Organ Music

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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No Tremolo Please

Posted on February 21, 2012. Filed under: Music in Sacrament Meeting, Organ Music |

Recently I visited a ward in northern California. The organist was quite old, it seems it’s the elderly who have this issue. She played the organ loud using the tremolo. A lot of organs in LDS chapels don’t even have a tremolo stop any more, and I’m sure that’s on purpose. The tremolo is absolutely obnoxious. A tremolo/tremulant is a device on an organ which varies the wind supply to the pipes causing their pitch to fluctuate, producing a vibrato effect.  On an electric organ it sounds like a warbling vibrato, a perfect style for theatre organ music. The tremolo is never appropriate for use in hymn accompanying. Personally, I don’t like when it’s used for any church use, ever. Perhaps on a first-rate pipe organ with a variable tremulant, rare in the LDS Church, it could be used with prelude/postlude music when on the lowest vibrato setting. But, overall it is a major distraction and, like I mentioned before, it can be quite obnoxious.

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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

  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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Unfortunate LDS Music Stories

Posted on July 30, 2011. Filed under: Music in Sacrament Meeting, Organ Music, Primary Music, Ward Choir, Ward Music Chairman |

sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes embarrassing, always 100% TRUE

  • Arizona: a man sings Michael Jackson’s, “Man in the Mirror” for a Sacrament Meeting musical number
  • Idaho: Sacrament Meeting on the 4th of July, Opening Hymn, “God Save the King”
  • California: for a musical number in Sacrament Meeting a member of the bishopric puts a boombox on the podium and pushes the play button so the congregation can listen to Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American”
  • California: a girl accompanies herself on the piano while singing into a boom mic a pop-style version of “I Know that My Redeemer Lives”
  • Utah: in a 2006 Primary Program Presentation in Sacrament Meeting the children go retro singing a Mormon pop favorite from the 80’s
  • New York: the dress rehearsal for a Stake Christmas Fireside revealed one of the musical selections as “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (The Stake Pres. caught wind and canceled that song in the nick of time)
  • Utah: a girl sings an emotional “His Hands” by Kenneth Cope (a capella), using dramatic hand gestures, as a part of her testimony during a BYU ward fast and testimony meeting.
  • Pennsylvania: A woman has the congregation join in with her, swaying and holding their pointer fingers up as they all sing “This Little Light of Mine”
  • California: a congregation is confused when they can’t reach the notes of a hymn. The organist failed to see that the transposition knob had been turned to sound a 5th higher.
  • Utah: an over-zealous choir director convinces a struggling ward choir of 12 that they can perform Wilhousky’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic”. The performance left the congregation wishing for ear plugs.
  • Arizona: an over-populated ward fails to provide hymn books or print hymn text in the programs leaving 50% of it’s members (all those packed in the cultural hall) unable to sing the Sacrament Meeting Hymns each Sunday.
  • California: an organist leaves town with the key to the organ leaving a congregation without accompaniment for Sacrament Meeting.
  • Arizona: a woman sings the solo “The Wind Beneath My Wings” in Sacrament Meeting
  • Utah: July 24th (Pioneer Day), sacrament meeting opening hymn: “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”

Each of these little errors really happened, although I don’t think it’s appropriate to embarrass the wards/stakes so I’ve chosen to keep the exact location/date confidential.


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Accompanying a Hymn

Posted on May 13, 2011. Filed under: Organ Music, Piano Music |

Hymns are the basic musical element of our Latter-day Saint 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.” (First Presidency preface to the hymnbook)  Good piano and organ accompanying techniques will help the members sing the hymns with ease, with enjoyment, and with the spirit.  Below are some helpful suggestions and examples for accompanists.  These exerpts come from pp.379-386 of the 1985 LDS hymnbook.

Mood and Tempo Markings

“The mood markings, such as “Prayerfully” or “Resolutely,” suggest the general feeling or spirit of a hymn, although the mood of some hymns may vary according to the occasion or local preferences. Metronomic markings indicate a tempo range (such as  = 69–76) and are also given as general guidelines; the locale and context in which a hymn is used may suggest greater flexibility.

Introduction Brackets for Pianists and Organists

“Brackets     on each hymn suggest a suitable piano or organ introduction. Before playing a hymn, scan it to make sure you see the complete introduction. You may want to highlight the brackets in your personal hymnbook, especially if the final phrase of an introduction does not happen to be at the end of the hymn.

“You may also wish to shorten or lengthen the suggested introduction. If the hymn is unfamiliar, playing it completely through as an introduction can help the congregation feel more comfortable with it. If the hymn is well known, the last line or phrase may be a sufficient introduction. When using a short introduction, you may want to slow the tempo at the end to express a sense of completion.

For Beginning Organists and Pianists

Adapting Hymn Accompaniment

“Some hymns may have notes or passages that are difficult to play. Feel free to adapt such passages to your own ability by dropping less-important notes from chords. You may want to mark your own hymnbook for this purpose.

“Hymns frequently have a space between the tenor and bass notes that is too wide to reach with the left hand. Often the right hand can include the tenor note quite easily. You may want to mark such notes with a bracket to remind yourself to play them with your right hand:

“Some hymns and children’s songs are written with the piano in mind. If the organ is used for these songs, it is sometimes preferable to use manuals only, without pedals.

“A cue note, or small note, means that the note is optional. Following are examples of how cue notes may be used:

1. A cue note may indicate that the notes are to be played and sung with some verses and not with others, depending on the text of each verse:

2. Sometimes the music is complete even if the cue note is left out:

3. Cue notes may also indicate music to be played by the pianist or organist but not to be sung:

Some Hymns That Are Easy to Play:

Come, Follow Me; Do What Is Right; God Be with You Till We Meet Again; How Gentle God’s Commands; I Stand All Amazed; Keep the Commandments; Let the Holy Spirit Guide; Now Let Us Rejoice; Redeemer of Israel;Sweet Is the Work; Sweet Hour of Prayer; Teach Me to Walk in the Light; We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.”

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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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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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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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