Why Mormon culture is important to the future of Mormonism

Because of the current socio-cultural situation for Mormon Americans, culture is important to the future of Mormonism, especially when it comes to our youth.

Josh Allen posted some thoughts about the AML and student participation over at Dawning of a Brighter Day. He identified correctly an issue and provided some solid ideas for how to make things better. James Goldberg countered/ complemented with a solid diagnosis of one of the issues with the AML: its’ tendency to take a very broad approach to its mission. Julie Nichols also commented on the specific situation for Mormon letters at UVU and the perception that “Mormon lit is a joke.” And others added their voices. It’s an excellent discussion. Of course, I came in and got all manifesto. Which really isn’t fair because it’s easy to write that stuff and seem energetic, but the trick is to be able to unpack that stuff. So I’m going to try do that.

Assimilation and youth

I wrote: “Mormon culture is our best chance to save our youth. Assimilation has taken its toll and will only get worse and those things that made it easy to assimilate become less effective.” Continue reading “Why Mormon culture is important to the future of Mormonism”

“Cupcakes Can Kill You. . . (An interview with Mister Tim in two parts)

. . . especially when they’re made with death,” says Mister Tim, the quirkiest voice in a cappella music.

I’ve known Mister Tim for more than 5 years and witnessed many artistic incarnations. The earliest (for me) was as our ward choir director. Intense, focused, squinting with the effort of tweaking our voices into a semblance of harmony and with one ear always turned toward the choir Mister Tim–er, I mean, Brother Tim–did his own arrangements of hymns and sang all the music as if it were being performed for the first time every time. Ward members still talk about his performance of “O, Holy Night.”

The next incarnation, which he had been inhabiting since college, was Moosebutter. Like most college a cappella bands Moosebutter focused on and perfected the silliness inherent in singing “classic” music, like “Popcorn Popping”, with that characteristic BYU-comedy flair. They were big with the ten year olds and all their parents for being able to comically riff on everything from Harry Potter to Spam to Jon Williams (who is most definitely the man), for which they were nominated for a People’s Choice Award.

From there Mister Tim went on to work on the Vegas Strip and put together, manage, and perform in many other a cappella groups. When his stint in Vegas ended and he and his family rolled back into Colorado he came with yet another incarnation: Vocal Magic.

Vocal Magic is a multifaceted one man show that hinges on Mister Tim’s prodigious vocal textures, far-reaching vocal range, and his ability to work three sound effect pedals that enable to sing with himself and mix his voice in real time–a process called live looping. Part stand-up comedy, part poetry slam, and part performance art, Vocal Magic was like nothing I had ever seen before. My first thought: If T.S. Eliot could have sang and Allan Ginsberg had known how to beatbox and been stuck in one body, they could have been reincarnated as Mister Tim. Vocal Magic was like nothing I’d ever seen but it was definitely something I wished to see again.

Mr. Tim graciously agreed to be interviewed. His answers were thorough enough and thought-provoking enough that I split the interview into two parts. Here’s part one.

LHC: How are you feeling today? (Fuzzy, spacey, ???)

Mr. T: Perpendicular.

LHC: Tell me about the modern a cappella scene. Until I saw your show whenever I thought of a cappella I always thought of those guys from “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?” How has a cappella grown and changed?

Mr. T:There is a great deal of detail and nuance to this answer. “A Cappella” to most people, I think, means Rockapella (Carmen San Diego), or a barbershop quartet, or a college group like BYU’s Vocal Point, or, more and more frequently, “GLEE” (even though there has only been one actual a cappella song on that show). But, even Rockapella, still touring the world 15 years after Carmen San Diego went off the air, is nothing like they were on that show: [now] they are a technology-dependent pop act. There are groups that use stacks and stacks of expensive sound gear, like Naturally 7 who are touring with Michael Buble.

Really there are three ways to define “a cappella”: 1) the most basic– meaning any music performed without
instruments, regardless of style (including when rock bands sing a section of their song without instruments, like the beginning of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”); 2) what seems to be the popular interpretation of a cappella, which is the Rockapella version, or the college a cappella version, or even the barbershop version, which carries a fragrance of dorkiness; 3) and “contemporary” a cappella, which is a movement of modern musicians doing modern music at a very high level, usually incorporating vocal percussion, and usually depending on technology to create the same auditory punch as a “˜real’ band.

My history in a cappella really follows the progression of contemporary a cappella. I listened to The King’s Singers (classical) in high school, saw BYU’s Vocal Point at one of BYU’s very first a cappella jams; I had friends bootlegging a cappella radio programs onto cassette tapes and passing them around; I was introduced, through rumor at first, to The House Jacks, and then by the late 90’s to m*pact. I started attending a cappella conferences, and growing less satisfied with the traditional a cappella standard and wanting”¦ more. And there were groups doing more, and I gravitated to them. Then I started making my own groups, and have been skewing further and further from “traditional” a cappella since then, although I still keep the traditional stuff around because it makes $.

When most people call me wanting to hire “an a cappella group,” they want something like early 90’s Rockapella, or like a college group. Recognizable covers, bare-bones vocal sound, oftenthey want something a little corny (which is part of that old-school a cappella”¦ thing).

LHC: What attracted you to live looping? How is it different from traditional a cappella?

Mr. T: My wife and I used to joke that I was constantly disappointed with the other singers in my groups because what I really wanted was for all the singers in my group to be me. Well, looping lets me do that! I get to sing everything just the way I want it sung, and I don’t have to wait for other people to learn their parts.

Other reasons I started live-looping: a) I want to go out and perform as often as possible, but couldn’t get the other people in my groups to go all the time; b) There are lots of paid shows that come up that don’t pay enough for a whole group, but are good money for just one person; c) I saw other people do it, and it looked like fun.

But, one of the biggest factors: I love teaching. I love teaching. The problem with the kind of teaching I do, where I drop in and talk to kids in their regular music classes, or in assemblies, or at music festivals, is that if they don’t know who I am, they don’t care about what I have to say. If I’m there with a group, they hear the group sing, they think it’s cool, then they’ll listen. But I want to be teaching as often as possible, visiting classes, flying out to music festivals, showing up at concerts. I can’t afford to fly a whole group out to these kinds of things for free, which most of them demand (even the big a cappella festivals where I teach I have to pay my own way there unless I’m one of the headline performers). But now that I’ve got a solo act, I can drop in on a class with my small sound system that takes less than 5 minutes to set up, sing a couple of songs,
the kids think it’s cool, and then when I speak, my words matter. It’s a pedagogical thing.

Artistically, what attracts me now to continue live-looping is that it really is rare to have one person doing looping with just the voice. Novelty factor, and if done well and if we find the market I’ve got a corner on the market. I do enjoy the constraints: a lot of my material has developed to address specific issues of how to keep the show from being boring, dealing with the repetitive nature of the loop, not being able to change the music once it’s laid down without completely starting over. Limiting, yes, but has forced me to adapt in ways and to develop new approaches to my performing that I think have greatly improved the overall impact of my
performance.

LHC: I know you’re a fan of all types of music, but what musicians and songs/works have stuck with you over the years?

Mr. T: The 3 B’s: Bach, Beethoven, Barenaked Ladies (I don’t like Brahms); Midnight Oil; Kingston Trio; Manheim Steamroller; Spike Jones; Weird Al Yankovic; Alan Sherman; Smothers Brothers; Brandon Flowers; John Adams

To be continued, but while you are waiting feel free to enjoy this:

How Vulnerable is the LDS Market?

What will the LDS market look like 20 years from now? Will there even be an LDS market? Will there still be LDS books, music, film and other cultural goods? If they exist, will they simply be sold as part of the national market in the U.S.? What about outside of the U.S.?

Continue reading “How Vulnerable is the LDS Market?”

Beyond Prescription? Part Two

I take up today where I left off .

More or Less Mormon? The Problem(atizing) of Mormon Identity

In his 1997 Dialogue article, “‘Awaiting Translation’: Timothy Liu, Identity Politics, and the Question of Religious Authenticity,” Waterman interrogates the notion of a coherent Mormon cultural identity, a religious sense of communal self constructed around nineteenth century Mormonism’s flirtation with nationhood and ethnic identity separate from that of the nineteenth century American mainstream. This “incipient nationality,” Thomas F. O’Dea observes, was born of the “combination of [Mormonism’s] distinctive values, separate and peculiar social institutions”–as, among other things, its lay ministry and its insistence that humans can receive direct revelation from God–“and [its] geographic segregation” from the rest of America (qtd. in Mauss 291 [from this]). Such “protonationality,” as Armand Mauss labels it, was “strengthened by three ‘Mormon wars'”–the 1838 conflict with neighbors in northwest Missouri, the 1844-46 conflict with neighbors in west Illinois, and the 1857-58 conflict with the Federal Government over Utah Territory–and “”˜constant … conflict’ with the [world] outside [Mormonism] to produce a total Mormon cultural environment and worldview that became ‘progressively more distinct'” (291).

Yet this distinctness faded some as Mormonism made inroads into secular American culture, assimilating, to a degree, in order to accommodate the organization’s need for expansion: if the culture of the saints had stayed too peculiar, refusing engagement with what O’dea labels “modern secular thought” in order to be wholly separate from the world, the institution may have remained indefinitely stagnant and small. Continue reading “Beyond Prescription? Part Two”

Crossing Lines: A Metareview of The Actor and the Housewife

Warning: Spoilers ahead! Also, a long post.

I’ve been reading Shannon Hale’s YA novels to my daughter, now 13, for four years.  The Books of Bayern are wonderfully emotionally textured, edgy enough to challenge my daughter, and filled with lots of girl power to encourage her to consider her options.  Hale’s attention to language attracts my interest sharply.  I’ve come to trust her writing as a source of fine language and narrative prowess for my daughter’s developing mind.  We snatch up her YA novels whenever they come out.

But I wasn’t interested in Hale’s adult novel, The Actor and the Housewife, until this discussion on AMV.  Complaints that the novel’s readers registered there piqued my curiosity.  Just before William’s not-necessarily-a-review, Kevin Barney put up this post reviewing the church’s article on emotional infidelity that drew a lot of comments.  In January, a BCC-er linked to this article in Slate on opposite sex friendship.  The stars seemed to align.  I decided to drop other projects and pick up The Actor and the Housewife, see what was what.  To make the narrative journey more interesting, I read it aloud to my husband Mark, who during our married life has done such gracious deeds as taking the kids outside so I could talk with male friends or helping me understand the man-side of baffling conversations.  I have included in this essay bits of our discussion of the novel as we read it. Continue reading “Crossing Lines: A Metareview of The Actor and the Housewife”

Tom Lyne and the Theatre in Nauvoo

We don’t often delve into the history of Mormonism in the arts, although I don’t think that is by design. More likely, this history is simply not very well known among even those of us who write about Mormon culture, and, I suspect, many details simply aren’t known. Other details were known at one time, but have largely been forgotten.

In the latter vein, I came across the story of perhaps the first major Mormon actor, Tom Lyne, who already had a substantial reputation as an actor in Philadelphia when he joined the Church. Here is an account of his relationship with the Church.

Continue reading “Tom Lyne and the Theatre in Nauvoo”

White On Rice – a full review and ticket giveaway

I mentioned briefly the opportunity to see the Utah premiere of White on Rice last weekend. Well, the bad news is that I know nothing so far of future cities the film may open in and whether or not it will make it to Minneapolis, New York or Wichita Falls. (I’m leaning towards a bit of brutal pessimism towards the poor folks of Wichita Falls, but I’ll keep gunning for you!). The good news is, it’s been held over for another week in Salt Lake and Provo. The best news is that we here at Motley Vision have the opportunity to give away four pairs of free tickets for this weekend’s shows!

To enter the drawing for the free tickets, you may do one of three things: Give a shout out to the movie on Twitter, as your Facebook status, or as a group email to your friends. Then either send a cc of the email or a link to your Twitter/Facebook status to tigerindustryfilms@gmail.com. The drawing will be held at 5:00pm Mountain Time on Thursday, Oct. 1. Winners will receive a Fandango confirmation number to their show of choice. So the contest is done entirely by email and you have no tickets to pick up anywhere. Let the games begin!

Now, onto a little fuller explanation of the film.

Continue reading “White On Rice – a full review and ticket giveaway”

A Litmus Test for Mormon Literature?

Since I’ve been making a concerted effort to read more LDS/Mormon books and since I’ve started reviewing them and recommending them, I’ve realized something important: I have a litmus test for Mormon literature. I have one overarching criteria that defines all of my Mormon literary experiences–whether it’s a book, the scriptures, or a General Conference talk. Continue reading “A Litmus Test for Mormon Literature?”

Pillars of Fire

for Stephen Carter in partial fulfillment of a promise
but especially for greenfrog, who showed me a bit of backbone

When a subject and object look at one another, there is no subject and no object, there’s only relation, the scope of which extends beyond either creature’s ability to fully grasp it.  You can’t grasp it, but you can step out to meet it.  If you do, prepare to catch on fire “¦

When I was in my early twenties, two events ignited my life.  The first involved a disagreement with a close friend whose feelings of friendship toward me had cooled.  I was changing, growing up a little, I guess.  I think my friend no longer felt needed, and feeling needed was important to her.  My feelings of deep friendship hadn’t changed, yet somehow that didn’t matter, not to her.  Why not? I wondered.  Why shouldn’t my feelings matter to her? Continue reading “Pillars of Fire”

Mormon Fine Art and Graven Images

(this is the first in a series of six posts on the Pillars of Mormon Art)

…thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
(Exodus 20:4)

This little verse has caused more turmoil in art and in history throughout the monotheistic world than perhaps any other. It characterizes Islamic art, which for centuries has avoided the depiction of any living creature, for the fear that the artist who tried to create was usurping the role of the One true Creator. It characterizes the turmoil in Byzantium, it crops up again in the Protestant reformation, which sees Netherlanders whitewashing their cathedrals to separate themselves from their Catholic Belgian cousins. Its subsequent transformation into anti-religious fervor is the battle cry of the French revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks, and the Communists in China. In more recent years, it rears an impious head as the Taliban government of Afghanistan destroys monumental Buddhist sculpture.

And faithful Latter-day Saints find themselves alternately sympathizing with both viewpoints.

Continue reading “Mormon Fine Art and Graven Images”