Saying “Yes!”: How Music Transformed My Relationship with God 
On February 21, 2024 | 0 Comments

By Michael D. Young

To say music has shaped my life would be an enormous understatement. I came from one of those large families where it was in our DNA. While still in elementary school, I sang in church programs, memorized scriptures using music, and started taking piano lessons from my mother. Her mantra was always, “You’ll thank me later.” 

I’m happy to report that she was right. Thank you, mom. 

Though I enjoyed all things musical as a kid, it wasn’t until I was a little older that I saw my talents in their proper light. My parents taught me that talents were a gift from God and that he expected us to improve and use them to bless others. 

I remember hearing the aptly named “Parable of the Talents” in the New Testament, where it describes the master who gives each of his three servants a different amount of money, called talents and tells them he expects them to make something of his generous gift. Two servants could provide a return on investment through prudence and hard work, and the master was pleased with both of them. The only servant he was angry with was the one who buried his talent and gave it back to the master untouched. It wasn’t about how many talents each person started out with, but that the servants increased what they had by using it. 

Looking back, I can see the hand of God in my life from an early age, preparing me for opportunities that were far down the road. I’m so grateful that he can take the long view, because all I knew as a kid is that I loved music. I wouldn’t have predicted all the things coming down the road. 

So here is a bit of what that journey looked like. 

Around age 12, I started playing piano for church gatherings, and though my efforts were far from perfect, it was often singing with me or singing acapella. About that time, I started to take a deeper interest in my personal relationship with God. Inspired by my parents teachings and example, I did some soul searching. 

As I thought about what I wanted my life to look like, I made a promise to God about the use of my talents. I find that it is summed up well by the following quote by Elder Neal A. Maxwell: 

“God does not begin by asking our ability, only our availability, and if we prove our dependability, He will increase our capability.” (“It’s Service, Not Status, That Counts,” Ensign July 1975) 

I promised God that whenever someone asked me to use my talents, the answer would always be “Yes.” Without grumbling, I might add. I prayed that as I did this dependably, God would increase my talents and provide me with opportunities. As I made this promise, I felt the Spirit confirm this was a righteous desire. 

Since that time, I have had many opportunities to test that promise. When someone asked me to play piano for a meeting, sing a choir, put together a quartet, or even sing a solo for a Christmas party, I said, “Yes.” I did everything I could to cheerfully keep my part of the covenant and found great satisfaction in serving others.

This constant practice helped my abilities and confidence grow, and my opportunities multiplied. I remember several times ward members would tell me, “You should be in the Tabernacle Choir someday.” That stayed with me. I watched the choir during General Conference, trying to spot my great aunt, and so it was something I was already fascinated by. 

In high school, I was the only Freshman to gain a spot in the prestigious Madrigal choir and land a lead role in the spring musical. I was asked to sing solos in choir and continued to play prominent roles in musical productions. I joined a handbell choir sponsored by the school and got to travel a bit to perform. In college, I achieved my goal of singing with the Brigham Young University choirs. As a missionary to Germany, I used my musical talents constantly, both singing and playing the piano. 

Even after graduating, I landed roles in local musical productions and set my sights on an audition I had anticipated since I was a young man: the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. (Now the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.) I tried out as soon as possible, and I am currently 25 years old, in the summer of 2010. From others who had tried out for the choir, I knew it was a grueling process and that many people had to try out multiple times before they got in if they got in at all. My great aunt and uncle had been in the choir, so I continued to be invested in the choir while growing up. 

The three-stage audition process was as grueling as advertised. After phase two, a two-plus hour music theory and listening skills test, I despaired at getting to the next level. Throughout the process, I offered many prayers that I would get through if that were God’s will. I told him that I was available, but at this point, I could only do my part and wait to see whether the call would come. 

Thankfully, the letter arrived in the mail and was a yes. At the time, I was the youngest man in the choir, and throughout my service, I have sung on hundreds of broadcasts and concerts and traveled all over the United States and the world, sharing my testimony through music. I’ve had the fantastic opportunity to sing with world-class guest artists I never dreamed of singing with while growing up. True to Elder Maxwell’s promise, I showed that I was available, I strove to be dependable, and throughout this experience, God has increased my capability. 

And how often have I needed that increase! Though being in the Tabernacle Choir is a wonderful experience, it also presents many physical and mental challenges. Waking up early every Sunday morning for someone who is not a morning person has been daunting. Many times, the only way I’ve gotten through hours of rehearsal and performance while exhausted was through prayer and pleading for strength. Adding the rigorous choir routine into an already busy life also created frequent challenges for my role as a husband and father. I turned to God, asking for my family to be strengthened and protected while I was away serving in my calling. 

However, the choir has not been my only musical opportunity in my adult life and certainly not the only area where I needed my capabilities to be strengthened. Another experience over multiple years strengthened my trust in God and his ability to magnify my talents as I showed a willingness to use them. 

Near the beginning of 2017, I prayerfully considered my goals for the year. This year, in addition to considering goals about time management and money, I felt strongly prompted that I needed to write a hymn/song text every day for that year. It seemed like a tall order, and I tried to rationalize it away, but the thought persisted. I began to wonder why this was such a priority. The texts I produced that year were of varying quality, but I wrote all 365. It’s a good thing the Gospel has so many facets! 

It wasn’t until mid-2018, however, I realized what I had been preparing for. I had just landed in Los Angeles on tour with the Tabernacle Choir when I took out my phone and saw a notice that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was revising their hymnbook and children’s songbook. I had exactly a year from that time to get my submissions in. 

I knew immediately that 2017 had been a training ground for 2018. So, I smiled and said, “Yes!” I worked nearly every day of that year, networking and collaborating with other like-minded musicians and composers to create works to submit. I submitted the last one just a few minutes before midnight on the last day of the submission window. I worked with over 70 composers and submitted over 150 pieces to the new collection. Though I haven’t heard back yet about them, the final result is only part of the consideration. The relationships I built, the joy I found in creating, and the improvement and growth I experienced were well worth the price of admission. 

Looking back, it’s apparent how well the Lord kept his promise to me. Knowing this informs other aspects of my life, from being a husband and father to being a good employee. Through my musical service, my trust in God has grown, which helps me trust him wherever I am and whatever I do. 

I’m grateful now that I’ve combined my love of writing with my love of music to produce An Advent Carols Countdown and Sacred Days, Sacred Songs.. These books draw heavily from my experience singing in choirs throughout my life and would not have come together without them. 

I’m unsure what opportunities God has for me, but I’m excited for the future. No matter what happens, I will keep saying “Yes!” to them and take them gratefully as they come.

Michael D. Young has degrees in both music and German. Though he grew up traveling the world, he now lives in Utah with his wife, Jen, and their two sons. He teaches in a German dual-language immersion program, and he is a current member of the world-renowned Tabernacle Choir.

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