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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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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