Musical Ward Touring

Posted on July 1, 2012. Filed under: General Church Music, Music Directing, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Organ Music |

On a recent trip I visited four wards in New York, Pennsylvania and Missouri. What were my observations regarding music in those wards?

1. Only one ward I visited, which was in upstate New York, had an organist who could actually play the organ, pedals and all. Of course the other wards had people attempting to play the organ but it’s just not the same.

2. Only one congregation sang the hymns with strength and conviction. Can you guess which ward it was? The one with the real organist.

3. All wards had rest hymns but only one ward had the congregation stand for the rest hymn. Yes, once again it was the New York ward.

So why am I highlighting that New York ward? I think it is amazing that in wards where trained musicians are directing and accompanying the congregation responds with increased participation in the form of hymn singing. So what can we as ward musicians do to get those same results? Training. If you are a music chairman please train the people in your ward music callings. If you are in a ward music calling and feel like you need more training there are several ways to improve your skills. Music directors can receive help through, by practicing with these videos, or by taking directing lessons at a local college or from a private instructor. Organists can improve their skills through diligent practice at the church, by taking private lessons, or through online tutorials.

When musicians are well-trained they provide the opportunity for ward members to enjoy the spirit of the hymns and the singing of the hymns without the distractions that come from issues like note mistakes, hymns played too slow/fast, or organ registrations that are ear piercing or slushy. How are you doing at improving your musical skills?

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4 Responses to “Musical Ward Touring”

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Thanks for putting together this informative site. I have to add that while I enjoy standing for rest hymns because I get to stretch my legs the Church’s direction is that congregations should not stand for rest hymns.

I would love to know where you heard, or read, that the Church directs us not to stand for rest hymns. The LDS Hymnbook (380-81) states, “An intermediate hymn provides an opportunity for congregational participation and may relate to the subject of the talks presented in the meeting. The congregation may stand during this hymn as appropriate.” The Church Handbook 2 (14.4.3) states “As appropriate, a priesthood leader may ask a congregation to stand for an intermediate hymn or a national anthem”. These are the two official sources. We also stand for every rest hymn in General Conference. Two days ago in the General Relief Society Meeting we were actually directed to stand as we sang the opening hymn as well as the rest hymn. While it may be true that a local priesthood leader has told the congregations in his area not to stand during rest hymns, this is in direct contradiction to the official Church statements and such rare counsel would only be applicable to the area under his jurisdiction. Why a priesthood leader would do this is beyond me. Benefits to standing while singing include an increase in audience participation and volume, improved singing posture, and an overall better sound.

I am a self taught pianist and organist for the church in the Oklahoma area for over 30 years. Thanks for letting me know that if I am not playing pedals but use the Bass Coupler that it is “just not the same” quality as someone who plays the pedals and that directly affects the quality of the singing in my ward. Do you really think that pedals influence someone’s desire to sing with the spirit in meetings? I like to sing and have sung, felt the spirit when singing with a very unaccomplished pianist/organist; once the with a dear sister that could play only the left hand because that was all that she could attempt. Those were spiritual meetings. Your evaluation seems to me to be the type of slant that I have received all my life from “trained” music people who feel that those of us with less training are not quit up to par. Now you think that because we try and want to add what we can to the meeting that we are not as beneficial to the reverence/spirit of the meetings as some who is a “professionally trained musician” and that if we were more trained the members of the ward would be more involved? REALLY?

Honestly, it isn’t the same, singing to the organ accompaniment played well with correct stops and yes, pedals vs. singing to an organ accompaniment with bass coupler, which often cuts out certain notes and causes the organist to play more choppy. What my hope and desire is in providing online information for church musicians, is that we will all step up our game a little, or a lot, and strive for perfection, not mediocrity. It is understandable that a beginning organist would be using the bass coupler when learning to transfer his piano skills to the organ. But, if that person is still using the bass coupler after decades, it most likely means he/she isn’t practicing very much and is satisfied with the status quo. Most musicians, teachers, leaders in the church are not professionals. However, we can become the very best amateurs at our callings if we practice and work to be better.

“If we strive for perfection— the best and greatest—and are never satisfied with mediocrity, we can excel.” ~Spencer W. Kimball

As far as feeling the spirit when less-accomplished pianists are playing, I too have had those experiences. When a girl in my ward who has only one arm, learned a hymn with her left hand, we were all moved to tears. When a mentally handicapped woman in my ward performed a piece in sacrament meeting, there wasn’t a dry eye in the congregation. When a little child learns to play a simplified primary song, and performs it for the first time, it is a tender moment, despite any mistakes or hiccups in the performances. However, when I had to deal with our primary pianist who kept making huge mistakes right before the primary program, refusing to practice, it is not cute, touching, and does not invite the spirit. It is a distraction and makes it very difficult for singers to follow the accompaniment.

The bottom line is, church musicians need to practice to avoid making mistakes, practice to be the best director, pianist, or organist they can be. We can always improve our skills. Even professional musicians are consistently fine-tuning their skills.

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