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, 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?