If You Ever Play the BYU Marriott Center Organ

Several years ago I asked my organ teacher, Doug Bush, what I would need to do to be able to play the organ at the Marriott Center. “Be on the list,” was his quick reply.

“Okay. Put me on the list,” I boldly requested.

He patiently explained that it was not as easy as it looked and I needed to have more experience; that there were a lot of things I needed to know and that generally he required a Junior level standing in the organ program or successful completion of  the AGO Service Playing Exam. And besides that, there really wouldn’t be much opportunity for me to play there because students or faculty were asked to play at most of the events held in the Marriott Center. The only exception might be the BYU Women’s Conference held every spring.

Determined to be an organist at Women’s Conference some day, I spent the next two years preparing for the AGO exam. As promised, after passing the AGO Service Playing Exam, my name was added to the Organists Approved to Play Marriott Center list.

And then I waited. Patiently. Sort of. For the first couple years, anyway.

I finally gave up this year and resigned myself to never playing at Women’s Conference. Ever. And of course, that’s when I was asked to play. (Why didn’t I give up sooner?)

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It was a great experience. And just in case you ever get asked to play the organ at the Marriott Center, here’s my List of Things That Are Really Nice to Know Before You Play the Marriott Center Organ:

  • There is not a “practice organ” in a private, safe, secluded room. There is only one organ in the Marriott Center and it’s the real deal, out in the middle of a big, huge, lonely arena.
  • The “on” switch is above the manuals on the left side.
  • To choose a memory level, open the drawer below the draw knobs on the left side of the manuals. If you can’t find the hidden drawer, just get off the bench quickly, in desperation to phone a more experienced organist to tell you where the stupid thing is and your knee will find the drawer very quickly. (I’ve got the bruise to prove it!)
  • Practice headphones are kept at the organ, on the floor, to the right of the pedalboard. It’s a good idea to use them, but it’s also very helpful to not use them at least once before you’re playing in front of a live audience so you get a feel for the sound coming through humungo speakers throughout the arena and not just the little wimpy tink-tink through the headphones. (Besides, it feels so good to sit in an empty arena and just play LOUD!)
  • During an event the HVAC system moves a lot of air. Taping your sheet music down is a must. But even books can be affected by the breeze. Use paper clips or pencils, or your metronome, or anything to keep your hymnal open to the right page throughout the whole hymn.
  • The lights on the organist are bright. The lights on the music are not. To get a feel for how it’s going to be, have an organ practice session in a dimly lit room while someone shines a flashlight at your face.
  • Counting out loud is not just for kids at piano lessons. The delayed-sound-travel phenomenon can get very distracting. Watch the conductor, count aloud, sing the hymn—do what you need to do to keep yourself focused on where you are, not where the congregation is.
  • Enjoy the moment. As Albert Schweitzer said:

If you are called upon to play a church service, it is a greater honor than if you were to play a concert on the finest organ in the world…Thank God each time when you are privileged to sit before the organ console and assist in the worship of the Almighty.