What’s on Your Relief Society Birthday Playlist? (Alex Boye??)

This month female members of the Church will be gathering in countless cultural halls with casseroles, crockpots of soup, and rolls in hand–all to celebrate a very special birthday: the anniversary of the founding of the LDS Relief Society. A required Church activity (it’s described in the Handbook of Instructions) this evening which seeks to epitomize the roots of sisterhood is a staple in every RS yearly calender. Along with the soups and ubiquitous chicken salads (the recipe with whole garlic cloves is always a no; the one with avocados and raisins is a surprising yes), there will be a program of some sort celebrating the history of Relief Society and the women who have shepherded the organization from its inception in Nauvoo to its current state as world wide humanitarian powerhouse. There might be women in costume. There might be reader’s theaters. There will definitely be a music.

One year (the only year!) I was put in charge of our ward’s Relief Society Birthday celebration I opted to go with a regular birthday theme. There were balloons on the tables and we all ate Texas sheet cake that one of the sisters had piped with the Relief Society seal and logo. Super creative, I know–but you have to understand this was well before the Pinterest or even sugardoodle.net was around. (Egads, that makes me sound old! So does my use of the word “egads” . . .)The one part where I took a risk was the music. Instead of hymns or the clanging echo of female chatter on the cultural hall walls, I opted for Glenn Miller. I brought a small CD player and set it on the stage (which wasn’t being used that evening) and we all grooved to “Little Brown Jug” and “Pennsylvania 6-5000.” It was fun. It was nice. But it didn’t really hit on the spirit of the Relief Society.

Surprisingly a lot of singers, from your ward and from the big LDS music marketers, are seeking to fill that gap. Just like some Deseret Book musicians release theme music for the youth programs every year, a clutch of DB female LDS musicians release albums aimed at capturing the special sense of sisterhood. Usually it’s ladies like Hilary Weeks (your Facebook feed probably got inundated with this one last fall) or Mercy River. For awhile it was Gladys Knight and the Saints Unified Voices album (who knew “I Am a Child of God” could be so deeply soulful!). And always there are the humble renditions of the hymns “As Sisters in Zion”, “Love at Home”, and “Each Life That Touches Ours For Good” sung by tender-hearted ward members.

A few other songs stick out in my mind. Like the Janice Kapp Perry numbers that graduated with me from Young Women’s into the RS (The presence of “I Walk By Faith” at some of these events is baffling to me). Or Sally DeFord’s “My Sister’s Hands”. The most notable is Mindy Gledhill’s “Emma (Never Had an Ordinary Day)”, which is almost rebellious in its questioning of those who would question Emma. Standing behind Emma, choosing not to judge another woman’s spirituality based on the outcome of her marriage and her children but instead choosing to simply be with her and help her–to my mind that’s the heart of the Relief Society sisterhood.

And just recently I discovered another unforgettable one. Alex Boye’s “Relief Society Tribute” song. Seriously, this one is unforgettable. I can’t not share it with you.

While I unequivocally love Mindy Gledhill’s “Emma” I am a bit divided on Mr. Boye’s offering. On the one hand, I appreciate his compliments and there a couple spots that I actually tear up because he articulates my feelings fairly well. There is a part of me that seems to crave this kind of validation. But then, well, there’s the part where he raps “Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel”. And all the “hey-O!” that makes it so my brain automatically starts singing Taio Cruz. And there’s the surprising (flippant?) mention of Heavenly Mother. I would never compare myself to her, but now that he’s done it I find myself realizing that there’s a reason I don’t compare myself to her–I WILL NEVER MEASURE UP! The perfect women he lauds in this song are, for the most part, not like me. I know this is not the intent of this song, but, well, isn’t there some way to talk about Mormon ladies without idealizing them? Sometimes it seems to me like the old angel-of-the-hearth thing all over again. (Although Hestia is always classified as one of the “Big 12” Greek gods and she is the original Guardian of Home and Hearth, so maybe that isn’t so bad? But I digress.)

I don’t know. Is my discomfort just because Alex Boye’s song is so very, very far from the style that I expect to hear? Or does it epitomize the Mormon woman/Mother-in-Zion syndrome dilemma?

How about you all? What do you make of Boye’s song? What kind of music is central to your Relief Society experience? (And, yes, men please weigh in!)

29 thoughts on “What’s on Your Relief Society Birthday Playlist? (Alex Boye??)”

  1. Wow. Bless Alex Boye’s heart.

    I guess I’m most uncomfortable with the aesthetics of the song. I wish he didn’t rely on AutoTune, and I REALLY wish the scansion of his rap was better (the “Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel” section is actually the best, because the rhythm works).

    I also don’t like his use of the word “we.” For whom is he speaking? The men of the Church, I assume. Huh.

    And he goes back and forth between talking about how worn down LDS women are and praising how they never tire.

    I tire. Every day. But I appreciate his intent.

    I’ve always told my husband that if I were ever RS President, “As Sisters in Zion” would be banned. It certainly is central to my RS experience, but I wish it weren’t.

  2. Luisa–

    Three things: 1) I love that you just used “scansion” and “rap” in the same sentence. And, yeah, some of it is a bit awkward. 2)How do you know he was using Autotune? 3)Why would you ban “As Sisters in Zion”. I know a lot of women feel that way and I know their reasons for feeling that. What in that song do you personally take issue with?

    And yes, I tire everyday. And I hope that’s not a bad thing?

  3. Huh. In my rewritten version of the Handbook, it says the High Priest Group is supposed to put on the RS BDay party, invite the RS, throw a huge bash, and hand out presents after. Has this not been implemented yet?

  4. MoJo! Where’s your sense of Mormon Feminism? We’re smart, strong, independent women. We don’t need a High Priest Group to throw a party for us!! 😛

  5. My sense of feminism vanishes when it translates to: “We mandate you do a bunch of work to throw a BD party for yourselves.” Oh, I know! How about we all go to Longhorn for a big BD dinner?

  6. Moriah–lol.

    The lauding-fawning-you are special queen princesses thing actually makes me very uncomfortable and always has. It makes me feel a bit objectified. Like I need a man to tell me why I’m special, and what I’m supposed to do to fill my role as a woman. I can swallow it much easier when it comes from a woman–ala Julie Beck. Does that make me a little bit spiritually immature? Maybe. Just being honest here 😀

  7. Oh, please. OBJECTIFY ME! But…not as a housekeeper, please. You know, objectify me that OTHER way. A Victoria’s Secret gift card would not come amiss…

  8. Moriah– Was going to say, Chocolate is also pretty easy to swallow.

    I’d love a victoria’s secret giftcard if, after having nursed five children, I had any victoria secrets to worry about.

    (OK, this is probably getting a little too pink for this blog)

  9. I don’t think it’s too pink!

    I also get uncomfortable with the whole lauding/fawning thing, too. I actually have a hard time with it regardless of who says it. When it comes from a man, I feel pandered to. When it comes from a woman I feel judged.

    But, I still want to know: What, if anything, would be on your RS playlist? What music communicates Mormon feminine spirituality to your way of thinking? If not Alex Boye’ then who?

  10. Um, oh. On topic.

    I got nothin’. Sorry. I can think of many songs that are empowering to women (and some women need it more than others), but few that would be a) church-approved or b) unshocking.

    The ones that top the list are Jill Scott’s “Golden,” “I’m Not Afraid,” and “The Fact Is [I Need You].”

    Not seeing that happening in any RS gathering ever.

  11. There is that hymn,, “a Key was turned in Zion,” about the founding of the Relief Society. But it is kind of unmemorable melodically…I think that the hymns of the pioneers would work just as well for an RS celebration…I think of Come, come ye saints and picture Mary Fielding Smith healing her ox 🙂

  12. Laura,

    1) 🙂
    2) You can hear it–it’s that electronic edge to his vocals.
    3) I hate declarative, manifesto-ish hymns in general. I far prefer exhortatory hymns of praise (“All Creatures of Our God and King,” “Come, Ye Children of the Lord, etc.) or narrative hymns (“A Poor, Wayfaring Man,” “That Easter Morn”) to the prosaic didacticism “As Sisters” and “From Homes of Saints Glad Songs Arise.”
    I also hate it when hymns that are topical get overused. We sing “As Sisters” at nearly every RS event in my ward/stake. I’m sick to death of it. Give me an all-purpose hymn of praise like “For All the Saints” any day of the week.

  13. Laura, I like to be solution-oriented to balance out my gripes, but I can’t think of any music that conveys Mormon feminine spirituality specifically.

    My daughter, another woman, and I sang The Wailin’ Jennys’ “One Voice” at a ward event recently. It has a lovely, simple message and was beautifully crafted by (non-LDS) women composers. I guess that’s as close as I’ve found.

  14. I started liking “As Sisters in Zion” a lot more after reading the novel In the Company of Angels, which also got me liking pioneer stories a lot more. Reading it as a 19th-century poem written by an orphan girl who pulled a handcart across the plains with the aid of another girl makes it a lot less saccharine to me. I can picture real work when they talk about “we’ll all work together”. I still think the melody is a little high and not my favorite, but it’s a more powerful song to me when I think about the back story.

    Last year for our RS birthday party we had a “Retro Relief Society” circa 1960. It was a lot of fun–some of the older ladies brought in crafts like glass grapes and embroidered aprons; someone made copies of stories and things from the old Relief Society Magazine; we had some of the oldest sisters reminisce about old things like the bazaar and paying dues, and we ate chicken casserole, green jello, celery stuffed with pimento cheese, and instant pudding/graham cracker dessert. It was awesome.

  15. I always thought that if I was ever in charge, I’d do something different.

    Ha on me. I am constantly surprised at my instinctive return to the basics, the fundamentals.

    That said, you asked my thoughts on the Boye piece. I’m always for alternative musical expressions of faith, and this does fit that craving. But it doesn’t do much for me; it kind of feels like the “you’re doing great, couldn’t do it without out, I don’t know how you do it” compliment, that while sounding nice, rings too hollow because it’s so superficial and doesn’t offer a hand or a shoulder to lift me up.

    My personal favorite is “Arise and Shine Forth” (sung by Jenny Jordan Frogley)(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJwD9Lzlj4U) — it embodies pretty well my thoughts on Relief Society. I remember listening to it on my way home from finishing WoodBadge in 2004, and feeling such a sense of (what my non-member cousins would call) “calling”, and it framed what I wanted to do and be and become over the next several years.

    eh. Look what that got me.

    Say, Laura… call me.

  16. Sarah, I don’t think it was the Victoria’s Secret thing. I think it was the comments we all made to how frustrated we are with the lauding/fawning compliments. Now they don’t know how to talk to us!

    FWIW, the more I listen to the Boye’ song the less it bothers me. I kind of like it now. . .

    And thank you all for the musical suggestions. Now I’ve got some tunes to check out!

  17. It’s more that I rarely watch web videos because it means I either have to get my headphones from my bag and plug in at work on my lunch break or I have to remember to watch it at home.

    As for Victoria’s Secret: I’m sure that most of us Gen X and Y Mormon husbands would be just fine with our wives receiving gift cards. Probably some of the high priests would be down with it too.

  18. .

    Yeah, I can’t watch the video at work and don’t really care to anyway. I’m sure I’ll roll my eyes because I’m with you on the silly empty pedestalling. Me, I think you should listen to music by rockandroll Mormon women like Eliza Wren or Mimi Parker or Amy Gileadi.

    Also, lingerie is good. We should totally hand that out in sacrament meeting.

  19. My high priest would be totally down with a VS gift card. Even though I’ve had six kids and will never look like Megan Fox, the lingerie is a go.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s