Primary Music

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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Music Directing Tips

Posted on March 31, 2011. Filed under: Music Directing, Primary Music, Ward Choir |

Many LDS music directors don’t have a lot of conducting experience, or perhaps need a refresher course. Hopefully you’ll find some of these tips helpful.

  1. Watch this series of 10 short videos for conducting tips for LDS music directors.
  2. If you are brand new to to music directing, start with this Music Directing for beginning directors tutorial on the LDS music site
  3. You can practice your basic conducting patterns using the Interactive Conducting Course
  4. Practice directing in front of a mirror, often.  Great directors have spent years practicing and perfecting their directing techniques.
  5. Get together with the pianist to practice directing the hymns for Sunday meetings.
  6. Buy a set of the hymns on CD, or listen to them online while you are practicing your conducting.
  7. When directing large groups, like in Sacrament Meeting or Stake Conference, you can choose to use a baton if you want to and if you feel comfortable directing with one.  Professional directors use a baton when conducting an orchestra, but as far as congregations and choirs are concerned, some professional directors use a baton and some don’t.
  8. Prayerfully select the hymns for the meeting in which you’re directing the music.  Music for some meetings, such as Sacrament Meeting, first needs to be approved by the presiding authority. Give the hymn numbers to the pianist/organist well in advance, at least a week.  Most accompanists need time to practice too.
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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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My Favorite Calling

Posted on March 15, 2011. Filed under: Primary Music |

Primary Music Leader is my FAVORITE calling in the Church.  And by the way, it should be director or leader, not chorister (which in choral circles means a choirboy). The best Primary Music Director I’ve ever watched is my friend, Kim.  She is a pro, really, with a Music Education Degree.  Okay, so for those of us who don’t have that professional training, here are some tips I learned from Kim and things I’ve learned myself through trial and error.

  1. Treat the Primary children like a choir.  Call them “Primary Choir”.  Have them sit up straight in their chairs like choir members do.  Have them practice standing as directed, just like real choir members do.  If they are not responding to your requests you say, “I’m sorry Primary Choir but that’s not good enough, let’s try again”.  And when they do what you requested you really praise them, “Congratulations Primary Choir, you did a great job following my direction!”
  2. Sing more, talk less.  We talk too much in the Church, any musician will tell you the same thing.  During singing time, SING.  Too many directors spend 10 of the 20 minutes gabbing and wonder why the children get restless.  SING a lot.  Sing standing up, sing sitting down.  Have the children stand and face the back door to sing to their parents down the hall in Gospel Doctrine.
  3. During Singing Time, rehearse more than one song.  Who said we have to spend the entire 20 minutes on the song of the month?  No wonder kids now days don’t know the standard Primary Songs.  I couldn’t believe it when one ward of Primary children didn’t know “Pioneer Children” or “Give Said the Little Stream”.
  4. Appropriate teaching aids are a MUST.  Remember that word strips ARE NOT effective in Jr. Primary because over half the kids can’t read yet.  For younger children use lots of hand actions to teach the words.  For example when teaching “I Believe in Christ”  make the shape of a crown on your head for the word “king” and point to your heart for “heart”.  These actions need not be distracting, just helpful.  Remind the children that they are learning the actions just to remember the words and they will not use those actions during the primary program in the fall.  Pictures are another wonderful way to remind children of the words as they are learning the song.
  5. As a director, don’t be afraid to sing in front of the children.  Copy cat is a fabulous method for teaching a song.  You sing a phrase then the children sing a phrase.  If you feel completely uncomfortable with that, get another ward member to be a musical guest.  The guest sings a phrase, then the children copy.  It is much easier for children to copy the notes sung by a human voice than notes played on a piano.  20 minutes is not a long rehearsal.  When I directed large community Children’s choirs (ages 5-11) we rehearsed for 45 minutes and the kids were able to stay focused throughout the entire rehearsal.  Primary children should be expected to do the same.
  6. When you need to use child helpers, let the children know you’ll be choosing someone who is sitting up straight and tall, someone who is watching the director, someone who is singing, etc.  This reinforces appropriate singing time behavior.
  7. Be creative when planning the music for the Sacrament Meeting Program.  Get small groups or soloists to sing the 2nd or 3rd verse of a song.  Have a child play an obbligato part on a flute or violin.  Have a group of children sing harmony for one of the songs, perhaps the chorus of a song.
  8. Set clear expectations and praise the children when they are meeting those expectations.  If you say “good job” every time the kids sing any song, any way they choose, they’ll tune you out.  The kids will either think you don’t care or you’re just plain clueless and didn’t realize that they really sounded horrible on that last verse.  Set the standard by teaching them to sing with gusto but without shouting.  Teach them to stand still with their hands to their sides.  Teach them to watch the director.  Teach them to memorize the words.  Teach them these things then expect them to follow you as the director.  When they meet your expectations really praise them, with lots of enthusiasm, to reinforce their fabulous singing and behavior.  “Primary Choir, give yourselves a pat on the back…that was fantastic…you followed my directions exactly…you sang like angels.”  They’ll know you really mean it.
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