"It's not spiders I dislike, just people." -Petra
Question #91309 posted on 06/14/2018 11:42 a.m.
Q:

Dear Creative and Musically-minded 100 Hour Board Members,

I've recently been called on a mission. The music allowed in my mission is: Mormon Tabernacle Choir, EFY soundtracks, BYU choirs, vocal and instrumental hymns of the Church and classic music written
before 1900.

I don't want to come off as trying to push the boundaries or failing to follow the spirit of the law, but the list is pretty restrictive so I don't want to needlessly restrict myself further either. The beginning of the list seems pretty clear, but "classic music written before 1900" seems a little more open to interpretation. I don't know much about music so I'm not sure what counts as "classic music."

Can you help me find the coolest/most unique/ music that reasonably counts as "classic music written before 1900" possible? I like Beethoven and Bach but don't want to be stuck with just them. If you see anything truly funny that might technically count but isn't actually a good idea to take I would appreciate that for comedic value too!

-Jazzless for 18 months

(But ragtime is classic, right? Mongolian throat singing? Pirates of Penzance?)

A:

Dear J,

First off, can I just say how jealous I am? My mission president only allowed "traditional" (MoTab-style) renditions of hymns from the current edition of the hymnbook. It was terrible.

That said, the rule about "classic music written before 1900" is also terrible.

First off, it's horribly Euro-centric. When someone says "classical music," they're almost always referring specifically to European music. I'd see the rule a little differently if "classical music" was synonymous with "Christian religious music," but there's also a ton of music out there that falls under the broad "classical" descriptor while having absolutely nothing to do with Christianity or even with religion in general. And if the area you're serving in contains a strong cultural tradition separate from the European tradition, that's just another barrier standing between you and the people you are supposed to be serving.

I'm no expert on non-European music (blame my Euro-centric education, I guess), so I'll leave the specific recommendations up to the other writers and alumni, but I'd definitely encourage you to branch out. The worst-case scenario is that your mission president finds out, is not amused, and decides to replace a fatally flawed rule with a more specific rule. If you've always dreamed of being the reason that a rule was made, this is your time to shine.

If, on the other hand, you want to absolutely murder the spirit of the law while keeping the letter of the law, I've got some music for you! All links are to Wikipedia.

  • Symphonie Fantastique, a program symphony written by Hector Berlioz in 1830. It's the semi-autobiographical story of a man who is spurned by the woman he loves, poisons himself with opium, and has a vision in which he murders the woman, views his own execution, and is led down to hell where he joins a witches' orgy.
  • Danse Macabre, a tone poem written by Camille Saint-Saens in 1874. It tells the story of how Death comes out each Halloween night and makes skeletons dance to a twisted version of a traditional requiem tune.
  • Die Walkure, source of the famous "Ride of the Valkyries," an opera written by Richard Wagner which premiered in 1870. Along with the other three operas that make up the Ring Cycle (Der Ring des Nibelungen), it tells stories inspired by pagan Norse mythology. In addition to all the paganism and magic, it features fun mission-appropriate stuff like numerous battles to the death and a protagonist who marries his sister.
  • Carmen, an opera written by Georges Bizet with lyrics by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy, which premiered in 1875. I guarantee you've heard some version of the Habanera and the Toreador Song before. The opera is full of mission-appropriate things like exotic dancing and murder.
  • Don Giovanni, an opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with lyrics by Lorenzo Da Ponte, which premiered in 1787. The title character, according to his servant, has had no fewer than 2,065 lovers in various countries. He also tries to rape a woman and then kills her father when he intervenes, and that's all just in the first act. Spoiler alert: it ends with him being dragged bodily into Hell.
  • La damnation de Faust, a retelling of the classic Faust story by our old friend Hector Berlioz which premiered in 1846. It turns out selling your soul to the Devil isn't that great of an idea.

I'm stopping here because I'm lazy, but there are more. I seriously doubt you could find a single classic opera that doesn't involve lovers, murders, or someone being dragged to hell. And I haven't even started on all the religious music filled with doctrines that any orthodox Mormon would consider heretical.

I should be abundantly clear here: I am NOT categorically condemning all of these pieces! There is a lot of art out there that challenges our sensibilities and forces us to confront the ugly things of the world, and I believe that that is both good and necessary. But it's not for missionaries!

Seriously, though, old things are not better just because they are old, and new things are not bad just because they are new. We act like sex and murder got invented sometime in the last century, but they've been happening as long as humans have existed, and they've been portrayed in art as long as art has been made. Religious rules that rely on secular standards like "any classical music from before 1900 is okay for missionaries" or "the dividing line between appropriate and inappropriate movies is an R rating" ultimately create a law that is easy to follow but utterly devoid of spirit. It is far better to take the more difficult path of judging each work based on its own merits.

-yayfulness

A:

Dear you,

This was my mission...except we could only listen to EFY on p-days and we couldn't listen to any classical music. I don't know much about classical music, but I can suggest stuff for hymns and MoTab that might interest you.

MoTab has some classic Broadway songs which are pretty good (granted, I would never listen to them off the mission, but it was fantastic for me at the time), with songs like this (wow I thought that was so good as a missionary but listening to that again I'm realizing just how deprived I was). One of my favorite MoTab CDs was Ring Christmas Bells because of this and this (yup, both are on the CD and are AMAZING).

You can find a ton of different arrangements of hymns. Lower Lights is one of my favorite groups. They do arrangements of hymns (like this), so totally allowed! There's also a ton of groups out there who have awesome versions of typical Christian hymns we have in our hymnbooks. Take "Be Still My Soul" and you can get this and this and this.

Here's a great vocal arrangement of a few Primary songs. (My companion and I blasted this from our car quite a bit. Good times.)

You can't go wrong with Christmas music. You can always find good upbeat Christmas music that's included in the hymnbook. Granted it may be weird listening to Christmas music in July but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Again, take one song (such as "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing") and you can get this and this and this.

When it comes to BYU choirs, Vocal Point and Noteworthy have some great music. You can listen to Newsies, the Greatest Showman, Disney songs, "Brave", Dear Evan Hansen, "Without You", "Geronimo"...and it's all by BYU choirs so it's totally allowed!

You can also find jazz renditions of the hymns, like this and this.

Hope this gives you some ideas!

-guppy of doom

A:

Dear Probably from Utah Jazz,

I 100% guarantee this rule exists to try and keep people from bringing movie soundtracks. As others have pointed out, this restricts a lot of amazing classical music that just happens to be a decade and a half past the cut off. Personally? This is a time when you should really consider following the spirit of the law and as long as it would play on a classical music station and was written before anyone currently alive was born I think you're absolutely fine. 

- Rating Pending (who notes that this rule keeps you from listening to The Planets suite by Gustav Holst which is good, great, gorgeous music. They were even some of President Hinckley's favorites if someone challenges you on their inspirational value.)

A:

Jazzless,

Try Mahalia Jackson. Her recordings probably aren't pre-1900 but I bet a ton of the songs are. "My God is Real" is an honest to goodness testimony and always brings the Spirit for me. She might help you curb the longing for Jazz.

Also, I listened to Chopin my whole mission and definitely felt it in my soul. 

Babalugats