Friday, January 30, 2009

Feed the Birds

Genre: Disney
Artist: Music and Lyrics by Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman
Album: Mary Poppins

Why would I choose such a random song to be ranked among my favorites? Good question. I've enjoyed this song for as long as I can remember. "Early each day to the steps of St. Paul, the little old bird woman comes." Early each day Mr. Banks, the head of the household in the move "Mary Poppins" passes St. Paul on his way to the bank, but he never notices the bird woman until his children point her out to him.

"All around the cathedral, the saints and apostles...are smiling each time someone shows that he cares." It is so simple to spare a tuppence to buy a bag of crumbs to feed the birds with. A tuppence is the equivelent of two cents. Anybody can spare that amount. And yet she is passed by. People are too caught up in their daily lives to pay attention to this woman, or any other person who is in need. As I listen to this song, I wonder if I would notice that old bird woman, or if I am too caught up in my own "important matters" to regard anybody who needs my help.

"Though her words are simple and few, listen. Listen! She's calling to you!" How many people are calling to me that I pass by? How many people are in need, but I am too focused on myself and my own selfish needs to give them notice? This song reminds me that during my busy life I need to take time for the simple things and never let an opportunity to pass by where I can help somebody.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

So Close

Genre: Disney
Artist: Music and Lyrics by Alan Menken & Stephen Schwartz
Album: Enchanted

Whenever I hear this song, it invokes the feeling of love and loneliness all at once inside me. Some of the phrases of the song are able to capture what, to me, love feels like. "All the world is gone..." as if nobody else exists but you and the one you love. "When I'm with you, so close to feeling alive!" There is that feeling of completeness, the emptiness inside being filled.

But immediately, the song plunges into the feeling of loneliness. "Romantic dreams must die," the song says. "All that I want is to hold you so can I face the faceless days if I should lose you now? We're so close to reaching that famous happy end, almost believing this one's not pretend. Let's go on dreaming, though we know are! So close! So close, and still so far."

Although this song can be very sad in nature, it is one of my absolute favorites. It can be taken at so many levels. Two people in love with each other find it hard to be separated for a long period of time. There is the situation, as Queen Narissa says shortly after this song, "To never be with the one you love..." No matter the situation, this song evokes in me the wonderful feeling of being in love and almost being in an entirely separate world, and then how lonely reality seems when it's time to come back. This song is a masterpiece!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

This is the Moment

Genre: Broadway Musical
Artist: Music and Lyrics by Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse
Album: Jekyll and Hyde

This song takes me back to the year 2001. I believe the day was December 13th--the day I finished high school. I had been working like a madman, trying to finish all my packets before Christmas Break. There were only two people that knew how close I was: Carrie, my good friend, and Eldon, my favorite teacher of all time. I worked on my packets non-stop. At ALLC, my high school, you had to complete 8 packets to complete one credit. Finally, the moment came. I finished my last project and wrote my last essay. I was ready to take my final test.

I walked behind the school to the soccer field and sang this song to myself. "This is the moment when all I've done, all of the dreaming, scheming, and screaming become one! This is the day: see it sparkle and shine!" It was my first greatest accomplishment! I had made a goal to finish high school a year and a half early, and now I was about to achieve that goal! I was told by almost everyone around me to stop doing so much schoolwork. People told me to be realistic. Only Eldon pushed me to my limit, consistently helping me set goals that stretched me further and further. And I did! "Destiny beckoned! I never reckoned second-best!" What a great moment that was when I entered the theater lab and announced to Eldon that I finished! I went to the lunchroom to tell Carrie. I had Blaine, who was vice-principal at the time, write a letter saying I had officially completed all the requirements for graduation. Then I put that letter in a box and Carrie filled it with all sorts of goodies and wrapped it. On Christmas morning I opened the package and announced to my family, almost two weeks later, that I had completed high school.

I will always remember Eldon. He is the ideal teacher. He corrected me when I needed correcting, but he also helped me realize my full potential. He was present at the graduation ceremony the next summer, where I gave the first speech. I am still very honored to this day that he was there. On my list of people that have had a huge influence on my life, Eldon is high up. He helped me complete what appeared to be a daunting task--even letting me inside the school during Thanksgiving break in order to get everything done. He encouraged me to write a play and helped me through the whole process. He later performed that play.

"When I look back, I will always recall...this was the moment, the greatest moment of them all!"

No More

Genre: Broadway Musical
Artist: Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Album: Into the Woods

The first time I heard this song and really paid attention to it was while I was in Nauvoo. We were originally going to perform the first act of "Into the Woods" and I was casted as Jack. My dad sent me the CD so I could learn the songs (we never even had a rehearsal, however). I was really touched by this song. In the play, the baker believes his father to be dead, only to discover at the end of the first act that he had actually abandoned his family in an attempt to run away from his guilt. Now, near the end of the second act, the baker also leaves his infant son to run away from his pain. He finds himself facing his father and the baker tells him he is through. "No more questions... tests... riddles... curses... no more feelings..." His father then tells him that, sure, running is fine and dandy, but unless you have a destination you will forever be lost. "Where are we to go? Where are we ever to go? Running away-we'll do it! Why sit around resigned? Trouble is, son, the farther you run, the more you feel undefined for what you have left undone and more, what you've left behind." When his father leaves, the baker cries out, "No more giants raging war! Can't we just pursue our lives with our children and our wives till that happy day arrives? How do you ignore all the witches, all the curses, all the wolves, all the lies, the false hopes, the goodbyes...all the wondering 'What even worse is still in store?'"

I sometimes feel the same way. Can't we ever just live the lives we want to? Can't we just be with our families and be untouched by the outside world? And yet, our world is full of devilish wolves, lies, and more that plague and attack our families. They even plague and attack our individual lives, trying to tear us from that which matters most. We fight daily to overcome these struggles and deceptions. But there comes a time when I grow weary of the same fight day after day and I also want to shout out, "No more!" Fortunately, I know that there will come a day when these things will be no more. How I long for that day! How I hope it will come soon!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

For Good

Genre: Broadway Musical
Artist: Music and Lyrics by: Stephen Schwartz
Album: Wicked

Life is full of twists and turns, but no matter what, there are always people you will meet along the way. These people are placed there to help you through the pitfalls of life, to lift you out of pits where you might have fallen, or to give you a boost as you climb the steep hills. These people are placed in our lives for a reason. Sometimes, we are blessed to have these people move on with us. Sometimes, they were meant to only be there during that time of our lives. Either way, they leave a lasting impact on us. They are meant to change us for the better, to change us for good.

As we look back on these times, we should not look back with resentment that we no longer have what we once did. We should look back with gratitude that we had that experience. As I look back on my life, I find there are many friends who came into my life at the right time. Now I have lost contact with many of them. They have gone their ways and I have gone mine. Some of these friends I eyed with resentment when we took our different paths. But now I realize that if I look back with resentment then I have missed the most important lesson I could have learned from them.

"It well may be that we will never meet again in this lifetime, so let me say before we part: So much of me is made of what I learned from you. You'll be with me like a handprint on my heart, and now whatever way our stories end I know you have re-written mine by being my friend!" This is a thank you to all those of you who have made an impact on my life. Thank you for the lessons you taught me. Thank you for helping me through those hard times. Although many of us have taken our separate ways, I hope to be reunited one day with all of you in the Celestial Kingdom. Some of you I have lost contact with since I was a young child. Some of you are more recent. Either way, thanks to all!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inside His Presence

Genre: Progressive Rock
Artist: Neal Morse
Album: ?

This song depicts entering the Holy of Holies, the place where God dwells. This is home. It is in this song that Neal Morse connects the crippled to us. "From a list of laws seeing all our flaws to the blind and lame, we are all the same." All of us are spiritually crippled. But then, the good news: "Our High Priest has come to make us all as one in Him!" Neal then says that He will come and live with us if we will only let Him. It's really that easy! We must just accept His will and strive to keep His commandments, and He will make His abode with us. We, too, can be inside of His presence.

Neal also talks about the other outcasts--the gentiles. The Gospel was confined to just the Israelites until the Savior's sacrifice. Then, the Gospel went out to everyone and everybody could partake of the Spirit. Now all of us can be the temple of the Spirit. There are no more outcasts! Or at least, there doesn't have to be outcasts. Anybody willing to be part of the Gospel is not only welcome, but beckoned to take part of it. All of this because of our High Priest.

How blessed we are to live in a time when the Gospel is available to everybody! How privileged we can be to have the Holy Ghost with us all the time! I am so grateful for the Gospel! It has changed my life in so many ways. I know it is all possible because of Jesus Christ. He really did atone for our sins, performing the ultimate sacrifice, completely fulfilling the Law of Moses. Everything in the Old Testament, including all the laws, ordinances, and miracles, pointed towards Jesus Christ. Now, everything that has happened since points back to Him. He is the center of everything. I know that one day I can also be taken behind "the final veil" and be face to face with Him and live inside His presence for the rest of eternity.


Genre: Progressive Rock
Artist: Neal Morse
Album: ?

This song picks up the story of the outsider. He sees a Man "with hair as white as wool...with feet like burning brass." Of course, it is the Savior, following John's description in the Book of Revelation. "Come, he says...I have made a way for the unclean ones to come into the gate! To the weakest ones, I will give my strength! And the lowest ones, they will be brought higher!" When Neal Morse sings this, it is a song of rejoicing. He follows up this joyful news describing the "sweet elation" of being able to enter the House of the Lord, of being one with the Savior.

And truly it is something to rejoice about! All of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God. All of us are outsiders of the Celestial Kingdom. In every heart, somewhere, there is a longing to be home. But Jesus Christ has indeed made a way for us to come back, to enter His presence! He has atoned for our sins and will cleanse us as with fire! When we don't have the strength to overcome our trials and burdens, He grants us that strength! When we are depressed and down-trodden, He will lift us higher! It is because of Him that we are able to return to our heavenly home. I bear my testimony of that! Because of Him, we are "part of a Holy Nation" and "the past is forever gone." I am so grateful for my Savior and for His source of life and healing!

Outside Looking In

Genre: Progressive Rock
Artist: Neal Morse
Album: ? (Yes, "Question Mark" is the name of the album)

This song is very sad in nature. It talks about the outcasts during the time of the Law of Moses: the crippled, the lepers, the sinners. They are the ones called "second-rate, the last in line." During the ? album, Neal describes the glory of the House of the Lord. In this song, he focuses on the ones outside the gate. They long to enter the temple, but cannot and so are stuck "outside looking in." They wish to join everybody that seems so happy. The happy people seem so beautiful, but the outsiders feel ugly and unloved.

Have you ever experienced a day like that? Have you ever looked around you to see smiling faces and then looked at yourself and asked, "what's my problem?" Do you ever feel unnoticed? "Nobody sees the ones outside looking in." I have. I have felt that "everything that I touch seems to turn out wrong." My heart has also longed to belong somewhere. I have wanted to join the crowds of people that "make it seem easy to love and be happy."

However, I have learned an important lesson in my life. Everybody has trials. Everybody has fears, disappointments, heavy burdens, and tears hidden inside. They overcome these by working together. That is the key to not being an outsider--you must become an insider. That is one of the best things about the Church, it is a support group that consists of about 13 million members. Read my entries about Entrance and Inside His Presence to hear the rest of the story.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Genre: Disney
Artist: Music by Matthew Wilder and Lyrics by David Zippel
Album: Mulan soundtrack

Ok, it's probably really weird that a guy would like this song so much. But I do! If I sing the lyrics out loud I substitute "I will never pass for a perfect bride or a perfect daughter" with "I will never pass for a perfect son or a perfect father." See? Now it fits my gender perfectly!

The real reason I love this song, though, is because sometimes I like to stop and reflect who I am. I guess it's the same feeling that I have for the song "Stranger in Your Soul" that I talked about first on this blog. Sometimes I feel like my life has been scripted out for me. People all around me have their expectations of what they want me to be, but very rarely do I get to be who I feel I truly am. It's the hardest when I have my own dreams and expectations for myself and they don't work out. There are days when I come home from work and look in the mirror and I can see how unhappy I am. I feel like I am working and studying so hard that I am turning into a machine. I don't want to be this way. I want to let my true self shine. I want my true self to easily be reflected. I want other people to recognize and appreciate me for who I really am.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Part of Your World

Genre: Disney
Artist: Music and Lyrics by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman
Album: The Little Mermaid soundtrack

This song takes me back to my mission days when I was in my last area, Cachoeira Paulista (no, I don't expect any of my American friends and family to pronounce that right). My good friend Adriane loves this song and we would sing it sometimes as we walked to different houses to teach. Adriane would often accompany Elder Guerreiro and I. It was the best when all three of us would sing together. I usually had to teach Elder Guerreiro and Adriane the lyrics in English. I remember one night when nobody was in the streets and we walked around a good part of the city singing to ourselves until we found somebody to teach. What fond memories!

Anybody who knows me knows that I like to dream, just like Ariel. However, it is important to keep in mind that the worlds we imagine are not always what we dream them to be. For example, here out of the sea, people actually do reprimend their daughters. Ariel would have lost that bet. There are worlds I would love to be a part of: Brazil, Nauvoo, the British Isles, and even the Holy Land. And yet these worlds I long to be a part of aren't always physical. Sometimes I want to be part of someone else's world in a figurative sense. I want to be more connected, more united. And so I shall go on dreaming, for in the world I am a part of, dreams come true.

Go the Distance

Genre: Disney
Artist: Music and Lyrics by Alan Menken and David Zippel
Album: Hercules soundtrack

I, too, have often dreamed of a place far away where I would be hailed as a hero. I wanted to hear a voice tell me, "This is where I'm meant to be." I've had this dream nearly all my life and I finally realized it in August, 2007. I went back to Brazil to visit the people I taught and came to love. I went back to my favorite place: Jundiapeba. There, I did an activity with the members of the Church. Unbeknownst to me, they prepared something for me as well.

The youth performed several dance numbers for me with some great talent and special effects. Many of the adults performed another song that was downright amazing. Then the bishop invited me to the front and sang a song to me about how my friendship influenced everybody there. He then invited me to say a few words. I could barely say more than "thank you." I felt like I finally found the place where I belong. Then, just to completely fulfill my dream, several of my friends ran up to where I was and picked me up and threw me in the air three times and gave a cheer for me. Indeed, a found a warm welcome waiting for me and the crowd truly did cheer to see my face.

My heart will always be in Jundiapeba and I hope to return many more times in my life. And yet, though I have fulfilled this dream, I am determined to fulfill it time and time again. There will be other places where I will make a difference. Some may be far off in other countries. I hope others will be no further than the walls of my home. No matter where it is or what the task is, I am determined to go the distance.

Bring Him Home

Genre: Broadway Musical
Artist: Music and lyrics by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, and Herbert Kretzmer
Album: Les Miserables soundtrack

This is actually the song that introduced me to Les Miserables. When my older brother Danny went to Afghanistan my aunt Dee created a tape of "soldier songs" for my mom. This song was included. It is a prayer that Valjean says for Marius, who he discovers is the true love of his daughter Cosette. He tells the Lord that he is even willing to give his life for Marius, so long as the Lord will protect the young boy.

Not only is this a very heartfelt song with a great demonstration of vocal talent, but it was also quoted by President Thomas S. Monson a few years ago during the Priesthood session of General Conference. President Monson talked about our need to bring home to the fold those who have wandered or are lost.

President Monson's message, along with the message of the song really hit home to me about halfway through my mission in Brazil. I found out that a member of one of my favorite families had gone in-active and had started using drugs. I was crushed. I wanted to do something so badly, but I couldn't. I didn't even work in the area anymore. As I thought one day about how much I wanted to do something, this song came into my head. There was nothing I could do, but God could. This young man was in a battle much worse than the insurrection in Paris where Valjean finds Marius. Every time I listen to this song I say a silent prayer of my own for another young man far off in another country that is fighting a battle of his own.

My Mother Bore Me

Genre: Broadway Musical
Artist: Music and Lyrics by Maury Yeston
Album: Phantom soundtrack

This song comes from a lesser-known musical of "Phantom of the Opera," simply called "Phantom." The song itself is actually based on a poem by my favorite poet, William Blake. The original poem is called "Little Black Boy" and talks about a little black slave being taught by his mother. She tells him that God lives far off where the sun rises and there He gives His light to everybody and that our bodies are just clouds hiding our spirits. Some clouds are white, some clouds are black, but inside is the same spirit--a child of God. She tells him that one day the clouds will vanish and we'll all be able to return to live with God. The boy decides that he will continue to serve his master, a young white boy until they are taken together back to God, where the little white boy will finally love him. It's a beautiful poem.

In the song, the Phantom changes a few of the lyrics to talk about how he lives in darkness, but his soul is light. He laments the fact that nobody can see beyond his hideous face, but holds out hope that one day when we're taken back to God people will be able to look at him and love him. By the way, he sings this just after Christine runs away because she saw his ugly face. One of my favorite lines is: "We are put on earth a little space that we may learn to bear the beams of love." The invokes two images in my mind. First, the burden of loving someone and then having your heart broken. Second, I imagine the Savior carrying His cross, literally a great, wooden beam that represents the greatest love anybody has ever had.

Now, of course, I'm not a black slave and I'm not nearly as ugly as the Phantom. But I love this song for other reasons. Each person belongs to some class and race. Many times, people are unable to look past this "cloud" that we all have covering our spirits. In the Middle East, ancient brothers attack each other because they see a cloud titled "Jew" or "Palistinian." In other places, people despise "American" clouds. I, like the little black boy and the Phantom, long for the day when people will be able to see past these clouds that cover our spirits and we may "lean in joy upon our Father's knee" and love each other.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Impossible Dream

Genre: Broadway Musical
Artist: Lyrics and music by Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh
Album: Man of La Mancha soundtrack

"The Impossible Dream" is subtitled "The Quest." Indeed, I feel that it is my own quest. I have a strong desire to make a difference in the world, to change it for the better. This song is about a man who is determined to make the world a better place, firmly believing he can do so, even when all seems hopeless. Whether he rushes into battle or loves "pure and chaste from afar," he is making a difference.

In other songs from this musical, Don Quixote's attributes also show. He gives when it's natural to take, he sees good where nobody else can, and he tries to be what others think is impossible. He is accused of living in a world that can't exist, and yet still he pursues. Though eccentric, weird, and downright crazy, he actually does change the life of one person, who will certainly go on to change the life of another. Such is my quest.

At the end of the musical, Don Quixote is in a coma-like state. He is revived back into reality by the one person he changes: his Dulcinea. When she reminds him of his quest, he gets back on his feet and demands his sword and armor. He is told that he is not well and he firmly replies, "What is sickness to the body of a knight-errant? What matter wounds? For each time he falls he shall rise again!" Yes, the fight seems hopeless at times. Yes, I get discouraged at times. But all I need is someone to remind me of my own quest, and once again I am ready to march through my own dream, my impossible dream. I continue reaching for that unreachable star and fighting for the right without question or pause.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Conclusion

Genre: Progressive Rock
Artist: Neal Morse
Album: Sola Scriptura

What a masterpiece! This song begins with the world coming out of the long night of apostasy and into the glorious morning of the Restoration. As God's kingdom is growing and Babylon is falling, the cry is heard, "Come out of her, my people!" The saints are warned to have nothing to do with Babylon: "everything that comes from her must be left behind." The song ends by describing that long-awaited day when the Bridgegroom comes for His bride, the Church, the saints of the Most High. I get chills as I hear the lyrics, "Bravely, strongly, watch the woman step into the light: gleaming, leaning on the arm of the One she loves! She's prepared herself just for Him! She has overcome all her sin! Let the day of the Lamb begin! Can you see her glory rise?"

I just get so excited for that time in the future when I, as part of the Lord's Church, will have overcome all of my own sin through Him and will be prepared to meet Him. Having read the Old Testament multiple times, I am very familiar with the Lord's comparison to His people as His bride. John uses this again in his Revelation. It makes me so excited to be a part of His kingdom. It encourages me to not only overcome my own sins, but also help others around me come unto the Savior.

Cradle to the Grave

Genre: Progressive Rock
Artist: Neal Morse
Album: One

I have shared this song with a few friends and most of them responded by telling me they thought it was very depressing. I was absolutely shocked. To me, this song is a piece of heaven. It's about five minutes long and it is dialogue between fallen man and God. Before I explain the song, I need to explain the context. The album One is a concept album that begins with the creation and the unity man had with God in the Garden of Eden. It then proceeds with the fall and follows the account of a common, fallen man that tries to do things by himself. Eventually, he realizes he can't do it alone and looks to God for help. God replies by telling the man that He will send His Son to save him. In the end, through Jesus Christ, we can all become one with God again.

This song takes place once the man realizes that he can't do it alone. In the song, he longs to be back with God again and be received by Him. Sadly, he concludes that he has done so much that God couldn't possibly care for him anymore. But as soon as he comes to this conclusion, God says, "No, my son. You don't understand. I want to help you, but you have to come to me first. I want to be reconciled so badly!" And at the very moment when the man cries out his desire to be with God again, God replies, "Child, how I love you! Won't you come home to me? I'll give you my robe and clothe you in linen! I want you to stay! I'll set you free!"

This song is so beautiful to me because it illustrates God's eternal love for His children. Even when we have strayed far from the path, He is still there watching and waiting for us to start to come back. When we do, He will run to meet us and give us His best robe and welcome us home. This song is a reminder to me whenever I feel especially aware of my fallen nature that the Lord is always there, ready to extend His forgiveness. On my darkest days, this song fills me with hope and comfort.

Stranger in Your Soul

Genre: Progessive Rock
Artist: Transatlantic
Album: Bridge Across Forever

Although this song is literally a half hour long, the first time I listened to it I was so overcome that I listened to it four times in a row. Yes, two straight hours of the same song. This song is total brilliance! First of all, Transatlantic is a combination of four of the greatest progressive rock artists (ok, maybe with the exception of Pete Trewavas. You can't be a brilliant artist and play for Marillion). Neal Morse wrote the bulk of the song and Mike Portnoy enhances it with his incomparable drumming. Of course, Roine Stolt's guitar playing is downright amazing.

What made me listen to this song 4 times in a row, however, is the message of the song. It is about someone who feels lost, alone, and keeps looking in his past for an answer. Constantly he is reminded to stop looking behind and look inside him to discover who he really is. Towards the middle of the song, the person finally experiences the sweet freedom of discovering the "stranger in his soul." Suddenly everything changes. It isn't easy, but there, underneath the pain and loneliness, he finds that stranger reaching outward. The song states that all of us are that way and we must awaken that stranger inside of us and discover who we really are. It's so beautiful and the ending always gives me chills.

In my own life, I went through a period of a couple years where I also was searching for who I am. I felt completely alone inside, even though I was surrounded by people constantly. Then, when I went to Nauvoo for a semester, I found that freedom. I realized, to a small degree, what my divine potential is. I heard this song later that year and immediately connected with it.