Does Anyone Watch the Music Director?

Watching this amazingly expressive child in the video clip below got me thinking about various musical religious practices. Check it out. I’d love to work with a music director with that much passion!

Religiously speaking, I love The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka Mormon or LDS church).

Musically speaking, there are a few things that baffle me. Like, why is there someone up in front of the congregation waving their arm every time we sing a hymn? Choirs, I can understand. But congregations?? I don’t get it.

In my experience, the LDS church is the only religious organization that has someone do this. Some churches have cantors that lead congregational singing. But they lead out with their voices, not their arms. And it seems less like musical directing and more like being the lead voice in a group sing-along. You know, if at least one person sings loud enough the vocally shy are more likely to participate.

More often than not, the organist fills the role of the music director—setting the tempo, leading the congregation with a clear introduction, a well-timed pause, a nod of the head and off we go.

Personally, I play better when I can follow the lead of a competent music director. I love the synergy and the feeling of unity that comes with that kind of teamwork. But there have been more than a few times that the music director has told me, “Just do whatever you want. I’ll follow you.”

I’m wondering how it works with other organists. So, I put together this highly scientific poll to find out how often LDS organists are able and willing to follow their arm-waving music directors. If you are now serving, or ever have served as an LDS ward organist, you are invited to take the poll below.

For more highly scientific organist polls go to the Polls page.


At the Organ Bench—finding the right position

A question from Crystal:

I was recently called as a ward organist in my new ward and have a problem. I need to find a height where I can see the music director besides sitting on books. Perhaps it’s where the organ is placed in the chapel or where the music director stands. Any thoughts?

Thanks for the question. I appreciate that you are trying to be so accommodating in your new ward. I am generally in favor of organists empowering and showing respect for their music directors. However, in this case, I suggest that the music director be the one respect your needs, and change position in order to be seen. That may mean finding a small raised platform for the director, changing his/her location by a foot or two, or, if your quarters are tight, you might even need to use a strategically placed mirror at the organ console in order to see your director’s signals. (Moving your organ console is generally not advised!)

In my opinion, it is the music director’s job to put him/herself in a position to be seen by both the congregation and the accompanist. Your job is to position yourself properly at the organ. If you are properly positioned to play and cannot see the music director, it is better to ask the music director to move than to compromise the quality of the music because of poor bench position.

Not sure of proper position? Here’s a good explanation from The New LDS Organist:

When you sit at the organ, consider your position relative to the pedals first. Center your body on the bench slightly left of the center of the pedal. On most organs, this means to center on the pedal note D. Move your body forward so that you can easily push down the expression pedal with your right foot. Then, move the bench forward enough so that you are well supported in this position. Realize that your bench will be closer to the organ than what you are accustomed to at the piano. If possible, adjust the height of the bench so that your toes and heels gently rest on the pedalboard.

Bench height can sometimes be adjusted by turning a handle that is generally found on the side of the bench, near the top.bench

Other organ benches require blocks to be placed under the sides of the bench to raise the height (shown on bench below). These blocks are standard building equipment that can be ordered through your local building Facilities Management.


Hope this addresses your concerns, Crystal. Thanks for reading and participating in the blog.

Happy organing!