One of my favorite Mormon albums of the past few decades from a little-known LDS musician who lived in New York City for a while, Charlotte Smurthwaite. Her mid-90s album, “Lift me,” featured LDS hymns sung in jazz arrangements and her treatments of “Come, Come Ye Saints” and “If You Could Hie to Kolob” are fantastic and are still played regularly in our family. Since then, it seems like new arrangements of LDS hymns in different styles have become an important part of current Mormon music. I hear the Sabre Rattlers’ version of “Come, Come Ye Saints” introducing each Mormon Stories podcast. I believe I’ve even seen such versions on the latest music CDs even from Deseret Book.
I’ve been very pleased to see the rise of such music. And I hope to hear more. As I understand it, when similar versions of hymns first started appearing many Mormons objected, saying that such versions were sacrilegious. Fortunately, I think most of those objections have dissipated, or at least I’m tone deaf to them. But in thinking about these songs, a couple of questions occur to me. First, I wonder why so little of this kind of experimentation has appeared in Mormon literature. And second, I wonder what other kinds of experimentation are possible that we have simply not yet heard or read.
In the case of music, these songs bend genre–religious music turned into jazz, country and, IIRC, rock. While I think that there is a kind of genre bending that has happened in literature, but its much harder because the core plots of literary genres are often strongly connected with that genre. But there are blended genres, romances told in adventure or thrillers, romantic comedies, etc. Somehow these are so well established that they hardly seem controversial, let alone experimental. Is there more than can be done here? Seems like there should be, but I don’t know.
In music, I hope to hear more experimental use of Mormon hymns. But shouldn’t the next step be to use other source materials? What about other Mormon poetry? I know that they don’t have the resonance among Mormons that hymns do, but their ideas will often still resonate.
And in Mormon literature, aren’t there obvious areas where writers can experiment? One of the more fascinating recent works in this regard is The Fob Bible, which is basically a collection of riffs on scripture. As a result, it has the potential to get the same kind of benefit that using hymns has in music. I’ve also written in the past about literary mashups, wondering if something like that could be done in Mormon literature. And now I wonder if there aren’t other ways of experimenting that could also be successful? Perhaps literary genres and music genres aren’t comparable, and writers should instead use different literary styles to get the same effect as a different musical genre.
Mormon literature does have some of variety, but it seems like it is much less than what we see in American culture. I suppose this is, in part at least, because there just aren’t that many Mormon works being published. But, it may also be that our current literary milieu discourages experimentation in general and especially to works that, like hymns sung in other musical genres, might be seen as “inappropriate” uses of the sacred.
I hope not. I hope we will see more literary experimentation in Mormon literature. If it can be accepted in music, surely we can see it in literature also.
10 thoughts on “What Will be the Next Big Thing(s)”
The first thing that came to mind is all the Book of Mormon-based novels in the adventure and romance genres. But I haven’t read enough of those to really answer your question. But David West’s novel was good!
I’m still wishing for a Mormon-ized version of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books from the 80s–except that these would be more like “CTR: Adventures in Agency”. To my mind that has a great way of riffing on any number of historical/scriptural themes. Maybe that’s not quite a mash-up like you’re thinking but I think it would be awesome.
I actually wrote a multiple-path LDS book for kids, lost it, and partially reconstructed it. Maybe it’s time to finish it. It was a bit more of a “lehrstuck” (sp?) (German: “learning-piece,” rather didactic) than I liked, but….
I miss Charlotte! We still have that CD. Those were good times.
The Lower Lights is a great Mormon group that has Hymn compilations with a folk/blue grass element to them…
“But, it may also be that our current literary milieu discourages experimentation in general”
I think this is true–and has been for more than a century. I’m beginning to buy into the school (if that’s what we can call it) that believes that Mormon fiction is experimental in what it says, not in how it says it. I like to think of it in those terms, at any rate.
What I’d like to see is more envelope pushing in more of what we are saying. I think we got a taste what could happen in this respect in Steven Peck’s and Wm’s stories (and Theric’s and Anneke’s stories, to a certain extent) during the Four Centuries contest. The Backslider did this back in the 80s, but what Peterson says in that novel is commonplace now on the Bloggernacle.
Do you mean something like a modernized, Mormonized retelling of Pride and Prejudice? There have been a few of those. Jenni James is doing a whole series of Jane Austin books updated that way.
Nah, I don’t mean anything like that, as interesting as it is.
I think the FOB Bible is more along the lines of what I mean.
The gold standard might be a Mormon group doing something like what I understand Oulipo to be (I haven’t read any of the Oulipo projects yet).
There are so many Mormon Adaptations of Pride and Prejudice out there. I think that’s still a thing. I hope that thing goes away sometime and the LDS and Mormon Communities find another author or even two to adapt novels from that people devour. Heck, a tweak of the Bronte sisters could be a lot of fun to read.
I agree that there’s not a lot of variety with Mormon Literature, but at the same time, the Mormon Literature community is still burgeoning. Heck, the biggest seller from Mormon Literature so far is as much as it pains me to say this, a book about shiny vampires. We have to be patient. Most Mormons haven’t even read the Back Slider. The Book of Mormon Girl Memoirs is still somewhat controversial in certain Mormon Groups.
Yes, the adaptations of Hymns is interesting. My biggest problem with some of those is the over-production, but I confess, I don’t listen to LDS music except for Church on Sundays and when my mom bugs me about something MOTab puts out. I honestly was very pleased when the Brian Williams documentary last winter showed the Genesis Group singing a Gospel Spiritual. I’m hoping that there’s more blend with our staid old hymns and spirituals in coming years. Heck, I hope that we get a few old spirituals in the new version of the Hymn Book, That would be great. But then I hear the Gospel through the old spirituals, Elvis, Mavis Staples, Bobby D., Sam Cooke, Hank Williams, etc. I still haven’t been convinced that there’s that many LDS or Mormon singers or songwriters that are worth listening to much.
“I’m hoping that there’s more blend with our staid old hymns and spirituals in coming years.”
I love Robert Torres and Michael Small. They do classical guitar renditions of hymns… soothing and contemplative.
I think that we need to start writing to a general audience from the place of our LDS viewpoints. But that’s something often discussed on this blog….
Mormon + Sci-fi seems to be gaining traction right now (Steve Peck’s works being the example.) Or it SHOULD be even if it isn’t to the general LDS audience.
Mormon + Speculative is a fertile field. And many are tapping into that as well. I think that’s why I find Mark Penny’s idea of a collective so exciting.
Book of Mormon + Sci Fi is Card’s wheelhouse, but I think it could be done more.
Digging into the more shady and painful elements of our LDS past is the way to go, if we really want to write compelling and controversial (which is not necessarily bad, sales-wise) stuff.
Mormon + Chick Lit is close to my heart. Not fluffy, poorly written chick lit, I mean humorous narratives with strong female characters that are tightly written and witty. (I’ve tried my hand at that, and enjoyed the process immensely, and the people who beta-read my story seemed to love it a lot as well.)