Appreciating Music the Way God Appreciates Music

I was asked to speak about “Appreciating Music the Way God Appreciates Music” in church today. Since my initial desires to be an organist stemmed from a less than God-like desire (See A Defining Moment) I decided to share some examples of others in my life who have given me what I consider glimpses of God-like appreciation of music.



My mother enjoyed music and desired to give her children the opportunity to explore this wonderful gift. One way she did this was to insist that all seven of us had at least one year of piano instruction. After one year we could choose if we wanted to continue with piano, switch to another instrument or stop music lessons altogether. It seems to me that in this aspect of parenting she reflected God’s desire to have us, His children, discover and develop our talents.


My father appreciated music also. But in a much different way.

As I was growing up our family moved about every two years. In all the homes that we lived in Dad let Mom decorate, furnish and arrange the house as she pleased. She was given free reign….mostly. All Dad asked was that he be allowed to choose where to place his two music speakers. Now these were not little iPod-sized units. They were not even microwave-sized units. These were 1960’s-jumbo-sized-stereo-floor-speakers. Dad liked his music. Mom liked having a living room. Dad explained to her the beauty of true stereo sound. Mom was deaf in one ear. It never really worked out well. The thing that is amazing to me though is what would happen when I wanted to play the piano and Dad was listening to his music in the same room. Without hesitation he would turn off his music and enthusiastically assure me that he would rather listen to me play. Wow! Who would want to listen to a kid practice piano? To me, that was truly a God-like way to look at music.

Sue and the Choir Director

My friend, Sue, enjoys a great musical talent. She can sing alto. Strong. On key. Even when no one else around her does. Not everyone in her ward choir has that ability. Though it may seem a small thing, her unique talent kept the ward choir together when one sweet sister’s enthusiastic off-key offerings threatened to disintegrate the alto section. After complaints from a few of the women in the choir, a wise choir director strategically placed Sue so as to run interference between this devoted, tone deaf sister and the rest of the alto section, thus allowing all to sing their hearts out in praise the best they could. I think if God had been the choir director He would have done the same.

Richard Elliott

As you probably know, the organ not only has a place for your hands, but also has pedals so your feet can play music too. Mormon Tabernacle Organist Richard Elliott is a wonderful musician and has recently become known for his amazing footwork at the organ.

Several years ago he had some shoulder problems and had to keep his hands off the organ keys for a few months. After recovering, Richard was talking with some friends who asked how his shoulder was doing. He cheerfully explained that all seemed well. His arm was finally out of the sling and he was glad to have mobility again.

“Rick, what did you do during those months you couldn’t use your hands?” a fellow organist inquired.

“Improved my pedal technique!” was his quick response.

I love Richard Elliott’s example of making the best of life’s circumstances.


Adam S. Bennion, a general authority in the 1950’s is credited with saying that: “What we need in this church is better music and more of it, and better speaking and less of it.”

In keeping with that bit of counsel I stopped speaking and concluded my talk with a musical number. Though formally known as Richard Elliott’s arrangement of “Jesus, Once of Humble Birth” I offered it as my testimony that God lives and cares very deeply about each of us and the way music affects our lives.


Washington SALSA: Linda Wells

SALSA—Society of Awesome Latter-day Saint Accompanists

Linda Wells from Longview Washington loves playing the organ. So far in her 63 years of life she has served as organist in three different wards. And that’s fine, but more would be even better because, as she says, “Ward Organist is my favorite calling.”

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

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Linda Wells—Washington

What was the first musical calling you received? When I was still in high school, I was called to be the pianist in Primary. (Primary was during the weekdays back then.) I was very nervous and hadn’t taken piano lessons, only organ. I made it through however.

When did you start playing the organ?  I always wanted to play a musical instrument. My sister and brother were given the chance to play the piano and accordian but they both bombed out. I don’t think my mom and dad wanted to risk the time and money on me. Finally, close to my 15th birthday, my dad said I would get the chance to take organ lessons. My mom and I shared the same birthday. We were getting an organ for our birthdays. I never did figure out if I would get the lower and upper manual. I got to take lessons for three years and I loved the lessons. I dove right in and really enjoyed it. I’m so thankful that my parents let me take lessons.

Do you play any other instruments?  Let’s see. I play AT the piano. I’ll play in Relief Society if the regular pianist is absent. I dabble at the harmonica. I can play a comb with tissue paper on it. I can play the kazoo.

Which instrument do you prefer? I think, yep I know, I prefer the organ.

What is your favorite hymn?  Did You Think to Pray

What is your favorite prelude or postlude piece?  I like to play The Lord is My Shepherd. This is the prelude. For postlude I like to play Lord, Dismiss Us With Thy Blessing. I like that one because I can play it by heart.

What sort of things do you enjoy doing in your spare time? I enjoy playing with my grandchildren and helping out in the kindergarten class where my son teaches and going to movies with my family.

What is one of the challenges you face as an LDS organist? I have never been taught how to use all of the pulls and knobs on the big organ at church to make various sounds. I just play what sounds best to me.

What is one of the blessings you have received through accepting the call to serve as an organist? This is the third ward where I’ve been the organist. I’ve learned how to play for the congregation without getting nervous. I know if I pray before I practice and play on Sundays, I do a much better job. Heavenly Father has called me to this position for a reason and He trusts me to do my best. As long as I try to do my best, He will bless me with more ability. I can only hope and pray that I’ll always be able to play.

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Thanks for introducing yourself to us, Linda!
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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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.

By Small and Simple Things

I have a confession to make. One of my Guilty Secrets that I just need to confess publicly—I don’t do New Year resolutions. I don’t like them. I don’t make them. I stay as far away from them as possible.

There. I said it. I feel much better!

Maybe New Year resolutions inspire you to move forward and make something better of your life. But for me, they just inspire me to become an uncontrollable perfectionist that drives everyone crazy and sets myself up for failure. I don’t need a setup for failure. I can find it just fine without that sort of help.

But last week, as I contemplated the coming year, I received a message from my friend, Sheri Peterson, dean of the Utah Valley Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, that caught me off guard. Kind of like a sucker punch, I suppose. It felt so right to me that I almost made a New Year resolution. Fortunately, I stopped myself in time. (Whew! That was a close one.)

So be warned. Prepare yourself. Below is an excerpt from Sheri’s message. This is NOT intended to push you into making an sort of New Year resolution. Maybe you could think of it more like, uh…a New Year reminder:

I have been busy preparing for my senior recital in the spring. As part of this preparation, I’ve been trying to bring some pieces up to tempo. I’ve been doing a lot of metronome work and drilling with various rhythms. The last movement that I will play on my program is fast and furious. It is very exciting, and I can hardly wait to be able to play it up to tempo.

Overall, my tempo has increased on this piece, but I have been stuck because of one measure on the very first page. That one measure appears one more time later in the piece. I have drilled and drilled this one measure. I learned the notes, and I learned the lines. I could play them all. Yet, when I would stick this measure back into the whole piece and try to increase tempo, it would get all jumbled up and stick out like a sore thumb. Even though I’d been working hard, my ability to play this measure in context and up to tempo was not improving, until . . .

A couple days ago, as I was practicing this measure again, the light turned on, and I realized the missing piece of the puzzle. It was something so simple that I’m in awe that it made such a difference. I discovered that I wasn’t keeping my heels together when I played the pedal line in this measure. The very minute I practiced with my heels together my tempo, in context, vastly improved. This little technique freed me.

As I reflect on the past year, it IS the little things that have made the biggest difference, both in my music and in my life. As we begin a new year, I hope that we can all pay more attention to the little things.

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By small and simple things are great things brought to pass.” Alma 37:6

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