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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.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Lesson 12: Prelude and Postlude

Click here for Lesson 11: Prelude Registration.

"Quiet prelude and postlude music creates an atmosphere of worship that invites the Spirit into Church meetings. The organist or pianist usually plays hymns or other appropriate music for five to ten minutes before and after a meeting. Playing hymns helps members review gospel teachings in their minds."
--Church Handbook of Instructions


In our last lesson we learned prelude and postlude registrations from Dr. Don Cook's new handout. This lesson we will cover the importance of prelude and postlude, and touch on what types of pieces are appropriate. In future articles I'll go into more specifics, but the purpose of today's lesson is not to teach technique, but to bear testimony of the importance of prelude and postlude music.

Prelude Aids Revelation

Boyd K. Packer has said, "Prelude music, reverently played, is nourishment for the spirit. It invites inspiration. That is a time to, as the poet said, 'Go to your bosom … and ask your heart what it doth know.' Do not ever disturb prelude music for others, for reverence is essential to revelation. 'Be still,' He said, 'and know that I am God.'"

This statement echoes my own feelings on prelude music. With my young, large family it rarely happens, but my favorite thing to do is to arrive to Sacrament meeting fifteen minutes early to sit and ponder as I listen to the prelude music. It doesn't have to be complex; in fact, as long as the music is well-prepared and appropriate, even the simplest pieces have the power of the organist's testimony within them.

Robert C. Oaks shared:
"[W]e should be able to sit quietly during prelude music and meditate on the beauty of the restored gospel, prepare our hearts and minds for the sacrament, and ponder the majesty of our Heavenly Father and the splendor of the Savior’s Atonement. Where better to consider such sacred and weighty matters? These manifestations of our worship will naturally be accompanied by an attitude of reverence.

"...[O]ne Sabbath day as I sat during the prelude music...[m]y wife and I had been seeking spiritual instruction on a particular question in our lives. Thankfully, the answer came through the particular prelude hymn selected. In response to the sweet melody, the Spirit clearly indicated the appropriate course for us....From this experience I gained a special appreciation for the sanctity of a quiet prelude moment."

empty chapel

What to Play

The Church Handbook of Instruction states that prelude music should be "quiet" and consist of "hymns or other appropriate music." Merrill J. Bateman has recounted an experience where the organist at stake conference was "absorbed in presenting a Bach concert," and due to the volume level of the organ and corresponding irreverence of the congregation, President Boyd K. Packer told the organist that he "had a special responsibility to bring the Spirit into the building and prepare the members for the meeting." He then asked that organist to continue his prelude from the hymnbook.

Does this experience mean that all prelude must be from the hymnbook? It does not. However, it illustrates the importance of an organist who is sensitive to the Spirit.

Boyd K. Packer has shared, "An organist who has the sensitivity to quietly play prelude music from the hymnbook tempers our feelings and causes us to go over in our minds the lyrics which teach the peaceable things of the kingdom. If we will listen, they are teaching the gospel, for the hymns of the Restoration are, in fact, a course in doctrine!"

I love to play reverent hymn arrangements for prelude music. As I play, I recall the words to the hymns. I register the organ according to the message shared, and bear testimony through song. Generally, the topic of the meeting is known to me in advance and I strive to choose hymns and other sacred pieces whose message reflects that of the upcoming meeting. Sacrament songs are also very appropriate, as they allow the congregation to reflect on Jesus Christ and the upcoming Sacramental ordinance.

When to Start

Russell M. Nelson has stated, "Those participating should be seated at least five minutes before the meeting begins so they can be spiritually prepared for a worshipful experience. During that quiet interval, prelude music is subdued. This is not a time for conversation or transmission of messages but a period of prayerful meditation as leaders and members prepare spiritually for the sacrament."

The Church Handbook of Instruction states that prelude should begin five to ten minutes prior to the meeting. I, personally, believe it should begin no later than 15 minutes prior. However, for stake conference my rule of thumb is 30 minutes before, sometimes even sooner, depending on attendance. Prelude provides the Spirit for the meeting, so as soon as members begin to arrive, I begin my prelude.



While prelude music is often spoken of, not much is shared about postlude music. Often it is included as an afterthought--since we have prelude, we've gotta have postlude, right? It's the bookend to the service.

In the Ensign, Jay E. Jensen wrote, "[P]ostlude music ... extend[s] the spirit of the meeting."

What a simple, profound statement. Postlude music is not exit music. It's not celebratory music that signifies the meeting is over and it's time to stretch our legs and visit.

Just because every one is leaving doesn't mean no one is listening.

Postlude music should reflect the spirit of the meeting. If the meeting was quiet and reverent, the postlude music should also be quiet and reverent. If the meeting was jubilant and full of praise, the postlude should also reflect jubilation and praise. It's a good idea to prepare two contrasting moods for postlude, then play the one that is most appropriate.

While prelude is a time when I, personally, prefer to play simple and reverent arrangements, during postlude I don't mind playing more complex hymn arrangements or even classical pieces. However, I always strive to listen to the Spirit--for without the Spirit, what is music?

In the New Era, Eric D. Snider shared a special experience he had with playing postlude music:
After the closing prayer, which built upon the Spirit we already felt, I played some quiet postlude music as people talked and began to filter out. I played “The Spirit of God” (Hymns, no. 2) very softly on the upper keys. It’s hard to explain, but sometimes just believing in the words of the song you’re playing, and having the Spirit with you, causes you to play so that the people listening feel what you’re feeling. You can actually express your emotions through the way you play the song. It doesn’t always happen (at least not to me), but it happened this time. I really felt what I was playing, and I really wanted to convey a message by the way I played it.

"As I played, I noticed that someone was behind me watching and listening. I finished the hymn and quickly glanced to see who it was. It was Elder Smith, someone I didn’t know very well. He was standing there, crying.

"He had already felt the Spirit during the meeting, like the rest of us, and now the music was helping to intensify it. So I kept playing.

"That’s when it struck me. For perhaps the first time, I was playing the piano, not for my own enjoyment and not to receive praise, but to help someone feel the Spirit. I actually, truly wanted to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands and serve him. In this case, the best way I could serve him was to help convey the Spirit to one of his children through music."


When to begin postlude

At the end of the closing prayer, the congregation audibly voices "Amen," which is followed by just a beat of silence before everyone starts to stand up, gather things together, or chat with a neighbor.

In my opinion, that beat of silence is extremely important in solidifying the mood of the meeting. Often times the organist is busy shuffling music and setting stops while the first members of the congregation head out of the chapel and other members begin chatting, causing this precious time to be lost. However, if the organist begins postlude during that one beat of silence, the congregation intuitively feels the Spirit of the music and members are guided to be more reverent and reflect on the music that is being played--in effect, the music allows them to reflect on the Spirit of the meeting they just attended. It is very important to seize this precious moment; waiting causes the congregation to move on to thoughts of the next meeting or to thoughts of home.


If you are not currently serving as organist, ask your ward music chair if you may play organ prelude and/or postlude for an upcoming meeting.

Continue using Hymns Made Easy, to prepare simple and reverent prelude pieces in the solo and accompaniment style. Try playing one verse with a chorus registration, playing the second verse with solo and accompaniment registration, then the third verse with a different solo and accompaniment registration.

Prepare 10-15 minutes of prelude for a Sacrament meeting with the topic of your choice, or the topic provided by your ward music chair if you are practicing to play for an actual meeting. Also prepare two 5 minute-segments of postlude music in contrasting moods, as discussed above.

In Conclusion

Prelude and postlude music is often taken for granted in the Church. However, as an organist it is important to make sure that prelude and postlude music for your congregation is well-prepared and selected with the guidance of the Spirit--in this way lives can be touched through music.

Continue on to Lesson 13: Thumb Glissando and a New Hymn.


  1. Since the Ward Organist's stewardship is to not only accompany the congregation during the hymns but to also play prelude and postlude, it is NOT the Ward Music Chairman's perrogrative to allow someone else to play. I suggest that instead, the Ward Organist be asked and that it be approved by the Bishop and/or the Counselor over music. Unless there is some other meeting that no one holds the calling, then the Music Chairman may be approached. However, can't think what meeting that would be.

  2. True, it is the ward organist's calling to provide prelude and postlude music. However, it is the ward music chair's responsibility to arrange for effective, appropriate music in sacrament meetings and other ward meetings, to supervise the ward music staff in their responsibilities, and to arrange for the performance of special musical selections in sacrament meetings.

    I feel that if someone is learning to play the organ and wishes to gain some experience by playing prelude one Sunday, going through the ward music chair is the best way to do that. (The ward music chair would then talk to the ward organist about it.) The prelude would essentially be a low-key special musical number.

  3. Having been a Ward Music Chairman, I can accept that premise IF the Ward Organist is ASKED and if it is approved by the Bishop and/or Ward Music Adviser just like ALL special musical selections. However I think it is a stretch of the interpretation of the Chairs calling, the Chair MUST be very careful not to micromanage.

  4. This is a classic example of following the letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law. Follow the spirit and direction of whomever your report to (whether it's the Ward Music Chairman or a Bishop). If you feel it's inappropriate that week to have someone else play the pre-lude or post-lude, don't. Otherwise, you may be providing an opportunity for someone to feel the spirit in a unique way through music and allowing them to practice their talents. Just like a substitute can still teach with the spirit.

    1. Bishop's micromanage all the time! I've seen this in 3 wards Ive been in. I don't see a problerm with the Music Chair giving a willing organist an opportunity, of course let the organist know however going to Bishop for everything is a waste of time. If Bishop and the Music Chair have a good and trusting relationship then that is sufficient. I'm the ward organist and I wish I had an assistant organist. Funny thing, I suggested to the Bishopric Music Advisor and Music Chair lastweek if they can call an assistant ward organist. I had already spoken to a potential who was extremely keen and fowarded a name to them to pass on to the Bishop. Lastnight I get a call from Bishops E.sec to meet with him that night. I meet with Bishop and he states my suggestion is absurd and has never ever heard of that position! He didnt say the exact words but I can tell that was what he was thinking by his body language and the questions he was asking. He asked how many hours I spend practicing and I replied 3-6 hours a week, this is the minimum hours too. He replies back that is a lot! Then asks me what I'm doing when I practice. Extremely absurd question to ask when he sees me practice on the church organ all the time and watches my feet dancing on the pedal. I patiently reply I practice my foot pedal, manual playing and carefully select registrations and like to use the organ to its full compacity. I let him know the ward that meets in the same building as ours have co-organists. I know this because I've seen their monthly rotation schedule at the organ. Then he comes back with another absurd excuse to the reason why they might have two organists. I use to rotate with 3 organists in my last ward, and I loved that. I come home thinking that was a waste of 40 minutes of my time with no sort of outcome. I open up my email inbox when I arrive home and receive an invitation from the stake for all individuals holding ward music callings to participate in a meeting for the purpose of our callings and specific needs. I will delightfully attend and share with them this exact experience. This is my one ultimate Need! Is this Need absurd? Am I absurd? With All that said, I love my Bishop. I will follow up with him real soon and kindly remind him that he has called 4 Gospel Doctrine teachers to rotate every Sunday. I know this because I see it and my wife is one of them. Im only asking for 1 assistant organist not 4. And the one I've found is 100% keen! I Love my calling. Church hierarchy is weird, but the Gospel is True, thank goodness. Oh and I Love this BLOG! Cheers and shout out to all LDS Organists!

  5. This is a cool blog.

    My 12 year old was just called to be the Ward Organist. We live right in the heart of the Wasatch and have always been short on organists. So, I decided that I should learn. However, piano lessons make my hands cramp (early arthritis pain?) and my child has been learning a whole lot faster. She is starting her fourth year of piano and is playing Bach's Inventions, Prokofiev's Tarantella and Schumann's Important Event. Plus, she has just finished four months of organ lessons and is getting toward the end of Keeler. She is willing and somewhat prepared though perhaps a bit young.

    Anyway, I bought some organ prelude music after tonight's piano recital and was looking to see if anyone had ideas about what to buy. I purchased Jorgensen's organ chains books 2, 4, and 7. I figured that the music looked easy enough plus it will give her a preview of many essential hymns. Any suggestions for our future organ prelude music purchases?

    1. That is so exciting about your daughter! We really need more trained organists in the Church and this is the perfect opportunity for her to learn!

      Nine Hymn Studies arranged for solo organ by D. Kim Croft is a perfect beginning organ prelude book. I did a review here: http://organlessons.blogspot.com/2010/01/review-nine-hymn-trios-something.html Generally these pieces should be played more than one time if being used for prelude or postlude. I loved them when I first started learning because they didn't require a lot of preparation, but they are beautiful in their simplicity. By varying the registration with the verse, they also provide some contrast.

      Another easy option is the Manual Only Hymns and Transformations I shared here:
      You can download them free, but it might be worth purchasing a printed copy if you want all of them.

      Personally, I'm not a fan of Organ Chains at all. I do, however, like Jorgensen's The New Organist series. They're not too difficult, but they have more verses and I think they're prettier and more effective for prelude. Plus, I prefer silence between pieces to reset the volume level of the chapel and to allow for a contrast in the registration.

      I love seeing the youth grow. I'm sure your daughter will do a wonderful job, especially with your help and research! Thanks for reading, and let me know if I can be of more help in any way. :)

  6. We appreciated your comments. Yes, Croft Hymn Studies helped alot the first few months. No, she didn't like the organ chains, either. She has instead taken to practicing imminent hymns for prelude; unfamiliar hymns for poatlude.

    Playing unusual postlude titles causes one to think. Some of these mystery tunes are familiar whereas others seem unheard of. There is no fear for mistakes as few know these hymns and everyone seems to be talking. This practice has also improved her sightreading skills.

    She HAS learned really fast and has been ready for an organ teacher who can take her beyond the hymns. Any suggestions on who to turn to or where to look? Our zip is 84047. Thanks!

    1. I thought I responded to this. Email carolorg1111 at gmail dot com. She should be able to help. If not, I can ask around and help you find a teacher.

  7. I've been bothered by the stake choir singing postlude music. Prelude music may sometimes be sung by the choir, but postlude music being sung by the choir? I feel that members are not even expected to remain seated while the postlude is being played (or sung)

    1. A lot of members involved with music are not familiar with the content in the "Church Handbook of Instructions", where you made the correct comment on the PRELUDE music being performed by the choir on occasion, but nothing mentioned in the handbook about the choir performing the POSTLUDE music. Thus, this issue can easily be pointed to the guidance of the Stake Presidency on how the meeting (if this is a conference session) is conducted.

  8. I've been asked to play for Stake Conference in the newly rennovated Ogden Tabernacle. I've played for Stake Conferences before but never in the tabernacle. Does anyone know what type of organ has replaced the old organ?

    1. I've asked around. Hopefully someone who knows will comment soon. Good luck!

    2. I was able to find this: http://www.organsociety.org/database/SingleOrganDetails.php?OrganID=53133 It is a rebuild of the previous pipe organ. I hope this helps!

  9. I am a new organist- In the past I've just played directly out of the hymn book for prelude (because I haven't found easy enough prelude that I can handle) I'm wondering if you experienced organists time your prelude? For example, what do you do if you are playing out of a book of arrangements and the person conducting the mtg gets up before your song is over? Or what if you finished the arrangement and need something to fill another minute until he stands up? Just wondering how you manage that. I have been searching for prelude that is different from the hymnbook, but easy enough that I could hit bass coupler to give it some dimension. I'm working on my pedals but I'm not experienced enough to sight read prelude and play the pedals.

    1. Try using Hymns Made Easy. You can play the melody on a solo manual, and use the given chord names to suggest a simple, sustained bass line for the pedals.

      D. Kim Croft's Nine Hymn Studies is probably the easiest prelude book. I recommend repeating most of the pieces to play 2 or 3 verses.

      As for timing my prelude, I have in the past, but don't anymore. My suggestion is to have one piece that you'll play last, and just work on that one piece to find repeats or early endings. This way you'll feel prepared if you need to finish early or continue longer.

      Good luck!