A Tribute to Primary Music Leaders Everywhere

Friday, November 14, 2008

Two Sundays. Two Sacrament meetings. Two different wards. Two Primary Programs. One revelation:

Primary Music Leaders rock!

Two weeks ago I was able to watch my seven-year-old son and four-year-old daughter participate in our ward's Primary Program. I sat and beamed with satisfaction as they spoke their parts and sang the songs they have been rehearsing since the Sunday after the 2007 Primary Program ended. Last Sunday we were in Georgia spending time with family and were able to see their ward's Primary sacrament meeting as well. After witnessing the back-to-back junior versions of Music and the Spoken Word, I came to better appreciate Primary Music Leaders everywhere. These two Sisters leading the songs were on fire! But before I get into that, a little background may be helpful.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Primary Music Leaders. You see, when I was a kid in Primary I used to purposefully change the lyrics to the songs in an attempt to be funny. Take the song "Love One Another", for example. The correct lyrics at the end of the song are, "By this shall men know, Ye are my disciples, If ye have love, One to anooooooooooother." My version of the song went like this: "By this shall men know, Ye are motorcycles, If ye have love, One two three foooooooooooour five." I always thought it would be ironic to get the Primary Music Leader to flip out on me after singing "Love One Another", but those good Sisters never took the bait.

I was also one of the kids who yelled, "Eee-Eee!" after every line in "Book of Mormon Stories", but I can hardly be solely blamed for that one. You did it too. Admit it! You did. Does this sound familiar? "Book of Mormon stories that my teacher tells to me (Eee-Eee!), Are about the Lamanites in ancient history (Eee-Eee!) Aaaahhh, memories (Eee-Eee's!) Again, those patient Sisters never yelled at me, they just kept on magnifying their callings.

While I did everything humanly possible to be an annoying little twerp in Primary, the music that I learned was very important in my spiritual progression as a child. I always felt the Spirit when we sang the boy/girl "Mine Is a Home....." and "I See My Mother Kneeling..." song (Love is Spoken Here?) I used to try to drop my voice an octave or two when I sang about the priesthood and it helped me to appreciate having parents who lived the gospel and loved their family. While I do not remember many of my actual childhood Primary lessons, the music has stuck with me throughout my adult life and I still to this day find myself occasionally humming a Primary tune. Well, either a Primary song or something from Sing Star Pop Version 2, but it's all good.

Now, back to the reasons I was left so impressed with the Primary Music Leaders that I just witnessed in action. After watching these Sisters lead the music, I realized that a good Primary Music Leader must have four important qualities (you can vote on which is most important):

1) Drill Sargent
2) Saturday Night Live Cast Member (Minus the coarse debauchery)
3) Multilingual Interpreter
4) Warshack Test Administrator

The Drill Sargent - It is a minor miracle that a Primary Music Leader can look at fifty kids and get them to stand up and sit down on cue with just a raise of her hands. How do they do this? Seriously. It sometimes takes us seven minutes to get our two kids to sit down at the dinner table, and that's even after we threaten to withhold dessert. Yet somehow the PML can control their every move as if they were programmable robots, like Vicki from the TV show Small Wonder. Or Dakota Fanning. They can also get the kids to sing louder or softer and smile bigger by simply gesturing. Amazing.

SNL Cast Member - The pressure to perform is on every single Sunday for the PML to do something fresh and innovative. She has to devise creative games, prizes, contests, props and pictures to keep things new and exciting during music time. As soon as she starts recycling material, she will lose her audience. Once a week for 48 weeks it's lights! Camera! Singing Time!

Multilingual Interpreter - Between the two Primary Programs we watched I think we heard or saw the children sing in nineteen languages, including English, Spanish, Spanglish, French, Sign Language, Chinese, Latin, Sweedish, Vulcan, Ebonics, Panguitchian and Mental Telpathy. How does one woman pull this off? From one song to the next she may be saying, "Erin - you're stressing the wrong syllable in 'bautismo' - it's bow-TEEEES-mo, not BOW-tees-mo." Then, "Mike, you need to bring your left hand higher when you are making the ASL sign for love!" Talk about the gift of tongues in action.

Warshack Test Administrator - One of the keys to being a successful PML is having the ability to make signs that represent the words that need to be sung. This is a particularly important skill since most kids in the United States between the ages of 3-12 cannot read anything beyond the controls of their iPods. I am always sitting behind the PML and cannot see the pictures that get held up to prompt the kids, but it has to be hard drawing images that represents song lyrics like, "...down in the River Jordan....." How do you draw that? Here is what I would be holding up:
Okay, the kids today might not get the River Phoenix reference, but it goes to show how much creativity the PML's must have to come up with enough of these things to last an entire 45-minute program.

So, for all of you Primary Music Leaders out there, thank you! Thank you for the energy. Thank you for the creativity. Thank you for the patience. Thank you for inviting the Spirit. Thank you for drilling uplifting songs into our heads. Thank you for teaching my kids. Thank you for surviving one difficult Sunday every October or November. Thank you for magnifying your callings.

You are all an inspiration to me.



mama cow said...

My idea of the multi lingual interpreter includes the fact that I have yet to understand anyone elses kids when they get up to give their part and the only reason why I know what MY kid is saying is because we went over it a zillion times in an attempt to memorize her part. Yeah I am one of those moms in the back proudly mouthing the words along with my daughter. Ahhh Mormon stage moms. Oh and you also forgot the animal wrangler the Primary Program Sunday is the ONLY Sunday that my child sits still by herself with no crayons coloring books or snacks and she is up front in the choir seats with five other five year olds and only one adult.

6:58 AM

Everyone who works in Primary has to have those qualities!!! :) I am currently the Primary Pres and I have such love and admiration for my counselors, PML, and teachers. They are all so fabulous! Other qualities that Primary leaders have... (taken from our Stake Auxillary Training last April)
P -pretty -inside and out
R - righteous
I - inspired
M - musical -doesn't matter if you have a great singing voice or not you just have to have fun! :)
A- awesome!
R - rememberer's -of what it was like to be a kid in Primary
Y - young at heart

I loved that! And remember it often when I am struggling in my calling! :)

Thanks for calling attention to PML's everywhere! :)

7:15 AM
Anonymous said...

Insightful post, but as Bishop you should know one thing. Primary music leaders do it not once a week but twice a week for 48 weeks because there's (hopefully) Junior and Senior Primary. And she usually can't do it exactly the same since 11 year old's don't like to sing "Hinges" or "Do As I'm doing" the same way that 3 year old's do.

Of all the church auxiliaries I think that primary is the only one where it will take you out out of both Sunday School and Relief Society / Priesthood lessons.

7:37 AM
Sandy said...

Does that mean that you got to sit next to your wife TWICE in Sacrament Meeting in one month?:) I have to admit that although I told my daughters what a great job they did singing in their program...secretly I was most happy about the fact that my husband could come down off the stand and take over nursery-aged-son duty. He's been really, really nice to me ever since:)

I agree, though- Primary music leaders rock. I had to teach singing time a couple times over the past few years and I stank at it. It takes a special person to a.)put up with all the kids and their various ideas of what "singing" is and b.) to get them to memorize (and perform on demand) songs that do not contain the words "poop", "booger" or "webkinz".

8:06 AM
Rachel said...

I have fond memories of the hello jello song. One side of the room sings hello and the other is supposed to echo, but we always yelled jello instead. My husband sang Mellow yellow instead.

That song was outlawed in our primary. . .

8:08 AM
Jennifer said...

Amen, Brother. Those PML are amazing people. I was going to say "amazing women," but we have had men do it in our ward as well. I love the "down the River Jordan" pictures. That is classic, truly. Yes, I did the eee-eee. Isn't that how the song goes?

8:10 AM
normal mormon wife said...

Great post! Loved the Small Wonder reference.

PML is one of my very favorite callings. There aren't many others that encourage you to be silly for two hours at church. Sweet.

Sandy--I only got to sit by him for one of the two Sundays. He had to stay up on the stand for the program in our ward.

8:49 AM
Eleesha Tucker said...

You don't know me. I'm actually an anonymous follower. I saw your blog posted on a fellow BYU ward member's blog and I've been a follower for over a month. I even sent a link to my fam and friends about Anne Geddes for me and asked for their favs.

I just recently moved to the DC area where the family ward primary that meets in our building did the primary program for our singles ward. We had Sacrament at the end of the hour after the children and families were excused. It was great.

An additional quality required of PML is Indoctrinator. It's great to see a 10 year old sing "I hope they call me on a mission" and "I love to see the Temple." I didn't know what these things meant as a child, but I now I appreciate the positive implementation. This probably ranks foremost in the PML's attributes.

Keep your posts coming.

9:52 AM
Val said...

I'm pretty sure they don't know who Michael Jordan is, either. So sad. My husband got to come down and sit with me for our program, too. So nice for a change. And what a treat to see our son up their for a solid hour with a deer in the headlights look. Kind of a Cindy Brady moment for him. Very entertaining. And amen to your praise for the PML's. They deserve it!

11:17 AM
in time out said...

my favorite calling ever! thanks for the tribute. oh, about lyric changing. I can't sing I am a child of God without saying ...with parents kind of wierd. (not kind and dear). Came from a broken home. Changed my perspective on most things.

Anyhow thanks. Come read me sometime. http://bythehairofmychin.blogspot.com/

12:08 PM
Joey/Denny/Emma said...

I still change words to church songs sometime. Such as, "Because I have been given much, I have a lot," as well as "Who am I to judge my mother, when I walk imperfectly..." Spices things up. And I always thing of a nice helpful puppy when I sing the line "Paws to help and lift another..."

5:15 PM
McCrazys said...

This is hilarious! I believe I was an EE! EE!-er also. Loved your breakdown of the typical PML.

11:13 PM
Col.Smeag said...

After being a Primary Teacher for 8-10 years (in a row), I forget exactly since I was just released. I have to say I agree that the PMLs are a rock. I have to put a dig in for the Teachers though who prod your children by stealth to get them to sing, sing along , stand up sit down, melt like a snow man, and pop pop corn on the apricot tree right along with the kids. The best way to get a sulk singer to sing is the "your going to have to sit next to the girls so you can see the PML better" warning. Don't get me wrong they are great drill instructors but I used to cringe on Sunday morning before a Primary Program hoping that as long as my 6-7 kids get it right I won't have a aneurysm.

Don't worry about be though I've been on the "Primary Wagon" for two months now, I think. I'm now teaching Sunday School 12 yr olds just out of Primary. It's like Diet Cola but with the caffeine.

6:49 AM
swedemom said...

I loved your visual for Down in the River Jordan. Seriously, if my kids got the connection, I would using it. Thanks for the terrific laugh.

8:47 AM
Anonymous said...

My Dad made up new words to Follow The Prophet, which basically go "Follow the prophet he's on a Honda" and I taught the lyrics to my 11-12 year old class. Sure I didn't win any friends in Sharing Time with that one.

8:49 AM
Scrap Happy said...

Speaking of changing lyrics to songs,

and I apologize to everyone in advance,

but we can't help but smile and sing "In the cottage there is cheese..."

every time we sing Love at Home.

I just needed to share. Because I love, love, love the motorcycles instead of disciples line...

5:25 PM
Angela said...

Primary pianist is the BEST calling second only to organist (it's a power thing). I get to see the cute Sunbeams but I don't have to teach them. Also, I'm surrounded by wonderful, creative, and long-suffering people and all I have to do is what the notes tell me to. Then those same wonderful people tell me how grateful they are for what I do!

10:53 PM
Marianne said...

Thank you for your post! It's the hardest calling anywhere, but one of the most rewarding (sometimes...). Thanks for the ego boost and good laugh too!

9:03 AM
Nelson said...

I'm very excited because I love the primary program, and ours is this coming week. This is the last year that we will be sitting in the stands with no children participating for some time. Next year, we'll have our oldest in Sunbeams so we'll get to stress about things for at least the next 12 years.
I really think that being called to be PML comes with a celestial ticket (meaning if you can get through the calling without killing any of the primary kids then you are a shoe-in for the celestial kingdom.
I have very fond memories of primary music and pull from those reserves on a nightly basis when I sing primary songs to my kids when putting them to bed.

Primary Music Leaders everywhere, let it be know that you guys rock!

10:23 AM
Anonymous said...

What is the Warshack test? Is that the same thing as the Rorshach test?

11:02 AM
Anonymous said...

Our ward (on the East Coast) has an 18 year old, male Primary music leader! He'll be leaving in a few months to serve a mission. What a great example for the future missionaries in our Primary!

4:01 PM

Great post. The best part is definitely Vicky from Small Wonder. I had completely forgotten about that show, and it used to be my favorite! Funny.

7:54 PM
Pearlie Meg said...

I laughed out loud at the "River Jordan" pictures. Thanks for that. I was not an "ee-ee"-er, but each Primary has its special moments when it's an absolute miracle that the PML doesn't slap us upside the head with her visual aid. As for changing lyrics, I still change the lyrics-- "There is beauty all around when there's no one home." (not original; i heard that from a missionary who served in my ward when i was eight)

7:51 AM
heather n said...

Great post. Erik and I were just thinking this on Sunday. They released the PML and I was thinking about how much time and effort it takes. We get see them in action every week!

9:26 AM
rYLeE & KaTiE said...

Ok, I have no idea what the whole "Eee Eee" thing is, but when I was in primary we totally used to sing "Cha-Cha-Cha", stand up and wiggle a little 10 yr. old Cha-Cha at the end of "Hum Your Favorite Hymn". We promised poor Sister Christensen that we wouldn't do it during the program, but of course we accidentally stood up in front of our parents, wiggled, and yelled "cha-cha-cha" in front of our parents...

Book of Mormon stories consisted of pounding our fists into our other hands with some pretty intense ferocity...

And "Jesus wants me for a sunBEAM" was crouching on your chair and then jumping as high as possible on the BEAM part... Sometimes even to the detriment of the perfectly straight row of chairs, our heads, etc.

Good times.. As a 22 yr. old primary teacher now I think I am being paid back for my shennanigans of the past. Darn.

2:31 PM
zolotiyeruki said...

As a male PML, I'm quite flattered by all the comments here! I must say that PML is *the* most fun calling I've ever had. As far as funny pictures go, when the kids were learning the second verse of "I Am a Child of God", I used a picture of Tony the Tiger (and so my needs are grrrrreat!).

@angela - I'm also the ward organist. I used to be the Webelos leader as well (now THERE's a demanding/rewarding calling! And yes, all three callings at once). Being organist does indeed give you a power trip. Who looks at the ward chorister anyway? :P

4:19 PM
zolotiyeruki said...

Here's another trick I've used: The venerable thermometer. Made of some cardboard, construction paper, and a couple scraps of red and white ribbons, it's fantastic for encouraging the kids to sing louder.

In fact, when we had our primary program a month ago, the primary president stood in the back of the chapel with the thermometer during the songs. I have never heard our kids sing so enthusiastically, especially in Sacrament Meeting.

4:23 PM
Anonymous said...

"High on a mountain top a badger ate a squirrel.."

Thanks for a great laugh!

4:27 PM
lindsee said...

I will say I dont know you but being a PML and thinking that i am terrible at my job reading your thoughts gives me hope. Each week as I get ready to do my calling I will think of you..

3:34 PM
randalswife said...

We changed the words to the hello song - "Jello, Jello, Jello, Jello, we welcome you today. Jello..." Since then, I have developed a great respect for a good primary music chorister too!

6:13 PM
Kristy Lou said...

"Given this land, If they fall righ to sleep"

10:02 PM
Shiree said...

That is so true. I don't think I have what it takes to be a PML. Thanks for the Vicki reference. That brought back good/weird memories!

9:04 AM
Tiffany said...

"and that's what Jonah learned deep down inside the whale. Swallow the prophet, swallow the prophet, swallow the prophet, don't go astray!"

9:23 AM
Anne-Marie said...

I'm a PML and new to your blog. This was the highlight of my day. I think I fall in the SNL category, though I was a HUGE River Phoenix fan.

(but, your right-soooo 90's!)

10:11 PM