SALSA—Society of Awesome Latter-day Saint Accompanists
Sometimes playing our ward organ can be a little frustrating. It seems I am always dealing with out-of-tune pipes or new ciphers or lost piston settings or, well, you know…all the irritation that come with playing the King of Instruments. But no complaints. Not since I read this latest SALSA and realized that some ward organists don’t even get to play an organ. Serious.
Victoria, a ward (or branch, maybe?) organist is consigned to play Sunday hymns on a digital piano. Yikes! Between that and the other musical challenges she deals with she is in for a big reward in heaven for sure!
Take a moment to get acquainted with Victoria—originally from Arizona, a BYU graduate, former student of John Longhurst, and loves the majesty of Bach—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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What was the first musical calling you received? Primary pianist.
How was that experience? I loved it! I was in high school at the time and had a wonderful, talented music director and learned so much from her. My piano teacher had always included hymns in my repertoire since I was a child (she was LDS, also) which was a great help.
How long have you been playing the organ? Why did you start? I’ve only had a few months of lessons, but have played for about 40 years. Long enough that I actually remember the hymns from the last hymnbook—hymn numbers and even keys. Occasionally, I begin playing a hymn in the original key!!
Originally, there was a challenge when I was young, that if you could play a hymn (pedals and all) you could go to the Tabernacle and be allowed to play. This was one year only. I could play a hymn, but was too short to reach the pedals (I think I was about 4’6″ at the time—just a bit too young). It was the only year that ever was made available churchwide.
As a teenager I had the great fortune to take organ lessons from John Longhurst, who traveled and trained organists. It was wonderful! But other than that, I am self taught. I have mainly have focused on piano—teaching, accompanying, etc.
What sort of things do you enjoy doing in your spare time? Singing and playing to myself now that the kiddos are grown. Still love to sew, craft, and read. I love to cook specialty items for holidays. I exercise diligently 1/2 to 1 hour a day—have lost 90 pounds this past year and feel better every day!
Do you play any other instruments? I played violin in high school and the piano since age 8.
Which instrument do you prefer? Piano is my favorite. It soothes my soul.
What is your favorite hymn? For All the Saints. Every time I play it I am transported to a beautiful cathedral filled with majestic voices. And I love the words. It is truly an anthem. So glad it was put into the “new” hymnal. I’d never heard it before (and truthfully, our director has never chosen it) A close second is All Creatures of Our God and King. I have loved the harmony and flow since I was in high school.
And two more, please! O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown. The majesty of Bach! I would love more “high” hymns in our hymnal. Last, Reverently and Meekly Now. It is one of the few hymns written in first person. It really makes me think about the Savior. It’s as if He were speaking to me.
What is your favorite prelude? This is a sore spot. There’s no pedalboard on the Kawai, so it’s incredibly hard to do organ preludes. I have many prelude books for organ that I can’t use. My fingers don’t have a 4 octave spread haha! and piano books aren’t much better because I can’t use proper smooth finger technique! Even when I try to invite the Spirit, it seems like no one listens—just talks.
What are some of the challenges you face as an LDS organist? Our organ. It’s not one. It has 5 presets, one keyboard, no pedals. Need I say more? Oh, and we sing basically the same 30 hymn repertoire all year. It’s very disheartning because there are so many wonderful, spiritual and uplifting hymns in the book. Oh, and I must keep my own time, because the chorister conducts everything in 2/2. When a song is in 3/4, I tap my left foot and never look at her—it would throw me off! I must set the tempo, decide how long to hold the fermata, etc. I have no guidance. I have tried everything in the book, but to no avail.
We sing songs about Christ, but not about his Atonement for sacrament. Every song has to be about the theme of the week (which leaves out 80% of the hymns and we repeat the other 20%). We’ll stand to sing an intermediate hymn that’s slow and solemn….an opening hymn that’s more suitable to closing, and vice versa. No one pays any attention to the Using the Hymnbook section at the back!
What is one of the blessings you have received through accepting the call to serve as an organist? Well, I’d say patience, but I’m still having trouble with that one! At least it has made me more familiar with the hymnbook and that provides me with spiritual sustenance. I am a pretty good sight reader, too – since I usually don’t know what I’m going to play until I get to church.
Is there anything else you would like to share about you or your experience as an organist? I wish I were better and had availed myself of more lessons. But then life too over and I developed other priorities.
Editor’s note: Victoria, you may want to check the LDS Church website for a free download of the Manual-Only Hymns and Transformations. The booklets are a collection of hymn arrangements for congregational singing and preludes for the pedal-less organist. The arrangements keep the fullness of the four-part hymns while eliminating four octave spreads and other organ gymnastics!