Welcome to The LDS Organist Blog

The purpose of this blog is to help pianists learn to become true organists. Many individuals believe that if you play the piano you can play the organ, but the instruments differ greatly. While this blog is specifically geared towards members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, much of the information shared can be utilized by all. I hope that the information I share here will help you become an effective organist in your ward, stake, or other congregation.

Feel free to browse and search this blog. It was started in January 2010 and while new posts aren't added very often, this blog contains a wealth of information and is a wonderful resource for all organists. If you're a new reader, you can find the first lesson here: Before We Begin: Acquiring the Essentials. Also, please "like" the corresponding facebook page, which is updated more often. A link is provided on the right sidebar, or you can click here.

Thanks for visiting!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Seek the Good

Growing up, I lived and breathed music. Throughout high school I played music for hours every single day, switching between the piano and my wind instrument. I was accepted into the music program at a large university, where the atmosphere was very competitive. Unfortunately, the professor was also very "elitist," to the point that she told one of her students, "I have seventh graders who play better than you." Needless to say, that experience soured me on my principal instrument, and to this day I can longer play it with the joy I once felt.

Many of the professors and students in the music department spoke negatively about certain "pop" and "non-classically trained" composers. Often the attitude was very judgmental. Unfortunately, this is a common attitude among many trained musicians.

A doctrine we learn in the Scriptures applies very aptly to musicians:
When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. -- 2 Nephi 9:28
Fortunately, during those years I discovered the organ. My organ teacher was also in my stake and I was able to study under her for some time. I knew I was learning and struggling, yet one day she told me, "I love listening to you play prelude." Now, the prelude I was playing came from Nine Hymn Studies by D. Kim Croft. These arrangements are about as simple as they get, and this accomplished organist loved listening to me play them? She has probably long since forgotten that compliment, but it has stayed with me for many, many years.

My music professor was elitist and demeaning, but my organ teacher looked for, and found, the good in all students regardless of proficiency. She inspired me, and every day I strive to emulate her example in my musical interactions with others.

Different schools of thought

I'm sure many of my readers have experienced a ward choir director who only wants people in the choir who read music and sing well. Just recently I had a ward choir director tell me that, "It's just easier that way." Others may have experienced a choir director who welcomes all--even children. There are many different schools of thought:

Leader 1 is called as stake music chairman. While she is only trained in one discipline, she is unwilling to continue to learn and will not allow others to also participate in any stake capacity. She trains new organists to play the organ incorrectly for hymn accompanying (with one hand on the great and the other on the swell) and is unwilling to listen to other suggestions. She regularly has stake choirs perform her own arrangements of hymns.

Leader 2 is not a trained musician, and while she loves music, she knows nothing about it. Instead of embracing her current level of knowledge and striving to learn more, she chooses to make a presentation to the sisters in Relief Society justifying her current level of knowledge and stating that knowledge of music is completely unnecessary in order to serve in the Church.

Leader 3 is called as stake organist, yet he does not play the organ. He chooses to study all he can, joins the local chapter of the American Guild of Organists, continues to grow and learn throughout his years of service in this capacity, and shares this information in regular stake training sessions. When he learns of trained organists in the stake he immediately befriends them and seeks an exchange of knowledge. When he moves out of state, he truly is an organist.

Leader 4 is a skilled organist and even teaches at the college level. She offers free lessons to all organists in her stake, and uplifts and inspires those around her to become better. When these students make a suggestion she weighs it carefully and thanks them for their input--she's open to continual learning and growth, regardless of the source, and freely admits when the student teaches the teacher.

I've had the opportunity to work with all four types of leaders outlined above. I also had the great privilege of residing in a stake with numerous skilled musicians. The music performed there was inspiring and beautiful. (For an example of this music, follow this link: Christmas with the Provo, UT Central Stake.)

In my experience with that stake, non-musicians were embraced and trained to become musicians. Everyone was welcome to participate, and those who did walked away richer for the experience.

Inspiring Others

Music in the Church should not be elitist. Music is for everyone.

In my life, I have heard many technically difficult pieces performed that were all about technique--they lacked heart. While the music was beautiful and technically perfect, that's all it was. The music was self-contained and didn't draw the listener in.

In visiting a relative's ward, I had the privilege of sitting a few rows in front of a developmentally delayed individual. When it was time for the hymns, she sang in full mono-tone voice, drowning out most of the other ward members in her exuberance. The Spirit filled my heart, for her singing was that of worship and was full of the Spirit.

Music doesn't have to be perfect to be moving. In fact, I often tell my choirs that singing the right notes is secondary to singing with the Spirit. For without the Spirit, we cannot touch the hearts of the congregation, and that is the purpose of music.

The First Presidency Preface to the Hymnbook states:
Inspirational music in an essential part of our church meetings...

Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns...

We hope to see an increase of hymn singing in our congregations. We encourage all members, whether musically inclined or not, to join with us in singing the hymns.
For our stake conference later this month we will have members from our deaf branch provide the musical number at the adult session. Even people unable to hear can sing hymns--sometime with even more feeling that those of us who can.

This video is very moving:

In Conclusion

My challenge to you is to listen to music and musicians in the Church with your heart, not just your ears. Strive to emulate this counsel in Proverbs:
A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels. -- Proverbs 1:5
Search for the good and speak only complementary thoughts. Everyone, no matter how unlearned, has something to teach you.

I was hesitant to start this blog, for despite my training I fully acknowledge my limitations. However, my hope is that through my articles and lessons I will help inspire my readers to greater musical experiences. I pray that I can touch the lives of my readers in some small way.

Thank you for allowing me this opportunity.

1 comment:

  1. I really appreciate this post. I love learning new skills and am naturally better at some than others. Learning the to play the organ is difficult, but fun and exciting. I appreciate the help, guidance and insight you provide so that I can be as successful as I possibly can.