Let’s Use Drums in LDS Church Services

Let’s face it.  LDS Church services are dull.  The music is rather passive and most organists play the hymns too slowly.  In fact, most congregational hymns sound more like dirges than joyful refrains.

So what can be gone?

We can borrow a page from other religions.  Many forms of worship in the United States are becoming more informal.  According to a recent third-iteration National Congregations Study, this informality is represented by raising hands, jumping and dancing, speaking in tongues, using video projectors, and PLAYING DRUMS.  For example, in 2012, drums were played 46 percent of the time during the principal service, up from 25 percent in 1998.

While most of above activities are far too radical for immediate inclusion into a Mormon Sacrament Meeting, including drums might be a good first step.

According to S. Brent Plate, writing for religiondispatches.org:

[There are a] myriad religious rituals in which drums are played, from Tibetan Buddhist to Muslim Moroccan to Pakistani Qawwali to many Hindu gatherings.  Perhaps none are as engaging as what is seen and heard in the Ethiopian Orthodox church’s use of the kabaro.  Here the drums are one of the most sacred dimensions for Christians and present in all major worships.

I live part-time in Uganda, and drums are an important part of all African social activities and ceremonies.

So why aren’t there more drums in Christian church services today.  According to Plate:

One of the reasons [for there not being more drums] is that as European Christians colonized much of the world they found people playing drums.  Since these “other” communities could not possibly have true religion, drums must be associated with false or heathen religions.  A history of Christian colonization and missionization becomes also a history of destroying drums.

And we Mormons certainly don’t want to look like neocolonialists.

But there are also many practical reasons why drum should be considered for contemporary LDS Church services, particularly those in Africa and Asia.  The great violinist Yehudi Menuhin suggests that “Music creates order out of chaos; for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent.”  And goodness knows, the Mormon Church has plenty of the “divergent” today.  And drums certainly create rhythm.

Again according to Plate:

Bound to the creation and maintenance of the religious worlds in which we live, drums play a vital role in the existence of people.  Their sounds form a sonic structure within which our bodies collectively live.

But perhaps, most important of all, drums could be used to keep the congregation awake during the usually dry and overly-long Stake High Councilman’s exhortation.  Perhaps, before a major point of emphasis in his speech, the councilman could “cue the drum roll.”  Thereby both waking up the congregants and highlighting a key element in his message.  Playing the drums could be a great job for the Deacons.

You Could Even Put a Scripture Message on the Bass Drum

You Could Even Put a Scripture Message on the Bass Drum

Drums could also be used to highlight a joke.  So after Elder M. Russell Ballard exhorts the sisters to speak up but “don’t talk too much,” he could cue the drummer for a “rim shot.”  That way the congregants would know that he is joking and that its time to start laughing.

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10 Responses to Let’s Use Drums in LDS Church Services

  1. Samuel says:

    Music is used to invite the Spirit to meetings. Without the Spirit, the church cannot function properly. In many cases, perhaps most, the church is not functioning properly. Even the best of music will not invite the Spirit if people are not aligned with it. Would the use of drums change that? No. The use of drums may in fact be compatible with the Spirit. The use of drums could easily distance the Spirit as well. Until the people of the church are properly aligned with the Spirit, use of drums is not likely matter either way.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      Why might the use of drums “easily distance the Spirit?” Who is to say that an organ dirge is more “spiritual” than drums and guitars? You are showing a very etho-centric prejudice, I call it neo-colonialism as it relates to developing countries. None the less, something needs to be done to overcome the emotionless nature of LDS Sacrament Meetings.

      • Samuel says:

        I said that drums can easily distance the spirit. I did not say that ONLY drums could distance the spirit. I also specifically said that “The use of drums may in fact be compatible with the Spirit.” I agree with you that something must be done about the emotional state of church meetings (everything from sleeping through them to teary over-blown testimonies), but I don’t think that simply changing instruments would alone be sufficient. Injecting artificial emotion is not going to change the fundamental problems with the people bringing emotional desert with them.

  2. Agellius says:

    I would suggest being very cautious about this kind of thing. You may be letting a genie out of a bottle that you can’t put back in.

    I think the reasoning given by Plate for excluding drums from worship is dubious. Christians were excluding rhythmic music from worship services long before the colonial era. St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) wrote that music in church should be restrained and moderate. “Physical delight” should be checked lest it “ennervate the mind”.

    In other words, you don’t want people getting all physically worked up (waving arms, tapping toes and, God forbid, dancing) during church services. Otherwise you run the risk of people confusing physical excitement and enjoyment, with the genuine peace and joy of the spirit. Which you see an awful lot of in many Protestant worship services, sometimes to the point of absurdity. “Worship” becomes a very sensual experience, rather than a spiritual one.

    Drums and guitars were introduced into Catholic masses after Vatican II, and in my opinion it has been a huge mistake. One problem among many, is that even if some people like drums and guitars, and the rock or pop style of worship music, a lot of people don’t. Some parishes react by having masses with organ and choir only. The result is that you divide the parish up into people who prefer the “traditional” mass, those who like the “folk” mass and those who like the “youth” (i.e. rock-and-roll) mass.

    So the choice of music often becomes divisive and alienating, and people get the idea that the conduct of the Church’s official liturgy is a matter of personal preference. IMHO, it’s better to stick with what’s traditional, that way you don’t have to argue about it, and no one feels that this group or that group is getting what it wants at the expense of others with conflicting tastes.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      Just a couple of quick comments. I’ve never been a big believer in the “domino theory.” The LDS Church is evolving and it boring Sacrament Meetings need to evolve also.

      Quoting St. Augustine to justify boring LDS music seems strange. And I don’t think that drums are necessarily unrestrained and immoderate. And I’m not talking about “enervating the mind (and body),” I talking about waking it up.

      I don’t buy into your separation of mind and body. We worship God with both. It is okay for worship to be “sensual” (your word not mine) as well as spiritual. To separate the two is to misunderstand the purpose of having an earthly body.

      Adding more variety to a church service doesn’t need to be divisive if it handled correctly. To sing folk tunes as part of a music interlude would be fun and relaxing. You could even let the congregants stand and sing along. “Times they are a changin.”

      • Agellius says:

        I never said that worship must not be sensual. Catholic worship is very sensual and always has been, hence the use of ornate vestments, incense, bells, etc. What I was doing was refuting the idea that the historical Christian churches outlawed drums in church because of things that happened during “colonization and missionization”. I did so by pointing out that Christians, such as St. Augustine (but not limited to him), were arguing against the use of rhythmic music in church long before the age of colonization.

        I agree that drums are not *necessarily* unrestrained and immoderate. They’re like anything else, alcohol, for example, which can be healthy in moderation but are susceptible to abuse. I think there’s no question that a lot of Protestant worship that is based on music-induced “ecstasy” represents a counterfeit spirituality. Will Mormon churches introducing drums necessarily have this result? Of course not. Nevertheless, I think this kind of thing was St. Augustine’s concern, and I think it’s a valid one.

        My last two paragraphs are simply based on my experience. Of course your mileage may vary, but I offer it as a caution.

  3. rogerdhansen says:

    Augellius, I have a lot of mileage on this tired body (thus “tired road warrior”). Thanks for your comments.

  4. Pingback: Drums in African LDS Church Services | Tired Road Warrior

  5. Nana says:

    I perfectly agree that some sort of revamping should be done in the church music sector. I enjoy listening to the Mormon tabernacle Choir orchestra more than the normal hymns with just an accompaniment. Why can’t we introduce this sort of orchestra type of music and singing in our Sunday worship? I think it would not be a bad idea!

    • rogerdhansen says:

      I spend a couple of months each year in Africa. Believe me, African Mormon services could definitely use drums. Mormon African services smack of neocolonialism. Men wearing funeral suits, white shirts, and ties. Many of the congregants not understanding the words to funeral-like hymns. It all smacks of one culture trying to impose its will on another.

      I donate drums to the branches of the Church that I visit. They are used during branch parties and other activities. Africans are very demonstrative; drums are a natural.

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