SALSA, Young and Refreshing: Skylie

SALSASociety of Awesome Latter-day Saint Accompanists

If you’re thinking that organists are just a bunch of old, boring people, you need to meet Skylie. She is young and talented, and while quite passionate about music in general you should see her eyes light up when she talks about playing the organ. Her enthusiasm is delightfully contagious!

When I spoke with Skylie (who happens to be my daughter’s husband’s brother’s wife’s sister…got that?) about her musical beginnings, she told me that she has always enjoyed music and the indescribable feeling she gets while playing or listening to different pieces. In her words, “Music is probably the most important thing in my life other than my family.”

Take a moment to get acquainted with Skylie, our most recent addition to the Society of Awesome Latter-day Saint Accompanists, then go to Questionnaire and tell us your story!

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Skylie—Utah

What was the first musical calling you received? How was that experience? I was called to be my ward’s choir accompanist. It was around November, or close to the beginning of December, so the choir was getting ready for the big musical number for Christmas. At first I felt a little overwhelmed with everything because the choir conductor chose harder pieces and I was feeling a little stressed about school. With a lot of faith and bombarding the heavens with my prayers, I was able to get through the Christmas season. After that, it has been one blessing after another with my piano playing. Couldn’t have accomplished what I do today without the Lord.

How long have you been playing the organ? Why did you start? I’ve been playing the piano since I was about five. I didn’t start playing the organ until I was a junior in high school (about a year and a half ago). We had an organ in my home because we were blessed on getting one for free. For a time my brothers had taken lessons, but when they moved out the organ sort of just sat there in our home.

One time when I was practicing the piano at the church my mom said I could play the organ if I wanted for a bit. Of course I had no idea how to play the organ, but I fiddled around with different stops and pressed the pedals to hear the low notes. It wasn’t until I had set the 32′ stop on the church organ and pressed down on the pedal did I really feel something different. I felt the power of playing such a low note on an instrument. It vibrated through me, I guess is how I could explain it. After that, I started to take lessons and have been playing for a while now.

Do you play any other instruments? If so, which instrument do you prefer? I play the piano and also the clarinet. I’ve been playing the piano longer so I probably prefer it over the other. It’s not because I don’t like the clarinet, but the piano is something that I have a little more freedom in playing.

What is your favorite hymn? I don’t know if I just have one favorite hymn, but probably my top three are If You Could Hie to Kolob, Abide with me; ‘Tis Eventide  and Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.

What is your favorite prelude or postlude piece? Well, I don’t know if I really have a favorite piece. Anything that is moving and sets the tone.

What sort of things do you enjoy doing in your spare time? I like to draw mythical creatures, read fantasy and sci-fi, and write stories.

Is there anything else you would like to share about you or your experience as an organist? I guess I can only say that I’m very glad that I play the organ. It’s such an awesome and powerful instrument. Yes, you can play hymns but there are other amazing pieces out there for the organ. Playing the organ has opened up my mind to how incredible the organ is and that it’s something other than a church instrument. (Also you can play Hall of the Mountain King during Halloween with the volume way up!)

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Thanks for introducing yourself to us, Skylie!
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.

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A Well-Seasoned SALSA: Janet B.

SALSASociety of Awesome Latter-day Saint Accompanists

How does a ward organist get to play the Salt Lake Tabernacle organ???

Take a moment to get acquainted with Janet Ollman Blackmer of Draper, Utah as she shares some of her experiences with having the best calling in the Church; including her thoughts on prelude, continued organ study and the unexpected opportunity to play the Tabernacle organ.

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Janet Ollman Blackmer—Utah

Tell us a little about yourself. I grew up in Southern California but have lived all over the country. I landed in Utah after my husband died, so I could be close to my children (three girls—all married, with children). I currently serve as a ward organist and a Draper Temple organist and have taught piano lessons. Although now mostly retired, I was a naturopathic doctor and massage therapist. I married a widower a year ago and we are gloriously happy!

What was the first musical calling you received? How was that experience? I was a pianist for Primary as a teenager. It was not hard nor particularly challenging, musically. In fact, I liked being able to serve in a calling as a teen.

How long have you been playing the organ? Why did you start? I took a 12-week organ course sponsored by the LDS Church from William Foxley in 1976. We took our lessons at BYU and played the organs in the lab and all the organs in the wards of our stake. I took the class with a friend in my ward. When I first touched the organ, I was awed and my allegiance quickly shifted from the piano to the organ. Soon after taking the 12-week course, I was called to be a ward organist—a position I occupied until I moved from Utah 1-1/2 years later. Surprisingly, after that, I didn’t touch an organ for 20 years, when I was told that I was prayed into a ward in Illinois to be the organist. Although I have moved around since then, I have served in that position, along with other callings, for the past 14 years. I am currently taking private lessons and am enrolled in BYU’s Independent Organ Study program.

Do you play any other instruments? If so, which instrument do you prefer? I play the violin, accordion, and piano. I prefer the organ.

What is your favorite hymn? There are so many beautiful hymns, it’s hard to pick a favorite—I have several; for sheer beauty of melody, In Remembrance of Thy Suffering; for personal message, Lead, Kindly Light; With Songs of Praise has a lovely message, too. And who doesn’t adore The Spirit of God and Come, Come, Ye Saints? And I think Evan Stephens did a particularly beautiful job with We Ever Pray for Thee.

What is your favorite prelude or postlude piece? Postlude: James Kasen’s If You Could Hie to Kolob. I have many favorite preludes as I play in the temple and have collected so many lovely arrangements. One that I turn to repeatedly is a simple piece that I downloaded on WardOrganist.com—Daniel Berghout’s arrangement of Come, Follow Me.

What sort of things do you enjoy doing in your spare time? I play the organ, crochet doilies, garden, see my girls and grandchildren, help my aging mother, and quilt. I also like to travel to historical sites and I always read up about them before my visit.

What is one of the challenges you face as an LDS organist? Avoiding being discouraged with inattentiveness to the prelude. I would like to believe that members of the congregation are open to my invitation to the Spirit for our meeting. Another challenge is working with an instrument that could use some help.

What are some of the blessings you have received through accepting the call to serve as an organist? I have become a better organist and been able to share my love for and knowledge of the organ with those who would like to become organists. I have been inspired to take lessons so that I will become more competent. I have learned new music and become much more familiar with the hymns, not only the music, but also the words, which has increased my ability to ponder their meaning.

Janet at the Tabernacle organ

Being a ward organist is the best calling in the Church! It has opened doors to me that I would have never dreamed possible. Because I feel competent as a ward organist, I easily became a temple organist. And because I was a temple organist, I was privileged to accompany a temple devotional choir on the Tabernacle Organ, which was a thrill I never expected to have.

I believe that my spirituality has increased as I have listened to promptings about music to learn and to use in meetings. Also, I have gained a sense of satisfaction teaching young people from my wards the basic of the organ, thus preparing another generation for music service. I love playing the organ and hope that I’ll be able to serve as an organist for many years to come.

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Thanks for introducing yourself to us, Janet!
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.

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SALSA: Joan R. T.

Hey there! It’s another SALSA Saturday!!!

I am thoroughly enjoying getting to know other organists throughout the world and am pleased to feature Joan Runs Through from St. George, Utah. Her gift of music has served her well—from building confidence in her early youth to providing a much needed healing power through the challenges of her adult life.

Take a moment to get acquainted with Joan, another member of the Society of Awesome Latter-day Saint Accompanists, then go to Questionnaire and tell us your story!

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Joan Runs Through—Utah

What was the first musical calling you received? How was that experience? I was called to be the ward organist when I was a Beehive (13). My mother was the stake music director as well as the ward organist in Billings, MT where I grew up. As stake music director, she presented quarterly stake music training workshops. I am the youngest of her five daughters and by the time she got down to teaching me, her technique was pretty refined. I don’t know when I started taking organ lessons from her. I only know that in order for me to continue with the piano, I had to also learn the organ. She set a goal for me, telling me that if I practiced hard enough, she would ask the bishop to release her and call me to be the ward organist. I was ward organist until I graduated high school. The kids in YM/YW liked to count how many mistakes I made each meeting. I liked it too because they would tell me “You totally made 3 mistakes.” And I would smile because I knew they hadn’t noticed all of them.

How long have you been playing the organ? Why did you start? I’ve been playing the organ for decades now. The real question is when did I develop my passion. For a long time it was a duty. In college I was ward pianist for several single’s wards. And I preferred the piano. After marriage I played the organ in a couple of the wards we were in. But when my marriage began to go south, my husband (who is no longer my husband) announced to me that he would not attend church if I played the organ because he did not want to sit alone with the kids. So I stopped playing and kept the family together as long as I could. And to my surprise, I missed playing.

Do you play any other instruments? If so, which instrument do you prefer? I have a minor in piano performance. I also have a love for folk instruments like the accordion, guitar, ukulele, mandolin, dulcimer, baroque recorder, melodica, autoharp, and so forth. Many people have accused me of having 7 children just so I could form a band. I don’t think that was the cause of my having 7 kids, but it sure has been a great side effect!

What is your favorite hymn? I love I Stand All Amazed (I have a hard time singing the “soul so rebellious” part.) I love Nearer My God to Thee and Come, Thou Font (even thou, apparently, it is no longer in the hymnbook) and recently I’ve really loved Be Still My Soul.

What is your favorite prelude or postlude piece? I like A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief, Beautiful Savior, O Savior Thou Who Wearest a Crown.

What sort of things do you enjoy doing in your spare time? I get up early to practice and stay up late to practice. I like performing with my kids and others. I Love attending my writing group when I get the chance. And I love anything I can do in the sunshine.

What is one of the challenges you face as an LDS organist? I’ve recently started lessons again because I am always striving to do better. I was asked to play in Stake Conference a few months back. I spent a month preparing, even writing out a “creative” arrangement for one of the better known hymns. Five minutes before the conference was to begin, I noted the songs on the board were different from the songs I had been given. When I asked the chorister, she laughed and said — “Oops I forgot to tell you they change the songs.” I tried to explain how bad that was (as I was continuing to play the prelude). She told me “we would have to trust in the Lord” and everything would be fine. I do get frustrated when I cannot prepare as well as I would like. It would be nice to not have to play “cold” each week.

What is one of the blessings you have received through accepting the call to serve as an organist? People tell me horror stories of insensitivities they have experienced when going through a divorce. I expected that when I finally called it quits on my marriage. My bishop’s response was to call me to play the organ. The day I told him of my separation was the day he learned our current organist was moving. He was thrilled to know I was available to play. And the music kept me active at a time when I could have otherwise fallen away. At a time when I felt my heart was so broken that it couldn’t feel anything, the organ was loud enough and persistent enough to reach me.

Is there anything else you would like to share about you or your experience as an organist? I was very quiet for a long time in church. My divorce felt like a failure and what comments could a failure offer? One Sunday a woman told me, “I know why you don’t stand to bear your testimony — because every time we hear you play, you are bearing it.” That is how I want to play. And that is why I continually work at it.

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Thanks for introducing yourself to us, Joan!
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.

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SALSA: Lori W.

SALSA—Society of Awesome Latter-day Saint Accompanists

I am excited to introduce Lori Weiss, a piano teacher from Orem (Utah) and share with you some of her more memorable experiences as ward organist. (Be warned—restless children and barfing involved!)

Take a moment to get acquainted with Lori, another awesome organist, then go to Questionnaire and tell us your story!

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Lori Weiss—Utah

What was the first musical calling you received? How was that experience? While still in Jr. High, I was asked to be the substitute pianist for Jr. Sunday School. The first week, I got out the song list, ready to practice them all, and realized I could just play them! It was so rewarding to feel capable of helping in the church. I wished they would always ask me to play, but for some reason, my mom wanted me to go to my own class. (Figure that out??)

How long have you been playing the organ? Why did you start? I first played organ when we moved to Toronto, back in 1979. We had just 1 car and lived a long ways from the church. My husband had bishopric meeting at 7 am on Sunday, so I had to wait while he was in those meetings. I used the time to go into the chapel and work on the organ. Once in awhile a mouse would run by during those early morning sessions.

The other ward’s organist assured me I could skip the pedals until I felt like trying them, and that’s what I did. Now I’m comfortable playing hymns, but struggle a bit with actual organ music where my feet have to do something different than what my left hand is doing. Our ward choir leaders are fearless, and always want to do wonderful music, so the organ accompaniments stretch me for sure.

Do you play any other instruments? If so, which instrument do you prefer? I play the flute and piano. I love doing both. Sometimes I wish I had played a more unique instrument, like oboe or cello or harp. Our ward has lots of flutists in it, and no other instruments.

What is your favorite hymn? For SURE: On This Day Of Joy and Gladness. I like to play it a bit fast! I also like Press Forward, Saints, because it’s really fun to play. Hmmm….I think I like any hymn that includes Allelujah parts.

What is your favorite prelude or postlude piece? For postlude I do peppy ones like Called To Serve, or Welcome, Welcome, Sabbath Morning. For prelude, I try for reverent calm hymns. I love The Morning Breaks.

What sort of things do you enjoy doing in your spare time? In my spare time lately, I have been going over to the church every morning and practicing the organ. (I finally have time to do that). I also enjoy knitting, and try to keep the weeds out of my flowerbeds. I teach a few piano students, and tend some of my grandchildren on occasion.

What is one of the challenges you face as an LDS organist? One challenge is that there are just two organists in our ward. I am on duty a lot. Right now, part of my calling is to invite pianists in the ward to come and learn the organ. I have found 4 who want to learn, but we haven’t really started doing it yet. I’m a little worried about teaching others, since everything I do I sort of just invented on my own.

What is one of the blessings you have received through accepting the call to serve as an organist? I feel needed. Music speaks to us on a deeper level, and I am part of that.

Is there anything else you would like to share about you or your experience as an organist? Yes! Years ago, when my children were small, I was ward organist, and my husband was bishop. So…our poor children had to sit with someone else every week. They would often escape. I learned to keep an eye out for this, and as my 2 year old daughter would make her way up to the organ to tell me something, I would quickly turn off the pedal stops (while still playing the hymn of course) because I knew she would stand on the low pedals to try and talk to me. One day, she came up to tell me she felt sick, and she barfed right by the organ (off course, during the hymn as usual). I KNOW I would have been released, if anybody else could have played.

That same organ in that ward would overheat if I forgot to turn it off between hymns. When it was hot, it would make a big ROAR on the first note.
So, I would have to guess when the speaker was about finished, and slip up there to turn the organ back on so it would be re-warmed-up and functional by the time we needed to sing. Such fun memories.

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Thanks for introducing yourself to us, Lori!
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.

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