One late-November morning, in my early days as ward organist, I found out that I was schedule to play in Sacrament Meeting on December 23rd. I would be playing Christmas hymns, of course. But this was Joseph Smith‘s birthday and I felt a strong desire to recognize the occasion without taking away from the spirit of sacred celebration of our Savior’s birth.
As I consider various options, my mind settled on playing an organ setting of Praise to the Man for the postlude. Knowing that I had less than four weeks to prepare, I started my search for a suitable setting immediately. I wanted something light, yet meaningful. Something that carried a spirit of celebration without being irreverent. Serious, but not solemn. Above all, it had to be easy enough for me to play. Unfortunately, there were not a lot of organ postludes that met those requirements. Especially the easy part.
When I was just about to resign myself to an unreasonably intense 3-week learning session of the easiest postlude I could find, the Lord gave me another option. It was such a soft voice. But very firm.
“You need to write the postlude.” What a ridiculous thought. I didn’t know how to write music. Again it came to my mind, “You need to write the postlude.”
I have learned to trust that voice—if not the first time, at least the second or third. So I responded, “Fine. But you need to show me how to do it, because I’ve never done this before.”
“And,” I added, “You need to make it easy enough for me to play!”
As I struggled to complete the task, ideas and thoughts would slowly trickle into my mind. Long buried music theory concepts began to surface again. I became very excited as the piece began to take shape, especially when I realized that I didn’t need to play the pedals!
After I played the postlude for the meeting, my friend commented that it sounded great, but that I wasn’t done with it yet. I needed to write a second verse. My feeling was that if it needed to be longer then the verse I had written could be played twice. “No. You need to write another verse,” he insisted. I didn’t want to hear that. It had taken all the composing skill I could find to write the first verse. Another verse just seemed impossible. But I knew he was right. Even though I thought I was done with it, the piece wasn’t done with me yet.
I wanted to let it go, but felt compelled to work on it from time to time over the next year and a half—continuing to study music theory and composition as I could. After all, I was a full-time mom, not a full-time musician!
When I felt it had finally came together, I took it to my favorite pipe organ to play through for its (hopefully) final tweaking. As I played through the piece, a series of visual images corresponding to the different phrases came to my mind. As I played the final cadence, I realized that the music had become a representation of Joseph Smith’s ministry—beginning with a simple melody and a single flute, just a simple farm boy with a single question, adding a a deep, strong pedal to mark the establishment of the Church and concluding with a majesty and power that trails away from our ears slowly, but does not seem to really end.
I am pleased to be able to share this arrangement of Praise to the Man that was given to me by the One who is teaching me much more than how to write music.
Sheet music of this piece available at WardOrganist.com