Make a Joyful Noise…

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands” (Psalm 100:1).

I love beautiful music. Sweet poetry set to melodies that make the heart sing, tunes in keys sharing the same space in harmonic perfection delights the ears and enlightens the mind to higher feelings. Creating true musical elation is inspired only by He who makes men masters of gifts given. To hear such is to float on breezes of light and truth, as the sound of a bow across strings, breath through silver or wood, angelic exhalings lifting one’s soul heavenward.

I have heard a lot of music in life, most of which does not accomplish this lofty ideal. Nevertheless, in the hearing of music I have at times found uplifting sounds in much less than perfection, by the inspiration of one’s message carried through a voice not so gifted as our ears might interpret.

“I have at times found uplifting sounds in much less than perfection, by the inspiration of one’s message carried through a voice not so gifted as our ears might interpret.”

I grew up in the congregation of the Sanger Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In our simple chapel there I was inspired often by testimony bearing voices of spoken word, and by the singing of hymns either congregationally, by small groups or individuals, or from the Sanger Ward Choir. People loved to sing in our ward, so there was often wide participation in the choir.

Some of the voices of the choir were polished and practiced to great skill and beauty. Gifted sopranos, altos, tenors, and bases, singing in harmony praises to God. One could feel the voice of the Lord in this holy marriage of music and word. Even though not every voice was as gifted as the next, all contributed to a musical whole that brought the Spirit for all to feel. One voice ever present in the Sanger Ward Choir always stood out from the rest and lifted my soul like few others I have ever encountered.

Ken Wood was a towering man of well over 6 feet, with a powerful voice that matched his stature. He stood faithfully in the back row center and was not only seen but was heard by everyone in the congregation.

Ken Wood (back center right) holds up bunny ears behind me (Danny Malcolm center left) at Fleming Lake in 1981.

I shared great experiences with Brother Wood. Throughout my youth, even without assignment, he led me and the other boys in the ward on trails and over mountains, with backpacks and hiking boots, singing and cheering all the way. He really was a mountain of a man with a thunderous voice, wonderful spirit, and playful sense of humor.

Some of the great achievements of my youth, some of my great spiritual experiences, came on trails and mountain tops, along side creeks and around campfires, in the wilderness with that good man. Standing atop Mount Whitney with Ken Wood, as so many before me, and others who would follow, was a youthful highlight and benchmark in the lives of countless young men in need of challenge. Ken Wood was a man, with his gift for backpacking and relating to youth, who changed lives. His singing voice, however, was not considered so gifted in the traditional sense.

Even as the songs and joyful cheerings of Ken Wood’s voice could be heard for miles through the cathedral of mountains where we hiked, it could also be heard above the rest of the choir and was not so in tune or blending with the other voices as is the normal custom. I mean no disrespect or criticism for Brother Wood or his singing. I only share this out of devoted love and appreciation for this man who may have been judged not to sing well but lifted his voice in praise nonetheless, and filled the hearts of all who heard with spiritual ears.

Atop Mount Whitney in 1979 Ken Wood on back row far left and Danny Malcolm far right (also pictured L-R: Gilbert Cisneros, Joel Fife, David Hyde, Sheldon Feigel, Kevin Smith, Pat Parker).

This reminds me of a song we sang in our high school choir in the early 1980s. Written by Don McAfee, Monotone Angel is the story set to music of an angel sitting on a cloud practicing. He wanted so much to sing in that first angelic Christmas choir. The problem was that he could only sing one note, so on the day of the heavenly auditions, “He sang the song with all his might, although the tune was not quite right… He sang his part though he shook with fear, and those pearly gates really rattled when he sang out loud and clear.”

If you do not know the end of the story, I will tell you that the monotone angel made the choir, and it is said that to this day, if you listen carefully on Christmas Eve and hear the angel chorus, there is a voice that is a little different, that sings out loud and clear with a spirit that soars above the rest.

Like the monotone angel, Ken Wood’s voice was louder and soared above the rest, filled with power and spirit. If ever I have known a man who made “a joyful noise unto the Lord,” it was Ken Wood. The Sanger Ward choir would not have been the same without him, and I would not be surprised if he really did sing with the angels that night before shepherds in Bethlehem. I have no doubt that he sings with heavenly choirs today. I pray to one day be worthy to do the same and sing again with him.

The Announcement of Christ’s Birth to the Shepherds, by Del Parson

I am so grateful for the Lord and all that He gives. We in gratitude should lift our voices each and every day in His praise, and as Ken Wood, that singing angel among men, we should “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” As the Lord Jesus Christ replied to the Pharisees when they were once critical of the way the disciples rejoiced and praised with loud voice, “I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out” (Luke 19:40). I believe that if Ken Wood had held his peace and lifted not his voice, the very pews and walls of the chapel would have desired to cry out and fill the void in praise for our Savior, for all things are witness that He is the Redeemer.

May we “make a joyful noise unto the Lord,” and “talk of [His] righteousness all the day long” (Psalm 71:24). As “all things denote there is a God” (Alma 30:44), let us stand as witness always that He atoned for our wrongs and lives that we might by His grace live also in His love. “Gloria in Excelsis Deo, Glory be to God on high!” “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul” (Psalm 66:16). Let us not hold our peace. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Monotone Angel by Don McAfee – Troy Community Chorus, Fall 2015

Daniel Malcolm is an entrepreneur, journalist, photographer, husband to Monica and father of twelve. He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is a witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.