"[I]f ye are prepared ye shall not fear."
Doctrine and Covenants 38:30
Doctrine and Covenants 38:30
In order to accompany with confidence, organists must put in the time to be prepared.
As the organist
I had the wonderful opportunity to play for Stake Conference this past weekend. I played for the general session and had prepared quite extensively. When the time came, I was not nervous, but excited, and my accompaniment was full of confidence. I knew that I had put in the necessary time, and my playing reflected this preparation--following the music director was effortless, as were my registration changes, and the congregation sounded wonderful.
I also accompanied a small group the evening before. I was asked to play at the last minute and only had one day to prepare. I practiced that afternoon, evening, and the next morning and could play the music almost flawlessly, but when the time came to accompany the group I was not as confident or prepared as I would have liked and made some errors.
Although I prepared as much as possible in both instances, the importance of adequate preparation was reinforced in my mind because of these incidents.
As a listener
Sunday evening I had the opportunity to participate in "A Festival of Hymns," listening and singing while an accomplished organist regaled us with organ solos, accompaniments, and variations as we alternately sang and listened to his mastery.
His preparation was flawless. The organ was confidently played, and as listeners and participants, we had no fear as we sang through key changes, singing hymns to both traditional and free accompaniments. We knew he was prepared, and we had nothing to fear as we sang along.
The unprepared organist
How does an unprepared organist play? Hesitantly, disjointedly, below tempo, and inconsistently. The hymn introduction sets the tone for the congregation. If there's a pause as the organist frantically searches for the last half of the introduction, or an inconsistent tempo as the organist attempts a difficult fingering or pedaling, the congregation will sense hesitation and will sing in a like manner. Even if the organist believes that their skill does not necessitate any weekly preparation, at the very least the introductions and hymns need to be played through prior to the service with the planned registration changes, to ensure that proper legato technique is observed, proper tempo is retained, and registration changes are fluent and appropriate.
An unprepared organist will accompany a hesitant congregation:
Contrast that example with this prepared introduction, where the congregation can sing with confidence:
There is no substitution for preparation. When I was first called as ward organist after a long break, I ended up practicing for 30 hours a week and still didn't feel adequately prepared. After a couple of months my skill level increased and I was able to reduce that practice time while increasing my preparation level.
As a new organist, you may feel completely inadequate. This is normal. You may not have 30 hours to practice each week. That's okay. Through prayer and diligence with the time you can make to practice, the Lord will bless you. Instead of praying to play the hymns flawlessly, pray for guidance and for the Spirit to be with you so that you can enhance the worship of your congregation. Over time, you will find that playing the organ becomes easier and eventually you will play with the confidence you desire.