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!

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.