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.

 

 

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Allen on an Allen: Wisconsin SALSA

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!)

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

. . .

Allen Blodgett—Wisconsin

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

. . .

Thanks for introducing yourself to us, Allen!
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.

. . .

Kentucky SALSA: Victoria

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!

. . .

Victoria Taylor—Kentucky

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!

. . .

Thanks for introducing yourself to us, Victoria!
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.

. . .

Organist Ejected By Umpire For Playing Three Blind Mice

There have been times I felt my musical offerings were not fully appreciated, but at least I’ve never gotten kicked off the organ bench!

By Spike Eskin

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Derek Dye is spending the summer before his senior year at the University of Illinois interning for the Daytona Cubs. If an internship is supposed to offer you real world experience, Dye’s experience on Wednesday night was proof.

Dye was being given the chance to run the organ music during Wednesday night’s game. There was a questionable call at first base. “Looked like our first baseman caught it, and then lost it on the transfer. So you figure the call would be out,” Dye told 94WIP’s Marc Farzetta.

So Dye thought he’d have a little fun. “I played “Three Blind Mice,” knew organ tone, no lyrics, just the organ,” he said. “And then, within about four or five seconds of the song playing, the home plate umpire looks up, yells as loud as he can, ‘you’re gone!’” The home plate umpire had tossed Dye from the game.

“He’s in here a lot. He knows what music we play. He points directly at me, throws me out of the game,” he said. “I took my hat off, scratched my head, I couldn’t believe he was talking to me. Not the manager, the guy arguing the call, the guy pressing the button on the music.”

“Interns getting ejected has got to be a first,” Dye said.

Reposted from http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2012/08/02/derek-dye-intern-ejected-by-umpire-for-playing-three-blind-mice/