rehearsals each week. They recognize that they need more than just worshipping on Sundays to combat the evil that surrounds them. Boyd K. Packer taught, “As the music begins and as the words form in your thoughts, the unworthy ones will slip shamefully away. It will change the whole mood on the stage of your mind. Because it is uplifting and clean, the baser thoughts will disappear. For while virtue, by choice, will not associate with filth, evil cannot tolerate the presence of light.” (Inspiring Music-Worthy Thoughts, October 1973)
My son Braden is naturally athletic and a very good athlete. Last December, after the Christmas concerts, he was invited by coaches to participate in club baseball through his high school. This meant that he would have practice every Tuesday and Thursday night, and games in addition to that. He was very excited that he was asked to participate. But if he decided to play on this team, he would not be able to participate in MCO for that upcoming semester. He was very distraught at making that decision.
I asked him to weigh out the pros and cons of each choice, and then take the matter to the Lord to make his decision, as you can always get the right answer through prayer. Later that night, he came to me and my wife and said, “I trust Professor Stewart. He promised us that if we would participate in MCO this coming semester, our lives would be changed forever. I am putting my trust in Professor Stewart.”
The fascinating part to this story is that we didn’t even know what we would be doing that upcoming semester. But Braden knew what he wanted to do and had faith in his answer. A few weeks later, as last semester started, Professor Stewart announced that we would be singing Mendelsohn’s “Elijah”, a classic and timeless sacred work, as part of the concert entitled “Deliver Us”. Every song practiced for months and sung at the concerts told the story of God’s deliverance of his people through following a prophet of God. These truths could not have been more powerfully delivered into the hearts and minds of my sons than they were through this sacred music. With each rehearsal, their love for the music grew and their excitement to perform it skyrocketed. And the four concerts in two days did not disappoint.
Late that Saturday night after getting home from the final concert, we all stayed up late basking in the Spirit and sheer exhaustion of the previous few days. But it was my son’s comment that I will always remember. Braden said, “Dad…my life has been changed forever. I have no words to describe it.”
And that is the miracle and blessing of MCO. I feel the power of the music each week personally, and to have my kids feel the same thing is something I consider one of my greatest blessings. Braden, just this week, said it perfectly when he shared with me that, “MCO is an amazing blessing in my life. The Spirit is strong there every week. The music puts a good feeling inside me and inspires me to be good.”
So it does.