SALSA—Society of Awesome Latter-day Saint Accompanists
How does a ward organist get to play the Salt Lake Tabernacle organ???
Take a moment to get acquainted with Janet Ollman Blackmer of Draper, Utah as she shares some of her experiences with having the best calling in the Church; including her thoughts on prelude, continued organ study and the unexpected opportunity to play the Tabernacle organ.
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Janet Ollman Blackmer—Utah
Tell us a little about yourself. I grew up in Southern California but have lived all over the country. I landed in Utah after my husband died, so I could be close to my children (three girls—all married, with children). I currently serve as a ward organist and a Draper Temple organist and have taught piano lessons. Although now mostly retired, I was a naturopathic doctor and massage therapist. I married a widower a year ago and we are gloriously happy!
What was the first musical calling you received? How was that experience? I was a pianist for Primary as a teenager. It was not hard nor particularly challenging, musically. In fact, I liked being able to serve in a calling as a teen.
How long have you been playing the organ? Why did you start? I took a 12-week organ course sponsored by the LDS Church from William Foxley in 1976. We took our lessons at BYU and played the organs in the lab and all the organs in the wards of our stake. I took the class with a friend in my ward. When I first touched the organ, I was awed and my allegiance quickly shifted from the piano to the organ. Soon after taking the 12-week course, I was called to be a ward organist—a position I occupied until I moved from Utah 1-1/2 years later. Surprisingly, after that, I didn’t touch an organ for 20 years, when I was told that I was prayed into a ward in Illinois to be the organist. Although I have moved around since then, I have served in that position, along with other callings, for the past 14 years. I am currently taking private lessons and am enrolled in BYU’s Independent Organ Study program.
Do you play any other instruments? If so, which instrument do you prefer? I play the violin, accordion, and piano. I prefer the organ.
What is your favorite hymn? There are so many beautiful hymns, it’s hard to pick a favorite—I have several; for sheer beauty of melody, In Remembrance of Thy Suffering; for personal message, Lead, Kindly Light; With Songs of Praise has a lovely message, too. And who doesn’t adore The Spirit of God and Come, Come, Ye Saints? And I think Evan Stephens did a particularly beautiful job with We Ever Pray for Thee.
What is your favorite prelude or postlude piece? Postlude: James Kasen’s If You Could Hie to Kolob. I have many favorite preludes as I play in the temple and have collected so many lovely arrangements. One that I turn to repeatedly is a simple piece that I downloaded on WardOrganist.com—Daniel Berghout’s arrangement of Come, Follow Me.
What sort of things do you enjoy doing in your spare time? I play the organ, crochet doilies, garden, see my girls and grandchildren, help my aging mother, and quilt. I also like to travel to historical sites and I always read up about them before my visit.
What is one of the challenges you face as an LDS organist? Avoiding being discouraged with inattentiveness to the prelude. I would like to believe that members of the congregation are open to my invitation to the Spirit for our meeting. Another challenge is working with an instrument that could use some help.
What are some of the blessings you have received through accepting the call to serve as an organist? I have become a better organist and been able to share my love for and knowledge of the organ with those who would like to become organists. I have been inspired to take lessons so that I will become more competent. I have learned new music and become much more familiar with the hymns, not only the music, but also the words, which has increased my ability to ponder their meaning.
Being a ward organist is the best calling in the Church! It has opened doors to me that I would have never dreamed possible. Because I feel competent as a ward organist, I easily became a temple organist. And because I was a temple organist, I was privileged to accompany a temple devotional choir on the Tabernacle Organ, which was a thrill I never expected to have.
I believe that my spirituality has increased as I have listened to promptings about music to learn and to use in meetings. Also, I have gained a sense of satisfaction teaching young people from my wards the basic of the organ, thus preparing another generation for music service. I love playing the organ and hope that I’ll be able to serve as an organist for many years to come.