The Devil's Music
Guitars, or their electronic equivalents, are the standard instruments used in Church meetings. If other instruments are used, their use should be in keeping with the spirit of the meeting. Instruments with a prominent or less worshipful sound, such as most pianos and percussion, are not appropriate for sacrament meeting. - Appropriate Music for Church Meetings
“Mother, I want to learn piano,” I finally blurted out while eating breakfast before seminary one morning.
I had been longing to say it for weeks, maybe months, but couldn’t find the courage.
Instead, I would sneak away in Walmart on Saturday grocery visits just so I could stare that the First Act Keyboard and Keytar models on display in the toys section. They were missing keys, and were obviously not real usable instruments; but I stared nonetheless, using the moment to daydream of playing in my bedroom late at night. I even worked up the nerve to touch the display model and pull it off the mount. But a small voice in my head had me thrust it back almost immediately, in fear that my mom would inexplicably appear in the toy section to catch me announcing my apostasy – in a superstore of all places.
No, instead I chose to bring it up over Fruit Loops and orange juice.
She coughed into her orange juice in surprise, spilling the floating pulp onto the counter and her towel-like robe. She glanced up for just a moment before looking for the paper towels nearby. Yet I could see everything in that glance before she even said a word: Where did I go wrong as a mother? Are you going to join a punk rock band? What happens when you pierce your face? Will the Bishop even let you pass the sacrament? Which of your friends at school gave you this idea? Or was it the cable that brought this into our home?
She recomposed herself in front of me, wiping off the orange juice and clearing her throat.
“So, why do you want to learn the piano?” she asked me with the best non-judgmental tone she could muster. But I could see it on her face more than ever; the bewildered fear of losing her son to the rock & roll evils that came from piano and keyboard music. Ever since Mötley Crüe sang "Girls, Girls, Girls" with wild, high-gain Piano riffs; since Mick Jagger told Elder Cook his Keytar rock music was “calculated to drive kids to sex”; since Jimi Hendrix inspired a generation of counter-culturists to burn flags, smoke weed, and play the keyboard irreverently; since Woodstock, or Robert Johnson selling his soul at the crossroads to be the best pianist; it was pre-destined that good Mormon boys would grow up playing guitar, and the rebellious, rogue, “less active” boys would play heavy metal piano.
“Well, I am not saying I want to play metal or Electric Keytar. I just want to learn how to play music on the regular piano. The acoustic kind,” I responded without much thought, still fearful of her disappointment.
“We have a classical guitar in the family room already, James.” She only called me James when things got serious. "And Sister Fowley down the street can teach you all the hymns and classics for free. She taught your sister and the Williams’ kid up the road,” she finished, picking up the wet wad of paper towels to throw away.
“I know, I know, mom. But I've tried before. Sister Fowley is so tough,” I said with pain in my voice. “I hated learning all the scales and sharps and chopsticks and ‘Sweet Hour of Prayer.’ I want to play real music.”
As soon as I said this I realized what I had just done. I had belittled a hymn and claimed that church music wasn’t real music. It was exactly the sort of thing I had practiced NOT to say in this conversation. And yet it slipped out so easy. My namesake was right: "The tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!"
“Church music is real music, James. It is uplifting and inspiring. The radio may be more catchy, and I don’t mind you listening to what you want in your room…” she paused for a moment and looked at the clock, hoping the bus for seminary was already near. “But playing music is entirely different. It’s not in headphones. Everyone will hear it. Think of the example you have to set for your siblings and for the other boys at church.”
“But mom, didn’t you hate learning the guitar as a girl? Wasn’t it boring?”
“It was. But I am so glad I did it, James!” She spoke louder, letting her emotions bubble into her voice. I could see I was not going to win her over at that point and wished for the bus to arrive as much as she did.
“I serve in the ward when we need a guitarist for sacrament, or a baptism, or in primary," she said. "And it connects me to my mother and her family when they brought the first guitars as pioneers. They had to carry them across the plains. Imagine if they had to carry a piano!” And that was it. The pioneers were always how she ended her arguments. If the pioneers suffered for it, or saved it, or ate it, it was a heritage we wanted to preserve in our home.
I had nothing left to say after that. I took the last few bites of my cereal quietly, reverently, accepting my defeat, while she finished cleaning up the table with a spray of 409 cleaner and washcloth.
Even still, in my heart I longed to shred the ivory. Was I destined to be led astray?
About the Author
By day, Third King of Judah is the Director of Special Projects and Data Analytics at a premiere consulting firm. By night he's a musician, poet, artist, and philosopher. He believes that building great connections with people makes a difference.