SALSA—Society of Awesome Latter-day Saint Accompanists
Today’s post features interviews with our newest additions to SALSA.
Jack, a Japanese Literature instructor at BYU and Jennifer, mom of six girls, shared their stories with me. Take a moment to get acquainted with these awesome organists, then go to Questionnaire and tell us your story!
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Thank you for agreeing to be a part of our getting acquainted series. Will you tell us a little bit about yourself? I grew up in Spanish Fork, UT, and live there now. Other places I have lived include Ohio, New York City, and Kyoto, Japan. I teach Japanese literature at BYU.
What was the first musical calling you received? How was that experience? As a teenager, I was asked to play prelude for sacrament meeting. I did so on the piano, and it was fun. I could do my own thing while being confident that nobody was really listening. I didn’t make the jump to accompanying until about a year later, in priesthood opening exercises. Accompanying is much more scary, but I enjoyed it.
How long have you been playing the organ? Why did you start? I started the organ at age eighteen. The ward organist told me, “When you lift your fingers, the sound stops,” and with that I was trained, I guess. My freshman year at BYU, I took beginning group organ, and I wish I had continued taking organ classes, but I didn’t. I could play hymns well enough to accompany, and that’s what I did for about fifteen years after that. Then, I was called as ward and stake organist, and I decided to take some private lessons. And now I’m doing my best to squeeze in practice time when I can.
Do you play any other instruments? If so, which instrument do you prefer? I play piano, but the organ is by far my favorite instrument.
What sort of things do you enjoy doing in your spare time? Spare time? What’s that?
What is your favorite hymn? Favorites come and go for me. Right now, my top three are probably 176 ‘Tis Sweet to Sing the Matchless Love, 269 Jehovah, Lord of Heaven and Earth, and 123 Oh, May My Soul Commune With Thee.
What is your favorite prelude or postlude piece? 139 In Fasting We Approach Thee is one of my favorites for prelude or postlude.
What do you consider to be one of your musical strengths? Enthusiasm, perhaps. I get bugged sometimes when I can’t play things as well as I should, but I never give up.
What is one of the challenges you face as an LDS organist? A general lack of understanding of the importance of music in our church. Oh, and crappy electronic organs!
What is one of the blessings you have received through accepting the call to serve as an organist? No matter what, I always feel the Spirit when I play. Even if I don’t play well! It is such a blessing to be in the chapel, all by myself, playing music I love and feeling the Spirit. It’s an even greater joy to then feel the Spirit again on Sunday as everyone sings along with the music I play.
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First, I want to know a little more about your blog The LDS Organist. After searching the internet and realizing the lack of piano-to-organ information out there, I began my organ blog in January 2010 when an internet friend of mine was called to be ward organist. I offered to help her learn the organ over the internet, and decided to put all of the lessons online so that others could benefit as well.
What was the first musical calling you received? How was that experience? I don’t remember what the first musical calling I received was. I grew up in a small town in Virginia. It seems I was involved with music in my branch, then ward, as long as I can remember. I usually played for young women and mutual meetings and firesides, but I don’t know if it was a specific calling. I do remember being called as the Sunday School Music Director, back when we had Sunday School opening exercises with the hymn practice. I really enjoyed that opportunity to teach the adults in my ward new hymns.
Do you play any other instruments? If so, which instrument do you prefer? I took two years of piano when I was 8 and 9 and played the violin for a year. After moving to Virginia, I continued teaching myself to play the piano, and while I can sight-read fairly well on the piano, and play difficult piano pieces with practice, I do not consider myself a pianist.
I started playing the flute when I was 10, and began playing the piccolo two years later, participating in All-District band and All-Regional orchestra throughout junior high and high school, and All-State Orchestra my senior year. I attended BYU as a music education major on the flute, but health problems prevented me from completing my degree.
Unfortunately, my TMJ makes playing the flute no longer possible, but after discovering the organ, I don’t mind. I also directed a community band for many years.
What is your favorite hymn? My favorite hymn is hymn 71, With Songs of Praise. I cannot sing it or read the words without tearing up. It expresses in words the deepest feelings of my soul.
What sort of things do you enjoy doing in your spare time? Spare time? What’s that? I’m very busy being a mom to six girls. My oldest is almost 12, and my twins are 2 1/2. I like to bake, work in my yard, keep up my organ blog, manipulate photos in Photoshop, and spend time online catching up with old friends and my extended family. If I had more time, I’d improve my photography skills, make homemade cards, and sew, among so many other things.
How long have you been playing the organ? Why did you start? My mom served as ward organist for many years, but as a pianist, she freely admits that she doesn’t really know how to play the organ. When I was choosing classes for my freshman year of college in 1994, I saw that BYU offered an organ class, and with my mom’s encouragement I signed up. It was there that I met Carol Dean, who taught my class. After a semester of organ, I still felt like I had no clue what I was doing, and was happy to stop my organ study.
Two years later, I married, moved into Carol’s stake, and to my surprise was immediately called as ward organist on a beautiful pipe organ. Fortunately, Carol offered all of the organists in her stake free lessons, and after a year of playing, I finally felt like I might know what I was doing on the organ.
Soon, my husband and I built a house and moved away. I served as ward organist off and on until 1999, when I was released. While I dabbled a bit, I rarely played the organ. In 2003, when I had two children, I took one “refresher” lesson from Carol, and realized how much I no longer knew.
I was finally called as ward organist in 2006, and purchased a used church organ and Carol’s hymnal (marked for organ) since I was determined to play the hymns the right way, and needed to be able to practice while taking care of my three young children. I practiced 20+ hours every week, just to play the hymns on Sunday! I finally felt like I was getting the hang of the organ when I was released in 2007 because we moved out of the ward. I have not served as ward organist since.
In August 2010, now with six little ones aged 10 down to 1, I began to pursue organ certification through BYU, and began my first serious study of the organ. I completed my Level 3 certification in August 2011 and took a break to be a mom again. I’m now ready to continue my organ study, and realize how much I’ve lost in the six months since I stopped taking lessons!
I’m currently serving as Stake Music Chairman, so I get to play the organ for some of our stake conferences and for our stake Christmas and Easter musical firesides. I really love it!
What is one of the challenges you face as an LDS organist? I feel like it takes me a long, long time to play pieces on the organ properly. I try to put in the necessary hours (and hours, and hours, and hours) so that I can perform and/or accompany with confidence and professionalism, then everyone assumes that I’m “so good” that I don’t need to practice! Playing the organ does not come easily to me. Perhaps that’s why I feel such satisfaction when I play well, and why I’m so sad and frustrated when others say they’ll never be able to play the organ. Anyone can play the organ. It just takes time, patience, and dedication.
What is one of the blessings you have received through accepting the call to serve as an organist? I’m going to twist this question around, as I’m not currently serving as an organist. It took me a long time, but I finally found peace with NOT being called to serve as an organist. I was always sad/hurt/angry/bitter (pick one) when I wasn’t serving as an organist and pianists who had no desire or intention to learn or practice the organ were called. I finally found peace when I realized that I would not have as much time to work on the organ literature I needed to learn if I was serving as ward organist. I am self-motivated to learn the organ, and maybe these other individuals needed the calling to push them to learn. My time will come, and until then, I’ll magnify my talent in my own way.
Is there anything else you would like to share about you or your experience as an organist? I love the organ. I love music. I want to be a resource to everyone who wants to understand the organ and move beyond playing the organ like a piano. My blog (http://organlessons.blogspot.com) is a great resource to these individuals, and I love hearing from people who are helped by it. Just this past week I heard from someone on the island of Malta who was so grateful to find my blog, as she was called to play the organ and was completely lost and frustrated. I love being able to help others learn to play and love the organ, as Carol Dean helped me.
The organ truly is the king of instruments!