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.

•••

Mom

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.

Dad

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.

Nevada SALSA: Delightfully Lemmon

SALSA—Society of Awesome Latter-day Saint Accompanists

PreludesSACDouglas Lemmon made his church organist debut at age 15. He’s written several organ, piano and choral books. One of my favorites is Preludes SAC—a great late beginner/early intermediate organ collection. Great stuff! (Thank you, Douglas, for providing the LDS organist with arrangements that are accessible (aka degree-in-music-not-required) and sound great!)

He also published a book about JJ McClellan, Tabernacle Organist called “Sweet Is The Work.” (I haven’t read that one, but I’m sure it’s good too.) Douglas and his wife Kathleen reside in Henderson, Nevada, where he teaches private and group organ lessons.

Take a moment to get acquainted with Douglas—our newest member of the Society of Awesome Latter-day Saint Accompanists, who claims that playing the organ is easy—then go to Questionnaire and tell us your story!

. . .

Douglas Lemmon—Nevada

What was the first musical calling you received? How was that experience? Before the “block-program” in the church, I was the Junior Sunday School pianist at age 12, then the Sunday School organist and ward organist at 15. Stake Organist at 17. I loved the Junior Sunday School book and its music. Playing the hymns has been a great experience through the years.

How long have you been playing the organ?  I began piano lessons at age 6. Organ lessons began at about 12. I barely reached the pedals. My parents purchased a Baldwin organ for our home when I was 15. I think they got tired of taking me to the church every couple of days. I was always interested in the organ and was always watching the Tabernacle Organists in their noon recitals and conference. They were and are the inspiration that taught me much more than most of my teachers.

Do you play other instruments? Piano and organ are the only instruments today. I tried flute, guitar and percussion, but stayed with the keyboard instruments.

What is your favorite hymn?  There are about 341 hymns in the hymn book. Each has something special for any specific occasion. I love them all, but especially love the hymns of the restoration.

What about a favorite prelude or postlude piece? I love playing arrangements of the hymns. I have many arrangements in my books I’ve written, and love playing any of the Darwin Wolford and Robert Manookin arrangements.

What sort of things do you enjoy doing in your spare time? I don’t have a lot of spare time, but I love yard work and puttering!

What is one of the challenges you face as an LDS organist? I’ve never faced any challenge as an LDS organist. My students are taught to play appropriate music for the service and I think in the church that can be a challenge for organists. I’ve been playing for such a long time that I’ve seen many bishops and stake presidents come and go. I always meet with the new ones and ask them for their suggestions. None have ever told me to only play hymns. I think that would be a challenge for me, but it hasn’t happened because I play appropriate literature for the occasion. Somewhere I try to include Bach!

What is one of the blessings you have received through accepting the call to serve as an organist?  I’ve met many wonderful people in and out of the church as an organist. I’ve also learned that the Spirit can be strong. An organists needs to listen to those promptings.

Is there anything else you would like to share about you or your experience as an organist? Even though I’ve played for many years, there is still much to learn. I practice the organ and piano daily and encourage those holding an organist position in the church to do that also.

Organ playing is easy. Many musicians dodge playing the organ because they think it’s too difficult, especially playing pedals. I’ve maintained that playing pedals is the easiest part of organ playing. The manual technique is more difficult which will come with practice.

Want more of Douglas? Check out his website at douglaspublishingcompany.com.

. . .

Thanks for introducing yourself to us, Douglas!
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.

. . .

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.

. . .