I recently read a presentation by Dr. Robert Cundick from the BYU Organ Workshop in 2006, where he shared his struggles with a very small pipe organ in his ward building and a lack of reverence from his congregation prior to the service. His solution involving the use of chimes was very novel and ingenious, and I will share it here shortly.
Two Different Scenarios
In a past ward of mine, reverence was a huge issue prior to sacrament meeting. The bishopric would chat and visit before the meeting, and the congregation followed suit. I tried everything I could think of to increase reverence, but nothing seemed to work. I created a trio arrangement of all of the reverent songs from the Children's Songbook, but even playing, "Reverently, Quietly" and "The chapel doors seem to say to me, 'Sh, be still,'" didn't help. I never did find a good solution to my problem in that ward before I moved. Traditional prelude music just didn't help.
In my current ward, reverence isn't really an issue. I am not currently serving as ward organist, but the bishopric is in their seats in advance and the congregation is not loud or overly chatty before the meeting. I can hear the prelude music very well as I sit with my family waiting for the service to begin, and I believe it is very effective. I don't see a need to try anything new at this time.
When it is necessary to try something new
If you are in a ward where nothing seems to be working, and your organ has a nice-sounding chimes stop, it might be worth trying Dr. Cundick's approach:
The solution to the prelude reverence problem came from a completely unexpected source: the rarely used organ chimes!I've decided to try this approach at our adult session of stake conference, if it feels right at the time. While I will be playing prelude for 20 minutes or more prior to the meeting, before I play my last hymn, I am planning to play a very short introduction to hymn #119 "Come, We That Love the Lord," just the melody on the chimes, then play through the hymn with a flute registration on the Swell, play it again with a soprano/tenor switch with the melody soloed on the Great, and play the third verse with a different registration on the Great, timed to end right on the hour.
Remembering the "Y" [BYU] carillon sounding of the first phrase of Come, Come Ye Saints on the hour with its inevitable warm rush of heartfelt religiously centered feelings, I play that same phrase expressively on the fully amplified chimes. The congregation can glance at their Sacrament Meeting programs where, in bold type, is printed: "Come, Come Ye Saints, we now will worship God, quietly, reverently". I then play an appropriate, brief, subdued, prelude, usually hymn based, of five minutes maximum length. I time it to conclude at the printed hour for commencement of the service. The member of the Bishopric who is conducting has just arisen and then greets the congregation.
This permits the congregation to engage in the subdued greetings and demonstration of friendship traditionally heard as they enter the chapel prior to the service. The organ music thus serves as a musical Call to Worship. In the absence of chimes I would use a single 8 ft. Diapason to play the signature hymn phrase---loud enough to be clearly heard above the congregation conversation, but not overbearing.
Making the decision to try something new
If your congregation is as loud as mine was, it might be wise to begin prelude at the short end of the recommendation in the Church Handbook of Instruction and begin only five minutes prior to the meeting with a call to worship, followed by appropriate prelude music until the meeting is to begin.
Remember, the purpose of your calling is not to call attention to yourself. Rather, you are to help invite the Spirit and enhance worship for your congregation. If you choose to use this approach periodically or even every week, make sure you take the time to evaluate how it went, and make any necessary changes for future weeks.