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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SALSA: Mike Nield

Here’s a big welcome for our newest addition to SALSA (Society of Awesome Latter-day Saint Accompanists): Mike Nield
 from the Shelley Idaho South Stake, Jameston Ward.

Mike has some great things to share with us about his experience as a self-described late-blooming organist who has worked his way from piano-player-at-the-organ up to almost-mediocre-organist! (Can anyone else relate to that? Yes!!!)

Check out his unique story, then go to Questionnaire and tell us yours!

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Mike Nield—Idaho

What was the first musical calling you received? How was that experience? My first music calling was as Primary Chorister. That was probably the funnest calling I have ever had. The spirit is so strong in Primary. Since then I have been Assistant Organist, Ward Music Chairman, Ward Music Director, Choir Director, Stake Choir Director, Stake Music Specialist over Priesthood Meetings, and now Stake Music Chairman.

Do you play any other instruments? If so, which instrument do you prefer? I play piano, trumpet, french horn, guitar, and organ. Organ is my favorite. I can also play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on a 3/4 violin nearly as well as my 9-year-old daughter, who has just started lessons.

What is your favorite hymn? How can I pick just one? Be Still My Soul
, Saints, Behold How Great Jehovah
, Come Sing to the Lord.

What sort of things do you enjoy doing in your spare time? Organ practice pretty takes care of my spare time. I love, and I mean really love, going to the chapel late at night and playing on the organ.

What is one of the challenges you face as an LDS organist? Overcoming stage fright. I can play perfectly Saturday night but fall apart Sunday.

What is one thing you have learned that has helped you in your calling? One of the biggest lessons I learned was the effect proper registration has on congregational singing. I would go in late at night Saturday to an empty chapel and work up a really nice registration for a hymn, one that sounded really nice to my ears. But then Sunday when I would play the hymn in the chapel full of singing people the registration sounded so weak, and nobody sang. Turns out I was using a registration too weak to support the congregation.

Tell us about how you got started playing the organ. I’m a late bloomer. I took piano briefly as a youth until I got to be tougher than my Mom, then quit. Music didn’t do much for me back then. Sometime in my early 20’s some life-changing things happened to me musically. I got placed (by revelation, I’m convinced, as I had never even played in an orchestra before in my life) as 2nd Trumpet in the Symphony Orchestra at BYU. I sang (for the first time) in a choir at the MTC-Provo at Christmas. I had some very spiritual experiences on my mission to Tokyo that involved music.

Then I came home and went to Veterinary School, and life got really busy. Ten years passed. I got married, graduated, became a Veterinarian, a small business owner, and then divorced. I was in Scouting at this point, and was very involved with that and not so much with music. It was at this point that I had another life-changer. I went to a Regional Music Workshop for no apparent reason. I don’t know why I decided to go. I don’t remember much about it except for one class where they told us that we could write our own music. That struck a chord, so I went home, sat down at the piano, and said to myself “now what?” I had never written anything before, and had no clue how to do it. But then I heard a choir piece playing like an mp3 in my mind, complete with piano and organ accompaniment.

It took only a few hours to write down the basics of the music. It took only 30 minutes to write the words. That was 1998. We sang the piece in ward choir for Christmas that year, and have every year since. The arrangement changes a bit each year as I get more proficient in my arranging skills, and it is only recently that I have learned enough about organ registration and repertoire to really get the organ part to sound like I heard it that day 14 years ago.

After that, I began arranging hymns. I learned to love conducting. It was six years ago when I was serving as Executive Secretary that our best ward organist moved away, leaving only one other Sister who could play, and she had several other callings. I remember listening to the Bishopric’s discussion about who on earth they were going to get to play the organ when I felt a prompting that I should learn.

I set a trap for our Ward Music Chairman. I picked a time when I knew that she would be in the chapel, and I just happened to be sitting at the organ playing my heart out when she walked in. She immediately walked over and offered to let me play on Fast Sundays.

I was really bad. I thought the organ was a big piano. It took me four years to learn that I didn’t know anything about playing the organ, and I’ve been learning line upon line ever since. Soon I’ll be up to mediocre, and I’m pretty excited about that!

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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.