General Church Music

Sacrament Meeting Music…Mediocrity or Excellence?

Posted on March 29, 2015. Filed under: General Church Music |

In the LDS church, sacrament meeting is our most sacred meeting of the week. We are encouraged to invite non-Mormons to attend. It is the meeting where we renew our baptismal covenants via the sacrament, the place where we teach, learn, share testimonies, and sing praises to God.  Are those of us who are involved in the music for this meeting, presenting excellence or mediocrity. Are we throwing together a musical selection at the last minute so we don’t have to sing another rest hymn? Are we singing another rest hymn because we have procrastinated the organization of a special musical selection? Are we playing the organ or piano accompaniments with sloppy mistakes because we have failed to prepare and practice? Is our choir singing another free online song because we haven’t bothered to do our research and find a wonderful piece for them to learn? Are our efforts as musicians, living up to the sacred nature of sacrament meeting?

Last Sunday I rushed into the chapel to get to the organ for prelude music. I hadn’t prepared anything, thinking I’d just do the prelude I had prepared from two weeks prior (I play every other week). I opened the program to see that the opening hymn was one of the most difficult hymns in the hymnbook, with a ridiculous bass part that had my feet dancing all over the place. I took a deep breath as I began the opening hymn and started to play. The Deacons were sitting behind me (our Deacons who are passing the sacrament sit on the stand). They were talking and playing on their iPhones throughout the hymn. I could hear every word they were saying and could see them out of the corner of my eye. Then we had  few random disturbances that distracted me, like the autistic 18-year-old who started having a very loud fit in the congregation as her parents rushed her out of the chapel. And to top it off there was the music director, a 16-year-old boy (our ward leaders thought it would be a good idea to have the youth take turns directing in sacrament meeting), who was completely off beat, using a baton that was impossible for me to ignore. By the time we finished singing the hymn, I felt like I had been through a war zone and had a splitting headache. Now, I had no control over the noise from the congregation and I had no control over the rowdy Deacons. But, I should have come better prepared by practicing the hymn ahead of time and I should have taken the time to practice with the Priest who was directing the music. With those two things under control, I would have had a far different experience that Sunday (although I might have still snapped at the Deacons following they hymn, which is what I actually did).

I think most of us are guilty at one time or another, of falling into the trap of complacency. Let us renew our efforts to make sacrament meeting music truly excellent, inspiring, worthy of the sacred meeting in which it is presented.

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LDS Living’s Top 100 Songs

Posted on February 2, 2013. Filed under: General Church Music, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Ward Music Chairman |

LDS Living published a list of the top 100 LDS songs of all time, not including hymns. Okay, let’s rephrase that, what they probably meant to say was the top LDS easy-listening songs from the past 30 years. You have probably heard many of these in firesides, women’s conferences, and yes, even sacrament meetings. Using my strict standards for sacrament meeting music (aka Church Handbook 2), I put a * by music appropriate for a sacrament meeting performance. Music with ** could be appropriate if sung correctly, definitely not as performed on iTunes. Appropriate music includes songs that can be performed in the style of the hymns and primary songs, not music that were it given different lyrics, could easily become a love song played on the radio. Songs without a * are more suited for home listening, firesides, youth conferences, and background music for LDS-themed videos and LDS Bookstores. Enjoy.

1. “A Child’s Prayer,” Janice Kapp Perry *
2. “His Hands,” Kenneth Cope
3. “I Heard Him Come,” Jeff Goodrich
4. “You’re Not Alone,” Michael McLean
5. “He Hears Me,” Hilary Weeks
6. “Consider the Lilies,” Roger Hoffman *
7. “Line Upon Line” from Saturday’s Warrior, Lex de Azevedo
8. “We’ll Bring the World His Truth,” Janice Kapp Perry *
9. “Scripture Power,” Clive Romney & Sandy Freckleton Gagon *
10. “I Was Not His Father; He Was Mine” from The Forgotten Carols, Michael McLean
11. “Walk Tall, You’re a Daughter of God,” Jamie Glenn **
12. “Never a Better Hero,” Kenneth Cope
13. “No Ordinary Man,” Janice Kapp Perry **
14. “O Lord, My Redeemer,” Jeff Goodrich
15. “Together Forever,” Michael McLean
16. “A Window to His Love,” Julie de Azevedo
17. “Beautiful Heartbreak,” Hilary Weeks
18. “Angel Lullaby” from My Turn on Earth, Lex de Azevedo
19. “Love Is Spoken Here,” Janice Kapp Perry *
20. “The Greatest Gift,” Afterglow
21. “In the Hollow of Thy Hand,” Janice Kapp Perry **
22. “I Love to See the Temple,” Janice Kapp Perry *
23. “Let Him In” from The Forgotten Carols, Michael McLean
24. “His Image in Your Countenance,” Janice Kapp Perry *
25. “Hold On, the Light Will Come,” Michael McLean
26. “From God’s Arms to My Arms to Yours,” Michael McLean
27. “I Walk by Faith,” Janice Kapp Perry *
28. “Circle of Our Love” from Saturday’s Warrior, Lex de Azevedo
29. “The Olive Tree,” Felicia Sorensen**
30. “I’ll Build You a Rainbow,” Marvin Payne
31. “Greater Than Us All,” Kenneth Cope
32. “Homeless” from The Forgotten Carols, Michael McLean
33. “Like a Lighthouse,” Michael Webb
34. “I Never Stand Alone” from From Cumorah’s Hill, Steven Kapp Perry
35. “Face to Face,” Kenneth Cope
36. “Three Kings Found the Lord” from The Forgotten Carols, Michael McLean
37. “Emma,” Nashville Tribute Band
38. “It Passes All My Understanding,” Cherie Call
39. “Daughter of a King,” Jenny Phillips
40. “Warriors of Light,” Afterglow
41. “Do Likewise My Friend,” Brett Raymond
42. “Ninety and Nine,” Michael McLean
43. “Sisters in Christ,” Gladys Knight
44. “Captain of My Soul,” Afterglow
45. “Celebrating the Light,” Michael McLean
46. “He Came for Me,” Hilary Weeks
47. “Broken,” Kenneth Cope
48. “Mary Let Me Hold Her Baby” from The Forgotten Carols, Michael McLean
49. “My Story” from My Turn on Earth, Lex de Azevedo
50. “Women at the Well,” Julie de Azevedo
51. “I’m a Mormon,” Janeen Brady
52. “Let Me In,” The Osmonds
53. “Masterpiece,” Julie de Azevedo
54. “Another Witness,” Afterglow
55. “Come to Jesus,” Kenneth Cope
56. “Come Unto Him,” Daniel Carter *
57. “If I Only Had Today,” Hilary Weeks
58. “My Turn on Earth” from My Turn on Earth, Lex de Azevedo
59. “She Put the Music in Me,” Calee Reed
60. “The Rising,” Nashville Tribute Band
61. “Mercy’s Arms,” Julie de Azevedo
62. “Sometimes He Lets It Rain,” Katherine Nelson
63. “The Promise,” Afterglow
64. “Gentle,” Michael McLean
65. “Humble Way” from Saturday’s Warrior, Lex de Azevedo
66. “I Will,” Hilary Weeks
67. “Paper Dream” from Saturday’s Warrior, Lex de Azevedo
68. “He Was Here” from The Forgotten Carols, Michael McLean
69. “I Will Not Be Still,” Kenneth Cope
70. “Sailing On” from Saturday’s Warrior, Lex de Azevedo
71. “Taking It Home with Me,” Brett Raymond
72. “The Man with Many Names” from The Garden, Michael McLean
73. “One Voice,” Tyler Castleton
74. “Safe Harbors,” Michael McLean
75. “Shine On,” David Osmond
76. “Arise and Shine Forth,” Jenny Phillips
77. “Prayer of the Children,” Kurt Bestor
78. “Beautiful Life,” Jenny Frogley
79. “Go with Me,” Kenneth Cope
80. “Greater Love” from Women at the Well, Kenneth Cope
81. “Hands of Heaven,” Julie de Azevedo
82. “More Than Just a Boy,” Kenneth Cope
83. “Perfect Love,” Felicia Sorensen
84. “Be That Friend,” Michael McLean
85. “Born of God” from From Cumorah’s Hill, Steven Kapp Perry
86. “Feeling of Forever” from Saturday’s Warrior, Lex de Azevedo
87. “Just Let Me Cry,” Hilary Weeks
88. “Praise the Man,” Jenny Frogley
89. “Promises I Keep,” Cherie Call
90. “The Carpenter’s Son,” Kenneth Cope
91. “We Believe,” Bryce Neubert
92. “All My Days,” Hilary Weeks
93. “American Dream,” Nashville Tribute Band
94. “Bless My Son,” Nashville Tribute Band
95. “For Our Day,” Felicia Sorensen
96. “For the Love of a Woman,” Jericho Road
97. “How to Move a Mountain,” Cherie Call
98. “Keeper of the Flame,” Julie de Azevedo
99. “Let Him Heal Your Heart,” John Canaan
100. “Someday He Will Come,” Felicia Sorensen
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Choral Christmas Music

Posted on December 14, 2012. Filed under: Choir Music, General Church Music, Stake Music |

Directing church choirs means listening to Christmas music in July. That’s right, 5 months in advance if you want to have time to choose, order, and receive your music in time to rehearse. When choosing Christmas choral music you will need to do a lot of listening. Listening to quality recordings will not only help you decide on repertoire but will also help fine tune your ear to listen for a good choral sound. Here are some of my very favorite choral Christmas albums. This is the music that inspires me when it comes to choosing music for ward and especially stake Christmas programs.

O Holy Night, Mormon Choral Organizations

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Sing Choirs of Angels, Mormon Tabernacle Choir

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Spirit of the Season, Mormon Tabernacle Choir

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A Robert Shaw Christmas: Angels on High, Robert Shaw Chamber Singers

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This is Christmas, Mormon Tabernacle Choir

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The John Rutter Christmas Album, Cambridge Singers

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A Chanticleer Christmas, Chanticleer

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O Come All Ye Faithful, King’s College Choir Cambridge

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Handel: Messiah, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus

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My Sacrament Meeting Talk on Music

Posted on November 18, 2012. Filed under: General Church Music, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Stake Music |

A few weeks ago I was asked to speak in my ward sacrament meeting on the role of music in our worship services. I’ve talked about music in many stake music workshops but this is the first time I’ve actually done it in a sacrament meeting. I thought I’d share it with you….

The Role of Music in our Worship Services

My second day in the mission field was spent taking a 3 hour train ride from Barcelona, Spain to a town near Valencia. As I stepped off the train my district was there to greet me…my new companion, 4 Elders, and a missionary couple. Before they even said hello they asked me if I could play the piano. Apparently they were desperate in that small branch. They hadn’t had a pianist in quite some time and the members were anxious to have accompaniment in their meetings. When I replied that yes, I was a pianist, they informed me that I would be teaching piano classes starting in a couple of days. Wow, I could barely speak the language and I was expected to know a whole new set of vocabulary words that the MTC had not taught me like quarter note, half note, measure, and rest. I left those 7 students and that area 6 months later not knowing if I had made any impact on those budding pianists, It wasn’t until several years later when I received an email from the mother of one of those students letting me know that her son was the pianist for all of the ward and stake events. His parents made the great financial sacrifice to get him the additional musical training he needed. I was impressed by those families’ willingness to save up their money in order to purchase pianos or keyboards so their children could practice at home the hymns that they had been learning in their lessons. These were not families of great means but music was important to the members of that branch, so important that every Sunday night at 6:00 they all showed up for choir practice. It was the social event of the week. I remember working with that branch choir that typically sang in unison. They didn’t believe me at first, but I somehow convinced them that they were capable of singing two part harmony. We divided the men from the women, worked on their parts and when they were able to put it all together singing in harmony they were absolutely thrilled. Every two weeks when the choir performed they did so for their children because in that congregation of 50 there was not one adult that wasn’t on stage singing in the choir. The experience serving in that small branch of Castellón, Spain helped me gain a greater appreciation for the music in our worship services. These members were willing to sacrifice much for their music.

What does the music in our Sunday services mean to us? Are we full participants or do we ignore the call to “lift up your voice and sing”?

Dallin H. Oaks told of an experience he had visiting a sacrament meeting…

“I had finished a special assignment on a Sunday morning in Salt Lake City and desired to attend a sacrament meeting. I stopped at a convenient ward meetinghouse and slipped unnoticed into the overflow area just as the congregation was beginning to sing these sacred words of the sacrament song:

’Tis sweet to sing the matchless love
Of Him who left his home above
And came to earth—oh, wondrous plan
To suffer, bleed, and die for man!

My heart swelled as we sang this worshipful hymn and contemplated renewing our covenants by partaking of the sacrament. Our voices raised the concluding strains:

For Jesus died on Calvary,
That all thru him might ransomed be.
Then sing hosannas to his name;
Let heav’n and earth his love proclaim.

As we sang these words, I glanced around at members of the congregation and was stunned to observe that about a third of them were not singing. How could this be? Were those who did not even mouth the words suggesting that for them it was not “sweet to sing the matchless love” or to “sing hosannas to his name”? What are we saying, what are we thinking, when we fail to join in singing in our worship services?”

In the Preface to our hymnbook the First Presidency states: “Inspirational music is an essential part of our church meetings.  The hymns invite the Spirit of the Lord, create a feeling of reverence, unify us as members, and provide a way for us to offer praises to the Lord. Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns. Hymns move us to repentance and good works, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end.”

I brought a non-member friend, an opera singer, to a Christmas concert by the Orange County Mormon Choral Organization. She was really enjoying the music and afterward expressed how much she loved and was impressed by the choir’s performance of Magnificat, a very difficult and gorgeous classical piece often sung by choirs in the academia world. However inspiring she found that song, it was actually the final number, “I Believe in Christ” which caused tears to flow down her cheeks. As an Evangelical Christian she would likely not have heard that uniquely Mormon hymn before, yet the power of the doctrine in the words and music were overwhelming causing an undeniable emotional response.

We too can have powerful spiritual experiences when we listen to and sing the hymns, the primary songs, or other inspired music.

One Sunday I attended a sacrament meeting in another stake. My piano student was presenting the musical selection, a piano arrangement of a well-known hymn. He had spent several weeks practicing and preparing. It’s not easy for a 16-year-old boy to do something like that in front of his church friends so I was there to lend my support. I slipped in and sat on the back row. The ward was a little noisy. (But I think we all get a little spoiled in our ward which tends to be so reverent.) I was certain though, that things would quiet down when he began to play. After all he was well prepared and played so beautifully. I thought, surely this hymn would help invite the spirit into the meeting because after all, that’s what music does. As we heard the first few notes coming from the piano people started standing up, lots of people, and they walked out. Most of them were children and teenagers, perhaps wanting a drink of water or to stretch their legs or something. Two women sitting next to me had been chatting during the first speaker and they continued to chat during the musical number. When it became apparent they weren’t going to be quiet I tapped them on the shoulder and went shh. They stopped talking. While I said nothing, inside of me was crying, “Don’t you understand what you are missing? You are missing out on the best part of the meeting, an opportunity to feel the spirit. This is not an intermission, a chance for a restroom break, a time to chat with your neighbor. This is your opportunity to listen, to review of the words to the hymn in your head, to allow yourself to feel the Spirit of the Lord, and to teach your children to do the same.”

President J. Ruben Clark said  “We can get nearer to the Lord through music than perhaps any other thing except prayer.”

I believe the music we allow into our homes has a direct impact on the quality of the music in our worship services and in our ability to feel the spirit when listening to sacred music. If children and youth are exposed to nothing more than modern rock, country, or hip-hop music at home they are less likely to understand a higher level of music, instead thinking of spiritual and reverent music at church as boring, dull, and lacking a dance beat.  As I drive my kids around to their various activities I usually have music playing in the car. I’ve always loved listening to the radio but as my children have gotten older I’ve become increasingly aware of the lyrics and have found myself changing stations frequently due to inappropriate content. We discovered something wonderful that we bought for each car, a cheap little convertor that plugs right into the tape deck making it possible to listen to an iPod in the car (that tells you a little about the age of our cars.) After getting this fabulous contraption, we’ve been able to listen to the music we put on our iPods rather than leave what we listen to in the hands of some random radio employee. We’ve listened to Beethoven Symphonies, Chopin Concertos and hymns performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. There is a peacefulness present during our drives…a noticeable lack of yelling, teasing and contention, replaced by love, patience, and the spirit.

Elder Douglass Calister of the Seventy said:  “If we could peek behind the heavenly veil we would likely be inspired by the music of heaven, perhaps more glorious than any music we have heard on this earth.

When some music has passed the tests of time and been cherished by the noble and refined, our failure to appreciate it is not an indictment of grand music. The omission is within. If a young person grows up on a steady diet of hamburgers and french fries, he is not likely to become a gourmet. But the fault is not with fine food. He just grew up on something less. Some have grown up on a steady diet of musical french fries.”

Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Enjoy music. Not the kind that rocks and rolls, but the music of the masters, the music that has lived through the centuries, the music that has lifted people. If you do not have a taste for it, listen to it thoughtfully. If you do not like it the first time, listen to it again and keep listening. It will be something like going to the temple. the more often you go, the more beautiful will be the experience.”

Let us allow the music in our homes to supplement the music in our worship services. LDS.org has an abundance of resources available. On that website you can listen to the hymns and Primary songs. You can learn how to sing the hymns including the parts using the interactive Church music player. You can even learn how direct the hymns using the interactive conducting course. On LDS.org you can order the hymns and Primary songs on CD, or purchase hymnbooks and Children’s Songbooks, and they are all very inexpensive. Our current hymnbook was published 27 years ago, and yet still there are many hymns that are unfamiliar to us. Why? Let us challenge ourselves to learn these hymns, sing them in our homes, teach them to our children and listen to recordings of them.

In my home we sing various hymns for Family Home Evening. Several months ago we opened the hymnbook to “Welcome Welcome Sabbath Morning”, not exactly the hymn you’d choose for a Monday night and it wan’t even familiar to our kids. But, we sang it anyway. It became my son Jonathan’s favorite hymn. He memorized the words and taught himself to play it on the piano. Abby reported that Jonathan and Madeline would sing “Welcome Welcome Sabbath Morning” at the top of their lungs as they walked to school each morning. I wonder what the neighbors thought.

Hark! the Sabbath bells are ringing;
Hear the echoes all around.
List! the merry children singing!
What a pleasing, joyful sound!
Ev’ry tender note entreats us,
Bids us come, nor longer stay.
On our way the music greets us;
Hasten, hasten, come away. 

We know very little about what our role will be once we leave this life. But we do know that it will involve singing and choirs.

In 1 Nephi 1:8, Nephi spoke of his father’s dream, “he saw the heaven’s open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.”

In Mosiah 2:28, King Benjamin preparing for his death says, “at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God.”

One Sunday evening I received a phone call from my brother who had moved to New York City and had just attended sacrament meeting in his new ward. He was so excited because he had never experienced music in a sacrament meeting quite like what he encountered that day. It was about the singing. He said, “everyone sings, LOUD!”. He was blown away by their enthusiasm, their volume, and especially the fact that everyone was singing. His wife received a welcome packet in Relief Society with a letter that read, “You’ve probably noticed that this ward loves to sing. We hope you’ll join with us and sing with vim and vigor”. When Joe and I visited New York we were so anxious to witness the musical phenomenon of the Manhattan 1st Ward, and we were not disappointed. The organ began (and if you think I play loud, I have nothing on that organist) and every single person in the congregation held their hymnbooks high and started to sing. I have never in my life heard a congregation sing with such power, such intensity, such enthusiasm. It gave me chills and I became emotional. The spirit was very strong in that sacrament meeting that day, I think in part due to the fact that every member was engaged in the music of the meeting.

My hope is that we as members of this ward, we will more fully participate in the music of our meetings. With careful planning it is not difficult to arrive a little early to sacrament meetings, to sit quietly in the chapel listening to the hymn preludes, allowing ourselves to be spiritually prepared for our most sacred meeting of the week. It is a simple thing to open the hymnbook and sing the words, teaching our children to do the same. It is not hard to listen to the musical numbers performed in our meetings with reverence and respect, listening to the words, allowing ourselves to feel the spirit. And for those who enjoy singing or want to learn how to sing better, it is an easy thing to stay after church an extra 45 minutes to sing with the choir.

The Lord, upon giving instruction to Emma Smith for the creation of a hymnbook said, “For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me an it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads. Wherefore, lift up thy heart and rejoice.”

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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 LDS.org/churchmusic, 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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Familiar vs. Unfamiliar Hymns

Posted on April 22, 2012. Filed under: General Church Music, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Ward Music Chairman |

Recently I asked my Ward Music Chairman if we could please sing Hymn #197  “O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown” for a sacrament hymn. After all it is listed under the topic of “Sacrament” and it is one of my favorite hymns, the only one in our hymnal by J.S. Bach. Due to the changing harmonies I love playing it on the organ. My Ward Music Chairman told me we can’t do it because it’s not familiar. What??? I told her that was ridiculous, that it’s been around since the 1700’s and if it wasn’t familiar to some it ought to become familiar. Then we proceeded to sing a sacrament hymn that Sunday, one that was new to the 1985 hymnal. It too was unfamiliar just a few years ago until someone decided we should sing it once, twice, then it became familiar. That’s how it works.

Occasionally local leaders request that only hymns that are familiar to the congregation be sung in sacrament meeting. The problem is which are the familiar hymns? What is familiar to one may not be to another. To me, “O Savior Thou Who Wearest a Crown” is very familiar. It’s the main chorale in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. The music is in every Christian hymnal I’ve ever browsed. The hymn text describes the sacrifice of our Savior. It is a message central to our religion. Why then can we not sing it or any other hymn for that matter?

On the LDS Church Music website and in the hymnbook it states:

  • Achieving Balance in the Selection of Hymns: In addition to using hymns already known and loved, members are encouraged to become acquainted with new or less familiar hymns. Try to achieve a good balance between familiar favorites and less well-known hymns.
  • Hymns for Stake Conference: Standard, well-known hymns are often the best choice for stake conference, particularly if hymnbooks are not available for the entire congregation.

Notice that well-known hymns are suggested for stake conference but no such statement is made regarding sacrament meeting. However, achieving a good balance is suggested. I like the 80/20 rule I heard someone mention years ago, 80% familiar and 20% less-familiar hymns. When choosing a less-familiar hymn it is helpful to have the organist play the entire hymn for the introduction. Have the organist play it for prelude music. Have the choir perform it or ask the Relief Society sisters to sing it in their meeting the week before. Then, by the time the ward is introduced to this hymn in sacrament meeting is is no longer unfamiliar.

The Latter-day Saint hymns teach great doctrine. Each hymn is meaningful and sacred. We should strive for familiarity with all of these inspired hymns.

See also How to Choose Hymns for Sacrament Meeting

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Most Brass Instruments

Posted on December 26, 2011. Filed under: General Church Music, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Stake Music, Ward Music Chairman | Tags: , , , |

Which instruments are appropriate for sacrament meeting and which should not be used?  The instruction we have received is:

“Instruments with a prominent or less worshipful sound, such as most brass and percussion, are not appropriate for sacrament meeting.” (Handbook 2: Administering the Church)

What are those “most brass and percussion” instruments anyway?  Yesterday I visited a sacrament meeting in a Rexburg, Idaho where two French horns played with a violin, cello, and an English horn as part of the Christmas day program. It was very reverent and worshipful. I didn’t find anything inappropriate about the French horns even though they are brass instruments. I think there is a reason for the “most” in “most brass and percussion” instruments. There are exceptions. When played well French horns have a very worshipful sound. And what could be more festive in a Christmas Day sacrament meeting then the beauty of French horns?

Generally, it is my opinion that the brass and percussion instruments most appropriate for sacrament meeting are French horn, piano, harp, and organ. I happen to think trumpets can be worshipful too, but I believe most bishops would disagree, so it’s best to leave them off the short list.

When determining what is and is not appropriate in sacrament meeting, we need to always keep in mind that it is our most reverent meeting of the week. We should keep the music as sacred as is the ordinance of the sacrament. If there is ever even a question as to the appropriateness of an instrument or a musical selection always rule on the side of caution and don’t do it. For me, there wasn’t ever a question over the appropriateness of a French horn. It’s lush sound was a welcome and worshipful sound to my musical ears on Christmas Sunday.

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Honest LDS Musicians

Posted on October 6, 2011. Filed under: Choir Music, General Church Music, Organ Music, Piano Music, Stake Music, Ward Choir, Ward Music Chairman |

It’s embarrassing to write a post on this topic. By nature Latter-day Saints are people of integrity. The problem is, when it comes to obeying copyright laws, sometimes we’re not.

Someone moved the music in my ward building from a closet to the library. It was done carelessly and without order or organization so for the past few weeks a couple of us have been spending about 30 minutes each Sunday reorganizing the choir music. I came across some photocopied (illegal) music, the composer of which I’d heard through the grapevine had just lost his home to foreclosure. It made me sad to think how much had been taken from him in part due to LDS musicians who were too cheap or lazy to order legal copies of his music. Over the past several weeks I have destroyed hundreds of pages of photocopied music (illegal) in the meetinghouse library. I did the same a couple of years ago to an entire file box full of illegally copied music that was in my stake center library. The Church policy is “Church members should strictly observe all copyright laws”. The Church Handbook has specific instructions on following copyright procedures.

In the United States the following are expressly prohibited:

  1. Copying to avoid purchase
  2. Copying music for any kind of performance (but note the emergency exception below)
  3. Copying without including a copyright notice
  4. Copying to create anthologies or compilations

The fact that a work may be out of print does not mean that permission is given to copy and distribute that work. The music publishers’ trade associations have prepared a simple form for use in the procurement of out-of-print works. The form is available at www.menc.org

Exceptions:
  1. Emergency copying to replace purchased copies which for any reason are not available for an imminent performance provided purchased replacement copies shall be substituted in due course
  2. Printed copies, which have been purchased, may be edited or simplified provided that the fundamental character of the work is not distorted or the lyrics altered or lyrics added if none exist

I happen to know several LDS composers and even the most talented are not getting rich off of their compositions. Composers get paid for each piece of music sold so photocopying their music is no different from stealing money right out of their paychecks. I believe as people of integrity it would be wise to avoid illegally photocopying music, especially for church use.

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Music Style for Sacrament Meeting

Posted on August 5, 2011. Filed under: General Church Music, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Ward Music Chairman |

Music in sacrament meeting is inspirational, or at least it should be. But what is inspirational to one may not be to another. Where do we draw the line? What style is the church looking for exactly?

The tradition in the Church is to sing in a conservative classical style, without scoops, licks, heavy vibrato, twang, and nasal tone.  The style preferred by Church leaders is best described as the manner in which one would sing a Brahms art song, or an art song of the late 1800’s, early 1900’s.  So, none of the styles we hear on American Idol are appropriate, neither is the style we would hear at the Met.  We are a church where choral music dominates our style, so the soloists’ style is expected to match the style of choral music.  The choral style has been passed down through the centuries, from the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Contemporary eras.  This style can produce a worshipful, reverent, and respectful sound that is not overly dramatic, nor overly sentimental, does not call unnecessary attention to itself, and allows the listener to contemplate the text without the performer showing off his/her skills.

This is particularly difficult because contemporary religious music is headed in a different direction, away from the choral and art song tradition, to pop, soul, and rock styles.  On the LDS scene, the music of Lex de Azevado, Kenneth Cope, Michael McLean, Jericho Road, and Cheri Call are some of the many examples of religiously oriented music heading in the direction of so many rock/soul/gospel artists.

So what does this mean for LDS musicians? As we are choosing music for Church meetings, particularly sacrament meeting, we need to keep in mind that our music choice cannot simply be the latest EFY song or a song from a best-selling album at Deseret Book. Music selections must be within the following guidelines outlined in the church handbook.

“Secular music should not replace sacred music in Sunday meetings.  Some religiously oriented music presented in a popular style is not appropriate for sacrament meetings. Also, much sacred music that is suitable for concerts and recitals is not appropriate for a Latter-day Saint worship service.”

Music in Church meetings should not draw attention to itself or be for demonstration.  This music is for worship, not performance.”

For specific music titles that are appropriate for a sacrament meeting performance:

VOCAL SOLOS/DUETS

PIANO SOLOS

CHOIR MUSIC

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Free LDS Music Online

Posted on July 29, 2011. Filed under: Choir Music, General Church Music |

No need for a ward music budget…there’s free LDS music on the internet!

NOT SO FAST.

I have spent hours, days, weeks, months even, pouring over the free LDS music available on the internet. No doubt the composers of this music have the best intentions. They have made their compositions available to the LDS public for free out of the goodness of their hearts, as a service to the Saints. Or perhaps some of this music is free because it just isn’t good enough for a publishing company to pick it up?

I’m not saying that ALL free music is worthless, quite the contrary. There are a few “gems” out there. For example, check out this winning arrangement of “Rock of Ages” by Brett Stewart, in which he has composed a completely new melody with gorgeous lush harmonies. I also love this SSAA arrangement of “How Can I Keep From Singing” by Diane Tuiofu, the SATB arrangement of “Come Thou Fount” by Sally DeFord, an SATB arrangement of “Praise to the Man” by Craig Petrie (great for a stake choir), or one of my personal favorites, a simple primary song composed to absolute perfection “Jesus is My Shepherd” by Tammy Simister Robinson. Yes, there are some quality pieces available for free. But, there aren’t many.

Here’s what I’m finding…elementary writing by musically undereducated composers.  Read their online biographies and you’ll see right away that many lack formal training and music degrees. The first sign I look for is in the piano accompaniments. As an professional pianist myself, I can tell in an instant if the composer even knows how to really play the piano. As soon as I see the same old arpeggiated left hand I know they have no idea what they’re doing and I dismiss the song immediately. Next I look at the melody. Is it beautiful and memorable, or will I forget it right after I’ve heard it? I listen to the harmonies. Do they make sense, are they following correct music writing rules, are they singable and interesting? I look at the text to see if it matches with the melody. A pet peeve of mine is when there are too many words crammed into one measure. Elementary composers assign a word to every note, sometimes with more than 6 syllables, or worse, words per measure. Educated composers often have many notes assigned to one word which enhances the text.

The old saying “the best things in life are free” doesn’t really apply to LDS music. Perhaps the most well-known, and I dare say the very best choral music arranger in the LDS church today is Mormon Tabernacle Choir director, Mack Wilberg. None of his music is free. He doesn’t have to give it out for free. His arrangements are so good choir directors all over the world are buying them.

Every ward and stake should have a music budget. Use it. Do your research and find the very best, highest quality hymn arrangements and original choral music for your choirs.

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Solos in Sacrament Meeting

Posted on July 20, 2011. Filed under: General Church Music, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Ward Music Chairman |

On Sunday I attended a ward in Southern Utah. The musical number was “O Divine Redeemer” sung by a young soprano. It was lovely, reverent, memorized, obviously well rehearsed. The congregation seemed to be moved by that musical experience. Contrast that to some solo musical performances I’ve witnessed that made me want to run for the door. What makes a good solo performance for sacrament meeting?

1. Before asking someone to perform a vocal or instrumental solo make sure they are good at what they do. Sacrament Meeting isn’t the place to make the Saints suffer through an off-key screechy violin solo, or an older soprano who’s vibrato is so thick you can’t tell which notes she’s singing. Always remember the purpose of a musical number is to add to the spirit of the meeting, not detract from it.

2. Using the hymns and primary songs as a guide, choose a piece that will add to the spirit of the meeting. Stay away from music in a pop style, secular classical music, opera, etc. For a list of my favorite solos appropriate for sacrament meetings click HERE.

3. The ward music chairman should listen to ALL musical numbers before they are performed in sacrament meeting to make sure the music is appropriate and performed in a manner that would not take away from the spirit of that sacred meeting.

4. Vocal solos should usually be performed using a microphone, unless the singer has a really strong well-trained voice. The congregation has an easier time understanding the words when the microphone is used. A soloist should NOT self-accompany at the piano (Stevie Wonder style).

5. Instruments should tune with the piano prior to the beginning of sacrament meeting so they don’t have to take so much time tuning right before the performance. Hymns and primary song arrangements are the very best choice for instrumental performances. When an instrumentalist performs something familiar to the congregation, like a hymn, members are able to review the words of hymn in their minds while listening to the beautiful musical arrangement. When piano solos are performed the lid on the piano should be all the way up (using the longest pole). Click HERE for music ideas for piano solos.

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LDS Oratorios

Posted on June 6, 2011. Filed under: Choir Music, General Church Music, Stake Music | Tags: |

In the spirit and tradition of the great oratorios of Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn, and others, LDS musicians have composed oratorios based on gospel subjects. Rick’s College/BYU Idaho is responsible for commissioning several of these oratorios. A few of these oratorios are in print and available for performance by stake or regional choirs. To get ahold of most of these works you would need to contact the composer, BYU-I, or for Robertson’s oratorio, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Some of these oratorios are not in the traditional style of the Classical oratorios but are rather composed in a pop/classical crossover style. Below is a list of some of the most notable LDS oratorios of the 20th and 21st centuries.

  • Leroy Robertson’s Oratorio from the Book of Mormon (1947)
  • Crawford Gates’ Salvation for the Dead
  • Merrill Bradshaw’s The Restoration (1974)*
  • Robert Cundick’s The Redeemer (1977)*
  • David Zabriskie’s Israel (1979)
  • Darwin Wolford’s Behold He Cometh (1986)**
  • Crawford Gates’ Visions of Eternity (1993)**
  • Robert M. Cundick’s Song of Nephi (1995)**
  • Michael McLean’s The Garden (1995)*
  • K. Newell Dayley’s Immanuel (1997)**
  • Merrill Jenson’s Come Unto Christ (1999)**
  • Rob Gardner’s He is Jesus Christ (1999)*
  • Lex de Azevedo’s Hosanna (2000)
  • Daniel E. Gawthrop’s The Passion and the Promise (2001)**
  • Rob Gardner’s Joseph Smith the Prophet (2001)*
  • A. Laurence Lyon’s Visions of Light and Truth (2003)**
  • Peter Covino Jr.’s The Messiah, Another Testament (2003)
  • Rob Gardner’s Saints and Pioneers (2004)*
  • David Zabriskie’s Testament of Paul, His Witness of Christ to the World (2005)**
  • Eda Ashby’s The Tree of Life: Redemption (2007)**
  • Robert Cundick’s God’s Everlasting Love, with text by David A. Bednar (2009)**
  • Rob Gardner’s Lamb of God (2010)*
  • Brett Stewart’s Messiah in America (2010)*

*available for online purchase through iTunes, Amazon, or other sources

**available only through the BYU-Idaho Bookstore

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The Royal Organ

Posted on May 10, 2011. Filed under: General Church Music, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Organ Music |

I can’t stop thinking about the fabulous music at the Royal Wedding (William and Kate, May 2011). When the boisterous organ of Westminster Abbey began playing the introduction to “Guide us, O thou great Redeemer” (“Guide us, O thou great Jehovah” in our hymnbook) I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The sound of that incredible organ and the entire congregation singing was simply thrilling. Oh, the power the organist has. It wouldn’t have nearly the effect if the organ were soft and wimpy, with flute registrations. Instead there were principles and reeds which created a powerful and glorious sound.

We can’t, or really shouldn’t, get away with this exact sound in our reverent Sacrament Meetings. We can, however, learn to register the organ so we get a powerful combination of stops conducive to singing a majestic hymn such as this. Get rid of those airy flutes and slushy strings and pull out the principles (and possibly a reed or two) for a really strong sound that will encourage the congregation to rejoice through singing.

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A little mistake?

Posted on April 6, 2011. Filed under: General Church Music, Stake Music |

The last song of the Sunday morning session of the 2011 April General Conference was Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of “The Spirit of God”.  It’s a rousing arrangement that begins with a solo and ends with full choir at ff. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little as the song was announced.  A few years ago a family member chose that hymn to be sung by the choir at stake conference.  During the music approval process the visiting general authority said “no” to that hymn.  The reason he gave was that “The Spirit of God” is never to be sung except at temple dedications.  We all guessed he hadn’t read page 381 of the hymnbook where that specific hymn is listed under Hymns for Stake Conference. But what are you going to do, argue with the visiting authority?  No.  However, when moments such as these come and you know he’s sitting on the stand with the other general authorities listening to the choir sing that hymn arrangement, it makes you wonder if he remembers when he used to think that was an inappropriate hymn to be sung at a conference. And, if you are ever in a position like his, you had better know what it says in your handbook and hymnbook.

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Hymns, Anthems and Songs

Posted on April 5, 2011. Filed under: General Church Music, Music Directing, Ward Choir |

What’s the difference between a hymn, anthem, song and chorale?

Alexander Schreiner, former Temple Square Tabernacle Organist and Church Music Committee Member, offered the following clarifications:

“A hymn is a special kind of poetry addressed to Deity as a prayer. The ancient Greeks sang hymns to their pagan deities. We sing to the everlasting God… and we should address most of our hymns as prayers to heaven…

“Technically speaking, a hymn is composed of words only and need not have a musical accompaniment. The text is the hymn. That which accompanies it is the hymn tune. The hymn, or text, should always be written first. The poet selects the meter to suit his subject; then the musician writes the hymn tune. However, poets sometimes find it helpful to take a familiar tune for which to write their metered lines…

“The True Hymn: The ideal hymn is a sacred song addressed to Deity. Such hymns are the most important ones in our hymnbook. They may not always be spirited in rhythm, but they are always spiritual in quality. And spiritual values are the highest of all values.

Psalms: Paul mentioned the singing of psalms. These are hymns taken from the Old Testament. The psalms are the Western world’s best-loved poems, and the noblest. The Pilgrims sang psalms, and the Puritans, in 1640, had the complete book of Psalms in rhyme and meter. The Calvinists preferred singing psalms to any other kind of hymn. Coming from the Old Testament, the psalms are addressed to Jehovah and do not mention the name Jesus Christ, although several of the psalms carry references to the life and mission of Jesus Christ. Several psalms are included in our hymnbook, such as “The Lord Is My Shepherd” and “Praise Ye the Lord.”

Spiritual Songs: These are so designated because they exhort and uplift the worshipers and are addressed to them rather than to Deity. They are sung, as it were, before the Lord. Songs such as “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” “Come, Let Us Anew,” and “Ere You Left Your Room This Morning” come under this classification.

Chorales: These are characterized chiefly by their even rhythm, which lends great stateliness to their performance. “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and “The Voice of God Again Is Heard” are both classified as chorales.

Gospel Hymns: The term gospel hymn is really a misnomer because these hymns rarely refer to the gospel. They were developed in the past century by enthusiastic gospel revivalist preachers. Examples of such hymns are “We Are All Enlisted,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “Today While the Sun Shines.”

“Another interesting example… “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It is not designated as a hymn because it is not addressed to Deity. Therefore it is called an anthem.”

(“Guidelines for Writing Hymns”, by Alexander Schreiner, ENSIGN Magazine, April 1973)

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Practice

Posted on March 28, 2011. Filed under: General Church Music, Organ Music, Piano Music, Primary Music, Relief Society Music, Ward Choir |

Listed under the responsibilities of just about every calling on this site is “PRACTICE REGULARLY TO AVOID MAKING MISTAKES”.

I have two little LDS piano students, sisters, who were just telling me yesterday about the many changes in their Primary Pianists.  Apparently they’ve gone through a few just this year.  The first, they told me, was fabulous.  She never made mistakes and she was able to speed up or slow down if the director wanted the kids to sing the song different ways.  The other pianists, the girls reported, had lots of pauses and note mistakes.  So why am I writing this?  Well, because it was apparent to a 7 and 10 year-old that these other pianists were not able to play the songs correctly.  The girls could hear pauses and mistakes.  Maybe these pianists had practiced and this was the best they could do, maybe they didn’t practice, I don’t really know.  I think if they hadn’t put in the time and effort, perhaps they should have.

When I was first called as the ward organist I used to drop my little boys off at preschool and my infant daughter and I would go to the chapel for a couple of hours to practice the organ.  We did this 2 or 3 times a week, more when I was preparing for Stake Conference.  I worked hard at this calling because I wanted the organ to sound good.  I practiced regularly to avoid making mistakes.  Not that I played perfectly all the time, I wish.  I do think it’s important for pianists, organists, and directors to understand that they shouldn’t just get up there and wing it, no matter how extensive their training.  Your prelude, postlude, hymn playing, choir directing, etc. will go so much better if you practice.  And now that I’m writing this I realize how relaxed I’ve become over the years in my organ practicing.  I should take my own advice and get to the chapel regularly to practice.

I believe when you practice and prepare well you will be blessed.  So many experiences have taught me this.  Years ago I was accompanying my husband singing “O That I Were an Angel” for his brother’s missionary farewell (back when we used to have farewells).  I had transposed the piece to accommodate my husband’s bass voice and I practiced so I could play it perfectly. The week of the farewell I got very sick.  It was all I could do to drag myself to sacrament meeting.  I knew I had to go because who else was going to transpose music on the spot like that?  When it was our turn to perform, I looked at the music and to my horror the notes were moving around on the page, I was obviously very dizzy.  I said a silent prayer asking for guidance as I accompanied my husband.  I felt confident I would receive help because I had put in the practice time.  I was guided through that piece.  The notes were still swimming around on the page, but I played without a single mistake.

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How to Choose Hymns for Sacrament Meeting

Posted on March 20, 2011. Filed under: General Church Music, Music Directing, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Ward Music Chairman |

Opening Hymns…

If you really want to get the congregation singing choose an faster tempo hymn of a familiar nature like “Redeemer of Israel” or “There is Sunshine in My Soul Today”.  If you choose a slow unfamiliar hymn you’ll lose the congregation before the meeting has even begun.

Sacrament Hymn…

Not much to say about this one.  The back of the hymnbook lists appropriate hymns for the Sacrament…#169-197 and 146.  The sacrament hymn “should refer to the sacrament itself or to the sacrifice of the Savior” (Handbook 2: 14.4.4). Use all the sacrament hymns on a rotation; they should all be familiar.

Rest Hymn…

I have definite opinions on this one.  You should be singing about one rest hymn a month, so make it special.  This is the one time a month that the congregation gets to participate in the musical number.  I don’t like singing rest hymns sitting down.  The handbook says we can stand, with Priesthood approval, so get approval and STAND.  Standing a congregation is a sure fire way to get them to sing. They know they’ll look silly if they stay seated or if they stand and keep their mouths closed, so they sing.  If you are standing it better be a rousing hymn like “Israel, Israel, God is Calling”.  Those types of hymns are best for rest hymns anyway.  There was something going around the church a few years ago, a rumor I assume, that we weren’t supposed to stand anymore for rest hymns.  This is false.  We do it in General Conference and Stake Conference, and they handbook says we can, under the direction of the presiding authority.

Closing Hymn…

Choose a hymn that goes along with the spirit and theme of the meeting.  But, watch it.  Many directors get so caught up in thinking the hymn has to match the theme exactly and we end up singing “In Fasting We Approach Thee” every Fast Sunday and “Called to Serve” for every departing missionary.  For Fast Sunday you would probably want to choose a hymn like “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” that matches the spirit and reverence of the meeting as opposed to something like “For the Strength of the Hills”.  Use the theme of the meeting as a guide, but make sure the congregation is singing a wide VARIETY of hymns.  I once went 6 years in a ward without singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “O My Father”, two of my favorites.  Yet our ward faithfully sang the fasting songs every single month.

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Welcome to MusicCallings.com

Posted on March 3, 2011. Filed under: General Church Music |

    

The purpose of this site is to offer additional ideas and resources for LDS musicians in their music callings…Organists, Choir Directors, Music Chairmen, etc. I started this site in January 2011 and I still have more to add so keep checking back for additional help and ideas. This is not an official site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints so before you begin here, please visit the official Church Music Website and study the music section of the newly released Church Handbook 2: Administering the Church.  

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A Model of Sacrament Meeting Music

Posted on January 6, 2011. Filed under: General Church Music, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Ward Music Chairman |

A couple of years ago I visited a ward in New York that became a model in my mind of how music in a Sacrament Meeting should sound.  The organist played appropriate hymn arrangements for prelude.  The congregation sang with gusto and the organist accompanied with a full and strong sound, varying the registrations  with each verse.  The opening hymn was a faster tempo hymn, one of strength and conviction.  Between the talks was a musical selection, “I Know That My Redeemer Lives”, performed by two violinists and a pianist, perfectly executed.  The Sacrament and closing hymns, although slower in tempo than the opening, were sung with no less strength and volume.  The organist’s choice for postlude complimented the spirit of the meeting and I left feeling spiritually uplifted.  It was that day I truly understood this…

A person can get nearer to the lord through music than perhaps any other thing except prayer ~J. Reuben Clark
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to sing or not to sing…the power lies with the organist

Posted on January 1, 2011. Filed under: General Church Music, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Organ Music |

I am first and foremost a pianist, but I absolutely LOVE playing the organ.  I believe if a congregation is not singing, at least 50% of the blame goes to the organist.  If the organist plays with confidence using correct registration and volume the congregation will sing out.  I have seen evidence of this in Sacrament Meetings all over the world.

There are two Arizona wards I attended last year that I’ll use to demonstrate the importance of a good organist.  The first ward was small, maybe 100 people total in Sacrament Meeting.  Their organist had been an organ performance major years ago.  She played on a tiny organ but used an intelligent combination of stops that was inviting to the congregation.  The members sang as if they were truly praising the Lord with all their heart and soul.   The second ward was enormous, at least 600 people in attendance at the Sacrament Meeting.  The organist used all flutes in her registration for all the congregational hymns, playing softly, at a slower tempo than the metronome markings in the hymnbook.  She used the bass coupler instead of the foot pedals which kept cutting out every few notes (a problem with bass couplers).   The congregation sang at the soft volume of the organist, those who were even singing.  I was amazed at the many people who didn’t even open their hymnbooks.  This left me wondering what would have happened if the organist from the tiny ward were playing for the large ward?  Would the tempo, volume, registrations, and confidence of that organist help invite all members to participate in the singing of the hymns?  I believe it would.

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