Blaine Olson— Training a New Generation of Organists

What initially began as training for adult organists evolved into an awesome introductory organ experience for youth. Here is Blaine’s story:

About 6 years ago I found out that the Spanish-speaking ward in my stake did not have an organist.  Although I was already playing for my home ward, I volunteered to play for the Spanish ward also, at least until they found a replacement organist. The only problem was, once I started playing for them, they stopped looking for an organist! That’s when I began to take notice that there was a great need in our stake for trained organists.

When I approached the stake presidency with the facts, and told them that they really needed to get some training for our organists, as well as prepare new organists for future calling, they agreed, and asked if I would be willing to teach the classes.

A high councilman was assigned to oversee the organ instruction project, and it was advertised throughout the stake that in addition to existing organists, anyone who could play the hymns satisfactorily qualified for these free organ lessons. As it turned out, only three of the existing organists in the stake took advantage of the classes being offered. But there were 18 other people who signed up for the classes. Several of these dropped out after the first class, but we still had 14 solid students, six of which were under the age of 17, and three more were under the age of 24. I found these youth students to be the hardest working.

In order to provide each student with as much hands-on experience as possible, I divided the group into five smaller classes of 3-4 students each, and gave them a choice of times to attend. This worked out great, as if for some reason a student missed a class, there were 4 other times that the class could be made up.

We were to begin classes on a certain Saturday in September, but as luck would have it, the UVAGO (Utah Valley Chapter of the American Guild of Organists) had planned a Pedals, Pipes, and Pizza event for the youth, designed to introduce youth to the pipe organ. I decided that this would be the perfect kickoff for our stake organ lessons, so we started by having our youth attend this UVAGO event first, then we started then actual lessons the following week.

Youth explore organ pipes with Blaine at Pedals, Pipes and Pizza

On our third week of lessons, I announced to the classes that we would be having our own mini-recital on the organ in the Madsen Recital Hall at BYU. Enthusiasm soared. We had participants ranging in age from 9 to 90, and all did a fantastic job.

9 year-old Rachel plays the descant as 12 year-old Katherine plays “Silent Night” at the Christmas mini-recital on the BYU Madsen Recital Hall Organ.

We are currently working on overcoming stage fright. Our method for doing this consists in part in attending  field trips, where we are allowed to experiment with new organs, and by playing simple organ duets, written by myself specially for our group. The philosophy is that duets are less intimidating than solos or even accompanying a congregation. When they feel comfortable, our students then schedule a time with their bishop when they can play a duet in sacrament meeting. We have also offered our services to the stake to play during stake baptisms–the idea being that these baptisms are usually smaller groups that sacrament meetings, and thus, less intimidating.

Our crowning glory will be the performance of a duet specially requested by once of our top youth students, Rebecca, who, at age 13, will play a very special rendition of Choose the Right.

When Rebecca asked me to write a duet part for Choose the Right, I envisioned as it were, armies of young people, banding together in the strength of youth to battle evil and choose the right. I envisioned young soldiers stationed on hillsides over here and on towers over there, each soldier captain carrying a powerful trumpet with which to warn the others of approaching evil, that all might be prepared to do battle with the evil and triumph in righteousness. Therefore, the duet begins with a mysterious drone bass in the pedal, representing impending evil, and followed shortly thereafter by the wake-up call of the Trumpet of Righteousness, which alarm is echoed throughout divisions of the organ like it echoes throughout the land. As the hymn’s familiar theme starts in, trumpet fanfares continue to warn the people to be on guard and alert.

Rebecca plays Precious Savior, Dear Redeemer on the 40-rank Bigelow organ at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral as Blaine Olson adds a duet part.

I love teaching organ to young people who put their hearts into it. I love the way the organ community has opened doors for them to learn more. And I love playing huge pipe organs–not just for the power, but for the diversity. I love soft stops that are rarely found on smaller instruments. And I love the loud ones too!

. . .

Thanks, Blaine, for sharing your enthusiasm, knowledge and love in such a wonderful way.

. . .

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