SALSA—Society of Awesome Latter-day Saint Accompanists
Although Allen Blodgett claims that having a wonderful Allen organ in his church building has nothing to do with being drawn to the instrument, I have my doubts.
Fresh from Appleton, Wisconsin (a mere 107 miles from my Alma Mater) I am pleased to present Allen Blodgett’s easy humor, unapologetic dislikes AND a video clip I tracked down of him playing an arrangement of one of his top 342 hymns. (I love Google!)
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What was the first musical calling you received? How was that experience? It wasn’t really a “calling” per se, but more of a “You play the organ, will you play in priesthood meeting today?” type of thing. Here in Wisconsin, where keyboard talent can be somewhat scarce, if they find out you play the organ, you’re guaranteed you’ll be playing until you move or you lose an arm or die or something like that. The assignment was fun, although I made lots of mistakes in my early years. Not bad considering I was about 14 or 15.
How long have you been playing the organ? Why did you start? I THINK I’ve been playing for 7 years, but it’s starting to become a blur. I started playing the organ after attending a Pedals, Pipes, and Pizza event hosted by the local American Guild of Organists chapter and really haven’t look back to the piano ever since. It’s amazing how giving out free pizza will make a young man want to play the organ.
Do you play any other instruments? If so, which instrument do you prefer? Piano–I hate it, other than playing a note softly or loudly or something in between, there’s really only ONE sound that it makes. I also sing 1st tenor, occasionally dabble into 2nd alto, and sing baritone when I have a cold. I prefer singing to playing the piano.
What is your favorite prelude or postlude piece? Prelude would be a medley of some children’s songs in the hymn book plus We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet. We have a wonderful Allen organ (the brand of the organ had NOTHING to do with me starting to play the organ) in our church building, which has the best stop selection for an organ of it’s size, but the stop layout is a whole other story (I prefer the stop jambs on the side, not above the manuals). Anyways, we’ve got a beautiful oboe in the swell and some of the prettiest flues (for an electronic organ, that is) in the great, couple the great to the pedal with a few pedal soft stops and I’m in heaven until (like clockwork) 5 minutes before sacrament meeting when EVERYBODY comes pouring into the chapel.
My all-time favorite postlude is Clay Christiansen’s arrangement of Come, Come, Ye Saints. It starts off boldly, a beautiful soft second verse which uses the oboe, clarinet, flutes, strings, etc, and finishes off with a powerful third verse that begins with just the trumpet and adding stops at the beginning of almost every phrase. To top it all off after what seems like the ending of the piece, press the general cancel button to clear the stops and if the organ has a chimes stop, play the F# below middle C three times.
What about your favorite hymn? 342. Never heard of that? All of the above. Choosing a favorite hymn would be like choosing between my children, not that I have any children yet considering I’m 20 and in a YSA [Young Single Adult] branch. Speaking of that YSA branch, a really cute young woman just started attending and she plays the organ and we’re going to be playing a duet together soon to make sure my newly finished hymn arrangement that calls for organ duet accompaniment works. *wink wink*
What sort of things do you enjoy doing in your spare time? I take BYU-Idaho pathway program, I work at Papa John’s as a delivery driver (although I don’t think my car is going to last much longer), I build computers, and I study Mack Wilberg arrangements.
What is one of the challenges you face as an LDS organist? I am the only organist in my branch, I suppose you could call me the ward music chairman as well because I pick the hymns every Sunday, especially without ever knowing the topic of the week. I have started to get to know my organ too well, I find myself wanting to have more stops and what not (if asked to help pick out the replacement organ, I’m going to lobby for a 3 manual organ with a lot more stop selections).
Another challenge I face is that I want to go “all out” on playing hymns with interludes and big fanfares, but it seems like it never seems appropriate for church.
What is one of the blessings you have received through accepting the call to serve as an organist? I have been so blessed by the fact that I’ve been able to become better and when I do slip up, the congregation often keeps on going just fine.
My biggest thing that I have been blessed with it that the YSA branch I play for has been able to sing more loudly than before, allowing me to play the organ more loudly (something I enjoy doing A LOT). I remember playing How Firm a Foundation my first week in the branch with flutes and over powering the congregation, now I can play it almost full blast and I can actually hear the congregation.
Want more of Allen? Check out his website at allenjblodgett.com