By Lillian Arp
“Marlena! Play the piano,” her mother would say, almost every day.
“Marlena, I took you to piano lessons so you can use your talent to serve our Heavenly Father.”
“Marlena, one day you will thank me for this.”
Marlena Tonumaipe’a (nee Seumali’i) sometimes wished she could have changed her name so she wouldn’t have to respond to “Marlena this” and “Marlena that”, especially when the task had to do with playing the piano!
Just as her mother intended, however, Marlena is now a skilled pianist and composer who is asked to coordinate the music for countless firesides and conferences across various stakes in the Auckland, New Zealand region.
Keeping up with the demand for her musical services can be challenging, but Marlena is always grateful for her talents and for the blessings they bring. She has witnessed, many times, how the Holy Spirit uses music to soften hearts, to preach the gospel and testify of Jesus Christ, but music has also been a saving grace in her own life.
At the end of 2016, Marlena received the shocking news that her usually healthy, 35-year-old brother Robbie Seumali’i had collapsed and was admitted to ICU in Brisbane, Australia. Before she could fully understand what had happened to him, she learned that he was in bad shape. She needed to fly to Brisbane ASAP.
Marlena panicked. She hadn’t seen her brother in 8 years – what if this was her last chance? But she couldn’t travel without her 2-year-old son, and her son didn’t have a passport. Despite an urgent, desperate effort, the passport wasn’t ready in time, and Marlena was the only one of Robbie’s siblings who wasn’t at his side when he died.
Marlena was devastated. Losing her brother like that was also a reminder of their mother’s sudden passing just over a decade earlier.
A couple months later, it was with a broken heart and lingering pangs of guilt that Marlena began preparing music for the April conference of the Auckland New Zealand Papatoetoe Stake. Organising the stake choir seemed especially burdensome for her now, the practices felt more difficult.
Then one night, the choir rehearsed a powerful arrangement of a familiar hymn:
Be still my soul,
when change and tears are past,
all safe and blessed
we shall meet at last
Marlena couldn’t fight back the tears as she accompanied the choir on piano, but this time, it wasn’t sadness she was feeling.
“The lyrics of that beautiful hymn really touched me,” Marlena recalls. “[For the first time] since my brother’s funeral, I felt at peace. I know that I will be able to see him and my beautiful mother again on the other side of the veil.”
Marlena often shares her personal testimony about the importance of music in worship. Heavenly Father uses music to help us understand what spoken words can fail to express. Music can help the Holy Spirit communicate directly with our hearts and lead us to the healing and atoning power of our Saviour Jesus Christ.