The other day I came across an old mole-skin, black notebook my wife Anne had given me on my birthday when we were dating (including a poem which my friend Nate Drew put music to and which I sang to Anne after I asked her to marry me… a totally different story). Instantly knowing what it was, I reviewed it with fondness.
In its early pages are some overwrought and very loving poems I wrote for Anne. But after several pages nearly all the rest of the notebook is dedicated to things I wrote during mine and Anne’s honeymoon in Nauvoo. Those who know my play The Fading Flowing will also see my pre-occupation on David Hyrum Smith at this time, as I was in the midst of revising the play during that time.
After our wedding we went to Salt Lake City for our honeymoon for the weekend and saved up our major trip to Missouri and Illinois Mormon History sites a few months later in the late Spring. As I looked through the poems, quotes, notes, and drawings that I filled the notebook with, a gentle stirring came back to me. It was a beautiful time during mine and Anne’s early marriage and I wanted to share some of those pressed flowers of my life. This is a simpler time in my life, but a beautiful one.
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!)