Ward Choir

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

  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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Increasing Ward Choir Attendance

Posted on April 7, 2011. Filed under: Ward Choir |

My father-in-law was recently called as the ward choir president in his Idaho ward. After years of serving in Bishoprics and on the High Council this was a welcome change for him. The choir attendance was at an all-time low, maybe 10 at the most would show up for rehearsals. My father-in-law decided he was going to change that. He started calling each person in the ward with vocal music ability each Saturday and personally inviting them to ward choir practice. Their numbers have quadrupled in just a few weeks thanks to his ambitious phone calls. He visited us last month and sure enough, on Saturday evening, he pulled out his cell phone and started calling his list of singers to remind them of choir the following day.

Calling a choir president can make a huge difference for a ward choir. It’s something to consider especially if your choir numbers are down.

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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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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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A Choir in Every Ward

Posted on January 15, 2011. Filed under: Music in Sacrament Meeting, Ward Choir |

Several years ago I served as a missionary in a small branch in Spain.  About 50 people attended Sacrament Meeting each week, 6 of those were missionaries.  Every Sunday evening the adults in the branch gathered at the chapel for choir practice.  Sometimes there was an accompanist (when a missionary could play) and sometimes they sang a capella.  But they always sang.  Choir practice was the ward social event of the week.  Almost all the adults participated.  When they sang in Sacrament Meeting there was rarely an adult left in the congregation, just children.  But, that was okay.  These Saints loved singing.  Until I arrived they had only been singing the hymns in unison.  I convinced them that they could learn to sing in 2-part harmony.  We chose a favorite hymn and after a month of rehearsals this small branch choir did it.  They sang that 2-part hymn in Sacrament Meeting and were absolutely thrilled.

So, when I hear of full-sized wards in the United States who do not have a ward choir I shake my head in disbelief.  Do they not understand the power of choral music in our Sacrament Meetings?  Do they not understand the blessings that come to members participating in a choir?  Do they not understand that singing in a choir is one of the few things we’ll do on this earth that we will continue to do beyond the grave?

“…at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God.” ~Mosiah 2:28
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