"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
April 16, 2014
One Voice, Two Parts
by Marian Stoddard

The two of us were attending the general conference sessions at the stake center. There’s no one left to bring with us. Conference is carried on BYU-TV, but we’ve never had cable. Besides, we like going to where the Saints are together, especially on Sunday, so even if we could really stay home and see it, I think maybe we wouldn’t, at least not all the time.

We’re in the minority at this point, as most people do have cable television services and simply gather their families at home. You don’t have to be early anymore to get a seat, and almost half the number in attendance at the stake center were full-time missionaries serving in our stake. It was nice to see that there were a couple of their invitees with them.

At the midpoint when we rose to our feet to sing a hymn, my husband slipped out for a minute. He slipped back in next to me in time for the chorus of the second verse and fell naturally into the tenor line. The hymn was one of those that are so familiar that he has no need of the printed page to find the notes that are not the melody.

As I continued singing, familiar and comfortable after forty years with the sound of our voices blending together, I thought that I didn’t truly have my all of my voice, even though I was already singing, until the sound of it was combined with his.

We haven’t sung together that many times, in the sense of performance, over the years. We have been part of church choirs at various levels (ward, stake, regional) and we have enjoyed music. As a tenor, he’s always in more demand.

Our first duet was “Younger than Springtime” from South Pacific for our student ward talent show. Afterwards, one girl told me that we did well, and stopped for a moment to look at me and say, “Are you two dating?” We had not made that fact very visible until then. That performance, and my acknowledgement, made it generally known after that night.

He has a more perfect natural ear than I do, and a more powerful voice. He’s the one that the men who can’t read music sit next to so that they can hear and pick up the part. I’ve had good training; I can learn and hold a voice part well, even if I don’t have the highest notes. I play some piano, and he always wanted to play violin but never had the chance to learn.

My standard joke is that my mother always wanted a tenor in the family, so I had to marry him. Her family is full of gifted bass voices, but no tenors.

I’ve been teaching several lessons on Isaiah the past few weeks. He says, in many places, with variations in phrasing, that Israel will be gathered again and sing a “new song” unto the Lord.

“Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.” (Isaiah 51:11)

“Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth….” (Isaiah 42:10)

He promises in chapter 35, “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.” (verses 5-6) It doesn’t offer that the dumb shall speak, but that they shall sing.

Job was asked where he was “When all the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:7)

Throughout the scriptures, songs and singing are the description of the upswell of joy and rejoicing that cannot be contained in mere words, that rises up from a depth beyond comprehension, that overflows.

There were many, many miraculous outpourings of the Spirit recorded by those who were present at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. There were angels in attendance, and visions of angels keeping guard. The experiences were powerful and astonishing to those who were privileged to be there.

One was the moment when two separate people stood in the same instant, and began to sing in an unknown tongue. With no planning, no accompaniment, no preliminary hum for a starting note, their voices wove a counterpoint around each other, perfect in pitch and cadence.

Their song ended and they sat down again. It was miraculous. There was glory felt by all in listening to them, no matter that the words were not known.

I wonder if being tone deaf is a defect that is temporary, that will be healed in the instant of resurrection, like blindness or a withered limb. What amazed joy I can imagine on the face of someone who suddenly can truly hear sublime music for the first time. I think music is one of the universal attributes of heaven.

I am grateful that it’s something we can share, in our marriage. Our voices are more evenly matched than they were at the beginning. As my voice matured and my confidence increased, I’ve even been a soloist on a few occasions. He’s lost a little power with age, just a little, and both of us have lost the highest notes in our range. He can now sing a baritone part if they need it.

Beyond talent scorecards, we have come to find balance together. We have fit ourselves to each other; that is the pattern of forty years of marriage.

As we sang that familiar hymn as part of our attendance at Conference, I could hear the total sound of those who were also gathered, and I could hear the two of us within that, and knew that my voice alone is only a part of my song. Our two voices blend and mesh as easily as breathing, now, and link our hearts and praise.

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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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