Brass Instruments Are No Longer Forbidden in Sacrament Meeting

Why hello, sousaphone.

Moroni will no longer be the only one sounding his trumpet. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints finished its multi-year update to the General Handbook of Instructions recently with new or updated sections on single members, proxy temple ordinances, interviews, records, finances and audits, and others. However, Chapter 19 was also updated, and Chapter 19 deals with music.

You see, dear reader, the previous handbook somewhat infamously dissuaded the use of brass or percussion instruments:

Organs and pianos, 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 brass and percussion, are not appropriate for sacrament meeting.

Obviously, this was woefully unfair. Are you really telling me an oboe doesn’t have a prominent sound? Are we really going to make the argument that French horns aren’t glorious? Who says a timpani doesn’t have its place as a special musical number, particularly if the theme of the meeting is obedience? Can we say any of this when our own official Orchestra at Temple Square employs the full suit of orchestral instruments?

Honestly, the only instrument inappropriate for sacrament meeting is the saxophone. The saxophone exists to exude sensual tension. That’s it. And I can say that with authority as an actual sax player. (But I was also once in a ska band, so take pretty much anything I say with a grain of salt.)

Anyway, aside from a soothing coronet making a few appearances during Christmas programs, once you move past piano and organ, most of us have likely seen sacrament meetings featuring violins, harps, flutes, etc.

The updated guidelines now say:

Live instruments are normally used for prelude and postlude music and for hymn accompaniment in Church meetings. Where they are available and where members can play them, organs and pianos are the standard instruments. Bishoprics may approve the use of other instruments to accompany congregational singing, for prelude and postlude music, and in other musical selections.

Musical instruments should convey a feeling of worship and be played in keeping with the spirit of the meeting.

You see that? Now it’s up to bishops to approve what works. Is it time for your ward to have a trombone quartet covering Hilary Weeks’ greatest hits? Absolutely.

Section 19.3.1 has another interesting change:

Musical selections should be consistent with the worshipful spirit of the hymns. They should teach the gospel with power and clarity.

Sacred music that is written or sung in culturally diverse musical styles may help unify congregations. Music coordinators and priesthood leaders may include a variety of appropriate musical styles that appeal to members of various backgrounds.

The last paragraph could certainly open the door to some liberal interpretations of what is appropriate and culturally diverse, and could truly have some interesting and unifying results! Does this mean we’ll go full megachurch with a worship band? Probably not (although it would be amazing to watch 10 people stand up there with their guitars, vaguely swaying with their arms out for 7 minutes of 1-5-6-4 chords). But it could open the door to embrace what “worship” means for different people.

For a bit of an example, in graduate school I wrote a paper on how the Church exported American culture and norms abroad as much as it did Church culture; there was heavy overlap between the two. At the time, this ran up against many traditional forms of worship in Sub-Saharan Africa that can involve Local leaders tried to find a compromise by allowing. As all great scholars do, I will now cite myself:

Carrie Moore notes that by the 1960s, most Christian churches had given up trying to make Africans and African worship services appear European.  The LDS Church stands out a great deal in this regard because it continues to stress the importance of having the same message and same services around the world, thus serving as a unifier and allowing African Saints to be ‘equally believers with anyone else in the world.’ Moore notes that a congregation in Uganda has Sunday services akin to those held in the West, but also allows drumming and dancing to be incorporated for Wednesday night activities.  In response, a local Church member said, ‘But drumming and dancing is the real service’ (Moore 2008).  So far, the Church, at least officially, shows no signs of adapting services to cater to the cultural preferences of African members.  Again, this is a somewhat double-edged sword.  As stated before, by attempting to have the same services throughout the world, the Church, at least in theory, becomes a unified world body.  Indeed, it is a common expression within the Church to say that ‘the Church is the same anywhere you go.’  However, by refusing to incorporate local culture, especially in Africa, the Church might also be missing out on an opportunity to win and retain more converts.

That piece was in 2009. Much has changed since then, and the Church’s growth in Africa is truly something to behold. These General Handbook updates will surely allow local leaders to expand their minds when it comes to what defines worshipful music.

So there you have it. Horns, drums, and cultural diversity! What could be better?

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