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?)


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.



Feeling Inadequate? Congrats! You’re in Good Company

Several weeks ago I was asked if I would be the organist for our upcoming stake conference. Yes, of course! I love the feeling that comes when leading a large congregation at the organ. The power that comes through their singing inspires and adds strength to my music, which encourages more singing, which inspires me further…and so on, and so on.

With all the great organists we have in our stake, I was very pleased (and surprised) that I had been invited to participate this time. And what added more to my joy was that the hymn selection was a great lineup of bold hymns, all of them begging for an awesome, let all the stops out, last verse arrangement. Furthermore, the meeting would be held at the new Provo YSA building that houses a brand-spanking new, state of the art, 3-manual Johannus organ with digital settings that change an American Classic organ into a French Romantic or German Baroque. Ahh, just think of the fun I could have with prelude & postlude. This was going to be organist heaven!

But (and there’s always a ‘but’) as I sat in front of the console yesterday, trying to get acquainted with this, uh, digital monster, I panicked. Who am I to be doing this?  I thought. This is way more instrument than my familiar little 9-rank Wicks. Why did they ask me to do this? Why not Ruth Ann or Kyle or any of those other really good organists?

And then (gratefully there’s always an ‘and then’ too!) two things came to my mind.

First, one of those ‘inspirational thought’ emails that has been circulating for years. It’s the one that points out many of the faithful men and women that God worked with in spite of their human-ness. You’ve probably read it at some point in your life, but here it is again:

Noah was a drunk. Abraham was too old. Isaac was a day dreamer. Jacob was a liar. Leah was ugly. Joseph was abused. Moses stuttered. Gideon was insecure. Samson had long hair and was a womanizer. Rahab was the town prostitute. Jeremiah and Timothy were considered too young to be useful in the ministry. David had an affair. Elijah was depressed and suicidal. Isaiah preached the Word of God while naked. Jonah ran away from God. Naomi was a widow. Job went bankrupt and lost everything. John the Baptist ate bugs. Peter denied Christ. The Disciples fell asleep while they were praying. Martha was a worrier. The Samaritan woman at the well was divorced…many times. Zaccheus was too small. Paul was too religious. Timothy had a stomach ulcer. And Lazarus was dead. Yet God used them all…even the dead Lazarus!

Then second, Elder Eyring’s counsel from October 2002 General Conference came to my mind:

There will be times when you will feel overwhelmed. One of the ways you will be attacked is with the feeling that you are inadequate. Well, you are inadequate to answer a call to represent God with only your own powers. But you have access to more than your natural capacities, and you do not work alone.

The Lord will magnify what you say and what you do in the eyes of the people you serve…What you say and do will carry hope and give direction to people far beyond your natural abilities and your own understanding.

Okay. I get the point. God does not let a little human inadequacy stand in His way. We can’t “stump” God. When we are less than our best selves He doesn’t look at us and say “Oh…hmm…well I didn’t know that was going to happen. Nothing I can do now!”

That’s not how He works. God is there for us. Always. He stands ready to help. We just need to ask.

The bottom line? Playing a larger instrument in stake conference is somewhat new territory for me. I feel inadequate. That’s okay. We all are in some way. God doesn’t need people who claim to be the best, only people who are willing to let God work with them and bring out His best.

A Moment of Awesome

I talk to myself. A lot. Especially after playing at a Sunday Service or recital. I try to be kind. But, uh…well…yeah. I try. For some reason it’s often more difficult for me to be kind to myself when I do something well as it is when I do something poorly.

A recent post by DaringYoungMom entitled Drops of Awesome offered a new way for me to talk to myself, which I think is really quite wonderful because with all the years of hearing negative self-talk, I am ready for a change!

“Drops of Awesome!” I thought. Every time you do something good, something kind, something productive, it’s a drop in your Bucket of Awesome. You don’t lose drops for every misstep. You can only build. You can only fill.

All day long I chanted these words in my head…By the end of the day, I had realized something important. If I was spending time with my kids, really listening to them with attention in the moment, then I was a good listener, regardless of the 50 other times I’d brushed them off or multi-tasked while they were talking over the past week.

As I added up these Drops of Awesome, I found that in those moments I actually became the person I had always wanted to be.

You do not need to wait three months to be who you want to be. Pick up ten things right now and say, “Drops of Awesome! I am someone who takes care of my house. That is who I am. I have proof.”

In the end, it’s really about allowing yourself to feel joy and allowing yourself to be proud of the small victories of life.

This idea of allowing myself to celebrate the small victories of life led me to produce a short video of my recent experience with the Salt Lake Tabernacle organ. I think I’m as excited about the creation of my little video as I am about my brief encounter with the 5 manual, 206-rank, Æolian-Skinner organ.

A Moment of Awesome may also be viewed at Animoto.