SALSA: Erin J.

Hey there! It’s another SALSA Saturday!!!

Erin Jensen lives in Teton Valley, Idaho (the west side of the Tetons), but grew up in Southern California where her parents and many siblings still live. Erin attended BYU and served in Germany Dresden mission, which no longer exists! She and her husband have six children who are home schooled, mostly. Their oldest boys are partially enrolled at the local high school in choir, band, and seminary.

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

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Erin Jensen—Idaho

What was the first musical calling you received? How was that experience? I don’t remember what my first official musical calling was, but I do remember how I started accompanying at church. I had played the piano for years, but my first attempt at accompaniment, when I was probably 12 or so, was kind of disastrous and I didn’t try again for a while. A few years after that first attempt, a new girl moved into our ward. She was about my age and she could play the piano better than I could. She was also prettier and thinner than I was. Well, I was a little competitive at the time and I felt like she’d kind of moved in on my territory. I started to pay attention to her accompanying skills (which included leaving out some notes, ignoring the wrong notes, and, above all, keeping up with the singers!) and started playing in Young Women and in Seminary. I’d like to clarify that there were never any bad feelings between us, and I bet she has no idea about any of this. I’m grateful she moved into our ward, because I don’t know if I would have been properly motivated otherwise!

What is your favorite hymn? I can’t pick just one. I love the old pre-18th-century ones with the moving bass lines, like All Creature of Our God and King and Praise to the Lord, the Almighty. And I love the Mormon ones set to folk tunes, like If You Could Hie to Kolob and Adam-ondi-Ahman. I feel a sense of urgency about getting our congregations to know the lesser-known, beautiful hymns so we don’t lose them like we lost Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, which was in our last hymnal. I also love Press Forward, Saints and Come, Ye Thankful People, Come. And there are more.

What is your favorite prelude or postlude piece? I love Doug Bush’s hymn settings, but not all of them are appropriate for prelude or postlude. He has a beautiful setting of Come Thou Fount that I play often. I’m kind of picky about prelude and postlude music, but I often just play from the hymnbook.

What sort of things do you enjoy doing in your spare time? Knitting and watching TV online. Reading, although I don’t do that as often as I used to. Hanging out and talking with my husband.

How long have you been playing the organ? Why did you start? I started playing the organ as a freshman at BYU because when I was a senior and applying for as many scholarships as possible, I found that it was possible to apply for an organ scholarship as a pianist. I thought it might be fun to minor in organ performance, so I made an audition tape and got a small scholarship that covered the fee for private organ instruction. I took private organ instruction from Dr. Douglas Bush for two years. I loved it, and I loved practicing on BYU’s many practice organs (which are mostly real pipe organs!). But I didn’t ever take any of the other classes that were required for a minor. I barely remember doing a sophomore recital at the Joseph Smith Building, but I have the program to prove that I did it. During the summers, I’d play the organ in my home ward, but I never got very comfortable with registration or accompanying hymns, and after I stopped taking lessons with Dr. Bush, I didn’t touch an organ for many years. I had a bunch of kids and, as far as music goes, played the piano for Relief Society and an occasional musical number, but I didn’t think of myself as a competent organist at all.

Then, in 2008, our ward organist asked me to substitute for him on Easter Sunday. I had a couple of practice sessions on the organ in our chapel and found myself sitting on that organ bench for a couple of hours and not wanting to quit. I had lots of fun playing that Easter Sunday (maybe a little too much fun!) and after that I sort of campaigned to be the ward organist. I have never, ever “campaigned” for a calling before and I don’t officially recommend it, but it worked! I was talking to a counselor in the bishopric one day and mentioned that I’d love to be the ward organist and he said, “We’ve considered it, but it’s harder to find a Cubmaster than it is to find an organist,” (I was the Cubmaster at the time). I said I’d be happy to do both and I was called within a couple of weeks.

Since then, I’ve attended the BYU Organ Workshop every year and completed Level 4 of the BYU Independent Study Organ Performance course. It feels like a miracle to me that I can make progress when I can usually only practice a couple of times a week.

Do you play any other instruments? If so, which instrument do you prefer? I wish I played something other than the piano and organ, but I don’t. However, my kids are all taking up second instruments (after piano): guitar, bass guitar, drums, trumpet, trombone, cello, violin, clarinet, saxophone. It makes me happy.

What is one of the challenges you face as an LDS organist? In the beginning, I was discouraged and annoyed by the people who said I played too loud, but either they’ve gotten used to me or I’ve toned it down some. Maybe both. Now it’s probably just finding the time to practice and feeling like I never have anything quite as ready as it ought to be. And sometimes feeling discouraged because it seems like nobody cares how well the organ is played. That’s more than one, I guess!

What is one of the blessings you have received through accepting the call to serve as an organist? I’m so, so grateful that I’ve gotten better over the last few years. I don’t have an organ in my home, and sometimes it’s hard to get to the church to practice. Conventional wisdom and every piano teacher tells us that daily practice is way more effective than occasional practice, but I’ve been able to make progress with 2-3 times a week (sometimes less, sometimes more), and I’m convinced that it’s a blessing directly from Heavenly Father to me.

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Thanks for introducing yourself to us, Erin!
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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