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Noteworthy change on music staff

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With the dawning of the 21st Century have come a number of transitions in the Church, not the least of which is a change in the leadership of the General Music Committee.

Organized in 1920 to foster ward choirs, encourage congregational singing, meet music training needs and correlate the music program of the Church, the committee has been under the leadership of Michael F. Moody since 1977 — almost a quarter-century.

Brother Moody recently stepped down from the chairmanship of the committee to become president of the Haiti Port-au-Prince Mission, where he and his wife, Maria, assumed their missionary duties this month.

Appointed as his successor was David T. Warner. With the new appointment comes an expansion of the duties associated with the position. In addition to chairing the music committee and directing the Music Division, Brother Warner will also oversee productions in the new Theater at Temple Square located in the massive new Conference Center.

Elder Harold G. Hillam of the Presidency of the Seventy, executive director of the Priesthood Department, expressed deep appreciation for Brother Moody's faithful service.

"During that time," Elder Hillam noted, "Brother Moody played a major role in compiling the Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that was first published in 1985. In addition, he oversaw the development of The Children's Songbook, The Choirbook, a Basic Music Course, an annual music submission program and a basic music training program for developing areas, using senior missionaries."

Elder Hillam also commented on the qualifications and experiences that have brought Brother Warner to lead the General Music Committee in the Priesthood Department. Brother Warner has directed professional theater, musical theater and opera; was artistic director of Boise Opera; and was a founder of the Film Actors Theater of Los Angeles.

Additionally, he has directed for film and television, with programs airing on Public Broadcasting Service stations nationwide. Most recently, Brother Warner has been a member of the faculty at BYU in the David O. McKay School of Education and in the School of Music. He and his wife, Allison Hickman, are the parents of two boys. Brother Warner is bishop of the Grandview 14th Ward in Provo, Utah.

The shifting of leadership signals the end of one chapter and the beginning of another in the history of music in the Church.

Michael F. Moody

It might be asserted that there has been no stronger advocate for the value of music as a tool of worship in the Church than Michael F. Moody.

"I recognize that music is not everything," he said in a Church News interview. "But, jokingly, I'd say it's way far out in head of whatever's in second place. But I've tried to keep it in perspective of the total program of the Church."

Meanwhile, his views on music in the Church have been in harmony with those of the Brethren, who have long emphasized the importance of learning and singing the songs of Zion.

With an education in religious music, Brother Moody little realized just how well that pursuit would prepare him for what was to come.

"I thought I would maybe teach music theory in a college or something," he reflected. "It was one of those things that, looking back on it, I felt that I had been blessed to do what prepared me for the opportunity that came to me."

He entered Church employment in 1972 and in 1977 was appointed chairman of the Music Committee and later director of the Music Division in the Priesthood Department.

Early on under his leadership, the committee undertook what is perhaps its most visible accomplishment: a new hymnbook. Building upon the work of an earlier committee, Brother Moody's group compiled the book that was published in 1985 and is in use to this day. It was published on the 150th anniversary of the first hymnbook in the Church, compiled by Emma Smith, wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

"And the newest hymnbook, of course, has now been published into the 20-plus standard languages in the Church," he reflected, adding that an abbreviated compilation has been translated into dozens of other languages.

"And I have learned that music does not belong to the musician," he noted. "The musician is the servant; music is for the people, and it's one of the great tools the Lord has given to inspire, strengthen, build testimony, and do all of the 19 different things that the First Presidency mentions in the First Presidency's Preface to the Hymnbook. It teaches the gospel, it unifies, it can be used to overcome adversity and temptation."

Such views inspired Brother Moody and his colleagues in fulfilling other accomplishments. Early on, they developed training courses for conductors, organists, and youth and children's music. Later, these were consolidated in compliance with a pattern in the Church to reduce and simplify. A basic music course was developed, starting in the early 1970s, which culminated in recent years with its implementation in many areas where the Church is still developing.

His love for music influenced Brother Moody's service in ward and stake callings. As bishop of the Woods Cross (Utah) 3rd Ward, he started a tradition that still continues in the ward of having all Aaronic Priesthood boys form a choir. Every spring, the choir performs the same two songs: "The Priesthood of Our Lord" and "The Clarion Call." And while he was president of the Woods Cross Utah East Stake, he encouraged the formation of a Young Men choir in the Vaiola Ward, a Samoan unit.

Both choirs performed at the sacrament meeting at which the Moodys spoke prior to their departure for their mission. And the Moodys' children, who are now grown, performed vocal renditions of some of his favorite hymns at the meeting.

A prolific composer in his own right, Brother Moody, in his self-deprecating style, characterizes himself as "just a song writer." One of his hymns, "Testimony," with words by Elder Loren C. Dunn of the Seventy, is in the current hymnbook.

Friends and acquaintances learned to look forward each Christmas season to a special greeting from Brother Moody in the form of sheet music for a newly written Christmas song, the music composed by him with words by one of the Church's fine writers. Several of these ended up in the Children's Songbook, including the popular "He Sent His Son" with words by Mabel Jones Gabbot.

Ironically, one of his personal favorites "Gentle Jesus" did not qualify for inclusion in the book because it did not meet the criterion of having been previously published in the Friend magazine, although it had been in the Ensign.

But another favorite, composed as his Christmas offering in 1995, has become more prominent in the years since: "This Is the Christ" a musical setting for a text written by President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, has been performed by numerous choirs in the Church. A rendition of it by the Tabernacle Choir is featured at the end of "The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd," the new large-screen motion picture now being featured at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

David T. Warner

Eminently qualified as a musician and theatrical artist, David T. Warner, assumes his duties with a fervent desire to follow the Brethren in all aspects of his appointment.

"I am grateful that three months after the Church was organized, the Lord, speaking through Joseph Smith, directed Emma Smith, his wife, to compile a hymnbook," he said in a recent interview. "And since that time, the prophets and apostles have given counsel about how music can be used to strengthen us and move us to repentance and good works, build testimony and faith, comfort us, console us and inspire us."

He said he has known of the General Church Music Committee chiefly through Brother Moody. "He is, himself, very gifted, well educated, but also very modest," he added. "And what has stood out most to me about his service is his willingness to follow the Brethren. That's my chief desire as the new chairman of the committee, to follow the Brethren."

Brother Warner expressed gratitude that the First Presidency has said that music has boundless powers for moving families toward greater spirituality and devotion to the gospel. "I'm also grateful that they've said inspirational music is an essential part of our Church meetings and that the hymns of the Church are the basic music for our meetings," he added.

Expressing gratitude for what the committee has done in the past, Brother Warner said he hopes to carry that tradition forward and build upon it.

"I feel we have so many gifted and talented people in the Church whose deepest desire is to use their gift to serve the Lord," he said. "And how we do that in our wards and stakes and on the general level is our challenge and privilege as Latter-day Saints."

Email: rscott@desnews.com