When Receiving Is Better Than Giving

When I was young and would vocalize my Christmas wish list, I was often reminded that it was better to give than to receive. Though I’m sure my parents were just trying to help me think beyond my own childish self-centeredness, I sometimes thought I was being told that it was bad to receive. This idea was perpetuated through my adult life with the occasional misunderstanding of words such as independent and selfsufficient—bringing the message that to receive help or assistance was not good and was, in fact, an indication of my own lack of moral character.

The holidays bring many opportunities for giving. As musicians we may feel a particular need and desire to give of ourselves at this time since Christmas is so closely connected with music in our culture. I appreciate those who bring the Spirit of Christmas into my heart by sharing their musical gifts. We learn through the life of the One whose birth we celebrate that sharing our gifts with those around us is one way we can show our love for Him.

I have been taught that when we are serving our fellow beings we are serving our God. Generally this doctrine is discussed from the point of the giver. The take-home message is that giving is good. And it’s true. Giving is good. There is much joy to be found in being generous and kind. But is it really better to give than to receive?

Let’s look at that concept again—when we are serving our fellow beings we are serving our God. To me it means that when we are the one being served we stand as representatives of God. This suggests that we have the responsibility and opportunity to receive gifts from others in a similar way that He would receive them—with joy, acceptance, gratitude, and appreciation. He does not respond this way because the gift is perfect, but because His love is perfect.

This is a wonderful season of giving and receiving. My Christmas wish for you is that you may feel the joy of giving and receiving in your heart—this Season and always.

Merry Christmas!


Almost My Favorite Christmas Hymn

Like a lot of other musicians this time of year, I’m practicing for an upcoming Christmas Music Program. I’m glad to be a part of it. I love playing for big events. The only disappointment is the congregational hymn I’ve been asked to play—Once In Royal David’s City.

It’s not that I don’t like the hymn. In fact, after playing it on the organ the last five Christmases it’s made it onto My Top 13 LDS Christmas Hymns list. (Yes, I know. There are only 14 LDS Christmas hymns.) Actually, I think the hymn could probably make it up into My Top Five list if weren’t for three factors.

Between the eighth note runs in the  pedal line and the fingering gymnastics required to keep a legato line, Once In Royal David’s City is a very demanding hymn! But that’s what often happens with musically interesting pieces.

Once In Royal David’s City is a Christmas carol originally written as poem by Cecil Frances Alexander as a way to teach children about Christ’s birth and life on earth. I have found several verses beyond the three that appear in the LDS hymnal. One of these omitted verses is so meaningful to me. It speaks to the child in me who needs to be reassured that Christ understands, I mean really, truly understands what it’s like to feel small and insignificant.

For He is our childhood’s pattern,
Day by day, like us He grew
He was little, weak and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew
And He feeleth for our sadness
And He shareth in our gladness

Theologically I am committed to my religion. Musically, though, I think mainstream christianity is pretty cool. For example, since 1919, the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at the King’s College Chapel Cambridge has begun its Christmas Eve service with Once in Royal David’s City as the Processional hymn. In the video below, the first verse is sung by a boy chorister of the Choir of King’s Chapel as a solo. The second verse is sung by the choir, and the congregation joins in the third verse.

When was the last time you heard those kind of acoustics in an LDS church building? How many members of your ward’s Deacon Quorum could put it out there like that boy did? And the organ? Wow! For me, it all adds up to a wonderful musical experience.

Looking at the obstacles involved may make the hymn seem like too much of a challenge. But rather than dismiss playing the hymn altogether, I have realized there are some options for getting it closer to My Top Five list.

The difficulty factor can be worked around by finding another arrangement. Easy Organ Hymn Settings by Don Cook offers a reasonable alternative for the early-intermediate level organist. An intermediate level arrangement in Three-Stave Hymn Accompaniments, also by Don Cook, simplifies the pedal by putting the bass runs in the left hand while retaining the 4-part harmony. And for those who want to tackle the hymnal version, Carol Dean (carolorg1111@gmail.com) has created fingering/pedaling suggestions to assist ward organists in learning effective, efficient playing technique.

As far as the text, many open-minded bishops will permit additional verses (doctrinally correct, of course!) to be sung in sacrament meeting. The non-hymnal verse(s) could be printed in the bulletin for congregational singing, or could be sung as an interlude by a soloist.

The last issue—ambience—is a little more problematic. Can you picture an LDS Sacrament Meeting being held in a beautiful gothic cathedral, with all the pageantry, candles, and glorious acoustics? Me neither. Which is why Once In Royal David’s City remains almost my favorite Christmas hymn.

When One Door Closes . . .

Our Show and Tell for today is Mormon Tabernacle Organist Richard Elliott. He is a wonderful musician and puts on a great show in this video clip.

To add to your enjoyment of this piece, here’s a little background info:

Around the time this video was recorded, Richard was talking with some friends who asked how his shoulder was doing. He cheerfully explained that all seemed well. His arm was finally out of the sling and he was glad to have some mobility in his arms again.

“Rick, what did you do during those months you couldn’t use your hands?” a fellow organist inquired.

“Improved my pedal technique!” was his quick response.

Apparently it was time well spent . . .

. . . it almost makes me wish for a shoulder injury . . .