Welcome to The Latter-day Saint Organist's Resource 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!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sunday Song: Toccata on Joy to the World

Merry Christmas!

Concert organist Martin Setchell plays the Toccata on Joy to the World from his 3-Piece Suite, on the Rieger organ in the Christchurch Town Hall, New Zealand. The score is available from www.fagus-music.com

Looking for more Christmas organ videos? Check out my posts from December 2010.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Song: Come, O Come Emmanuel

Recorded 5th of December 2009 at the Nathanael church in Berlin-Schöneberg. Organ improvisation by Maria Scharwieß over the hymn: Come, o come Emmanuel.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Song: Adeste Fideles Improvisation

Pierre Cochereau, Notre Dame's organist for 29 years until his death in 1984, improvised this series of variations on the old hymn tune for the cathedral's Christmas Eve Mass in 1970.

It was recorded at its single performance. Jeremy Filsell, Washington National Cathedral's Artist in Residence, transcribed it, & performs it here in a recording made in Liverpool in March 2000.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sunday Song: Deck Them Halls

Richard Elliott performs his arrangement of "Deck the Halls" on the LDS Conference Center Organ. Elliott performed and wrote the music for the annual Christmas concert in 2010 that featured singing sensation David Archuleta.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Song: Christmas Fantasy

Christmas Fantasy, performed by Mark Andrews in 1925.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sunday Song: Variations on Thanksgiving Hymns

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is a special installment of a Sunday Song, to celebrate Thanksgiving. Variations on Thanksgiving Hymns by Daniel R. Boyle, played by Daniel on the Rodgers 698 Allegiant Organ at Grace Lutheran Church in Elmore, Ohio.

In case you missed it, here is last year's Thanksgiving video:

For the Beauty of the Earth, played at St Matthias Church, Berlin.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Song: Thanksgiving from Three Meditations on New Hope

Thanksgiving from Three Meditations on New Hope by Thomas Åberg. Here Thomas is playing his own work at the organ in St. Jacob's church, Stockholm.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Song: Irving Berlin Medley

I hope your Veterans Day was memorable. I used to play with my high school band every Veterans Day at a National Cemetery, and we always played a medley of Irving Berlin's patriotic songs. This memory caused me to look for Irving Berlin played on the organ.

Today's Sunday Song is played on a theater organ by Dwight Thomas. He plays an Irving Berlin medley. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday Song: For All the Saints Who From Their Labors Rest

Happy belated All Saints Day!

For All the Saints Who From Their Labors Rest played on a Ruffatti organ (53 ranks of pipes, about 40 digital ranks) by a young organist.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Sunday Song: Disney's Haunted Mansion Theme

Happy Halloween! A day late, here is this week's Halloween Sunday Song.

Organist Joseph Momot plays the theme from Disney's Haunted Mansion on the 1920 Moller Pipe Organ at Our Lady of Pompeii RC Church in Lancaster, NY on 10/20/08.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Song: How Great Thou Art, gospel style

I thought it would be fun to have today's Sunday Song be a little different. This is the organ solo of the late Mr. Sammy Berfect at the 114th Annual Session of the National Baptist Convention U.S.A., Inc. in New Orleans, LA.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday Song: L'Ascension by Messiaen

Olivier Latry playing Messiaen's L'Ascension, for solo organ. This was just posted on YouTube today. I do not know what organ he's playing, but it's gorgeous:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Please use this site as a resource

I created this blog to help teach pianists to become organists. At first, I had 3-4 posts a week, which included a lesson, article, Sunday song, and sometimes a random post. Once I covered most of the initial material I had planned for this blog, I slowed down, posting as I came up with topics.

As you can see, I've tried to keep up the Sunday Songs, but the other posts have been lacking. Please feel free to browse past lessons and articles. I sat down today to post something, but I only had a few minutes, which wasn't enough to research out the topics I would like to share, so I thought I'd just let you know that I'm still here and to share a little image I created.

Don't forget about my facebook page. I'm happy to answer questions there, or you can comment on any past post. You can find the facebook link on the right sidebar.

Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sunday Song: Spitfire Prelude

Andrew Unsworth plays Spitfire Prelude by William Walton, arr. Dennis Morrell on the Mormon Tabernacle Organ.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Song: Aria on "Jewels"

After the Relief Society broadcast last night, I thought it would be nice to feature Bonnie Goodliffe for today's Sunday Song. Here she plays Dale Wood's Aria on "Jewels" at the Mormon Tabernacle Organ.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Song: Lament

Lament for organ is a free improvisation by composer and organist Frederik Magle, from the double album "Like a Flame." Performed on the pipe organ in Jørlunde church, an 11th century church close to Copenhagen, Denmark.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday Song: When Peace Like a River

Jerrod Coates performing "When Peace Like a River" on the Robert Turner Organ at the Grace United Methodist Church located in Baltimore, MD.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday Song: Widor's Toccata from V Symphony Op. 42 No. 1

88-year-old Charles-Marie Widor plays his Toccata from Symphony No. 5, Op. 42 No. 1 at St. Sulpice in Paris. This piece is often played faster than Widor plays it:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday Song: Chorale Prelude on "Welwyn"

Chorale Prelude on "Welwyn" for organ by Bradley A. Slocum, organist at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, California.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Song: Star Trek: Voyager

Played and arranged by Rob Stefanussen on a Hauptwerk Virtual Pipe Organ.

His comment: Haverhill sample set's abundance of strings and celestes made it possible to achieve an unusually orchestral sound for an organ. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday Song: Toccata in e minor

Pachelbel's "Toccata in e minor" performed by 17-year-old Collin B. at the Lagerquist Concert Hall, Mary Baker Russell Music Center at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington on the Gottfried & Mary Fuchs Organ, built by Paul Fritts & Company, 1998, Opus 18, 3 manual 54 stops.

Recording notes: Although the camera was located near the performer in the organ loft, the audio was captured by digital recorder (Edirol by Roland) positioned in the seating area of the concert hall.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sunday Song: God of Our Fathers

Before we get to today's Sunday Song, I just wanted to take a moment to say how much I enjoyed the BYU Organ Workshop this week. It is truly a life-changing experience that I look forward to each year.

Normally I don't ask for comments, but if you could take a moment today to tell me what you enjoyed about the workshop if you're ever attended, or to share why you did not attend, I would really appreciate it.

Attendance was down this year, and I'd like to use this blog to help see what can be done to increase attendance in the future.

Now on to today's Sunday Song. This is Ty Thompson, playing his own arrangement/improvisation on the Pipe Organ at the United States Naval Academy. This console is the Worlds Largest Drawknob console.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Day 1 of the BYU Organ Workshop

After registering I had some pumpkin bread and milk and now I'm sitting in the Madsen Recital Hall in anticipation of the opening session. As I looked over my preferred classes, I was very excited to see that I'll be spending my early afternoon with Linda Margetts!

My plan for today is to either attend Highlights from the History of the Organ or Playing Bach's Greatest Hits; Organ Building and Registration: Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands; practice during the lunch hour; attend the Level 4 Organ Technique and Repertoire class; Hymn Improvisation; another hour of practice; then end with Putting it all Together: Getting our Congregations to Sing.

I'm also looking forward to Lella Pomeroy's concert this evening. If you're local, you can attend the evening activities. Her concert is at 7:30 p.m. in the Madsen Recital Hall at BYU. Tomorrow evening is the Hymn Sing with Bonnie Goodliffe and it will be amazing!

Monday, August 1, 2011

At the BYU Organ Workshop

I'm currently at the BYU Organ Workshop and have enjoyed Dr. Bush's pre-workshop class. Keep an eye on my Twitter feed on the right column of this site. Technology permitting, I'll try to keep it going. Also, feel free to follow this blog on facebook. There's a link on the right-hand side as well.

Thanks for reading and if you're here too, let me know!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Song: I am black but comely, O Ye Daughters of Jerusalem

I am black but comely, O Ye Daughters of Jerusalem from Vêpres du Commun des Fêtes de la Sainte Vierge, opus 18, also known as Fifteen pieces.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Song: Come, Come Ye Saints

Come, Come Ye Saints performed on the Tabernacle Organ by Clay Christiansen, who also arranged this piece. Happy Pioneer Day!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Song: Again the Lord's Own Day is Here

Today's Sunday Song is Again The Lords Own Day Is Here (Tune - Christ Triumphant).
Richard Shireby plays the 1-manual Henry Jackson (Lincoln UK) tracker pipe organ at the church of All Saints, Hougham, Lincolnshire.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday Song: Harry Potter

In honor of the upcoming/recent release (depending on where you live) of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, here is today's Sunday Song.

Performed by Stephane Eliot at the Film Music Concert during the Cannes Film Festival in 2010 (if I understand the translation properly). Enjoy!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sunday Song: America the Beautiful

I thought I'd have the Sunday Song post on the 4th of July. Have a wonderful day!

Andrew Unsworth, organist playing the LDS Conference Center Organ; America the Beautiful by Samuel A. Ward, arr. Unsworth

And here's a bonus piece: Variations on "America" by Charles Ives, played by Aaron Robinson, organist on the "Mighty Immanuel Organ" at Immanuel Baptist Church in Portland, Maine.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sunday Song: O My Father

"O My Father" played by Alena Hall at the University of Utah Libby Gardner Concert Hall.

As a bonus, check out This is My Father's World, posted last year.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sunday Song: Amazing Grace Organ Variation

Organ Improvisation on Amazing Grace for the Orchard Park Memorial Day Presbyterian Parade Float 2010, played by István Hernek.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Churches Aim to Restore Organ After Terror Attacks

I've read this article on numerous websites. I thought I'd share with you.

Churches Aim to Restore Organ After Terror Attacks
By JEFF MARTIN Associated Press
JOHNS CREEK, Ga. May 29, 2011 (AP)

The soaring sounds of a pipe organ silenced when dust from the collapsing World Trade Center invaded its church sanctuary nearly a decade ago could soon fill a place of worship once again.

The historic instrument was dismantled and put in storage days after the terror attacks and hasn't been played since.

Now, as the 10-year anniversary of the attacks approaches, Trinity Wall Street is donating the instrument to Johns Creek United Methodist Church outside Atlanta, leaders from both churches confirmed this week.

"There are many who have prayed that it will rise again and bring glorious music once more," the Rev. D. B. Shelnutt Jr. told his congregation at Johns Creek on a recent Sunday.

He described the organ, built in Boston in 1846 and renovated several times in the years since, as "the Rolls-Royce of pipe organs."

The hope is to have it in place about a year from now, in a new sanctuary being built by the metro Atlanta church, said the Rev. Beth Brown Shugart, pastor of worship and music at Johns Creek United Methodist.

"We're just beside ourselves, we're so happy," Shugart said.

Randy Elkins, the organist at the Johns Creek church, had an idea there might be an instrument somewhere that needed a new home, and he began exploring possibilities, Shugart said.

Soon, the Johns Creek church leaders were in touch with organ builder John Bishop, executive director of the Massachusetts-based Organ Clearing House, which works to preserve vintage organs. Bishop is now working to refurbish the instrument at his workshop in New England.

A few days after Sept. 11, Bishop inspected Trinity's organ and noticed the distinct smell of jet fuel in the church offices. Dust had invaded the sanctuary, and there were fears it damaged the instrument.

After "inhaling pulverized concrete and steel" from the terror attacks, Trinity's organ was harmed extensively, according to a historical account of the instrument at Trinity's website.

But the precise extent of the damage is not yet known, partly because the instrument and its pipes have not yet been fully cleaned.

Still, Bishop said the organ was positioned in the building in such a way that it's unlikely significant amounts of the dust got into the instrument.

In the coming months, brushes will be used to clean the pipes, and a vacuum will suck out any dust.

The organ's 8,000 pipes range from the size of a pinky finger to some 18 feet and 20 feet high, Shugart said. It was stored in about 300 crates, and took three semi-trucks to move all of the pieces of the enormous instrument, she said.

It will cost the Johns Creek congregation $1 million to $1.5 million to have the instrument redesigned and installed in the new sanctuary, Shelnutt said. He estimated its value at $4 million to $5 million.

Trinity bought a new digital organ after Sept. 11.

Parts of the older organ had been stored in space the New York church has been developing into a community outreach program called Charlotte's Place, so donating the organ will clear space for the program, said Julian Wachner, the church's director of music and the arts.

Wachner had a view of the World Trade Center from his bedroom while growing up in the city.

Later, as director of music and the arts at Trinity Wall Street, he said he hoped the pipe organ "could have some sort of resurrection, some sort of future."

Now, he sees a "beautiful symmetry" in how the plans to donate the organ to Johns Creek are coming together. In the coming months, officials will work to design the instrument's new sanctuary.

"They always say the building is part of the instrument," says John Koster, conservator and curator of keyboard instruments at the National Music Museum in Vermillion, S.D., and a professor of music at the University of South Dakota.

Shelnutt recounted the organ's history during a recent sermon at his Georgia church, where he announced it would be given to the congregation.

"For years, great organists who have played this renowned instrument have asked the question, 'Will it ever rise again?" he said. "Is there a tomorrow for this great instrument?'"

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Song: Battle Hymn of the Republic

Brian M Jones plays the mighty AHLBORN GALANTI at Corpus Christi Church Stechford Birmingham UK.
Extemporization around a theme by American composer William Steffe. Make sure you watch both videos:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Real Life: Continuing to play after the sacrament hymn is over

I recently received a question from an anonymous reader:
I am in a huge ward with priests that take a LONG time to complete breaking the bread. I usually have to slow the sacrament hymns down quite a bit to avoid having to keep playing them over and over again waiting for the priests to finish.

One particular song: #184 - Upon the Cross of Calvary - gets over way to quickly for this ward and I've had to re-play it as many as 3 times.
"Is it appropriate and/or do you know of any sheet music or other variations on the hymn that are available, to be able to not have to play the exact hymn over and over?

That situation can be a problem! First off, slowing down the hymn may seem like a good idea, but don't slow it down so much that it drags. Try to stay within the posted metronome markings.

If I were in your shoes, here's what I would do:

First, how many priests are breaking bread? I've been in wards where they had additional hands to help break the bread. I'm not sure what the protocol is on this, but you could check with your Bishop, expressing your concerns about the need to continue playing for so long. Three priests seems to be standard where I currently live.

Second, David, another reader shared, "Our stake music chairman is advising that there is nothing in the handbooks that says the organist has to keep playing until the priests are finished. She thinks that the silence after the hymn is sung can add to the spirit of the meeting." This is true; I didn't see anything in the handbook addressing this topic. Often my organist will take this approach. However, it doesn't take long for the bread to be broken in my ward, so the silence is brief.

Third, make sure your congregation sings all of the appropriate verses. I am always frustrated when I'm in a congregation that doesn't sing the verses printed below the staff if the priests are still breaking bread. Don't deny your congregation that opportunity.

Fourth, approach the hymn from the beginning again. Read the text of each verse and plan how you can play the hymn to best share the message with your congregation. For example, here is a way to play hymn 184. After the congregation is finished singing, play verse 1 on a softer registration. Play verse two, just the soprano and alto. Then play verse three on a slightly fuller registration. Then stop. There are only three verses to this hymn, so only play three verses after the congregation is finished, and if the priests are still breaking bread, allow some silence for reflection. Alternately, you could just play one post-verse, and then allow silence. Follow the Spirit and you will know what to do and how to vary it each Sunday.

You asked about the appropriateness of playing sheet music or other variations of the sacrament hymns. Personally, I believe the sacrament hymns should remain simple and pure. However, I think varying the hymn while staying true to the page is perfectly fine. Some other possibilities (which may necessitate being written out in advance) for post-verses include:
  • Only play the soprano/alto or soprano/tenor lines for a verse or section of a verse.
  • Play all four parts on the manuals with no pedals for a verse or section of a verse.
  • Play the first phrase with just the soprano, then a phrase S/A or S/T, then a phrase SAT, then a phrase SATB.
  • Play the melody in octaves for a verse.
  • Play soprano and alto on a softer registration with matching pedal registration playing the bass and play the tenor for a phrase or a verse on a more prominent registration, either as written or an octave higher. Hymn 187, God Loves Us, So He Sent His Son works well this way. Make sure the tenor line is interesting before utilizing this approach.
  • Play the alto, tenor and bass on a softer registration and solo the melody on a more prominent registration.
  • Play a verse with the alto up an octave (you will probably need to write this out in advance).
  • Add a pedal point for a phrase. A pedal point is the tonic or dominant note in the key, held in the pedal. One good place to add this technique is during a soprano/alto duet in a hymn such as 178, O Lord of Hosts; play an Eb in the pedals starting with beat one on the second line until the bass comes back in.
In summary, I recommend approaching this situation as an opportunity to help your congregation reflect on the words which they just finished singing. Sometimes we don't reflect on the meaning of the words in the hymn as we should while we sing, and it's through later reflection that we find a deeper meaning. In playing these post-verses, make sure you breathe properly, as taught in this article, so that the meaning can be made clear in the minds of your congregation.

After implementing some of these suggestions, please check back and let me know how things go!

If you have a question you'd like me to answer, either share a comment on this blog, ask over on my facebook page, or email ldsorganistblog (at) gmail (dot) com.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday Song: Rhumba

Rhumba by Robert Elmore is performed by Robert Plimpton at the Spreckels Organ Pavillion in Balboa Park, San Diego.

This organ is very unique and it's a fun piece. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Line Upon Line

Have you ever learned from someone who seems to know exactly what you need and when you need it? My organ teacher constantly amazes me. When I began studying with her after a break of over a decade, my technique was pretty poor when it came to hand position and wrist movement.

Instead of overwhelming me with everything I was doing wrong, she first had me work on quieting my right wrist.

When I had that under control, we worked on my left wrist.

Once I was doing okay there, we worked on me pressing the keys with less force.

Then we worked on starting to curve my fingers and not approaching the keyboard with flat fingers.

Once again we had to work on quieting my wrists.

Then we started to work on pulling my hands forward and curving my fingers.

Every time I had plenty of time to master the concept and didn't realize how far I still had to go. Each success was met with praise and encouragement. Now I'm working on an excercise where my fingers stay in front of the black keys at all times.

As I practiced that exercise this morning, I couldn't help but contrast this experience with another teacher I had in the past:

As a self-taught flute major, I had issues with some technical aspects of playing the flute. My flute teacher was trying to help me, but she lacked the depth and experience necessary to teach me properly. Instead of changing things "line upon line," at every lesson I was given four or five new things to try, then the next week I was given four or five different things to try. At the end of the semester, I felt like I couldn't even play the flute anymore!

When learning the organ, or teaching others to play the organ, make small and simple changes. Don't overwhelm yourself or your student with huge changes. Start small and before you know it, great things will happen.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

UCLA Organist Christoph Bull

In recent weeks I've shared information about the three full-time Mormon Tabernacle Organists. I found a video of UCLA organist Christoph Bull that I thought was interesting, so I thought I'd highlight this unconventional organist today.

According to his UCLA bio, Christoph Bull likes organ music, rock music and rocking organ music. He hails from Mannheim, Germany, and has been University Organist and organ professor at UCLA since 2002. He’s also Principal Organist at First United Methodist Church in Santa Monica and concertizes internationally. Most recently he inaugurated the new organ series at Segerstrom Hall (Pacific Symphony) and Villa Aurora. He also completed the premiere recording of the pipe organ at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

He improvised his first tunes on the piano at age five and started playing church services, organ concerts and rock shows at age twelve. He’s been at home in the worlds of classical and rock ever since practicing the organ in the choir loft and with his first rock band in the basement of the same church.

In L.A., he has performed at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Royce Hall, and First Congregational Church, but also at the Whisky A Go Go, the Viper Room, the Roxy, Cinespace and Hotel Café.

With violin player Lili Haydn he opened up for Cindy Lauper, with Sitar player Nishat Khan he performed in India. He has played the pipe organs at the Catholic Cathedrals of Los Angeles, Salzburg, Saint-Denis and Moscow.

In 2004, Dr. Bull was a featured recitalist and workshop presenter at the National Convention of the American Guild Of Organists. Since then, he’s performed at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles as a solo performer and with the L.A. Master Chorale.

He has also accompanied Silent Movies on the pipe organ and collaborated with Interpretive Painter Norton Wisdom and videographers Benton C. Bainbridge and S-Video. In 2006 and 2007, he received an ASCAPlus Award for innovative concert programming.

He has worked with the L.A. Master Chorale and Grammy-Award-winning Southwest Chamber Music, but also with Bootsy Collins and George Clinton of Parliament Funkadelic.

Outside of music, Christoph has run the L.A. Marathon three times and won the German youth championship in baseball with this team, BC Tornados Mannheim. Other accomplishments include reading the whole Bible, watching all Star Wars movies in a row in chronological order of the story line, and listening to all songs released by Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr.

In this video, UCLA organist Christoph Bull talks about his legacy at Royce (he's only the fifth UCLA organist in history), how to make beautiful music on such a complicated music machine, playing Disney Hall, and why his concerts mix the Beatles with Bach:

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday Song: Organ Improvisation - Milan

Paolo Springhetti's Organ Improvisation performed at "Annunciazione" Church in Milan, on April 16th 2011.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sunday Song: Sanctuary of the Heart

Today I have a theater organ Sunday Song for you: Sanctuary of the Heart by Albert Ketèlbey being played on the Paramount Virtual Theatre Pipe Organ by Steve Schlesing.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Richard Elliott: Enjoying the Music of Life

On April 22nd, the new Church News section of LDS.org posted the final article in a series of three on the Tabernacle organists. This article is entitled Richard Elliott: Enjoying the Music of Life.

Here is the accompanying video, followed by the text of the article:

When Richard L. Elliott seats himself at the polished cherrywood of the Conference Center organ in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, the 7,667 wind-powered pipes translate the music of his soul into something others can enjoy.

Sometimes the music emanates in rich waves, as when he accompanies the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing the well-loved hymn “This Is My Father’s World.”

At other times the music crashes through, like it does during his ground-vibrating, finger-snapping arrangement of “Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” an African-American spiritual that requires the agile foot pedal technique for which he has gained some fame.

But whether he’s playing the organ, dealing with life’s curves, learning, or simply living, Brother Elliott knows that continual work and preparation are key components to one's time here on earth.

“There are a lot of parallels between playing the organ and what we go through in life,” Brother Elliott said. “Probably the most important one is that [life] takes constant effort and preparation. It’s not enough to cram. . . . It’s better to work consistently over a long period of time.”

Effort and Preparation in Music

The ease with which Brother Elliott handles everything from an electric piano to the Conference Center’s five-manual organ comes from more than 40 years of practice and musical education.

He fell in love with music as a child, listening to his mother play the piano. The church he attended growing up on the East Coast of the United States introduced him to gospel music, which still influences his jazzed-up and oft-improvised musical arrangements.

As a teenager he played the organ—complete with flaming speakers, smoke machines, and flash pots—for a rock band. During one concert at a junior high school the fire department showed up, and the local parks and recreation management was asked to blacklist the group.

“I think every musician that serves with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has to find what his or her unique voice is,” Brother Elliott said. “My background was in a variety of music styles. . . . When I came here I had to think about what I was bringing that was unique but would benefit the Choir and the Church, so I’ve tried to play to those things.”

Brother Elliott came to the choir in 1991, after earning a bachelor of music degree at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Richard Elliott received his bachelor of music degree from the Curtis Institute of Music, and master's and doctoral degrees from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, USA.

Many agree that Brother Elliott’s “voice” as the Principal Organist for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is authentic and easily recognizable from his 20 years as a Temple Square organist.

Each of the five choir organists is heavily involved in rehearsing with the choir, playing for the weekly Music and the Spoken Word broadcasts, and performing the daily organ recitals on Temple Square. The group includes full-time organists Brother Elliott, Clay Christiansen, and Andrew Unsworth, and part-time organists Bonnie Goodliffe and Linda Margetts.

“We always try to put in the time on the organ and do the all the things we were taught to do in our music lessons, but we also try to do the spiritual preparation as well,” Brother Elliott said. “We feel that our job here is to uplift and inspire, but . . . we also feel that our job is to testify through our music.”

The most rewarding feeling, he said, is the confirmation that what he’s playing is communicating the message it’s meant to.

“Every time I get out there in front of the choir and hear those voices, it’s hair-raising,” he said. “There are times still when I’m overcome by emotion—not just by the size of the sound or just how good they are, but by the spirit that they bring and the music that they sing, which really has the potential to change lives.”

Effort and Preparation in Adversity

A potentially life-changing event occurred in Brother Elliott’s own life in 2009, when the tendon of his left bicep ruptured. His options were to leave it be and regain mobility, but with lessened strength in that arm, or to undergo surgery, which involved the potential of nerve damage.

“It was pretty scary as a professional musician contemplating what might be ahead,” he said.

He turned it over to the Lord, with faith that whatever the outcome, he would accept it.

He chose to risk the surgery, and while recovering he found other productive ways to spend his time, especially practicing his technique on the organ's pedal keyboard.

That effort ended up being the genesis of the organ solos he has performed at the Tabernacle Choir’s Christmas concert over the past few years.

Though his experience with orchestral composition was limited, he also used that time to study orchestration and arrange a piece for the choir, at choir director Mack Wilberg’s request.

Since the surgery he has recovered full strength and use of his arm, without any long-term problems.

“My recovery was a ratification that my gift had come from Heavenly Father and that He wasn’t finished using me as an instrument in His hands,” Brother Elliott said. “But I also think that had things turned out otherwise, I would have found another way to serve and would have found comfort in that.”

Effort and Preparation in Conversion

When Brother Elliott was 18 years old, he was riding in the car with his mother one day when she pointed out the “DC Mormon Temple.” Little did he know then that he would be married for time and all eternity in that same temple 12 years later.

Shortly after his first glimpse of the temple, while pursuing his undergraduate degree in Philadelphia, he was introduced to the Church by several Mormon classmates.

The Book of Mormon made sense to him; he saw that it coincided with the Bible, which he had studied in his youth. A stake missionary gave him the missionary discussions and instructed him in recognizing the Spirit.

“Finally, I just had to get down on my knees and pray about whether the Church was true,” he said. “When I felt that feeling, I knew I had to make that move.”

Shortly Afterwards, in May 1980, he joined the Church.

Effort and Preparation in Life

In 1991, when Brother Elliott first became an organist for the choir, President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) charged him to be the very best organist he could be.

“I still feel like I haven’t done that,” Brother Elliott said. “I’ve made some strides, but I can see ways I haven’t done everything I can do, so I feel a sense of urgency now to work harder and spend more time doing the things that are most important.”

As he works to improve, he said he draws strength and instruction from the gospel.

“In music, it’s not so bad if you stumble—it’s just a bad note,” he said. “But it’s a wonderful thing that when we stumble in life, we have the Lord to help us repent and do better. He never opens the door too far. . . . It’s always just enough to see the next step. It’s worked well for me to take one step at a time and seek inspiration at each of those steps.”

While Brother Elliott may not be able to see more than a step ahead with certainty, he trusts that as he puts forth the necessary effort and preparation, the music he produces will continue to enrich his time here on earth, as well as that of all who hear it.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sunday Song: Pirates of the Caribbean medley

For something a little different:

This is a 'Pirates of the Caribbean' Medley played live on the Roland Music Atelier Organ, by Britt Cawthon. Nothing is pre-recorded, and no tracks or automatic accompaniments are used. Everything heard is being played on either the manuals or the pedal board. The percussion comes from the keys on the lower keyboard or the pedal board.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Something funny...

(I know most of my posts have been videos lately--I'm contemplating a few articles/lessons for the near future. Stay tuned!)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Clay Christiansen Leads a Life of Music

On April 16th, the new Church News section of LDS.org posted the second article in a series of three on the Tabernacle organists. This article is entitled Clay Christiansen Leads a Life of Music.

Here is the accompanying video, followed by the text of the article:

Mormon Tabernacle Choir organist Clay Christiansen can’t remember a time he didn’t want to be a musician. He recalls as an eight-year-old boy watching his aunt play the organ in their newly finished meetinghouse.

“I didn’t get to play [the organ]—I just sat and watched,” Brother Christiansen said. “I was so envious of Aunt Jean . . . and I could hardly wait to get my hands on it.”

By the time Brother Christiansen was 11, he was able to play the hymns on the piano. Because organists were hard to come by, he was asked to be the organist for the opening exercises in priesthood meeting even before he was ordained a deacon.

Although Brother Christiansen has continued over his lifetime to play both piano and organ, becoming attached to the sound of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir led him to focus on the organ. When he was 13, he began taking weekly lessons from J. J. Keeler, who started the organ program at Brigham Young University. He studied with Brother Keeler for nine years, until he graduated from BYU with a degree in organ performance.

Watching and hearing Brother Christiansen play complicated pieces on the organ—with feet and hands flying and quick reaches to pull or close organ stops—might be enough to inspire any aspiring organist. But acquiring these skills came through hard work and dedication.

“In the beginning, both feet did not want to play, and my left hand wanted to be doing the same thing that my feet were doing—playing the same notes,” Brother Christiansen said. The key, he said, is to practice, which he still does for two to four hours each day.

But practicing, even for someone as skilled as Brother Christiansen, can become tiresome, especially, he said, when he is working on a piece that is particularly active and demanding, or when sitting on a hard bench for long periods of time. “Then it’s good to get up, walk around, take a drink of water, take a deep breath, and come back to it,” he said.

Brother Christiansen’s practice has paid off—he has received invitations to play on a number of famous organs in Europe. But no matter where he goes, the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, is home.

“Like most LDS organists, [I had] a dream of someday playing at the Tabernacle, but that was tempered by the reality that there were only three full-time Tabernacle organists, and you couldn’t stake your life on the chances,” Brother Christiansen said. “It was a complete surprise when they asked me.”

It was 29 years ago, while he was teaching students at St. Mark’s Cathedral in downtown Salt Lake City (where he had been employed as organist choirmaster for 10 years) that he received a visit from the head Tabernacle organist, Robert Cundick.

“Brother Cundick asked if I could step down with him for a minute,” Brother Christiansen said. “He asked me how I would feel about coming over and being a Tabernacle organist. A few days later he appeared and said, “You’ve got an interview with President [Gordon B.] Hinckley (who was then one of the Counselors in the First Presidency) in half an hour.”

Twenty-nine years later, playing the organs in the Tabernacle and the Conference Center are still surreal experiences to him. “I enjoy it as much as I ever have,” he said.

Brother Christiansen says that the thing he loves most about music is the sound—and the effect it has on its listeners.

“There is something about the sound that attracts,” he said. “I think it’s because it tugs at the heartstrings. There is a unity in beautiful harmony that I think reminds us of the harmony of heaven, from where we all came—our heavenly home. Music reminds us of home, I think.”

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sunday Song: Jesus Christ is Risen Today

Today's bonus Sunday Song is Easter Hymn, also known as Christ the Lord is Risen Today, played by "Jim," an organ installer with Forbes Organ Company in Alabama playing a new Allen Quantum Organ.

Sunday Song: He Is Risen

Happy Resurrection Morning!

Today's first Sunday Song is Doug Bush's free accompaniment to He Is Risen, played by yours truly:

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Easter!

That Easter Morn, played by yours truly. This was part of a hymn sing I played for, with an interlude between the verses. I made this quick video last week and thought I'd share:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

That Easter Morn Introduction--video

On Friday, April 15th I shared with you a free introduction to That Easter Morn. Today I'm sharing a video clip of this introduction. Enjoy!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Andrew Unsworth Fulfilling an Organist's Dream Job

On April 7th, the new Church News section of LDS.org posted an article entitled Andrew Unsworth: Fulfilling an Organist's Dream Job. It's an interesting article to read.

Here is the accompanying video, followed by the text of the article:

Andrew Unsworth, one of the three full-time organists on Temple Square, was born into a musical family, so it isn’t surprising that he would become a professional musician. The surprising part may be that as a child he grew up listening to and playing along with organ records—at his own request.

The organ isn’t the first instrument a typical child might choose to dream of playing. However, from the first time he heard the low bass sounds of the organ, he knew exactly what instrument he wanted to play.

Because playing the organ requires using hands and feet, Brother Unsworth played piano until he was tall enough to reach the pedals. “At 14 I switched over to the organ and haven’t looked back since,” he said.

Career Crisis

After studying organ performance and pedagogy as an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, USA, Brother Unsworth felt that he faced a bit of a career crisis.

“As a kid I would watch the Tabernacle organists play,” he said. “I envied the instrument and I dreamed of actually someday working here on Temple Square, but there are only three full-time organists here and I figured that’s not the kind of thing you can bank your life and career on.”

Realizing there might not be many opportunities for organ performance, he went to graduate school and earned a PhD in music history from Duke University in North Carolina, USA, preparing to teach at the university level.

When Brother Unsworth learned that an organ performance position was open at the Catholic Church’s Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, he applied and was appointed.

Finally able to seat his knowledge and training on the organ bench professionally, Brother Unsworth was able to “cut his teeth” as an organist. He learned how to play big services and accompany choirs on-the-job at the cathedral.

“I really enjoyed playing at Cathedral of the Madeleine,” Brother Unsworth said. “The instrument is very nice. The acoustics of the cathedral are in some ways ideal for organ. The music that the choir does—and that the organist is expected to play—is top rate; it’s amazing.”

Though he enjoyed his job with the cathedral and a brief stint later teaching at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas, USA, he never forgot his dream of working on Temple Square.

“I had some spiritual experiences at the cathedral,” he said, “but I always felt a little bit torn. . . . While I admire and respect [everyone I associated with at the cathedral], I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I wanted to be able to use my talents in the service of my own religion.”

A Difficult Dream

After spending 30 years as a Tabernacle organist, John Longhurst, known especially for composing the music to “I Believe in Christ” (Hymns, no. 134) and for his role in acquiring the organ in the Conference Center, retired in 2007.

With a Tabernacle organist spot now open, Brother Unsworth was in the right place at the right time. After many interviews, playing tests, and composition sessions, he was appointed as the 13th full-time organist to serve on Temple Square, beginning his service in July 2007.

Performing with the Tabernacle Choir for the last three years, Brother Unsworth has continued his progression as an organist. He has most enjoyed the opportunity to learn from and play with the musicians he works with.

“The other organists are among the finest people and musicians that I know, and the other choir staff—the musical directors, the choir, and the orchestra members—are fantastic people. It’s a privilege to get to work with them,” he said.

The job on Temple Square offers many experiences, most of which have taken time to grow into. It isn’t easy to accompany the 360-member, world-renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir, especially when they usually practice only once a week.

Brother Unsworth feels he is still becoming accustomed to the Tabernacle organ and its 11,623 pipes. He has also had to learn to play on the Conference Center’s 7,667-pipe organ.

“I’m still learning to play with [the Tabernacle] organ. Sometimes, I’m experimenting with the organ and I don’t get it quite right. I miss the one chance I have to get it right,” he said.

The pace is frenetic for a Temple Square organist. In addition to accompanying the choir, Brother Unsworth and the other Temple Square organists also perform in one or two recitals each week, go on tour with the choir, and arrange music. But among all the duties of a Tabernacle organist, one performance seemed more terrifying than anything else to Brother Unsworth.

“When I was first appointed I didn’t sleep for a couple of days, primarily because I was thinking about what it would be like to play for general conference,” he said. “However, the first time I did it, I took comfort in the fact that the spirit of the meeting was so strong that it compensated for the jitters that I was feeling at the time.

“And since I’ve played conference a number of times since then, I take comfort in the fact that the Lord takes an interest in conference. He wants conference to go well. We work hard to prepare, but then we rely on the Lord to help see us through.”


The American Guild of Organists is a professional organization for organists in the United States. At the time of its founding in 1896 there were not many universities that offered degrees in music. Because of this, the guild offered the opportunity for its members to take examinations of their musical skills and earn certificates, demonstrating their abilities and competence to potential employers.

Many universities now offer degrees in music, but the guild still offers these exams for its members. As a member of the guild, Brother Unsworth hoped to demonstrate his ability and took the exams in June 2010 at the University of Utah.

The two-day exams, a comprehensive assessment of one’s musical abilities, test an organist’s performance abilities in transposition, improvisation, and harmonization. The exams also feature written facets, such as analysis, composition, and ear training.

“They were tough, so I was very pleased when I was notified in July that I passed, and not only had I passed, I won a couple of awards,” said Brother Unsworth.

He received the Associateship certificate, awarded to the organist with the highest exam score on his or her particular certificate, and the S. Lewis Elmer Award, awarded to the person with the highest score of any of the 82 test-takers. Winning one award is a tremendous accomplishment, but winning two awards is a rare feat.

“I was flabbergasted, to be honest,” Brother Unsworth said.


Brother Unsworth could not be happier performing his dream job and doesn’t plan to leave anytime soon. The job can be difficult at times, but the opportunity to play for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has him counting his blessings.

“It’s thrilling,” he said. “There are times when I’ll play the second half of a choir rehearsal, so the choir is all there, the director is there, and I walk out and see everyone standing there and I think, ‘Holy cow. What am I doing?’ I still pinch myself that I get to do this.”

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday Song: All Glory Laud and Honor - Palm Sunday

Highlights of Palm Sunday and the hymn "All Glory Laud and Honor" from Trinity Lutheran Church, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, from April 5, 2009. The organ's specifications are found here. Feel free to stop the video after the organ solo, if desired:

Friday, April 15, 2011

That Easter Morn Introduction

PLEASE NOTE: The first version posted was missing a "D" in the last measure. Please ensure you have three D's in the last measure. Thanks!

I have a treat for you today! Here is a free introduction to That Easter Morn:

Here is the arrangement, free to you over at Google Docs.
198 Introduction


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Song: All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name

All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name performed by J. Cleaveland on the Calvary Grand Organ, Charlotte, NC. (MP Moller Opus 11739 V/205)

This hymn tune is known as "Jehovah, Lord of Heaven and Earth" in the LDS hymn book.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Slow and Steady

I leaned a hymn for stake conference where I soloed out the melody some time ago and was excited to play it. However, the more I "practiced" the worse it got, until I couldn't play it at all. I didn't know where I went wrong! I ended up not being able to solo out the soprano after all, and was disappointed that despite all of my practicing, I went downhill.

A few months later, I had to learn a difficult free accompaniment for a Christmas hymn sing, and started slowly with a metronome. I worked diligently and patiently and was able to play the two verses of free accompaniment with confidence and few to no mistakes.

I've been working up a piece for an Easter hymn sing that's very, very difficult. First I practiced the manuals alone with a metronome. I started with the sixteenth note at 50 bpm. When I began to feel comfortable with the manuals and had worked it up to about double that tempo, I began practicing the pedals with the right hand, then the left hand, then combined. I think I had to start the tempo even slower than the sixteenth note at 50 bpm.

It's been a very slow process, but it's the only way I'd be able to learn this piece. No matter how hard the piece is, it can be conquered, slowly and steadily.

I'm currently playing the piece with the sixteenth note at 200 bpm and am dropping to the eighth note at 100 bpm. I only have to double my speed one more time and I'll have it!

Pardon my extraneous movements (I'm working on them), but here is my progress so far:

I've learned that taking the time to practice and learn a piece correctly doesn't really take any more time than practicing too fast and learning mistakes that need to be unlearned. The problem with my soprano solo was that I was trying to flub my way through it, and it backfired on me.

Practicing with a metronome offers measured improvement. Today I increased a piece 20 bpm in one short practice session. When I get discouraged with how little time I feel I've had to practice, I can actually see how far I've come. A metronome allows me to make good progress in short spurts of practice time.

Give it a try!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Song: Fanfare for the Common Man

Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common man played by Douglas Major accompanied by percussion at the Washington National Cathedral.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The more you know, the less it seems you know

When I started this blog just over a year ago, I felt like I knew what I was doing. I had studied the organ off and on for about 16 years and had a good grasp of the basics. I felt confident in my abilities.

However, after about six months, I ran out of teaching ideas and realized how little I actually knew.

I attended the BYU Organ Workshop in August of 2010 and began earnest study again with Carol Dean, a Colleague in the American Guild of Organists. I immediately felt like I knew nothing. While I did have a good grasp of the basics, I also had some technique and posture issues that I had been unaware of before. All of a sudden my vision had been increased.

Before, I was seeing my organ playing through the eyes of a regular LDS church organist. I did have a good grasp of organ technique. After I began this blog, attended the BYU Organ Workshop, and started studying in depth, my vision was expanded and I began to see where my abilities fell on a much larger scale. All of a sudden, I saw every limitation. I realized that I knew very little compared to "real" organists, and think that I better understand how Moses felt when his vision was increased. Carol was always very complimentary, but I didn't feel as though I deserved those compliments.

Today I had a really good lesson. I have been practicing regularly, and my Bach and Buxtehude pieces are starting to "live." Baroque organ music is finally clicking in my brain, and I'm so excited!

While I might not feel this way tomorrow, today I feel like a true organist. I'm regaining confidence while acknowledging how much I still have to learn, and it feels really good.

While the organ can be overwhelming, especially when you first begin your study and realize just how different the organ and the piano really are, hang in there. For a while every time you learn something new you may feel like you know less than you did when you started. Eventually that feeling will start to fade and you will find confidence you didn't know you could have.

Follow Me on Twitter!

I just signed up for a Twitter account. Every now and then I have a great insight I'd love to share, and I think sending a Tweet is probably the best way to go about it. So here goes!

Follow LDSOrganist on Twitter

Monday, March 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Bach!

Last year I wrote a biographical sketch about Bach. In honor of his birthday, and all he contributed to organ playing, I'd like to share it again with you today. Don't miss the link at the end to Bach's Life in Pictures.

Happy Birthday, Bach!

Johann Sebastian Bach was born on March 21st 1685. His father was a higher-ranking musician and his family was well-known for their musical talents. His father taught him to play the violin and harpsichord, and his uncle introduced him to the organ.


At the young age of nine, Johann became an orphan when his mother died, and shortly thereafter his father also passed away. Johann Sebastian went to live with his brother, Johann Christoph, who was an organist. Here, Johann Sebastian began a formal study of the organ.


At he age of fifteen, Johann Sebastian Bach and a friend traveled to Lüneburg, where Johann sang in the Mattins Choir, played violin at the Court of Celle, and had the opportunity to study some of the best examples of German church music in his school's large music library. He was exposed to French music at this time, and it is believed that he also studied under organist Georg Böhm.

Less than three years later, he sought a post as an organist at a church that was currently under construction in Arnstadt, near Sangerhausen. While awaiting the completion of this organ, he played the violin in a small chamber orchestra of Duke Johann Ernstand in Weimer. Here he was exposed to Italian music. At the end of 1703, Bach received his post as organist at the age of 18. His organ had two manuals and 23 speaking stops.

Young Adult

In October of 1705, Bach took a leave of absence to hear the organist Dietrich Buxtehude. He was so impressed with this organist that he greatly overstayed his approved leave of absence in order to listen and learn from this master. When Bach did return to his post, he employed these new virtuoso techniques which confused his congregation, much to the chagrin of his employers. He was further reprimanded when he refused to work with a boys' choir he was asked to train, and when he was caught entertaining a young lady in the church. Amid this unrest, Bach learned of the death of an organist in a town with a rich musical history. He applied for the job and was hired on very favorable terms.

Early Married Life

It was here, in Mühlhausen, where Bach married his second cousin, Maria Barbara, in October 1707, and began composing vocal church music with much success. After just a year, Bach began looking for a more promising position.

He returned to Weimar where, as member of the chamber orchestra and as organist to the Court, his position paid double the salary of his previous post. Soon after his arrival his daughter, Catharina Dorothea, was born. Most of Bach's major organ compositions stem from this period, and he quickly became known as one of the best German organists.

In 1717 a feud broke out among the Dukes in Weimar. Bach was consequently passed over for a promotion, ended up in prison for a month (where he wrote the 'Orgelbüchlein'), and was dismissed from his post "without honor," in order to take the position of Capellmeister in Köthen.

Joy and Tragedy

The position of Capellmeister was the highest rank given to a musician during the baroque age. Bach's employer was a Calvinist, so religious music was non-existent. However, his master enjoyed secular cantatas and instrumental music featuring the latest styles and fashions from throughout Europe, and spent a great deal of money on his "band." Here Bach wrote much of his chamber music and enjoyed a stress-free time filled with music.

Unfortunately, upon returning home from a journey in 1720, Bach learned that his wife had died and was buried in his absence, leaving behind his four living children (in addition to three children who had died in infancy).

Bach continued with his work and in December 1721, he married soprano Anna Magdalena, she at the age of 20, and he 36. In the twenty-eight years of happy marriage that followed, thirteen additional children were born to the Bach family, though few of them survived through childhood.

One year after Bach's happy marriage his employer also married, but his wife was very anti-music. Bach soon sought employment elsewhere.

Bach's final city

Bach moved to Leipzig on May 22, 1723, where for the remaining 27 years of his life he was to live and work as Cantor, or Directore Chori Musici Lipsiensis - Director of Choir and Music in Leipzig. Bach was their third choice, after Georg Philipp Telemann and Christoph Graupner both refused the post.

Bach and his family lived at the school of St Thomas, where Bach was responsible for organizing the music in the four principal churches of Leipzig; forming choirs for these churches from the 54 pupils of the Thomasschule; and instructing the more musically talented boys in instrument playing.

Bach eventually became dissatisfied with his low-paying position, and in 1730 aired his grievances to the Leipzig city council. He longed to escape the 'trouble, envy and persecution' he experienced in Leipzig. Fortunately, in 1729 he took over the direction of the Collegium Musicum (Music Society), a secular orchestra of students and professional musicians founded by Telemann in 1702, where he often performed with his sons. Changes at the school also alleviated some of his concerns.

Later years

Bach was able to become slightly entrepreneurial in a society where musicians were often treated as slaves. In his later years he entertained visiting musicians from Germany and beyond; became a member of the Mitzler society; revised many of his earlier works; composed the Mass in b minor, the Canonic Variations, the Goldberg Variations, and The Art of the Fugue; among many other endeavors.

Eventually his eyesight began to fail him, and he composed his last chorale fantasia, based on the chorale "Before Thy Throne O Lord I Stand".

Johann Sebastian Bach died the evening of the 28th of July, 1750, after suffering a stroke and severe fever. He was buried in St John's Cemetery in an unmarked grave.

In conclusion

According to Wikipedia, "Bach's abilities as an organist were highly respected throughout Europe during his lifetime, although he was not widely recognised as a great composer until a revival of interest and performances of his music in the first half of the 19th century. He is now regarded as the supreme composer of the Baroque, and as one of the greatest of all time."

Happy birthday, Bach.

You may also be interested in reviewing Bach's Life in Pictures.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lesson 26: When to Tie or Break, Accents, and Strong/Weak Beats

Click here for Lesson 25: Leave the Piano Hands at the Piano.

As I was teaching a stake organ training last month, many in attendance had the same perception when it came to organ playing, "You try to hold every note down you can so that there aren't any breaks in your playing." Hopefully the readers of my blog know by now that this is not true. However, I thought it would be a good time to review some legato technique and the reasons behind it.

Accents on the Organ

Before continuing with this lesson, however, we need to understand how accents work on the organ.

How do you accent on the piano? Simply by hitting the keys harder. More force creates an accented note or notes.

Does this work on the organ?

No matter how hard you press the keys, you won't hear any accents on the organ, so don't try! How do we accent notes on the organ? Through silence, either before a note, after a note, or both.

With that understanding, let's continue on with this lesson.

Repeated Notes Should Generally Repeat

When a note repeats, it should usually have a moment (or more) of silence as the finger lifts before being repeated. Generally, the silence is equivalent to an eighth rest, but circumstances do vary.

What was that? How is that legato technique? Wouldn't it sound awfully "broken" with all of that fractured silence?

On the contrary: The silence provides accents and allows the congregation to follow the organist, stay on tempo, and sing with confidence.

I've played for stake conference on multiple occasions. I can remember one time in particular when I felt like I was fighting the huge congregation on tempo. I was trying to keep the tempo, and they were dragging, causing the tempo to continually slow.

Last month I again played for stake conference. In addition to using the techniques I'm sharing below, I followed the strong/weak beat accents as I played hymn 3, Now Let Us Rejoice, emphasizing the beat with the bass by tying the first two notes to make beat 2 very weak, instead of playing three repeated notes in each measure. Instead of playing an "OOM pah pah, OOM pah pah" it felt more like it was being sung and played in 1 instead of 3.

To my surprise and delight, the huge congregation stayed with me perfectly! They heard and responded to the strong and weak beats.

Strong and Weak Beats

So what if all of the voices repeat? Having complete silence when the text doesn't call for it can't be proper legato technique, right?

It can be proper technique! If all four voices repeat, we need to follow the strong beat/weak beat guideline.

If the time signature is in 4, do you know which beats are strong beats and which beats are not? What about in 3 or 6 or 2?

In four, the strong beats are beats 1 and 3, and the weak beats are 2 and 4. If you're familiar with poetry think trochee; "ONCE upON a MIDnight WEAry."

In two, beat 1 is strong and beat 2 is weak, as in the above textual example.

In three, beat 1 is strong and beats 2 and 3 are weak. If you're familiar with poetry think dactyl; "JUST for a HANDful of SILver he LEFT us."

In six, beats 1 and 4 are strong, and beats 2, 3, 5, and 6 are weak, as in the above textual example. Six is often felt and/or directed in 2 with a triplet feel.

How can we help the congregation feel the strong and weak beats? We do this through our treatment of repeated notes. In this example, all four notes repeat throughout the measure:

How would we preserve the strong beat/weak beat feel in this measure? By tying the alto, but where?

Beats one and three are strong, so let's lesson beat four by tying the alto:

In this measure we'll have a complete break before beat three, but not before beat four. It would be played like this, with red lines added to emphasize note length:

This technique allows the congregation to feel the beat and respond appropriately.

Non-Repeated Notes Should Generally Be Played Legato

This should make a lot of sense to everyone. If the notes don't repeat, they're played without breaking them apart.

There are some exceptions to this rule.

First, if the text breaks, so should the organ, as outlined in Breathing:

What if the note the soprano plays is immediately played in the alto? Or the note the alto plays is immediately played in the tenor? In examples such as these, a common tone is shared, and we need to follow these rules:

The soprano line reigns supreme. When the soprano line is ascending and common tones are involved, tie the common tones so the soprano line remains unbroken:

When the soprano line is descending and common tones are involved, break the common tones so that the soprano can play the note:

The soprano line is king and gets to be played properly, always.

For inner voices:

When a note changes from the tenor voice to the same note in the alto voice, tie the notes:

When a note changes from the alto voice to the same note in the tenor voice, break the notes:

Why hasn't the bass been included here? Because the bass is sovereign--it gets to be played as written by the feet without interference from any other parts.

Don't be afraid of silence!

In conclusion, to play the organ do you "try to hold every note down you can so that there aren't any breaks in your playing"? Absolutely not. As outlined above, it is very important to have breaks in your playing, provided they are used appropriately and according to these guidelines and rules.

Go out and grab a hymnbook and see what you can do, following these rules!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday Song: Ave Maris Stella

Today's Sunday song is on a beautiful organ restored by Formentelli and played by Alberto Pinto at Santa Galla church in Rome, Italy. It's an extract from the Hymn "Ave Maris Stella" by Nicolas de Grigny. In particular, it's the second half of the "Dialogue sur les Grands Jeux" with some improvisation.

Pay close attention the keyboards. Do the keys look shorter than modern organs to you? In the past, especially during the baroque era, organ keys were very short which made proper organ technique essential; specifically, curved fingers playing in front of the black keys whenever possible, and no extraneous movement of the arms and wrists. Incidentally, Bach was one of the first organists to begin using thumbs to play the organ--prior to him, thumbs were not used.

The story behind this organ is found here, in Italian. Google Translate let me understand the basics of the story, but not much more: http://www.santagalla.it/index.php?indirizzo=Organo/Storia/storia.php It appears the origin of the organ is unknown. Here is the stop list.


Monday, March 7, 2011

BYU Organ Workshop Registration is Open

Registration is now open!

The BYU Organ Workshop will be held August 2-5 this year. It is a wonderful experience, and I can't recommend it highly enough! I was able to attend last year, will be attending again this year, and will hopefully attend many more years in the future.

Online registration is now open and closes July 27th.

The cost to attend is $240 if you register by April 1, $255 from April 2–July 15, and $280 after July 15.

Optional Add-ons:
Campus Housing, $110 (double occupancy)
Bus trip to Salt Lake City, $10 (this is no longer included in workshop fees)
Private Organ Instruction, $25 (one 25–minute session)
Private Organ Instruction, $40 (one 50–minute session)
Instruction Placement Audition, $10 (available only on Monday, August 2)

Go check it out.
Have you ever attended the workshop? What did you think?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Song: Dieterich Buxtehude's g minor prelude

Dieterich Buxtehude's g minor prelude played by Gustav Leonhardt

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday Song: Rejoice, Beloved Christians BWV 734

Carlo Curley plays J.S. Bach's "Rejoice, Beloved Christians" BWV 734 in the Basilica of Mission Dolores, San Francisco, California.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sunday Song: Organ Toccata from Pokarekare Ana Suite

Organ toccata from Martin Setchell's Pokarekare Ana Suite, based on the beautiful Maori love song of the same name. Recorded on the Christchurch Town Hall Rieger pipe organ by Martin Setchell.