Be Still My Soul: Interview with Sharla Ashby
Today's interview is with my sister, Sharla Ashby. I am the oldest of my brothers and sisters, so I had the unique experience of welcoming each of them into the world. When Mother and Dad brought them home from the hospital, I was the first to hold them. I felt a responsibility to my brothers and sisters: to look out for them, to be a good example.
Because I am ten years older than Sharla, I knew I would leave home when she was still a little girl. So I spent extra time with her doing fun things that I hoped would become good memories after I was gone. I read books to her, took her on walks, even played dolls with her. I used to save my lunch money and buy candy for her to find in my shirt pocket when I got home from school.
When I started graduate school at BYU, Sharla started her undergraduate studies as an English major, which is what I studied. You can imagine how pleased I was with that, and how proud I was of her. I gave her a key to my apartment so she could come during the day and type her papers. Once, we wanted to drive home for the weekend, but Sharla needed to read Moby Dick by Monday afternoon. I can read without getting carsick, so Sharla drove while I read to her. The trip from Provo to home was five hours, so we had a good ten hours of reading time in the car, and we finished the book.
I have many happy memories of my little sister. She has two fine sons, my nephews, that I am endlessly proud of. Sharla and I often talk about things that matter, but this interview may be the first time we have talked in depth about music.
Please note that Sharla will pick the piece of music for us to listen to today. I will announce it and write about it after the interview, which follows:
YFM: What is your earliest memory of music?
I don’t ever remember not having music. I remember from a very young age sitting in the family room with Mom and Dad listening to Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves, or Johnny Cash—to name a few. I can’t think of music and not include my time spent at church. I loved singing in Primary. "I Am a Child of God" is still one of my favorite songs. I find on particularly hard, stressful days that I start singing that song in my head because it brings me comfort. I also loved sitting next my mother or grandmother at church so I could listen to them sing the hymns. I remember that mom always had music playing in the background while we cleaned house. I think she must have learned it from her mother because I remember her singing and dancing to music as well while she cleaned house. Mom had an eight track of Swiss music and we would dust to the yodelers. It always made me feel happy. She also had an album by a young man—I can’t remember who—who sang the River Song by Richards Sherman and Robert Sherman, from the 1973 movie Tom Sawyer. I remember her making bread while she listened to this song. She would cry. When the song ended she would ask me to start it over, and she would keep crying. Shayne was on his mission and my other two brothers were getting older and I think that this one particular lyric always got her. It said: “The world turns around and the boy grows tall. He hears the song of the river call. The river song sings, travel on, travel on. You blink away a tear and the boy is gone.”
YFM: How much time do you spend with music each day?
I listen to music most of the day every day. I’m usually the first one up in the morning and I start my day with some Native American massage music. I find it really peaceful. When other members of my family start getting up I change the music to a mix of Loreena McKennit, Enya, Tina Malia, Celtic Women, and Josh Groban. On the drive to work my husband and I usually listen to the hard rock station. If our son is with us we usually listen to pop. When we get to work we turn on music again. Usually the same mix with Loreena McKennit or with Mumford and Sons. I find that I am very eclectic, and so is my family. We listen to a little bit of everything—rock, classical, opera, pop, country, folk, and film scores. We listen to music on the ride home and usually turn music on in the kitchen while we cook dinner. Apparently, I am always listening to music.
YFM: Do you have one piece of music that you turn to again and again? Why?
I never get tired of Loreena McKennit and Enya. I don’t know why.
YFM: What piece of music have you picked for us to hear today, and why did you pick it?
The song I picked to share is "Be Still My Soul" as performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir from their album Peace Like a River. After my father died I about wore my copy out. I listened to it over and over. I still find it very beautiful.
YFM: There is no preview of this song available on Amazon.com (though you can purchase the album Peace Like a River). Here is a link to "Be Still My Soul" in iTunes, where you can both preview the song and download it:
How Hearing This Song Affected Me
This hymn is new to the Mormon hymnbook; it was not in it when I was allowed to be in the church. But I know the melody, which is from Finlandia, by Sibelius. I had always thought that that melody had a sacred feel to it, so I am not surprised to learn that it has become a hymn.
It is hard for me to hear hymns, and to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They bring back all that I have lost because of who I am. Still, this is a beautiful hymn, and I can see why my sister loves it. If I were allowed to be in the church, it would be one of my favorites, too.
I want to thank my sister for this interview.
I photographed "Weigh Me the Fire," the image above, in 2006; it is of the Mormon Temple, on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. The title is from Robert Herrick's poem "To Find God":
Weigh me the fire; or canst thou find
A way to measure out the wind?