Jazz and my Stake Relief Society gig

April 22, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 12:56 am   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices

I think teaching the gospel is very much like live performing of music (both rock and jazz). When I play gigs it is a lot better when the crowd is into it and responding and dancing. I can read the reactions and feed off of it and build the energy accordingly. When I teach from the pulpit instead of in a classrom setting (like I had to tonight at our Stake Women’s Conference) I lose much of that connection. The congregation may be getting a lot but it is hard to tell so I often sit down wringing my hands a bit. I think “Did they get it? Did any of that inspire anyone? I gave ’em my best stuff… Was I just off tonight?” If nothing else I hoped my prayer and pondering and fasting in preparation helped cover for me. The women were complimentary afterwards tonight but I’m always happier when it’s more obvious that light bulbs are coming on over heads. I think I might have seen a few light bulbs tonight in that half-full chapel, but they were sort of far away.

I take comfort in the fact that I did come up with one really interesting new angle on the spot. I see this as an extremely good sign because I concur with Pres. Marion G. Romney when he said something like “I can always tell when I’m teaching by the Spirit when I learn something new”. I learned something new tonight — or at least had a something come into new clarity for me.

I taught that teaching a gospel lesson is much like a live musical performance in two ways:

1. The quality of the content matters. If you have a terrible song you are performing it is going to be hard to make it work regardless of performance skills. Likewise, if you have not prepared properly with the needed materials and study to provide the right content for a good talk or lesson you are in trouble. The Spirit won’t cover for you in the delivery if you don’t have the content prepared to deliver. The one exception might be if you are called on at the last minute and are not given time to do preparations — I suspect the grace of Christ might cover for us then.
2. In the moment of performance of improvisational music, you’ve got to follow your gut and play the right thing at the right time in the right way to maximize the beauty of the art. This is what I love about Jazz — it is live, real-time art. The same principles that make for a great Jazz performance make for a great lesson or sermon. You must have the database available in your head already and you wait listen to the Spirit to help guide you in when to use what and how. You go by feel with whole process and act when you should and pause when you should and shout when you should and whisper when you should. In so doing you help inspire faith because of the beauty and artistry of the content and the sermon.

“Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know”? In live jazz or rock and in live preaching, when it is done right “he that preacheth (or swingeth or rocketh out) and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.” (D&C 50: 21-22)

What do you think? Is this accurate? Is good preaching/teaching like good live jazz or rock?


  1. Yes it is. I find it hard to believe there were no comments here. No comments on a GeoffJ post?! What’s going on?

    Is this something that has to be experienced to ‘get it’? Like trying to explain how salt tastes? Thanks for giving me the link to this. I get this more than symbolic men with the possible exception of Melchizedec :).

    Comment by Eric — February 23, 2006 @ 4:56 pm

  2. Yeah, I was a little bummed about the no comments thing with this post too. Maybe you and I are the only ones that do get it or something. I think I put this post up back when traffic was lower around here and right on the heals of another post. Plus it was on a weekend or something.

    Anyway, I certainly am more confident in this than I am in my recent musings on the possibly symbolic men too.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 23, 2006 @ 5:14 pm

  3. I think I get it, Geoff. That’s why we have Motown when we have programs that I’m in charge of.

    A really good talk will make your spirit soar. Like really good music, even if it’s Mick Jagger singing Brown Sugar. In my opinion.

    I know he’s not Motown, I just have this thing for his music.

    Comment by annegb — February 24, 2006 @ 5:31 am

  4. You know, also, Mormons are a staid bunch. We don’t know when to clap. I’ve been in meetings, not in the chapel, where someone will really rock my world and nobody claps and I don’t because I don’t want to be the only one.

    I used to attend the Pentecostal Church (they would pray over me that I would leave the Mormon Church and be saved from the devil. I don’t know how I perservered, I was just a kid and I kept saying, “no, I’m a Mormon, I just don’t like their church.”). Anyway. Those people get into their meetings, they clap and rock and dance. They also scream and pass out and run out of the church throwing off their clothing.

    But, boy, are they fun. We are so worried about being irreverent we don’t when to be people. It can be like a bunch of robots sitting there.

    Hey, Geoff, can you sing Oh Happy Day? I had a girl lined up to sing it at my funeral, but she hasn’t written me back in a long time, well, never. She moved to Salt Lake and never answers my letters. I could use a backup person to sing O Happy Day with the choir.

    Comment by annegb — February 24, 2006 @ 5:38 am

  5. Hmmm I don’t know Oh Happy Day, Anne. I’ll go look for a version on the Web though. I’m afraid I’ll be too old to sing it when you die in 2056 though… (They say the average death age in the US will be at about 100 pretty soon you know)

    Comment by Geoff J — February 24, 2006 @ 11:08 am

  6. No. That is so not happening. I’ve already lived three years too long.

    I totally have my funeral planned. I’m going to have a choir sing Bridge Over Troubled Waters and the speakers are already assigned and the prayers, too. No lie. I have copies of it all over.

    Doesn’t it sound good, though? Bridge Over Troubled Waters and Oh Happy Day? And the Lord’s Prayer. It’s all in the music. If I thought Bill could stand it, I would have My Girl, too. But…that would be pushing my luck.

    Comment by annegb — February 24, 2006 @ 6:18 pm