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.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Making Mistakes

“Perfectionism can be a paralyzing curse; but self satisfaction is intolerable. Humility is a virtue.”
~Miriam Clapp Duncan

Last week on this blog's facebook page I mentioned that I didn't play my organ examples flawlessly in my presentation at Super Saturday.  I know I've mentioned things like this in the past as well.  I thought I'd write an article dedicated to making mistakes today.

By nature I am a huge perfectionist.  One thing I love about music, is that you can be perfect.  A quarter note lasts for one beat.  A metronome marking can be set so that your tempo is exact.  This concept of perfection is one of the many reasons that I ultimately preferred the organ over the flute.  When you play the flute, everything can be subjective, from your embouchure, to your hand position, to where your tongue is in your mouth, to your tone quality.  The organ removes many of these subjective variables, at least as they relate to tone quality!

I used to beat myself up, over and over, when I made mistakes in a worship service.  I remember praying with my whole soul that I would just not make any mistakes, but they'd come anyway, despite the numerous hours I spent practicing.

How frustrating!

I used to think that I had to be perfect!  That if I presented myself as a trained organist, there was no room for error, ever.  I hid my human side, instead presenting an airbrushed image of myself.  I didn't let anyone get to know the real me, because it wasn't who I ultimately wanted to be.

Slowly, things changed. In the first place, this perfection was unattainable, despite my intense practice hours. Then I attended the BYU Organ Workshops and saw that those with significantly more training and experience than me didn't take themselves too seriously.  I vividly remember Linda Margetts, Tabernacle Organist, putting her organ shoes on her hands, moving the organ bench out of the way, getting down on her hand and knees, and playing the pedals with her hands to illustrate a concept.  Learning that these great organists were willing to show a human side gave me permission to show others that I'm human as well.  I learned that I don't have to be unattainably perfect all the time.

I read a quote recently that I want to share here, but despite many attempts, I haven't been able to find it!  The gist of it is as follows:  A music teacher was conversing with his student, who asked, "But what if I make a mistake?"  The music teacher replied, "That is why people come to your recital--to hear your mistakes.  A perfect performance is boring.  Mistakes add a human element to your performance, and that is why people listen."

When I played for BYU Women's Conference last year, I had spent months preparing my hymns, but I knew my nerves would kick in, and I most likely would make some mistakes.  I remember sitting in the huge Marriott Center, pondering and praying during some classes prior to my accompaniment, wondering if, perhaps, I should have just played the hymns straight from the hymnal, instead of utilizing various techniques to help better share the spirit of the hymns I was playing. I knew I could play the standard hymns more consistently than if I changed them up a bit, and really started to second-guess myself and my decisions.

As I was worrying in my mind I had the thought, "who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"  I realized that despite my imperfections, the spirit I brought with me and the preparation I made was exactly what was needed in that audience at that time.  Yes, I ultimately did make some mistakes.  But I also touched hearts, and that is the purpose behind all of my efforts.

Now, instead of praying for a perfect performance, I pray that I will have the Spirit with me, and that I will touch the hearts and lives of those who are listening to me play.  I pray that my preparation will be adequate, and that I will prepare those in attendance for worship.

Now, this realization doesn't give me permission to skip my preparation, or to do anything less than my very best.  It just means that it's okay if my very best isn't utter perfection.

I've learned that my lot in life is to do all that I can do, and the Lord will magnify my efforts--not in spite of, but because of my mistakes.

(If you liked this article, you may also be interested in reading Florence's article entitled, Practice Makes Perfect Comfortable)


  1. I was starting to feel very burnt out with my organist calling, and I could only attend the last two hours of Super Saturday, but it was exactly what I needed. When you played that introduction at the beginning and asked, "Who is excited to sing?" And then you played the more exciting one, I realized exactly what my problem was, and what I needed to do to fix it. I went home that very day and wrote a new intro to The Spirit of God for the next day. The next day came, and I thought The Spirit of God was awesome, but here's the comment I received afterwards: "What's with your fingers today? You don't usually play that many wrong notes." I wanted to say, "Really? With all the pedal points and inspiring intros, and registration changes, and upbeat tempos, THAT'S what you noticed?!" I've learned that I can't play perfectly, no matter how hard I practice, and I've learned to dismiss it. Unfortunately, the non-musical among us don't notice anything other than the wrong notes, and they're not afraid to point it out.

    1. I'm so glad that you caught the vision I was trying to share! Some people, usually the outspoken ones, seem to dwell on the negative. I'm sorry! Did you have any other feedback, or did you hear a difference in the volume of your congregation's singing?

      I'd love to see your introduction, if you feel like sharing.

    2. Here it is. Hopefully you can see it. I just used the camera on my phone: https://picasaweb.google.com/111258115560231750444/TheSpiritOfGodIntro#5878803735081172930

      There was one person who told my husband later that she liked what I did with the introduction on The Spirit of God. I had one person say he liked my pedal points, and another person said, "Thank you for your excellent organ playing," so it wasn't all negative. It was just kinda funny that people went through the effort to tell me what they thought and didn't mention the intro, like they were skirting around the elephant in the room. They definitely sang louder than on the opening hymn, but the opening hymn wasn't as well known or loved, so it's hard to compare.

    3. By the way, it doesn't end there, it just goes in to the regular intro after what I have written.

  2. When I was about 13 - you know - like about 8 or 9 years ago?....I was taking organ lessons and the teacher - Mrs. Gibby - I even remember the name - told me that if I make a mistake in playing just ignore it and get on with the song as quickly as possible. It's always worked for me. :)

    1. That's good advice. Dwelling on the mistake will guarantee making even more!