Washington SALSA: Linda Wells

SALSA—Society of Awesome Latter-day Saint Accompanists

Linda Wells from Longview Washington loves playing the organ. So far in her 63 years of life she has served as organist in three different wards. And that’s fine, but more would be even better because, as she says, “Ward Organist is my favorite calling.”

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

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Linda Wells—Washington

What was the first musical calling you received? When I was still in high school, I was called to be the pianist in Primary. (Primary was during the weekdays back then.) I was very nervous and hadn’t taken piano lessons, only organ. I made it through however.

When did you start playing the organ?  I always wanted to play a musical instrument. My sister and brother were given the chance to play the piano and accordian but they both bombed out. I don’t think my mom and dad wanted to risk the time and money on me. Finally, close to my 15th birthday, my dad said I would get the chance to take organ lessons. My mom and I shared the same birthday. We were getting an organ for our birthdays. I never did figure out if I would get the lower and upper manual. I got to take lessons for three years and I loved the lessons. I dove right in and really enjoyed it. I’m so thankful that my parents let me take lessons.

Do you play any other instruments?  Let’s see. I play AT the piano. I’ll play in Relief Society if the regular pianist is absent. I dabble at the harmonica. I can play a comb with tissue paper on it. I can play the kazoo.

Which instrument do you prefer? I think, yep I know, I prefer the organ.

What is your favorite hymn?  Did You Think to Pray

What is your favorite prelude or postlude piece?  I like to play The Lord is My Shepherd. This is the prelude. For postlude I like to play Lord, Dismiss Us With Thy Blessing. I like that one because I can play it by heart.

What sort of things do you enjoy doing in your spare time? I enjoy playing with my grandchildren and helping out in the kindergarten class where my son teaches and going to movies with my family.

What is one of the challenges you face as an LDS organist? I have never been taught how to use all of the pulls and knobs on the big organ at church to make various sounds. I just play what sounds best to me.

What is one of the blessings you have received through accepting the call to serve as an organist? This is the third ward where I’ve been the organist. I’ve learned how to play for the congregation without getting nervous. I know if I pray before I practice and play on Sundays, I do a much better job. Heavenly Father has called me to this position for a reason and He trusts me to do my best. As long as I try to do my best, He will bless me with more ability. I can only hope and pray that I’ll always be able to play.

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Thanks for introducing yourself to us, Linda!
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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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.

organwk14

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

Happy organing!

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!

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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.

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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.

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