Attention All Organists: a way to improve your playing… Guaranteed!

Would you like a surefire way to improve your organ playing? Check out this repost from The Organ Is Praise. I wholeheartedly endorse what the author has to say. This is good stuff! I will even go so far as to offer a 100% money back guarantee if it doesn’t work for you!!!

I have a suggestion that will greatly help your playing: Forgive someone!

Yes, forgive someone. In fact, forgive everyone! Forgive the ward members who talk over your preludes, the church leaders that have openly censured you from the pulpit, the people who have sent you hate mail, the people who can barely play who were chosen for special meetings over you and the people who chose them, the visiting authority who walked into your practice time and spent the next 15 minutes yelling at you, the student who didn’t practice and everyone else who has ever trespassed against you. Forgive them all, no matter how great or small or silly the insult, and do it now.

All of the things in the previous paragraph have happened to me and, quite frankly, they hurt at time they occurred. Some of them hurt for years afterwards.  One day, however, I woke up and realized that I was carrying too much baggage around. I went to the Lord and told him that this was over. It didn’t matter how much I hurt or how justified I thought I was in how I felt. It was time to end the hurt and move on.

Why do I say that this will help your playing? It is because, as church musicians, we must have the Spirit of the Lord with us as we serve others. Bitterness is spiritual poison. It keeps the Spirit away and finally destroys the soul.

Why am I talking about this? It’s because, in my many years of church service, I’ve met too many great organists who, due to pride or offense taken, have hung an “out of order” sign around their necks and stopped serving. The number of people I have met who have made that choice is, unfortunately, way more than one or two. Service to the Lord and his church are the hallmarks of a great LDS organist. Without it, we are no longer great.

Just before I met my dear wife another young man was actively courting her. She wanted nothing more to do with him after he told her that he had deliberately flunked a class because the professor had offended him. She realized that he did not understand that by this behavior he was only hurting himself.

So, please – forgive someone today! You’ll be glad you did. Also, please forgive yourself.

Thanks, Harold!

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.

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.

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

Happy organing!