Singing the Proclamation
by Marvin Payne
Well, I’m not exactly backstage for this month’s column, but sort of.
I’m writing this in the recording studio, where I’m living pretty much day and night, and since I’m not out where the microphones are, but in the control room, I guess that’s sort of backstage. One thing’s for sure–on the other side of the glass is lots of drama (“are” lots of drama?) stage or not. Right now we’re recording Archetypal Man, in a soaring sealing room duet with Archetypal Woman. Yesterday we recorded the final and seventeenth hour of sixteen pretty wonderful singers (which we magically multiplied into sixty-four pretty wonderful singers). We had thought to designate them in the liner notes as “The Heavenly Light Choir,” but now I’m sort of warming to “Archetypal Everybody.”
I’m not sure if the string and woodwind players are particularly archetypal, but the dobro, African percussion, bagpipes, penny whistle, and didgeridoo are archetypal beyond any reasonable doubt.
Our orchestrator, Greg Hansen, is maybe not so much archetypal as quintessential, but our legendary engineer, Guy Randle, is definitely archetypal, practically mythical. The writers and producers, who are me and Steven Kapp Perry, are just guys.
The piece is “Family, A Joyful Proclamation!” and it’s a sometimes serene, more often raucous and abandoned (but always reverent–good luck sorting that one out) celebration of the Proclamation on the Family. We figured that since everybody has it mounted on their walls anyway, most often lovingly festooned with gold-sprayed macaroni curls or, as on the wall of our cabin, with dried flower petals, why not festoon it with strings, winds, wild ethnicity and passionate singers and dance to it with our babies?
My son John (who just connected us back to the gospel by qualifying for nursery attendance) dances most recklessly to the movement in which Archetypal Everybody is agreeing, with Celtic drums ablaze, to risk the plunge into mortality, and my lovely Caitlin the Sunbeam hums along (no lyrics recorded yet) with the tender little melody created for Archetypal Man and his Archetypal Bride to share on their Archetypal Wedding Night. Caitlin already sort of knew the melody, though, since it’s stolen from the tune to which, on the playground, we all sang “Sammy”s got a girlfriend.”
Baby John was a little frightened by the movement about how our children are really huge spirits in small forms, travelers who shelter briefly at our firesides. The image for the music is the Fellowship of the Ring crossing the treacherous wild between the Shire and Rivendell, and it was a little dark for John, but he got over it. Or maybe it was the African percussion that took him by surprise. Oddly, he quite likes the only movement that’s really scary, the one about what happens to the earth if the hearts of the Archetypal Fathers and Archetypal Children fail to turn to each other.
This whole thing began back in 1995 in the living room of Roger and Melanie Hoffman, with whom Steve and I invented such odd scenarios as three kids and their dog gathering in a treehouse to act out the scriptures for each other, and I was catapulted into the most rewarding role I’ve ever played, Boo Dog. (It’s a little sobering to have to go outside your species to discover how the plan of salvation works.) We were sitting around wondering how to teach children about the brand-new proclamation, and I took a few moments to translate it into kid talk. As follows.
PROCLAMATION, KID TRANSLATION The way to be happy and strong forever is learn how to be good to my family. Someday I”ll marry somebody I love and be a mom or dad myself! It’s what makes us happy and strong, like God! He planned it that way!
If I’m a boy, I was always a boy. That’s important, because I get the chance to grow up and be like my Heavenly Father! If I’m a girl, I was always a girl. That’s important, because I get the chance to grow up and be like my Heavenly Mother! I lived with my Heavenly Parents before I came to this world! I knew them and loved them! I wanted to get a body like they had, and learn how to use it to love people and make things, like they do! In holy temples, my family can promise to do the happy things God asks us to do, and He will promise to keep us together forever! I want to have babies, just like God told Grandfather Adam and Grandmother Eve to do. The power to have babies comes from God. I only want to use that power with the friend that I marry. I must take good care of the person I marry, and take good care of the children that God sends to live with us. We’ll learn to help our whole world to be happy! Every child should get to have a mom and a dad who love each other enough to be married to each other and love each other the most, and not be in love with anybody else. Our family will be happiest if we do what Jesus teaches us to do. We must have faith and pray, repent and forgive each other, respect and love each other, and feel sad for people in our family if their feelings or their bodies get hurt, and try to help them feel better. Jesus wants us to have fun working together and playing together! If I’m the dad, I’m in charge of getting money to pay for food and clothes and a place for us to live. And I need to try to keep us safe from harmful things and unkind people. If I’m the mom, I’m in charge of teaching and feeding our children, and helping them to know that we love them. But we should help each other in all these things, because we’re both just as important in our family. Sometimes if one of us gets sick or dies, we have to change those jobs around. Our grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles and cousins should help us, if we need it. People who don’t keep their promises to God and to their families will have to tell God someday why they didn’t do it. If we let our families not love each other and fall apart, the whole world will be a mess, and a really unhappy place. All the people who are in charge of towns and countries should help families obey and be happy, because families are more important than any town or country could ever be. Besides, if families are happy and good, then the towns and countries will be happy and good! (It will be noted that children speak a lot of exclamation points.) Hugh Nibley once said that if you can’t explain something to a five-year-old, you probably don’t understand it yourself. We wanted to find out if we understood it. Once we discovered that we probably did, we became dangerous. We began to see applications and implications.
Applications are always welcome and safe, implications are a little harder to control. Being artists, who are characterized (archetypically) as being hard to control, we were set afire by the stuff in the proclamation that’s as familiar as home cooking to the saints, but that the world would find quite radical. That first flame shrank to a slow smolder, embers that we blew on for a couple of hours every few weeks for six years or so, then suddenly flared up about eight months ago and refused to be quenched.
There is a journal keeping connection here, beyond the whole “turning the hearts of the children to the fathers and vice-versa” aspect (which I think is the main function of journals). That “huge spirits in small forms idea” I wrote about earlier is only in our project because when my fourth son Joshua was born, his mother said he was a great spirit in a tiny body. The glow of that notion has warmed my view of babies ever since. I think I remember it because I wrote it in my journal, because Joshua is now twenty-four.
My lyric about seeing the sister in someone you love is there because of my friendship with the lady who is singing the part of Mother of Joy for us (you guessed it, Heavenly Mother). It’s a lesson I learned ten years ago, but there it is in my journal (also in Solomon’s Song, if you have a private corner where you can risk sneaking a peek). There’s a movement about the flame, grace, and tenderness between parents that I have written about in my journal a lot, and about which I hope our little children will someday write in theirs. (What they do now is simply rush to join any hug that begins with their mother and me.) I hope my testimony of the Savior in this piece resounds beyond the borders of my journal, but the image in the lines “And in the darkest night, beyond my reach, but not my sight, there burns His guiding star at last” sprang full-blown from the pages of that book. I could go on, but then you might think you don’t have to buy the CD (which you can do, incidentally, right now, before it’s even done [!] at stevenkappperry.com–be careful not to type in the wrong number of “”p””s). There, I not only worked in this column’s raison d’etre, but a commercial message as well.
I don’t know if the Brethren who authored that sublime document ever imagined that it might someday be celebrated chorally in Latin and Cajun, accentuated by a Muslim call to prayer and punctuated by Swahili chants, but hey, it’s a proclamation to the world! And we’re having a blast.
“…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift…” (from the last page of the Book of Mormon)
2002 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.