My New SALSA Sister: Jenny Witt

SALSA—Society of Awesome Latter-day Saint Accompanists

Well I hate to sound boastful, but this SALSA thing was a really good idea! (Now mind you, I don’t mind being boastful, I just cringe when it actually comes across that way.) Honestly, I am having a great time getting to know other organist throughout the Church through the SALSA questionnaire. Thanks for all who have participated so far.

Today’s SALSA feels particularly meaningful to me because I feel connected to Jenny in so many ways. We have never met, but she attended college in Flagstaff Arizona (ahhh…mission memories!), feels untrained (that was me in the not too distant past), loves any bit of extra sleep (I too am a member of the sleep-deprived club) and she describes the lyrics of How Firm a Foundation as “beautiful” (yes! one of my favorite hymn texts!!). Wow…it feels like we’re sisters or something!

Take a moment to get acquainted with Jenny, our newest member of the Society of Awesome Latter-day Saint Accompanists, then go to Questionnaire and tell us your story!

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Jenny Witt—Colorado

First, would you tell us a little about yourself?  I grew up in Arizona. First in the hot place, the Phoenix area, and then in college moved to the mountains of Flagstaff, where we enjoyed four seasons. (Yes, really. There are snowstorms and pine trees in Arizona). I have played piano since I was five and had a couple of organ lessons in my teens, but have yet to be properly trained on the instrument. I pick up what I can from other organists and rely on the bass coupler A LOT. I am waiting for the right season in my life to really learn the pedals and how to use the stops well. With three kids, one being a toddler, I’m not sure when that season will come but I still play as an on call organist in my current ward.

What was the first musical calling you received? How was that experience? I was first called to play the piano in Young Women’s at age twelve. I was lucky to live across the street from the chorister, and she was great about meeting together and picking hymns I could play well. I also had help from my piano teacher. Overall it was a good experience and helped me gain a lot of confidence. I took piano lessons all through high school and college, so playing in front of people got easier the more opportunities I had.

How long have you been playing the organ? Why did you start? I started really trying to play the organ when my husband and I were called to be in a dependent Spanish group (what you have before you have enough members for a branch). We were meeting at a time when we could use the chapel for sacrament meeting, so I decided I should work on my organ skills. I had played a keyboard in college with an organ setting at the bishopric’s request (though I would have preferred using the piano setting!) but never on an actual organ. The volume pedal was always a scary proposition. I deafened the group once since it was so touchy, but it got better each time.

Do you play any other instruments? If so, which instrument do you prefer? As I mentioned, I’ve played the piano for years and love it. I started teaching piano lessons and have really enjoyed that as well. I also have played the violin and the viola. My practicing has suffered a lot due to back pain, but I hope to get back into my physical therapy routine as that helped it some.

What is your favorite hymn? How Great Thou Art is definitely my favorite. We sang it in choir when I was growing up and I fell in love with the beautiful lyrics and inherent reverence for our Father in Heaven. I also love Because I Have Been Given Much, Be Still My Soul, How Firm a Foundation (such beautiful lyrics!), I Stand All Amazed. I like a lot of hymns and the memories they bring.

What is your favorite prelude or postlude piece? I always try to play The Lord My Pasture Will Prepare in honor of one of my dear friends, who is in her 80’s. I was blessed to be her visiting teacher, and she told me how much she loved that song. I loved to play it as a special thing for her when it was my organ week. Now that I’ve moved, I still play it to remember her. I also like to play slower songs like Be Still My Soul since they tend to lose their impact on the piano.

What sort of things do you enjoy doing in your spare time? I love to read, spend time with my kids and husband, travel, and play games of all kinds. I also love to sleep since I don’t get very much of it these days!

What is one of the challenges you face as an LDS organist? One of the challenges is lack of knowledge and opportunity. I’ve tried purchasing books that will help me learn the organ, but I seem to only find the ones that feature the one octave manual style organs. I also feel intimidated sometimes by other organists because they do such impressive things when all I’d really like to do is play the pedals with my feet instead of using the bass coupler without too many mistakes! The lack of opportunity is finding the time to practice and, in my current ward, having access to the building. In other wards, I asked for and was able to get a key, but they don’t let people have keys as much in my new ward.

What is one of the blessings you have received through accepting the call to serve as an organist? By far, it has been the blessing of service. I have been able to help people by being able to play the organ. When I studied Spanish in Mexico for three weeks, I was able to play the organ for the ward there and give the missionary who was doing it a break!

Is there anything else you would like to share about you or your experience as an organist? While I still feel intimidated by the organ, I have grown to love it over the years and I hope I can learn more about it and improve. I think it is an amazing instrument and adds so much to our church meetings.

Editor’s Note: Good for you, Jenny, for understanding that there are seasons in our lives, that you don’t have to perfect your organ skills right now! Regarding your challenges, be sure to check out the Technique pages of this blog, especially Using Your Hands, where I have listed a few good organ books that you might find helpful, and Setting the Stops (for when it’s the ‘right season’). Also, a member of the Church Music Committee recently told a group of LDS organists to be sure to contact him if any of us had difficulty getting into their building to practice. “Organists need building keys,” he explained, “and I will do all I can to help you get one.”  Let me know if you’d like his contact info.

. . .

Thanks for introducing yourself to us, Jenny!
Are you or someone you know ready to join SALSA? Just go to the SALSA questionnaire, fill it out and submit. No cost, no obligation, no contract and no fine print. Just a wonderful opportunity for lds organists to get acquainted!
btw If you accepted the call to sit on that organ bench, you are awesome!  If you think you’re not, please see The Calling.

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