"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
May 30, 2012
Come Thou Fount
by Marian Stoddard

Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace. Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise…

There's an ad out right now, with a string quartet playing on a stage. The music starts out beautifully until the first violinist, dressed in a white lab coat, comes in, screeching painfully, as we cut to the hurrying woman in full concert dress, violin tucked under her arm. She rushes through the curtain onto the stage, then stops, dumbstruck at the sight of someone unqualified sitting in her spot and trying to take her place. Quickly, they change places, and the music begins again. (The voiceover says, you wouldn't want someone else trying to do your job. Don't try to do your doctor's job…)

The point, besides the selling hopes of the medication sponsor, is that it's not enough to simply love the music or to pick up and try the instrument. You have to have some skills developed, and you have to be in tune with the other players in your ensemble or the sound produced will not be beautiful.

Anyone just starting out with an instrument has to first learn to even make it sound. One advantage of the piano is that it will make sound the way it is designed to--an inexperienced player will hit the wrong notes, but they will at least be notes.

Not so with any stringed, brass, or woodwind instrument. They have to be tuned so that the different notes, however they are produced on the individual instrument, are starting from a true pitch. Stringed instruments are the most involved, because each string has to be tuned to the first one; it's not a matter of just setting the whole in one initial action.

At the beginning of instruction, the sound a child makes may be so painful that everyone in the vicinity claps hands over ears and begs for it to stop. Many a child has been tactfully ushered to their room, with the door fervently closed, to practice. Our oldest daughter took up the trumpet, and the instrument is loud enough, even once the sound is good, that she practiced in the attic and you could still tell when she was playing two floors below. In the summer she would have the windows open and you could hear the trumpet through the neighborhood.

Now, if you declare the noise too painful to bear, and the whole enterprise brought to a screeching halt (rather than a screeching continuation?) you will never hear your child play beautiful music. They will be forever robbed of the experience of producing something beautiful to hear, because you didn't have the patience, and teach them the perseverance, to learn how it is made beautiful.

No one knows how to start out at elegant and melting. They have to learn how this instrument works, how this sound is made, what makes the difference in producing it well, how the phrasing works, how the dynamics make it powerful.

The music written is beautiful (well, we won't go into an argument over certain avant-garde composers) but the written page doesn't produce a sound. That is the job of human beings who have to learn how to play it well. The written passages are the concept, but the musician has to move them from theoretical to experiential.

We talk about being 'in tune" with the Spirit. The old familiar comparison was tuning a radio, finding just the right spot to bring in the clearest signal, but I think that image is less informative now that all our listening devices are digital. Today, and to me, music is a better metaphor.

Our Father in Heaven does not cringe from the squeals, honks, and squawking 'sounds' of our learning process as we stumble through our first attempts to understand his directions and follow him. He answers our prayers and helps us learn to hear him. He is patient as we miss half the message, let pride or hurt feelings get in the way, or fail to comprehend what he is asking. He continues to teach, correct, and encourage. He just asks us not to turn away and give up.

His place does not shift, and his requirements don't change. Draw near unto me, he says. We must match our pitch to his, and he brings us along point by point: he terms it line upon line, precept by precept. Our spiritual music becomes more true, lovelier, and more heart-reaching as we match our hearts to his, and he answers us with not only greater knowledge, but increased capacities for love, joy, and hope.

The more we receive, the more we are able to receive. King Benjamin teaches us that whatever we earn by our obedience, he blesses us yet more, so he is always beyond repayment. Because he loves us, he will always be ahead, and he doesn't mind in the least, because he always wants better for our sakes, not his. This love is the surest portion of "grace." As we recognize that our Father is the fount (source) of all our gifts and blessings, we learn indeed to tune our hearts to sing his grace. Alma asked, "Have you felt to sing the song of redeeming love?"

I have, and I hope to sing it all my days.

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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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