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.