Why does music bring the spirit when we sing a hymn? Is it because of the words, the intent by singing, or is it something else? Thank you and I hope to hear your thoughts.
Thank you for your question. Numerous studies address the impact of music on our thoughts and emotions. I’m not qualified to address those, and they don’t directly address your question, so I’ll leave it to you and other readers whether to spend time reading up on those studies.
To learn what brings the Spirit, or more specifically, enables us to feel the presence of the Spirit, the best place to turn is the scriptures. In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord tells us:
D&C 25:12 For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.
When we sing the hymns with our heart, they become a prayer, and prayer is one of the ways we bring our souls into communion with God, which always involves the Spirit.
In the New Testament, Paul teaches us:
1 Corinthians 12:3 “…no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.”
Even hymns which don’t directly testify of the divinity of Jesus Christ imply this truth, and again, when the hymn is in our heart, the Holy Ghost will bear witness of this truth, as Nephi teaches us:
2 Nephi 33:1 “…when a man speaketh [or singeth] by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.”
From these verses, we learn that some of the things which bring the Spirit as we sing include having the words in our hearts, and singing words which testify of truth. In addition, the First Presidency Preface to Hymns teaches:
Inspirational music is an essential part of our church meetings. The hymns invite the Spirit of the Lord, create a feeling of reverence, unify us as members, and provide a way for us to offer praises to the Lord.
Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns. Hymns move us to repentance and good works, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end.
Reverence, unity, and praise, combined with doctrinal truths, bring peace, inspire in us a desire to improve, and invite the Spirit to testify to our hearts of the truth of what we are singing.
So, as your question hinted, the words (truth and testimony), the intent (in our hearts), and the unified praising of God and His Son all invite the Spirit to perform his primary function to bear “record of the Father and of the Son” (D&C 20:27) and teach us “the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5).
I have personally experienced, and know from conversation with others, that the intent of your own heart makes a world of difference when singing the hymns. If our heart “isn’t in it,” if we are not singing a “song of the heart,” we are basically telling the Spirit we’re not interested right now, so that whatever good might be done in singing the hymn is muted. But if we sing the hymns from the heart, with sincere intent to praise, to learn, and to testify, then the Spirit sings his testimony back to us, amplifying the effect the hymn has on our own heart, renewing and strengthening us.
I end with the words of the First Presidency and my own hope the we will all choose to invoke blessings through sincere hymning:
Brothers and sisters, let us use the hymns to invite the Spirit of the Lord into our congregations, our homes, and our personal lives. Let us memorize and ponder them, recite and sing them, and partake of their spiritual nourishment. Know that the song of the righteous is a prayer unto our Father in Heaven, “and it shall be answered with a blessing upon [your] heads.”