Hey there! It’s another SALSA Saturday!!!
I am thoroughly enjoying getting to know other organists throughout the world and am pleased to feature Joan Runs Through from St. George, Utah. Her gift of music has served her well—from building confidence in her early youth to providing a much needed healing power through the challenges of her adult life.
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Joan Runs Through—Utah
What was the first musical calling you received? How was that experience? I was called to be the ward organist when I was a Beehive (13). My mother was the stake music director as well as the ward organist in Billings, MT where I grew up. As stake music director, she presented quarterly stake music training workshops. I am the youngest of her five daughters and by the time she got down to teaching me, her technique was pretty refined. I don’t know when I started taking organ lessons from her. I only know that in order for me to continue with the piano, I had to also learn the organ. She set a goal for me, telling me that if I practiced hard enough, she would ask the bishop to release her and call me to be the ward organist. I was ward organist until I graduated high school. The kids in YM/YW liked to count how many mistakes I made each meeting. I liked it too because they would tell me “You totally made 3 mistakes.” And I would smile because I knew they hadn’t noticed all of them.
How long have you been playing the organ? Why did you start? I’ve been playing the organ for decades now. The real question is when did I develop my passion. For a long time it was a duty. In college I was ward pianist for several single’s wards. And I preferred the piano. After marriage I played the organ in a couple of the wards we were in. But when my marriage began to go south, my husband (who is no longer my husband) announced to me that he would not attend church if I played the organ because he did not want to sit alone with the kids. So I stopped playing and kept the family together as long as I could. And to my surprise, I missed playing.
Do you play any other instruments? If so, which instrument do you prefer? I have a minor in piano performance. I also have a love for folk instruments like the accordion, guitar, ukulele, mandolin, dulcimer, baroque recorder, melodica, autoharp, and so forth. Many people have accused me of having 7 children just so I could form a band. I don’t think that was the cause of my having 7 kids, but it sure has been a great side effect!
What is your favorite hymn? I love I Stand All Amazed (I have a hard time singing the “soul so rebellious” part.) I love Nearer My God to Thee and Come, Thou Font (even thou, apparently, it is no longer in the hymnbook) and recently I’ve really loved Be Still My Soul.
What is your favorite prelude or postlude piece? I like A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief, Beautiful Savior, O Savior Thou Who Wearest a Crown.
What sort of things do you enjoy doing in your spare time? I get up early to practice and stay up late to practice. I like performing with my kids and others. I Love attending my writing group when I get the chance. And I love anything I can do in the sunshine.
What is one of the challenges you face as an LDS organist? I’ve recently started lessons again because I am always striving to do better. I was asked to play in Stake Conference a few months back. I spent a month preparing, even writing out a “creative” arrangement for one of the better known hymns. Five minutes before the conference was to begin, I noted the songs on the board were different from the songs I had been given. When I asked the chorister, she laughed and said — “Oops I forgot to tell you they change the songs.” I tried to explain how bad that was (as I was continuing to play the prelude). She told me “we would have to trust in the Lord” and everything would be fine. I do get frustrated when I cannot prepare as well as I would like. It would be nice to not have to play “cold” each week.
What is one of the blessings you have received through accepting the call to serve as an organist? People tell me horror stories of insensitivities they have experienced when going through a divorce. I expected that when I finally called it quits on my marriage. My bishop’s response was to call me to play the organ. The day I told him of my separation was the day he learned our current organist was moving. He was thrilled to know I was available to play. And the music kept me active at a time when I could have otherwise fallen away. At a time when I felt my heart was so broken that it couldn’t feel anything, the organ was loud enough and persistent enough to reach me.
Is there anything else you would like to share about you or your experience as an organist? I was very quiet for a long time in church. My divorce felt like a failure and what comments could a failure offer? One Sunday a woman told me, “I know why you don’t stand to bear your testimony — because every time we hear you play, you are bearing it.” That is how I want to play. And that is why I continually work at it.