Welcome to The LDS Organist 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.

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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!


  1. An organ player I know pointed out Franklin Eddings' prelude arrangements of the sacrament hymns. They are available for free download here (scroll down to Sacrament Hymn Introductions):


  2. My first thought is to simply check with the bishopric of your respective ward and ask what their preferences may be concerning playing after the hymn is finished. Given that there is no instruction in the handbook, it is simply a tradition that has been in all of the wards that we have lived, but it is not necessary. It should not be the organist who decides what to do here, but should be done in accordance with what the bishopric feels would benefit their congregation the most: silence or soft playing.

  3. I've been in both shoes. I was a priest last year that helped with the bread breaking until I was called as organist. I know a while back my ward had slow priests, the organist would repeat the song a number of times, then go down to sit with her family, leaving the remaining time to silence. I know each ward does things slightly differently but the priest quorum in mine usually has to invite an elder to help out once in a while. Some ward may not want to do this though.

  4. Also, it is not necessary for the priests to wait to stand until the hymn introduction is finished. Ask one of the priests' leaders to train the boys to stand to prepare the sacrament as soon as the introduction of the hymn is begun by the organist. It's a simple solution. ALSO, why play all the extra music at the end. Why not play the entire sacrament hymn as the introduction? And if the boys stand at the beginning of the hymn intro, they will have even more time to break the bread. (If you choose to play the entire hymn as the introduction, train your music director not to stand to conduct the hymn until about half way through the introduction.)---Mike Carson