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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Monday, September 17, 2012

Preparing Congregations for Worship

I've had the privilege to play the organ in the temple for 2 1/2 months so far, and it has been a wonderful experience. I have the early morning shift, every-other week, which allows me to be home before my kids leave for school. During this time, I've learned a lot about preparing those in attendance for worship, and I was able to implement these principles as I played prelude for our adult session of stake conference on Saturday evening.  I wanted to share my suggestions and experiences with you.

Temple with scaffolding
The picture I took before playing for the second time in the temple

Earlier this year, I attended a class where Mike Carson, former dean of the Utah Valley AGO chapter and current Bonneville District Convener, mentioned being careful not to be "intrusive" with our playing.  At the time, I didn't really understand what he meant, but filed that thought away for the future.

I began playing in the temple the first week of July, and it seems that each time I'm there I learn a little more about effectively preparing those in attendance for worship.  I now know what Mike meant about being careful not to be intrusive.  The purpose of prelude music isn't to call attention to ourselves, and we aren't playing to perform beautiful organ music.  The purpose of prelude music is to prepare those in attendance for worship.  While these following suggestions and applications are specifically intended towards adult congregations, I'm sure they can be adapted or modified for services which include children.

1. Don't compete for volume

While the temple chapel is generally very reverent, there are times when whispers or dialogue become noticeable and distracting.  Instead of increasing the volume of the organ slightly to cover the noise, I've learned that it's much more effective to decrease the volume of the organ.  If the organ is softer than the dialogue, generally the person talking or whispering will become softer or stop talking altogether as they respond to the decreased organ volume.

As soon as I began my prelude Saturday evening, the volume of voices in the chapel increased noticeably.  Instead of opening the expression pedals a little bit more, as has been my habit, I decided to try what works in the temple, and decrease the volume.  The volume of the voices immediately returned to the pre-organ level.

2. Keep it simple, and play the hymns

In the temple, the organists are asked to play the hymns and songs from the Children's Songbook as written, without alternate harmonies or arrangements.  The simple four-part harmonies and chord progressions do not draw undue attention to themselves and allow those listening to pursue their own thoughts and ponderings.

Saturday evening, instead of using my normal prelude books and pieces, I felt that I should use my copy of Easy Hymn Preludes for Organ, outlined towards the bottom of the article here, which was published by the Church in 1982 but is now out of print. My registrations were simple and subdued, the arrangements were beautiful in their simplicity, and many portions of the pieces are played in the manuals, using the pedals sparingly as emphasis.  This prevents the pedal drone that many prelude pieces utilize, and which I now think might contribute to more congregational noise.

3. Embrace silence

As I play in the temple, I am not afraid to lift all four voices at the end of phrases as the text directs, or where rests are indicated in the staff.  I allow some silence between hymns as I turn the pages in my binder of music.  Allowing that moment of silence reestablishes a quiet baseline, despite the volume of the music that comes from the organ.

After taking down the volume of the organ Saturday evening and playing a simple yet beautiful piece to begin my prelude, it was during the silence between the first and second piece where I really heard the volume of the congregation decrease. As I continued to play, if the volume started to creep up, I simply allowed for an extra moment of silence at appropriate times in my prelude music, and the congregation readily responded.

4. Do not look around

 During my orientation at the temple, I was asked not to look around as I played, but to focus on the organ and my music.  Following this direction allows me to focus on the Spirit as I contemplate the needs of those in attendance, instead of becoming distracted by the faces of those sitting in the chapel. I've found that I can sense the needs of those in the room best when I follow the Spirit's direction instead of using my eyes.

My husband did not drive with me Saturday evening, as it was taking longer for the the kids to finish eating dinner, bathe and settle down than we had planned.  I didn't allow myself to focus on whether or not he was here yet as I played.  I didn't look to see how full the chapel was getting, or to see how many people I knew that were there.  These visual distractions are just that--distractions.  They get in the way of the Spirit, and prevent the organist from focusing wholly on the prelude.  I was actually surprised when the meeting started to see that my husband had not yet arrived.  I was grateful that I was unaware of that fact until after my prelude had concluded.

5. Play with the Spirit

The hymns are powerful.  There are times when I'm playing in the temple that I feel impressed to play certain hymns, and I know that there is someone there who needs the comfort, strength, or healing power found in that particular hymn.  When I focus on the words and do not allow myself to be distracted with other things, I feel that my playing brings with it a special spiritual effectiveness that is not present if I'm just playing the notes with my thoughts elsewhere.

Before beginning my prelude Saturday evening, I took a moment to let go of the frenzied craziness of the day.  I took a deep breath, said a silent prayer, and allowed peace to enter my heart.  As I played the prelude, I felt the Spirit of the hymns.  I thought of the words of the hymns, and I sought to allow my playing to be an instrument in bringing the Spirit to the meeting. I had such focus, that there were times I completely forgot the room and the environment as I played the beautiful hymns of Zion.

As the chapel and cultural hall filled during my 15 minutes of prelude, I had the most wonderful experience. I was filled with the Spirit, and was able to play my pieces with that Spirit, and without distraction.  A beautiful reverence extended over the entire room, and I felt almost as though I was again playing in the temple as the adults who entered maintained the existing reverence of the room.  When the Stake President stood to begin the meeting, you could have heard a pin drop.  I was given the distinct assurance that those in attendance were prepared to hear the word of the Lord.

While I know that this experience is unique (I have never experienced anything like it), hopefully these suggestions and applications can help you as you strive to prepare your congregation to worship in your respective meetings.  I feel that I was taught these principles as I served in the temple of the Lord, and wanted to share with my readers.

As always, thank you so much for visiting!


  1. This is a powerful essay. Thank you for taking the time to write. I have been playing the organ for a really long time and there are points in here I have not considered. I will definitely implement these in my playing. Thank you, again.

    1. We have a brand new dedicated temple in our city! And I have been asked to play the organ. Today was my first time - it was wonderful! I have thought about your comments many times. Thanks for this post!

  2. I've not played regularly in the temple, but I've played quite a bit for sacrament meeting, and unfortunately I haven't found the various wards I've played in to get quieter when the prelude gets quieter. I'll try it again, to be sure, but the only technique I've found to work has been to make the prelude noticeably loud, and then to decrease volume fairly suddenly. This makes everyone stop talking because they think the bishopric is ready to start, and tends to calm things down a bit. Certainly that's far more "intrusive" than just playing quietly; I'll try just being quiet again and see what happens.

    1. It's harder when you add children and youth to the mix. Volume alone doesn't solve it, but maybe utilizing manual-only sections and allowing more silence might help? It also helps when those who are presiding and conducting take their seats on the stand early and sit quietly.

      I have been in wards where nothing worked. Hopefully something I shared will help you.

    2. Today was my first opportunity to try "Just play quietly". It didn't work. That said, I've only tried it once, and my more intrusive method hasn't worked well in this ward either. I'll keep trying :)

  3. thank you for your comments, it will impact the way I approach prelude music also.

  4. A few weeks ago, at a large church, the final piece was great until I felt that the uplifted mood of the congregation fell somewhat by the choice of the instrument which was sharp in contract with the reverence of the church. The choice and how a music piece is played is crucial to convey and support the sermon and the reverence of the mass.

    Thank you for writing this piece.

    John A.

  5. Hi!
    Thanks for the tips! I’m also an organ player and amateur. If you have the chance, don’t hesitate to comment my work: https://itunes.apple.com/album/great-organ-repertory-featuring/id592946449?v0=9989&ign-mpt=uo%3D1
    Have a good one!

  6. Thank you so much for your sharing. I am a new organist - I played when I was a kid 40 years ago and hadn't played seriously until a little over a month ago. It's scary and wonderful all at the same time!

    Do you have any ideas on where to find that "Easy Hymn Preludes for Organ"? While I will eventually work my way back up more difficult pieces as time permits, there's that stumble-bum anxiety when anyone is present that I also have to overcome. I have used the simplefied bass clef with the standard treble clef on a couple of hymns with great success. And while the auto-player on the organ is an absolutely fantastic tool, I'm trying to get the courage up to move away from it a bit.

    Thank you very much!
    Denise Farley

    1. Unfortunately, the Easy Hymn Preludes for Organ publication has been out of print for some time.

      A very simple prelude book is D. Kim Croft's Nine Hymn Studies http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/Nine-Hymn-Studies/17209884. When I use it, I play the pieces through more than once with different registrations.

      There is also the Church's Manual-Only Hymns and Transformations: http://organlessons.blogspot.com/2010/12/manual-only-hymns-and-transformations.html

      I hope these help!

  7. I have a copy of that 1982 "Easy Hymn Preludes for Organ" that I found at Deseret Industries a few years back in excellent condition!

    I've done my best to keep it in great condition where now, I've made a copy of it to place in my binder (where I can now include, breath marks, formatas, finger substitutions, and similar marks to play the pieces as legato as possible. Plus with this collection, are additional prelude pieces - mainly of Schreiner from his three volumes, entitled "Organ Voluntaries" that he published while he was at UCLA and back in SLC.

    As Jen has mentioned above with not being "intrusive", I'm aware, as the Ward Organist (A calling that I've had for many years), the organist sets the tone - to "invite the spirit" to the meeting, which the instruction is also included in the Church Handbook II: Music

    As for Carol Dean - what a wonderful lady and teacher, for I had her time as a mini instructor at my visit at the 2009 Organ Workshop at BYU that year.

    Now, I'm a member of the LeBois (Boise, Id) AGO and have a great time associating with the other members of this group and learning from them also.

    On a side note, if one wants to explore the fantastic world of the Virtual Organ, where one can hook up a keyboard to a computer and a program contains the sound engine to play actual cathedral and similar organs, please check out this site, for I have constructed myself a three manual organ for my home using this program. www.hauptwerk.com

    Good luck to all always, and thank you for your time.