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The ward organist

Susan M - August 30, 2006

When we moved last, I counted how many wards I’ve lived in since joining the church, and I think it was something like 15. The other day during church I was thinking back and remembering some of the organists in various wards we’ve attended.

In one small retirement town we lived in, the organist was an older lady who was like an institution. It just wouldn’t be the same ward without her on the organ. I can’t remember her name but she had lots of kids and grandkids. She also played really. Slowly. Which is a pet peeve of mine in organists. I like wards where everyone sings, and loudly. It’s hard to generate that when the music is too slow. But I still miss seeing her at the organ, now that we don’t live there anymore.

In one inner-city ward we attended, the organist was a really intelligent, gifted woman who loved music. She also taught seminary and was in charge of choosing the hymns, and every Sunday she’d have one of the teenagers leading the hymns, rather than a chorister. She’d often come up to the podium before starting a song to share some information about the background of the song or some other interesting story related to it. Her daughter once mentioned that the reason her mom played the Sacrament hymn slower than the others was that it was the only one of the hymns her mother would sing, and so would have to play it more slowly. But it was important to her that she sing it.

In a suburban ward we lived in, a woman was called to be organist who had no experience playing one. She was a real inspiration. For weeks, probably months, she’d falter a bit on just about every hymn she played, a wrong note here or there. It always made me smile and feel happy. Not because she was screwing up, but because she was so willing to serve and put herself out there, doing something that was difficult for her, and in such a public way. I may not be that great at whatever I’m called to do, but at least I don’t have to do it in front of the whole ward every Sunday.

When we first moved to a different suburban ward, there was a real lack of people who could even play the piano. In Relief Society, they had to use a player piano/keyboard that has all the hymns programmed into it. The organist was an older lady who belonged to a different ward and agreed to come play for our Sacrament. Everyone really appreciated her, and my husband and I loved to hear her play–because, well, she was just so awful at it. Her tempo would wander all over the place, yet it was always super slow, and there were times we wondered if we were even singing the right hymn. That was entertainment!

After a few months a woman moved in who was tremendously musically talented, and she was immediately called to play the organ. She’s the type who is always called on to do musical numbers because she can play piano and sing beautifully all at once. She later moved out of the ward, and one of the few men in the ward who could play piano tackled learning the organ. Who knew it was so much harder than a piano? I was back to being inspired every Sunday—by his courage and enthusiasm and willingness to serve so publicly at something he was not so good at.

So here’s to all the ward organists out there. You rock.


  1. My family’s home ward had the current MoTab director, Mack Wilberg, as organist for a few years (he was also our ward choir director).

    It was especially fun when he’d pull out all the stops on numbers like “God of Our Fathers” and start improvising on the spot.

    He also served as Primary Pianist for a while and would often throw in little vaudville-style improvisations during the songs.

    Comment by Seth R. — August 30, 2006 @ 8:20 am

  2. Seth, did he literally pull out all the stops?

    Comment by Bryce I — August 30, 2006 @ 8:23 am

  3. Wow, that must’ve been awesome.

    Comment by Susan M — August 30, 2006 @ 8:33 am

  4. Our current organist is also the Institute choir director. If she was released as organist, she’d probably leave the church.

    Comment by Kim Siever — August 30, 2006 @ 8:39 am

  5. Nice post! Where would we be without them?

    Comment by BrianJ — August 30, 2006 @ 10:43 am

  6. Very nice post. Thanks from one who subbed on the organ just last week, when the chorister’s 2-year old daughter ran up and pushed the cancel button on me halfway through the closing hymn. Comments like yours make all our embarrassing moments a little more bearable!

    Comment by Amy — August 30, 2006 @ 10:56 am

  7. Great post Susan. The organists are often taken so much for granted. Once you live somewhere that the congregation is singing a capella every week you gain a much greater appreciation for their difficult and public work.

    Cheers, D Fletcher! (and both M and J in my ward)

    Comment by Rusty — August 30, 2006 @ 10:56 am

  8. I had the great blessing of attending church from 1965 to 1970 in the auditorium of the old Joseph Smith Building at BYU, which housed the old Tabernacle organ. J.J. Keeler, the dean of organ performance studies at BYU, allowed only his students to touch the instrument, so we had five years of first-rate organists.

    Then there was the best organist I’ve seen this side of the country. A graduate from BYU in organ performance, he was studing musicology at NYU and lived in Brooklyn. He could make the old (and, sadly, in disrepair) pipe organ in the old Brooklyn Ward chapel do things that nobody else could. But his brightest moment occurred one Sunday when one of the reeds went nuts during a hymn, making a giant Bronx-cheer kind of sound and drowning out all the rest–the other pipes in the organ and the congregation. The organist hit the off switch on the organ, grabbed his music and jumped to the piano . . . and he only missed one beat. He did almost die laughing, though.

    So, I’ll add my cheers for the organists–and a plea (Please!!) play up to the marked tempo and play loudly!

    Comment by Mark B. — August 30, 2006 @ 11:32 am

  9. I am one of those who have tried making the conversion from the piano to the organ. I have been playing organ off and on over the years, but I am really a piano player (I don’t quite feel qualified to call myself a “pianist”). The only condition I made to accept being the organist was that the Bishop had to let me be the Primary accompanist also.

    I play fast, and as loud as I dare. I hesitate to play too loud, in part because the organist in my last branch was world-class, but when he played the organ you could not hear a bomb going off in the foyer.

    Comment by CS Eric — August 30, 2006 @ 12:10 pm

  10. As an organist of many years standing … Many thanks for your kind words … a life on the organ bench can be a very lonely one!!! I have a beautiful wife who appreciates music as much as I love to play. Thankfully the ward I play for in the United Kingdom is just as appreciative of my music too.

    If you appreciate your organist/painist – let them know!! The difference in their playing will be amazing as it does wonders for the soul.

    (PS I love to play loud and to the mark!! Also have that traditionally Anglican-English habit of altering harmonies on the last verse for a rousing send off – love to hear the congregation go out of chapel humming the last hymn!)

    Comment by SP — August 30, 2006 @ 4:56 pm

  11. I went to a non-denominational christian church with some friends of ours that are pretty devout. They had what they called a Worship Team which was basically a guitar band, and they’d play christian rock. They were really good – everyone was singing and clapping along. God must love riffs on the guitar as well as the classic organ. As I am unaccomplished in any musical art, my hat is off to all the people out there that work so hard to make services fantastic.

    Comment by Chad — August 30, 2006 @ 11:39 pm

  12. I was in choir at BYU-I with Jason Gunnell for four years. Look for him in a few years as I have no doubt he’ll be in line for the Tabernacle job!!

    Why don’t ALL chapels have pipe organs? You think this rich church wouldn’t skimp on the money and give us some goods!

    I’ve had one or two ward organists do that. It makes a BIG difference for everyone. I love it! Especially when this one in my current ward would try to add some Methodist and/or Baptist sound to it:)

    Comment by Bret — August 31, 2006 @ 1:52 am

  13. Bret:

    Initial cost.

    Maintenance costs.

    Lack of talent–why spend the money for an instrument nobody can play?

    Sound quality. Most of us can’t tell the difference anymore. 40 years ago electronic organs were miserable sounding things that belonged in cheesy Las Vegas wedding chapels. Not anymore.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 31, 2006 @ 7:13 am

  14. Bret, when you live a frugal religion, there are just going to be a few things that get neglected.

    Comment by Seth R. — August 31, 2006 @ 8:09 am

  15. It was a joke. I’d rather see more temples and chapels worldwide then our American folk get pur cheesy way:) Though I find it a bit odd that some of the richer wards/stakes in the country DO have a pipe organ. The sound is umistakable.

    We could always go for the 70s gospel/pentacostal organs. Now there’s some SOUL!:)

    Comment by Bret — September 1, 2006 @ 10:19 pm

  16. I can see I need to move around more:) We’ve been stuck in the same place for more than 15 years, and I tend to think that how things are done here is how things are done in the church, which clearly ain’t so.

    The concept of a “ward organist” is foreign to me. Our ward has always had an “organ team” and a “conducting team” of at least 4-6 people, some as young as 14. Obviously, the quality of organ playing varies from week to week, from a graduate school in music at the nearby university to a beginner. But like anything else in the church, we’re here to grow, not perform.

    So the idea of having “one of the teenagers leading the hymns, rather than a chorister” seems a bit condescending to me. In our ward, teenagers are *called* to be choristers.

    (I have heard of the concept of a ward organist–occasionally the smaller outlying units need one, and so someone gets an assignment from the staketo attend that ward for a year and help with their music.)

    Comment by Naismith — September 2, 2006 @ 6:42 am

  17. Well, as I’ve said, I’ve lived in about 15 wards, and I’ve never seen a different youth leading the music every week. I did live in a ward where a young man served as organist, but I don’t know if he was young enough to be in the young men’s program when he did so. He was very, very good.

    I thought it was awesome that the organist taught the youth how to lead music. I wish more wards would do that.

    Comment by Susan M — September 2, 2006 @ 6:51 am

  18. Susan,

    Amen! People don’t realize that there is SOOO much more to conducting then waving your hand around in the air. Even if barely anyone is watching:)

    By the way, don’t use the back of the hymnbook to learn how to conduct.

    Comment by Bret — September 2, 2006 @ 9:12 pm

  19. Thanks Susan for a great post! I am not usually a “blogger” but my sister told me about your kind words about the ward organists and I am so grateful you pointed this out to so many who take the work of an organist for granted. I was called 11 years ago because they were DESPERATE and told me I could even play on the piano for that Easter Sunday, they didn’t care. I sat down at the organ, not thinking it would be too much harder than playing the piano. Yes, it is a keyboard, but it is VERY different!! Trying to put my feet with my hands was my most difficult challenge, but gave me new empathy for my piano students who always complain about trying to put their right hand with their left. I practiced for many hours. It still continues to frustrate me that when you make a mistake, it is out there for ALL to hear—no covering it up like when you play on a piano with a damper pedal that HIDES a lot of problems!

    I’ve been called to play several times over the years and it usually takes me 3 or 4 months to get back in the “groove” and not have to drive to the church each week to practice for at LEAST an hour for the less than 10 minutes total “performance” time. My prelude music STILL consists of the songs we’ll be singing as my final attempt at a rehearsal. My postlude consists of the closing hymn so people WILL hum it on their way to class!

    With 5 boys now it has definitely been a TREMENDOUS challenge to practice, leave my family alone on the bench for 1/2 the meeting, but most especially to get there EARLY to play prelude each week. My prayer is always just that I will INVITE the Spirit and NOT take it away with my mistakes…

    My old college roommate and I were emailing about our recent organ/accompanying stories and I told her that I do enjoy having the “power” that being the ward organist brings, however! By changing stops between verses I can evoke all sorts of emotions to coordinate with the words and I love bringing in the trumpets when appropriate! (My favorite is the bassoon when playing “Ring Out Wild Bells” at New Years each winter!) I also love it when I keep getting softer and taking away stops until I’m down to one 4′flute and/or 8′ while playing a Sacrament song for the prelude and I can hear the congregation’s noise and roar of everyone talking go down to a buzz and then a hush as I hear more people “shushing” those around them because it is getting close to the time for the meeting to begin. That is when I feel I have “magnified” my calling!

    As SP suggested: go and tell ANYONE who attempts to play how much you appreciate their effort! It may help them get through to the next week! :) (I STILL have a thank you card my Stake President sent me years ago telling me how much the musical number I accompanied on the piano added to the meeting that day and how much the “music people” are needed but the hours spent are often not even recognized, let alone appreciated!)

    And Susan: thanks for pointing out how you admire and smile that we organists screw up in such a public way and you don’t have to. Hopefully everyone out there can forgive us and just keep singing!!!

    Comment by J. Coffey — September 4, 2006 @ 1:36 am

  20. I hate to be too contrarian but I’ll say my piece. I certainly enjoy good organ playing but I have a pet peeve (or three). More and more organists try to improvise an accompaniment that is not in the hymn book for a concluding verse. Most of them don’t know how. They add in hokey little cliches and they make egregious harmonic errors (parallel 5ths and octaves come to mind.) It is extremely annoying. Now and then I have heard an organist use a published alternate accompaniment and in the hands of a fine organist these published accompaniments “can” occassionally be very effective.

    I also hate it when organists think they need to make big dynamic contrasts from verse to verse. It feels like the bottom falling out while one is singing.

    Final beef: Playing preludes with lounge harmonies. This is a real downer for my worship experience.

    Some good things I haave heard include soloing out the melody, soloing out the tenor on some select hymns (try this on “How Gentle God’s Commands”) by playing the line on another manual with the rest of the hymn being played on pedals and the other manual.

    Comment by GeorgeD — September 10, 2006 @ 9:19 pm

  21. Did I see my name here?


    I’m very pleased if anybody recognizes the organist. It’s a hard job, particularly hard to do well. Like some of you, I wasn’t trained as an organist (and I taught myself to play the piano, too). I was just asked to be the organist, and I sat down in front of it the very next Sunday. That was in October, 1985, and I think I’ve played the organ somewhere every Sunday since.

    The hymns are just my speed, and I try to give them a little energy. I breathe with the phrases (lifting my hands off the keys at a comma, for instance), and I try to choose a tempo which is just right, not too slow and not too fast (organ makes you slow down, piano makes you speed up).

    I am inventive, but I try to be careful to stay within the hymns written harmony, because it’s too difficult to sing along, otherwise.

    I do pull it out the stops, and play loudly, but I don’t like to do this more than one hymn a week, usually the opening or rest hymn. The sacrament hymn, and the closing hymn, I reserve for quieter, contemplative, and spiritual moods.

    My favorite anthem to play is All Creatures of Our God and King, #62 (naturally), and I modulate upward on the final verse.

    My favorite hymn, though is Abide With Me!, #166, which is just exquisite harmony, and perfect words.

    Comment by D. Fletcher — September 13, 2006 @ 2:12 pm

  22. Whoa D.! I just listed those exact two as my favorites over at FMH.

    (Does this mean I’m Gay?)

    Comment by Tim — September 13, 2006 @ 2:22 pm

  23. Have you seen the episode of Mr. Bean where he’s in church and they’re singing All Creatures of Our God and King? I think of it every time we sing it, and have to lean over and remind my kids of it, too.

    That is one of my favorite hymns, though. I love all the creation hymns.

    Comment by Susan M — September 13, 2006 @ 2:58 pm

  24. Did I forget my 4th pet peeve? Modulating upward. Organists who do this should be condemned to hell. The keys have been chosen for the comfort of the average voice. When only the tenors and sopranos can carry on I feel left out. I hate screaming.

    Comment by GeorgeD — September 13, 2006 @ 8:28 pm

  25. Sorry, George. No one has ever expressed this to me before. If you’re ever in my ward, be sure to introduce yourself *before* the meeting.


    Comment by D. Fletcher — September 13, 2006 @ 9:18 pm

  26. In my experience self trained is untrained. My other experience is that the organ attracts dilletantes like no other instrument. Just attend an organ concert somewhere and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

    Comment by GeorgeD — September 14, 2006 @ 5:20 am

  27. My parents have an old (antique) organ you have to pump with your feet, and I loved hearing my brother play Bach’s prelude and fugue on it. So awesome.

    Comment by Susan M — September 14, 2006 @ 6:48 am

  28. I’m sorry George, but arrogant people like you are what make the meek who are willing to try something when called and have NO EXPERIENCE or have not had the TRAINING cry in anguish every week after not playing perfectly for critical people like you!!

    Also, if you are going to “say your piece” then maybe you should keep your PEACE and learn how to spell. And if you are going to use a big word on a blog then spell it right so YOU don’t look like the DILETTANTE here…

    Thanks for your positive comments D. Fletcher and again Susan. It’s good to see that some people can ignore the slime and rise above the criticism.

    Comment by J.Coffey — September 14, 2006 @ 10:58 pm

  29. The meek play the hymns as written. The proud inject themselves into the process.

    J. Coffey, you have made an incredible leap in logic to attack me as someone who puts down humble organists. Nowhere in my comments to I criticize beginners, nowhere did I say anything about halting or too slow renditions of the hymns (as many others did). I was critical of the arrogant who without taste or training hijacked the hymns for their self-aggrandizement.

    The essence of humility is to submit oneself to discipleship. This includes musical training as well for those who aspire to serve musically. I am sick to death of amateur organists who think they are special and have to improvise. 99% of it is tasteless trash and it only amuses the ignorant.

    Perhaps I cannot spell J. Coffey but I think your intellectual defects are the more glaring….

    Comment by GeorgeD — September 15, 2006 @ 6:25 am

  30. I admit to being one of the proud. I love to play the hymns, to illuminate them, and to maximize my talent at the same time as providing valuable service. I don’t think I’ve ever had a complaint, but I have had people come up to me after a vacation and say that they really missed me in the ward. I think this means, I’ve been doing something right, all these years.

    Comment by D. Fletcher — September 15, 2006 @ 8:25 am

  31. If our organist played the hymns straight he he would bless just about any ward (even though he is relatively untrained) but he has to prance and pose. I frequently hear him complimented for the most tasteless excesses. It reminds me that the praise of men isn’t worth much except to the proud.

    Comment by GeorgeD — September 15, 2006 @ 10:35 am

  32. Well, I certainly agree that the wrong organist can make for a very trying experience at Sacrament Meeting. I’m sorry you have to put up with that.

    Comment by D. Fletcher — September 15, 2006 @ 10:44 am

  33. What’s wrong with dynamic contrast? (I suppose you mean changes in loudness.) There’s no reason to suppose that the author/composer of the hymn would have had the whole thing sung, straight through, at either a dull mezzoforte or a mumbling pianissimo.

    If there’s a problem with the organist, it’s usually a problem with the music director, who all too often fails to lead, leaving the poor organist and the congregation like those proverbial sheep without a shepherd.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 15, 2006 @ 11:39 am

  34. 33. Extremes in dynamic contrast are usually tasteless. Some subtle contrast can be very musical. Very soft playing is more ostentatious than loud playing.

    IMO the chorister is a very unnecessary addition to our worship. Many churches have no one to lead the singing. They find the organ quite sufficient., I blame nothing on choristers.

    Comment by GeorgeD — September 15, 2006 @ 6:11 pm

  35. Tell you what, GeorgeD. Next Sunday bring your Ipod onto which you have downloaded all the hymns from the church website. Listen only to the mellow tones coming from the Church Office Building servers. Save your ears from the cacophony sure to follow when someone *gasp* does his/her best to magnify his/her calling.

    Be sure also to complain loudly when the ham at the Ward Christmas Party is too salty, or when the Cub Scouts forget to say “two” during the flag ceremony.

    C’mon man! Surely we as a church family can find it in our hearts to not hold differences in taste or simple style errors against each other, no?

    Comment by Chad Too — September 15, 2006 @ 8:30 pm

  36. I’m afraid I’d have to agree with Chad Too, GeorgeD.

    Your comments are much more a show of your own pride and haughtiness over what you seem to think sould be done for worship and organ performance. If you, yourself are a trained organist I’m glad to know you try to perform according to the dictates of your conscience on what is proper. However, your comments make you sound like an arrogant one who has little to know respect for those who are either not as good as yourself, or do not know as much about music.

    I, myself am a choral music minor and have my own ideas of how music should be done in sacrament and what should/shouldn’t be done. I cringe whenever I hear a Janice Kapp Perry song sung as the special musical number, especially when it’s done with a boombox accomaniment. However, I would never THINK a put down or snide thought about that person’s genuine sincerity to do their duty and worship before the Lord. In fact I make sure to praise them for being willing to do so.

    It is not our place to judge whether people are trying to do what they feel is the best performance they can give or whether they are pridefully showing off what they think are their amazing talents. I’m sorry but you don’t “know” what you think you know about these people.

    Comment by Bret — September 15, 2006 @ 9:48 pm

  37. “In my experience self trained is untrained. My other experience is that the organ attracts dilletantes like no other instrument.”

    “Nowhere in my comments to I criticize beginners, nowhere did I say anything about halting or too slow renditions of the hymns (as many others did).”

    You didn’t specifically include them but your previous comment is certainly NOT as clear as you say it is. J. Coffey was definitely too strong in her retort but I do not blame her for jumping to the conclusion she did based on the comment you posted.

    Comment by Bret — September 15, 2006 @ 9:54 pm

  38. Bret and Chad, Your tortured readings of my posts place you intellectually in the realms of J. Coffey. I understand the spirit of your scolds. I wish I had the time and inclination to argue with your philosohy of “no-standards of excellence” and how foul and offensive your “I’m OK you’re OK” philosophy is but it isn’t worth the time.

    I am an older man and I have been well acqainted with Church music since my childhood. I have never in my life rejected the humble musical offering of someone who was trying. But more and more I see self-indulgent amateurs who have to elaborate the hymns and the prelude music in ugly and tasteless ways, injecting their personalities into our worship.

    I deplore this and I reject this. I have my share of pride but nothing is more prideful or arrogant than people, who with no knowledge or background force their tastelessness and ignorance on others. I only argue for a taste and reticence in music making.

    PS amateur is not the same as diletante

    Comment by GeorgeD — September 16, 2006 @ 2:29 am

  39. Beginner and novice are not the same as dilettante.

    showing frivolous or superficial interest; …dabbler: an amateur who engages in an activity without serious intentions and who pretends to have knowledge

    I think that dilettante escribes someone quite different than a humble, hard working, but not very good organist..

    Bret and Chad, Your tortured readings of my posts place you intellectually in the realms of J. Coffey. I understand the spirit of your scolds. I wish I had the time and inclination to argue with your philosohy of “no-standards of excellence” and how foul and offensive your “I’m OK you’re OK” philosophy is but it isn’t worth the time.

    I am an older man and I have been well acqainted with Church music since my childhood. I have never in my life rejected the humble musical offering of someone who was trying. But more and more I see self-indulgent amateurs who have to elaborate the hymns and the prelude music in ugly and tasteless ways, injecting their personalities into our worship.

    I deplore this and I reject this. I have my share of pride but nothing is more prideful or arrogant than people, who with no knowledge or background force their tastelessness and ignorance on others. I only argue for taste and reticence in music making.

    Comment by GeorgeD — September 16, 2006 @ 2:34 am

  40. Sorry for the duplicative post.

    Comment by GeorgeD — September 16, 2006 @ 2:35 am

  41. Looking at his gay bashing on those M* threads, and looking at his nitpicking here, I put money on GeorgeD being repressed homosexual.

    Comment by Steve EM — September 16, 2006 @ 6:21 am

  42. Stephen EM

    Isn’t it amazing that someone can come on to the LDS blogosphere and have generally conservative positions that don’t take aim at anyone in particular and he gets full bore ad hominem attacks pby people who vaunt themselves as tolerant..

    So I will reply in kind. Your are a dilettante psychologist my friend. Your opinions wreak of modern psychobabble. You are full of ____.

    You are hateful and repressive and intolerant of conservative thought and intolerant of standards and values.

    Now there!!!

    Comment by GeorgeD — September 16, 2006 @ 6:31 am

  43. Kay…

    I see GeorgeD’s point. I see Bret/Chad Too’s points. And for the love of pete, don’t feed the Steve!

    But really George, how do you tell the difference between an “amateur” and a “dilettante?”

    Comment by Seth R. — September 16, 2006 @ 10:36 am

  44. Who knew a post about ward organists would be so controversial.

    Comment by Susan M — September 16, 2006 @ 10:56 am

  45. I’m not sure I really understand George’s point — does he *want* organists to play badly? He suggests that he hasn’t insulted anyone personally, but right after I mentioned that I like to modulate upward on the last verse, here’s his statement:

    “Did I forget my 4th pet peeve? Modulating upward. Organists who do this should be condemned to hell.”

    I guess modulating upward is a sin, one I didn’t know about before. I’ll try harder next time.


    Comment by D. Fletcher — September 16, 2006 @ 11:19 am

  46. GeorgeD,
    What ad hominem? Being repressed homosexual is a positive in the church. Now your musical critique is nitpicking.

    Comment by Steve EM — September 16, 2006 @ 4:08 pm

  47. 1. D. Fletcher, Modulating upward is in bad taste. It is showboating. Did you hope that I would validate you? Say something warm and accepting? Say “how nice”? You already had taken care of all that. I hope that every organist who improvises on the hymns, modulates between verses, makes outrageous dynamic contrasts, plays lounge harmonies for the preludes etc. etc. is stung by my criticisms. I will call that success. I wrote my strong opinions for a reason.

    2. Seth R. Dilettantes “showboat” and overreach.

    3. Steve EM

    You’re still full of ____
    and you are not even slightly a wit.

    Comment by GeorgeD — September 16, 2006 @ 4:34 pm

  48. GeorgeD,

    I’m surprised by your responses for two reasons. One, I see little reason to revert to name-calling and attacking people’s character no matter how heated the debate gets. That’s an argument fallacy anyway. Second, I’m very surprised you don’t see the vagueness of your own comments. Your explanations afterwards most certianly make things clearer. (though I still don’t see how you can make a judgment of people’s motives for their performances just by listening to them. I often wonder myself but know that I cannot judge their motives. At least not without talking to them about it) I actaully agree with what you are trying to say, but we can’t read your mind to know who you are including and excluding.

    Does anyone else find his stand alone comments vague and/or generalized?

    Comment by Bret — September 16, 2006 @ 6:39 pm

  49. Everyone just stop fighting! Now let me get to bed… I’ve got to get up and play the organ tomorrow morning.

    Comment by Amy — September 16, 2006 @ 7:27 pm

  50. (Not joking. I was called as the ward organist last week. So in all seriousness, thanks to GeorgeD for making me think about how I play the organ and why. And thanks to all the Brets out there, who won’t judge me for my efforts! And thanks again to Susan for your terrific pat-on-the-back post.)

    Comment by Amy — September 16, 2006 @ 7:35 pm

  51. GeorgeD,
    Guess I hit a nerve. Sorry. But your critism of volunteers is nitpicking.

    Comment by Steve EM — September 16, 2006 @ 8:05 pm

  52. GeorgeD:

    The only thing tortured was me as I took the time to read your posts.

    Being an older man doesn’t give you any special license to be so highly critical of how others lead their lives or perform in their callings. President Hinckley is in his ninth decade and I never hear a harsh or criticizing tone in his voice. One can disagree without being disagreeable.

    People like Amy shouldn’t have to walk into the chapel today in fear of what people like you will do or say about her playing. She was called through inspiration by a humble servant of the Lord and the members of her ward sustained her in that calling. Unless that holy servant is so moved to release her, the ward members have pledged to sustain her in her calling.

    That you would do it differently than she does doesn’t make it inappropriate, doesn’t release you from your obligation to sustain your ward organist (yes, even if he/she modulates), and it certainly doesn’t make it wrong.

    You might want to spend a little time reading in the scriptures the promises made to those who are meek versus those who are haughty. I remind you specifically of our dear Prophet’s counsel when he introduced us to his six Bs. In particular numbers 1 and 5, to wit:

    1. Be grateful
    2. Be smart
    3. Be clean
    4. Be true
    5. Be humble
    6. Be prayerful

    I don’t recall an “unless-we’re-talking-about-gays-or-organists” exception ever being offered. Sorry.

    Comment by Chad Too — September 16, 2006 @ 9:51 pm

  53. I hope every organist that reads my posts walks into church determined to be faithful to the words, music and spirit of the hymn. I hope they have a desire to invite the Spirit into the meeting and to leave their ego at the door.

    I am sure that Amy did fine today. If anyone who admitted to the things that I think are “showboating” felt a twinge of conscience today I will feel very pleased.

    Comment by GeorgeD — September 17, 2006 @ 3:48 pm

  54. These are they in whom GeorgeD is well pleased.

    Reminds me of that time Mr. T announced:

    “this is a list of the people I pity. For they are in for a world of whoopin.”

    Comment by Seth R. — September 17, 2006 @ 3:56 pm

  55. Err … it is Steve EM and Stephen M (Ethesis)


    We are very, very different people.


    Stephen EM

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — September 17, 2006 @ 5:34 pm

  56. Stephen M

    I am sure you hope to be as different as possible from EM.

    Comment by GeorgeD — September 17, 2006 @ 7:13 pm

  57. Well Stephen M (Ethesis), I’m afraid my legal name is Stephen too. While we certainly are very different people, and am equally amazed when people confuse us, for the record, I think you’re swell.

    Now I’m thinking that GeorgeD, Rob Osborn and NDBF Gary are the same person.

    Comment by Steve EM — September 17, 2006 @ 7:14 pm

  58. Seth R. If having some standards makes me a snob in your eyes I’ll suffer the label.

    Comment by GeorgeD — September 17, 2006 @ 7:15 pm

  59. I’ve attended several dozen wards at one time or another, and even played organ in a few of them. D. Fletcher is hands-down the best organist I’ve ever heard play. Modulate upward at will, D. I find it positively _bizarre_ that someone would criticize your organ playing without having heard it. Um, weird.

    Of course modulating upward can be used effectively. You hear modulation all the time in general conference; perhaps the Tabernacle organist didn’t get George’s across-the-board memo.

    Also, modulation has to be used carefully. Unnecessarily inflammatory jabs aside, George is right to point out that excessive or uncareful modulation can make a hymn unsingable for an average LDS congregation.

    Is that likely to happen with D. on hymn 62? Probably not.

    D. doesn’t mention whether he modulates upward a half-step or a whole step. (It’s been a while since I heard him play. I vaguely think he modulated a full step, but I could be wrong.)

    A half step takes the highest melody note in 62 from an E-flat to an E. That’s well within the range of most congregations. A number of popular hymns go up to E, starting with God Be With You Till we Meet Again. Unless your congregation can’t sing 152, they’ll be fine with a half-step modulation on 62. And any number of other hymns in the green book go up to E: Though Depeening Trials, God Speed the Right, Our Savior’s Love, The Lord is my Shepherd, Master the Tempest is Raging, High on the Mountain Top.

    A full step moves the highest melody note from an e-flat to an F. That’s probably the edge of singability for a lot of congregation members. There are still hymns in the green book with melodies that go up to F as written — such as 118 and 77 — but they’re not as common.

    Plus, I’m certain that D. has already taken all of this into account in his playing decisions — he’s an exceedingly conscientious organist.

    Comment by Kaimi — September 18, 2006 @ 12:32 am

  60. George D.-Thank you for clarifying your opinion on an organist’s intentions. As I read the list of things you hate I realized that I do not do any of those things—at least intentionally. I may add a stop between verses that blares a little louder than I had hoped, but I am still not skilled enough to change things in the middle of a verse, so everyone has to endure my mistakes for at least one verse! A lot of times I try things, but I have my pencil ready to make changes in my book so that next time that particular hymn will be better. So as I said in my original post: My prayer is always that I will INVITE the Spirit and not take it away.

    My only question is: how many organists out there are REALLY “properly trained”?? I mean, most everyone I have ever encountered in my neck of the woods has admitted to self-taught organ playing. We have only had ONE person in the 13 years I’ve lived in the same area that had taken organ classes at BYU—and he moved back to Utah last spring!

    I was VERY lucky that just a few months after I was called someone came from BYU to our area to conduct an organ workshop where I learned that you SHOULD change things for each verse to encourage more of the congregation to sing. Years later I was talking about a hymn with one of the organists I rotated with and he inquired about the u’s and ^’s I had on my music to indicate heel and toe, and so I “taught” him about that very simple concept that the BYU instructor had taught us but he had never known: because he was self-taught! How do you teach yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing to begin with? (After playing for a few years I learned about the transposing knob one day after discovering it was FIVE steps lower and I wondered why the Sacrament hymn sounded too “gravel-ly” and OFF! So now I know to check that knob!!)

    What happens when someone doesn’t get ANY training??

    So anyway, sorry I was so curt and that I started a very heated debate. (yeah, Susan! I was agreeing with you in wondering how a post on organ-playing could get so controversal!) I think we were all just getting our feathers ruffled because what may seem like “showboating” may just be someone experimenting and TRYING to learn!

    BTW- how DID your organ-playing today go anyway, Amy? :) My feet were not agreeing with my head a few times today…

    Comment by J.Coffey — September 18, 2006 @ 12:54 am

  61. Kaimi. You have never heard a Tabernacle organist modulate upward for a congregational hymn in conference. If you have tell me the conference and session and I’ll review the broadcast myself and publish an apology.

    Off course I didn’t criticize D. Fletcher’s organ playing Kaimi. I criticized modulating upward between verses of a hymn. There is a crucial distinction there that I thought a professor of Law could understand.

    J. Coffey Most LDS organists are in fact quite untrained. I wish more of them would seek out instruction but I can silently endure (and perhaps even enjoy) the diligent efforts of an amateur to play if they are playing “straight” and trying. I wish more stakes and regions would try to offer some seminars on organ playing using some of our finer trained organists.

    I do think that subtle changes in color between verses can be quite effective. There is nothing wrong with a somewhat grand conclusion to a big hymn. There are many creative devices that organists of varying levels of skill can employ to enhance the hymn singing experience of the congregation. I mentioned soloing out a line. I think that this might be too advanced for many but it is subtle and effective.

    Comment by GeorgeD — September 18, 2006 @ 5:33 am

  62. George’s last comment, in which he agrees that “subtle” changes between verses can be quite effective, lets the cat out of the bag.

    So much for his previous insistence on hymns being played as written (as if music ever really can be written). And as soon as one allows any variation at all, the only thing left is “taste” and “appropriateness.”

    As Winston Churchill allegedly said to his neighbor at the dinner party, when she accused him of thinking her a whore: “We’ve already established that. Now we’re just dickering about the price.”

    Comment by Mark B. — September 18, 2006 @ 6:45 am

  63. I’m not sure there’s an appropriate response, but I think I’ve just been paid the highest compliment I ever received.

    Right back atcha, Kaimi!

    Comment by D. Fletcher — September 18, 2006 @ 7:16 am

  64. Mark B. So much for your knowledge of music and notation

    Comment by GeorgeD — September 18, 2006 @ 3:40 pm

  65. GeorgeD, or whoever you are,

    Maybe you should tell the author of Third Nephi, “so much for your knowledge of writing and the alphabet,” since there were prayers that apparently couldn’t be written down.

    If you were reading with a generous spirit, you would have known that Mark B. was referring to the well-known fact that any score is the most crude representation of any actual performance. No human is actually capable of playing in exact rhythm or even of striking the notes of a chord simultaneously, as many computer studies have shown.

    But all of your preening criticisms of the supposedly prideful ring hollow. A dilettante psychologist might say they were inspired by some kind of projection.

    Comment by Bill — September 18, 2006 @ 4:57 pm

  66. Bill, what a brilliant and insightful post.

    Your problem is that you are part of the “I’m OK You’re OK” school. There is no excellence in this school. Intentions and effort are all that counts. Anyone who comes along and says that there are standards and there is something called excellence is proud. This is one of the great fallacies of modernism. Standards are gutted. Effort counts for more than excellence.

    The rewarding of effort over excellence is a formula for mediocrity. In fact it is the absolute ultimate in pride. A great musician, artist, scientist, etc. who is arrogant is, at his worst, less proud than a mediocrity who vaunts himself. Though sometimes superficially arrogant, the excellent humbled themselves before their muse and achieved something real. Far worse to me are people who brag that they are self taught and prattle on about all the praise they have received. “I do this little affectation, then I do this other affectation and everyone tells me how great I am.” Ughh..

    It is truly nauseating but it is epidemic. I have seen it over and over again. I am anonymous here so I feel quite bold to speak about it. I hope a few people read it and recognize themselves. I have had a secret desire to tell some of these kind of people how bad they suck for many years but I am sure that I would be excommunicated (if not punched out) if I told every popinjay church musician what I thought.

    By the way: I have heard a lot of very poor church musicians who humbly gave it all they had and I don’t have anything to say to them except “Thank you very much”

    Comment by GeorgeD — September 18, 2006 @ 8:25 pm

  67. Yep, GeorgeD, Rob Osborn and NDBF Gary are the same person. You had me for a while.

    Comment by Steve EM — September 19, 2006 @ 5:54 am

  68. Umm,

    Is this conversation serving any useful purpose at this point?

    Just curious.

    Comment by Seth R. — September 19, 2006 @ 12:29 pm

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