Dale E. Monson
Director, BYU School of Music
August 8, 2006
That moment was a capsule reflection of a question I have carried with me through many years. If such simple assumptions like “high” and “low” didn’t seem to have much universal meaning (at least for her, since she intuitively chose “little” and “big” instead), what does music really mean?
Years earlier I had been flailing away with a baton in the apartment of Maestro Joseph Rosenstock, when I was studying orchestral conducting. He sat at the piano, reducing the full orchestral score of Beethoven symphonies and playing them at the keyboard (something I’m sure all of you can do), while I conducted from behind my music stand. In the middle of some movement or other he suddenly stopped playing, looked a little disgusted, and told me to go sit on the couch. He came over, opened his score, shoved it under my nose and said, “You have to read the score like a book!” I had no idea what he was talking about. How do you read a score
like a book? It’s a musical score, not a book! He means me to see some sort of meaning in this score that I can’t find. What does this music mean—for me, for others?
Growing up I tried to immerse myself in music in every way possible, because its meaning seemed magic to me. When it first came out, I sat through The Music Man seven times in two days (back in the days when theaters didn’t kick you out between shows). As I grew older, I tried everything that had anything to do with music. I played clarinet from the second grade on, joining bands, orchestras, chamber groups, and playing in festivals and solo competitions. I spent hours at the piano, picking out tunes and chords by ear. I studied a little violin—even buying a violin at the end of my mission to carry home. I bought a 12-string Gibson guitar and a banjo, becoming a groupie to a guy I worked with who had grown up in the Ozarks, a great bluegrass player of “old-time” music, and we’d sit in his living room with the tape recorder going until 1 or 2 a.m. I spent hours locked away with BYU’s music synthesizer, weaving patch chords together and trying to make interesting sounds. I worked as a music copyist and played a Fender Rhodes keyboard in a soft rock band in college to pay the bills. I didn’t have a large record collection—I couldn’t afford it—but the few records I had were worn through to the other side: Stravinsky, Sibelius, Mozart.
When I enrolled in college I took philosophy courses, read books on aesthetics, and studied acoustics and physiology, trying to answer my question, “What does music mean?” I agreed with Aristotle, “”Rhythms and melodies contain representations of anger and mildness, and also of courage and temperance and all their opposites and other moral qualities, that most closely correspond to the true natures of these qualities…. Music has the power of producing a certain effect on the moral character of the soul.” When I considered my musical art and religion I had some of the fears shared by St. Augustine: “”Thus I float between peril of pleasure, and an
approved profitable custom: inclined the more to allow the old usage of singing in the Church, and yet again, so often as it befalls me to be more moved with the voice than with the message, I confess myself to have grievously offended: at which time I wish rather not to have heard the music. See now in what a state I am!” I read Hermann Hesse’s Glasperlenspiel (The Glass Bead Game) and wondered how music and art meant somehow more than just the notes, rhythms, and nuances, but somehow the lattice of sounds and ideas evoked an order that was more than the sum of the parts. I was so driven by this question I wrote my masters thesis to the question, exploring structuralism and Jungian psychology to look for an answer.
And on other days I sided with Felix Mendelssohn, who complained, “There is so much talk about music, and yet so little is said. For my part, I believe that words do not suffice for such a purpose.”
There were times when I turned to the scriptures and church leaders, as well as to my university professors, for spiritual direction in looking for my answer. I read the Psalms, early hymns of praise and worship and considered the Lord’s words in DC 25:12: “For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.” I knew that music was important to our Heavenly Father, for in D&C 136:28 I read: “If thou art merry, praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing, and with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.” I remembered at the conclusion of the Last Supper, before the Lord went out to the garden, that Christ and the apostles sang a hymn.
One day, as I was talking with Professor Robert Manookin, a composer on the BYU faculty, he told me with some earnestness, “I wonder what heavenly choirs sound like? I hear people talk about hearing choirs in the temple, or on other sacred occasions. What did they hear?
Does it sound like Brahms? Or more like Palestrina? Or is it simple four-part harmony, like in the hymnbook? What is it about that heavenly sound that is so wonderful, that carries such deep meaning into the hearts of those who hear it? That’s what I want to write!”
So I went off to graduate school at Columbia University to study musicology. Perhaps they could teach me what composers meant by their music. I spent days with Josquin’s breathtakingly beautiful motet, “Ave Maria, gratia plena” and Bach’s cantata, “Christ lag in Todesbanden.” I learned the poignant story of Michael Haydn’s Requiem and how it affected the young, 16-year old Mozart who played in the orchestra in 1771 and then later partially recreated the work in his own Requiem 20 years later.
When I finished school I became a teacher, facing my first class of freshmen at the University of Michigan 25 years ago. I then asked myself, “What is it about music that brings them here? What does music mean for them?”
I knew some were there because they were pushed—by parents, friends, or teachers. Some were driven by ambition to conquer the stages of Classical stardom. Most, however, I knew were there because of a more idealistic purpose, because they loved their art. These students, probably, had survived life-changing experiences like those I passed through in my childhood, sitting in the orchestra and playing the Finale from Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite— when, as the solo horn entered on top of that quiet, shimmering string tremolo, my heart skipped several beats and I knew, this is what I want to do all of my life. I could look into the eyes of most of my students and see that same fire, a meaning they carried in their heart—even if we found it impossible to express that meaning in words, exactly.
I taught at Michigan for nine years, and then at Penn State for eight, and then came to BYU. Here I found something more than I had known. The level of music making was as high as anything I had seen elsewhere, but there was something deeper beneath the surface. I saw it in the tears of students singing of the resurrection while performing Mahler’s Second Symphony. I found it in the silent elevator I shared with two violinists who had just poured out their hearts to children in a cancer clinic in London, in the hearts of education students recently returned from teaching English through music in the orient, and in the face of an overwhelmed, shaken graduate student who, at the end of an independent readings course on music in fin-de-siécle Vienna, began weeping and cried out, “Now I understand what happened!”
What drives them also drives us. Music has meaning. It is that which brings us here to this organ workshop today. It’s message changes us, makes us better, lifts and inspires us. We want, sometimes desperately, to help others hear what we hear, to feel the same thing we do, in something like the same way.
You’ve come here to learn how to do that. You know that here you will find wonderful teachers who will help you with technique, share practical knowledge like registration or organ history, and explore new repertoire. Here you know you will find others like yourself who want to share and learn together. Most importantly, though, you come here in the hope of learning to communicate the meaning you find in music with others.
You have an obligation and even a duty to do that. As the Lord reminded Oliver Cowdery (D&C 6:10), “Behold thou hast a gift, and blessed art thou because of thy gift. Remember it is sacred and cometh from above.” Each of us is given a measure, a “talent” in a literal sense, “Unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one: to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. And all this for the benefit of the church of the living God, that every man may improve upon his talent, that every man may gain other talents, yea, even an hundred fold…” (DC 82:17-18)
So we will study and learn together, and then we will serve, lift, and inspire others. We will search for the meaning of what we do and how we can make our talent best serve others.
We know that technique is essential, but also that it is only a means to an end. We want to show, through music, how art can be a means in the hand of God to bless the lives, gladden the hearts, comfort the weary, and in some small way, give meaning to life.
Years ago I was sitting alone (or so I thought) in a dimly lit chapel, playing hymns on the piano. A silent observer finally rose, came forward, and paid me one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received as a musician. She said, “When you play the hymns, I hear the meaning of those words so strong, like you are singing to my heart.” When we are able to convey the message of our art to others, that’s when we succeed, I believe.
Welcome to BYU. I hope some of spirit of this place will help you in your quest as a musician and servant. I hope what you learn and take with you will help you express those things that you find to be most important in life and in eternity—to inspire and “Lift up the hands that hang down.” Music can do this.
Andrew E. Unsworth
It is an honor to be asked to speak today and to participate in this workshop. I’ve been privileged to teach several times during this week, and I’ve always come away renewed in my love of the gospel and church music and feeling grateful to be numbered among you as a laborer in the Kingdom.
As I’ve considered what I might talk about, my thoughts have settled on a comment President Boyd K. Packer gave in his April 2007 General Conference address. Some of his remarks are related to issues in church music with which I struggled for a number of years. I am directing my thoughts today towards LDS organists, especially those who currently play for the sacrament meetings of their wards, but the issues I’ll address exist to varying degrees in many denominations.
President Packer explained how, having recently been called as a General Authority and feeling somewhat inadequate and in need of spiritual strength, he entered the back of theSaltLakeTabernacletolistentoPrimaryConference. Hedescribedthemusicheheard and the feelings it brought to him. He also recounted the approach the organist took to the accompaniment of the choir: “As the children sang quietly, the organist, who understood that excellence does not call attention to itself, did not play a solo while they sang. He skillfully, almost invisibly blended the young voices into a melody of inspiration, of revelation.”1
I want to focus my remarks on our pursuit of excellence as organists. How do we manifest musical excellence and not call attention to ourselves? How can we strive to
1 Boyd K. Packer, “The Spirit of the Tabernacle,” Ensign (May 2007): 26.
improve our musical skills and still approach our service playing with humility? And, how can we improve our efforts to invite the Holy Spirit through music and facilitate revelation?
In many respects, it may seem counterintuitive that one might be able to be excellent and not draw attention to oneself. Doesn’t excellence by definition stand out from the ordinary? And, if the ideal performance is one that doesn’t draw undue attention to itself, why do we bother spending all of this time and money to improve our skills on the organ?
First, we have to remember that there is a distinct difference between excellence and mere “flashiness.” While true greatness on the organ can be manifested in a technical exhibition, an awareness of one’s performance context is important. I do not doubt that most of you would agree that playing complicated interludes and accompaniments to hymns and virtuosic preludes and postludes is not generally appropriate for sacrament meetings. At the same time, I imagine that many of you would be disappointed if you attended an organ concert by a famous performer and heard only pieces played out of an organ method book.
We also need to remember that incompetence draws attention to itself as much as or more than flashiness does. We have all experienced church meetings in which an organist or pianist struggled to make it through a sacrament meeting with his or her dignity intact—and maybe sometimes that someone was us. Since we belong to a church with a lay ministry, where organists are called to their positions regardless of their previous experience, such situations are bound to happen. And this is not an issue unique to the LDS Church or the twenty-first century. We can all doubtless identify with the comments of Nathaniel Gould, a nineteenth-century American musical commentator, describing the state of organ playing in the 1830s and 40s:
When the rapid introduction of organs took place, it was not so difficult to procure the organs as to provide competent organists. It was represented by those who were interested that any one might, in a short time, qualify himself to play plain psalmody; consequently, young ladies and gentlemen, old men and maidens, made the attempt.
But it was found not to be the work of a day, or a month, to learn to manage an organ so as to satisfy singers or hearers. Some one, perhaps, would attempt, with little experience in execution, time or harmony, the singers and organist hobbling along in sweet confusion. Complaints are made; the organist is mortified, if not provoked; stays away from church, – no organist.2
I lived in a ward for a time where the pianist in priesthood meeting really struggled to get through hymns. This good brother was teaching himself to play the piano, but he hadn’t yet mastered the concepts of rhythm and meter—he’d add a beat here or take a beat away there. One Sunday, the brethren in the ward close to the piano were struggling to figure out where the beat lay, while the brethren on the other side of the room continued to plow ahead, singing the hymn in time. The result was utter chaos. Ultimately, the hymn disintegrated as the priesthood body burst into gales of laughter, and the hymn had to be attempted again. While mistakes and the occasional disaster are inevitable when human beings are making music, and although I’m sure many of the men present at this meeting enjoyed having a good laugh, one person’s ego was deflated, and the purpose of music in the meeting was defeated.
The problem that President Packer has doubtless experienced and that he implies in his comments is that some organists don’t understand that when playing in an LDS church service, one should strive to draw the attention of the congregation towards the spiritual purpose of the meeting and away from oneself. Those who haven’t figured this out yet exhibit a certain type of spiritual and artistic immaturity: as they gain skills they want to use them, and they may do so without much discrimination. This has been an issue for quite some time. John Sullivan Dwight, a venerable nineteenth-century American musical commentator, reported on a church service witnessed in New York City in 1865:
2 Nathaniel D. Gould, Church Music in America (Boston: A. N. Johnson, 1853), 180.
On another occasion, Dwight printed some observations on an organ postlude:
You may easily imagine how the closing voluntary in most cases is performed: the organist sometimes draws out every stop in his organ, and quite forgetting the place where he is playing, and only thinking of displaying the dexterity of his fingers, performs overtures, grand marches, etc.; and it has sometimes really seemed to me as though he aimed to drown the impression made by a solemn sermon, or as though he wished to express his joy that the sermon was ended.4
As a young man, I often used my postludes in church as a platform for testing new repertoire and displaying my technique. I remember one Sunday, playing the Widor toccata or some other flashy piece, and hearing later from a friend that an older sister in the ward sat in the back during my postlude shaking her head in dismay. At the time, my reaction was to scoff: “Ignoramus! What does she know about great music!” Another occasion, on Pentecost Sunday, I was playing the postlude to a Church Educational System fireside. Since it was Pentecost and I was feeling rather proud of my new-found knowledge of the liturgical year, I decided to play the variations from Duruflé’s Veni Creator. As I began the final toccata, a well-meaning usher came up to me and asked me to play more quietly—that people were having a hard time talking. I was incensed at the usher’s lack of respect towards
3 Dwight’s Journal of Music 25 (22 July 1865): 72.
4 “Church Music,” Dwight’s Journal of Music 1 (18 September 1852): 189.
a beautiful piece, but more particularly at her disregard of my preparation for the occasion and my technical capability.
Now, with a few more years of experience under my belt, I am embarrassed about my former approach to church music. What changed my attitude? For one, I got older, and hopefully wiser. Also, I had numerous experiences with church music outside of my own tradition, and these helped me better understand the historical context of LDS church music.
As an undergraduate at BYU, I served for two years as the Organ Scholar at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City. During graduate school, I also worked for several years as an organist and choir director at Lutheran and Baptist churches. After I received my degree, I returned to Salt Lake and spent five more years at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, serving this time as the Organist and Assistant Director of Music. Through these experiences, I gained an appreciation for other Christian denominations, their good works, sincereandbeautifulworship,andrichartistictraditions. Oneofthewonderfulpartsabout these church jobs, especially my position at the Madeleine, was to be able to perform some of the world’s finest sacred choral and organ music in the setting for which it was written. I found that experiencing this great religious art in its original context heightened my understanding of and appreciation for the composers and the situations in which they labored. After several years of living within the rhythm of the liturgical year, I acquired a sense of the function of much of this music, and it now it seems a little strange to me to sit and listen to a Mass or other sacred compositions in a secular, concert setting.
Most American Protestant churches in the first half of the nineteenth century had an ambivalent relationship with the pipe organ. Except in the largest cities, elaborate church music and especially pipe organs were uncommon—they were seen generally as “papist” (a serious insult back in those days). Instead, most church music was congregational and
humble, and when organs finally became more widespread in American churches, congregations and musical commentators were quite conservative in the types of organ literature they deemed appropriate for use in divine service. A reporter from Philadephia wrote in 1863:
Among the masters of composition a style of organ playing is recognized, called the free style; we mean that free style which has never been recognized as any part of church music. Compositions of this class are written for the organ exhibition or the concert. They have no place in church. They are light, sportive and showy. They will never predispose the mind to devotion. They were never intended to do this.5
Eugene Thayer, a well-known nineteenth-century American organist and pedagogue, went so far as to prescribe what composers’ compositions should not be played in services: “[I]t must be remembered that neither Bach nor Handel left us any organ music suitable for the introductionofchurchservice,asmostmusiciansofourdayunderstandit.”6 Nineteenth- century Americans were also well-aware how inappropriate music can destroy the spirit of a worship service:
Light minds are pleased with trifles, and such persons forget the service they are engaged in. The true style of organ music is that which casts noble hints into the soul, not the merely pretty style, which affects no part of the head but the ear, and touches not the heart.
A celebrated writer of a century and a half ago, says of certain organists who introduced irreligious music into their voluntaries: “These fingering gentlemen should be informed that they ought to suit their airs to the place and business; and that the musician is obliged to keep to the text as much as the preacher. For want of this, I have found by experience a great deal of mischief; for, when the preacher has often, with great piety and art enough, handled his subject, and I have found in myself, and in the rest of the pew, good thoughts and dispositions, they have been all in a moment dissipated by a jig from the organ-loft.”7
Out of this context sprang our early LDS musical practice: it did not include organ music at all in the beginning, and the great choral and organ works do not belong to it. I’m
5 “How They Play the Organ in Church,” The Monthly Choir and Organ Journal 1 (May 1863): 97-98.
6 Eugene Thayer, “Service Preludes,” The Organist’s Quarterly Journal and Review 1 (July 1874): 3.
7 James Hewins, Hints Concerning Church Music (Boston: A. Williams & Co., 1857), 33.
not saying, as Thayer did, that one can’t play Bach or Handel in church; in my opinion, however, if we play “classical” or art music from outside our own tradition in sacrament meeting, we must be aware that we are bringing in a foreign element, and we should do so with the utmost care. How do we decide when it is appropriate to do so? This is where we need to use our keenest spiritual sensitivity and best communication skills. We should talk to our priesthood leaders and ascertain their vision for music in worship service. Even if the minds of our leaders are so consumed by other matters that music is the least of their worries, we should, in my opinion, do all in our power to retain or regain their trust—to insure that music never becomes a concern for them.
So if the organ repertoire I am learning is generally not appropriate for use in a sacrament meeting, why should I bother practicing it? Well, it’s great art, and great art uplifts and edifies, often regardless of the context in which it is experienced. Some of my most powerful spiritual experiences through music have occurred in the solitude of a practice room. But the natural man can be lazy, and I often need more motivation than that. I have learned that nothing gets me to the practice room or church as frequently as knowledge that I’ll be playing a piece in public in the near future. I strongly encourage you to cultivate performance opportunities in contexts in addition to sacrament meeting. Arrange for a ward or stake hymnsing, give a solo or group recital, get involved with your local AGO chapter. You’ll find that great music is even more satisfying when performed in the appropriate context.
Sometimes problems arise when our hearts are right, but our intentions are misunderstood, and even here, the blame can often be placed squarely on our own shoulders. As we grow in ability, our congregations grow with us, becoming accustomed to more registral variety, varied harmonies, and generally more skilful playing. Problems may
arise if, say, one is called to be an organist in a ward where one has never served before. If I were to show up in an unfamiliar congregation, and give every hymn “the treatment” (in the words of Gerre Hancock), altering harmony, adding non-harmonic tones, and including elaborate interludes, even if it were a festive occasion and my intentions were pure, my hymn playing would doubtless be interpreted as a prideful display, and it would be distracting to the congregation. To avoid being misunderstood when one is new to a congregation, it would be wise to exercise extreme restraint in one’s playing at first, and, after consultation with one’s bishop, gradually introduce the congregation to some of the hymn playing techniques you’ll learn about this week.
Of course, we should seek after anything that is lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy. But when we seek to gratify our pride or vain ambition through our performance in sacrament meeting, we lose the spirit, and we are no longer playing for the right reasons. Can you not imagine the pleasure that the Lord must take in organists who create an atmosphere conducive to revelation through their humble service? And can you not imagine the pleasure (and, yes, revelations) that such organists receive as they approach their performance in sacrament meeting in this manner, combining technical proficiency, modesty, and meekness. I know many of you have already experienced this.
I’m not arguing for a dumbing-down of LDS church music. Instead, I’m acknowledging that all great music has a place, and for historical and cultural reasons, we must choose with special care what music we play in church services and how we approach our hymn playing. I recognize how difficult it is to retain motivation to practice and strive for excellence when mediocrity is tolerated in and even celebrated by popular culture. Your presence here today demonstrates a desire to rise above the mire, and for this I admire and applaud you.
I want to draw your thoughts to a day a month or so in the future. The glow with which you will leave this workshop will have departed by then. You may be somewhat discouraged at lack of progress or practice time, or you may feel unappreciated. Practicing the organ can be a lonely, solitary affair, and most of us have to go to a cold, dark church to rehearse (there’s a reason why organists tend to be such strange people). In spite of your efforts to improve the quality of music in your ward, people may continue to talk through your preludes and postludes, and doubtless few will appreciate your subtleties of registration, articulation, and smooth legato. But please know that your efforts in the service of the Lord are important and they are noticed. They are important because they demonstrate your commitment to the Lord and your desire to serve Him to the best of your ability. And regardless of how you may feel at times, your efforts are noticed—and not just by the angels. I have had the experience on multiple occasions, as I’m sure many of you have had, that even the most unmusical ward member will be aware from the first Sunday you play that something is different, even if all you do is play the hymns straight through as written with good legato, well-articulated repeated notes, and appropriate registration. And what is not excellentaboutthat? Isthereanyshameinplayingwell,evenifyouareplayingsomething simple? Success in any venture demands our best efforts, especially when we venture to serve the Lord.
To conclude, I’d like to return to President Packer’s conference talk. President Packer described the spiritual experience he had at Primary Conference as the organist played and the choir sang as a “defining moment . . . [that] fixed deeply and permanently in mysoulthatwhichImostneededtosustainmeintheyearstofollow.”8 Ifwestriveto perfect our organ technique and to approach our performance in sacrament meeting
8 Packer, 26.
remembering, as President Packer said, that music “cannot be separated from the voice of the Lord, the quiet, still voice of the Spirit,” your ward members will remember how they felt and the testimony they gained as they sang the hymns of Zion to your accompaniment. And most importantly, the giver of all gifts will make you a “ruler over many things,” as you enter into the joy of our Lord.
Keynote Address by Parley L. Belnap
August 5, 2008
The Lord has given us our agency, which is necessary for our growth and development. We are accountable, not only for our actions and words, but also for our thoughts and we must accept the consequences for our choices. Thanks to the atonement of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we are not locked in to past unacceptable choices. The scriptures emphasize these points many times. In Proverbs we read: “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7)
President James E. Faust gave a wonderful sermon on the power of self-mastery at the General Conference Priesthood Session in April 2000:
Every human soul . . . has the challenge of controlling his or her thoughts, appetites, speech, temper, desires. . . I now turn to mastery of our own private thoughts. In this realm, conscience is the only referee that can blow the whistle when we get out of control. If not bridled, our thoughts can run wild. Our minds are a part of us that really require discipline and control. [President James E. Faust, “The Power of Self-Mastery,” Ensign, May 2000]
In the book But I Played It Perfectly in the Practice Room, we read:
When we internalize the fact that we become what we think, we are more encouraged to consider our thoughts, and explore the many possibilities and options that may be actualized in us. [Charlotte Sibley Whitaker, Donald Ray Tanner; But I Played It Perfectly in the Practice Room; (Lanham, Maryland 20706: University Press of America, 1987), p. 56.]
So critical is it that we understand the necessity of controlling our thoughts that President Spencer W. Kimball devoted a whole chapter to it in his book The Miracle of Forgiveness. [Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, Chapter 8, “As a Man Thinketh,” (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969)]
In Galatians 6:7-8 we read: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”
In LDS Hymn 216, we find the following:
We are sowing, daily sowing Countless seeds of good and ill, By a whisper sow we blessings, By a breath we scatter strife,
In our words and thoughts and actions
Lie the seeds of death and life.
The scientific as well as the medical world emphasizes the strong unity and correlation between the mind and body. A poem I have heard frequently clearly tells the relationship and importance of our thoughts:
Sow a thought and you reap an act; Sow an act and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit and you reap a character; Sow a character and you reap a destiny.
William James wrote, “The greatest revolution of my life is the discovery that individuals can change the outer aspects of their lives by changing the inner attitudes of their minds.”
Brian Tracy states:
Your thoughts vividly imagined and repeated, charged with emotion, become your reality. Almost everything you have in your life has been created by your own thinking.
Put another way, thoughts are things. They take on a life of their own. First you have them, then they have you. You act in a manner consistent with what you are thinking about most of the time. You eventually become what you think about. And if you change your thinking you change your life. . .The one thing you must do is to create the mental equivalent of what you want to experience in reality. [Brian Tracy, Maximum Achievement, (New York City: Simon and Schuster, 1993),
Great emphasis is put on positive thinking and positive attitudes as a major part in overcoming illness, personal problems, developing good marriage relationships, developing good work relationships, preventing problems and promoting health. Textbooks, scientific books, and self-help books have been written in the past twenty or so years on relaxing, mental practicing, overcoming stage fright, and preventing overuse problems of the hands and arms. There is great emphasis on retraining the mind by retraining and controlling our thoughts.
Regarding controlling our thoughts in our performances, let me tell you some of my personal challenges. But first I will give a brief introduction to my developing an interest in music. As a child my thoughts, desires and interests were beginning to be channeled into music. When I was nine years old, I started piano lessons with my Aunt Mabel Belnap in my hometown of Hooper, Utah. I loved the piano and loved to practice.
My introduction to performing in church began when I was twelve years old and I was ordained a deacon. Bishop Levi Beus was bishop of the Hooper Ward of the Weber Stake in Weber County, west of Ogden, Utah. He called me to play the piano for priesthood meeting. I had been taking piano lessons from my Aunt for three years. I enjoyed this calling. I even made my own piano arrangement of Come, Come Ye Saints, which seemed to please the priesthood leaders and members. I suppose I did it for the 24th of July one year.
When I was a teenager, KSL radio broadcast 15 minutes each weekday of the half-hour noon recitals of the Tabernacle Organ on Temple Square. When I was out of school during the summers, I listened faithfully to these broadcasts. It was a wonderful introduction to the organ for me and I truly learned to love its sound. I also listened Sunday evenings to a radio program called “Sunday Evening on Temple Square”––a broadcast of a half-hour organ recital by Alexander Schreiner and also Frank W. Asper. I also regularly listened to a radio broadcast of E. Power Biggs playing the organ from the Harvard Germanic Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. So my interest and love for the organ was being developed.
I was blessed with two fine piano teachers who prepared me well for a later choice to be an organist. I had many opportunities to accompany choirs, soloists, and play the piano with the Weber High School Orchestra and at Weber College in Ogden. I started organ lessons when I was a junior at BYU, where I was one of the piano accompanists for the major choirs. I loved music and the opportunity to serve.
Sometime later I was blessed with a scholarship from the Belgian-American Educational Foundation to study for two years with Flor Peeters at the Royal Flemish Conservatory in Antwerp, Belgium.
At the end of my second year, I was working toward a diploma in organ performance at the Conservatory. I would like to relate to you a personal experience which shows inadequate control of my thoughts:
I had to prepare two examinations, one exam being a recital program. The jury consisted of 5 judges from the conservatories of Belgium and Holland. One of the pieces I played was the Chorale in E Major by Cesar Franck.. I was playing well and when I got to the last page, I congratulated myself and was thinking “you have played this piece without a mistake—just one page to go.” Pride goeth before the fall. Ten measures from the end I goofed in a pedal passage. I was devastated but was still awarded the diploma with honors. So it is a mistake to congratulate yourself before it is over. I didn’t keep my thoughts focused until the end. This work lasts 15 minutes and I didn’t endure to the end. My advice is “control your thoughts; it isn’t over until it is actually over.” I have learned much from this experience.
In performing, it is so easy to worry and wonder when you will make a mistake. Perhaps you think of some fine musician in the audience and what he or she will be thinking. This is disruptive to you and your performance. We need to recreate the music, keeping focused on the joy of making beautiful music for the edification of our fellowmen and for the glory of God. If we allow worries to come into our thoughts, they could well become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Prepare well and trust your preparation. Think ahead somewhat, think in larger units, avoid worry, but trust. Mental rehearsal and controlling your thinking will be a stabilizing source for your performance. Avoid the fear of making a mistake. It will cause you to have a problem.
Flor Peeters, my teacher at the Royal Flemish Conservatory, told me that I needed to practice more at my table, meaning to practice mentally. Because I was on a scholarship, I was practicing 6 to 8 hours a day but needed to practice more effectively. He said that I should go through the music in my mind with my thoughts, visualizing the music and recreating it mentally. I determined to practice consistently both physically and mentally. The results were amazing. I felt I had learned the music in half the time. In addition, my performance was more secure and with much less mind wandering.
The principle of mental practicing is a regular and important part of sports training, as well as other performance-related activities. This clearly emphasizes the point that controlling our thoughts is a major part of controlling our actions.
The Germans have a saying, “We cannot prevent the birds from flying overhead, but we can prevent them from nesting in our hair.” This means that we can’t always control the thoughts that enter the mind, but we can control whether or not we let them stay.
Vicktor Frankl was a neurologist, a psychiatrist, and a very wealthy man in Vienna when the Nazis took over. He spent several years of his life in concentration camps, surviving unspeakable atrocities at the hands of his captors. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Vicktor Frankl writes:
The experience of camp life shows that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress. There is sufficient proof that everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way. [Vicktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1939), pp. 103-104]
We are challenged by the Lord, Latter-day prophets and apostles and leaders to control our thoughts. Scientific research has emphasized the importance of the mind/body relationship. Medical research indicates the importance of controlling our thoughts, attitudes, and feelings as an important factor in a healthy life style. Sport leaders and other performance-area leaders stress the importance of the mind in relaxation, skill achievement, and performance. In fact, mental rehearsal is advocated in order to prevent and overcome overuse problems of the hands, arms, legs and general body. It is a help in concentration and a preventative for mind wandering in any type of performance. So controlling and channeling our thoughts is very important—how we engage the mind in what we do.
Boyd K. Packer states,
“Probably the greatest challenge to people of any age, particularly young people, and the most difficult thing you will face in mortal life it to learn to control your thoughts. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7) One who can control his thoughts has conquered himself. [Boyd K. Packer, “Inspiring Music–Worthy Thoughts,” Ensign, January 1974, p. 25]
In Doctrine and Covenants 38: 30, we read, “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear.” Your preparation gives stability and the ability to perform well and consistently. You will perform generally how you practice. Some practical things I have learned for performance may be of help to you:
- Plan your fingering and pedaling; write enough in your music so you can be consistent each time
- Practice slowly and carefully. Learn each part by itself with consistent fingering and pedaling. Use 7-step and or 15-step method of practice.
- See music in groups, units, motives, and phrases; do not play note by note.
- Analyze form, melodic structure, and cadences. Think music in larger units–compare toreading sentences, even paragraphs.
- Use mental practice as well as physical practice.
6. Practice for 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break. This will help you avoid overuse and help you avoid mind wandering in performance.
7. Keep your mind active and alert as you practice. See patterns in music; notice repetitions, musical shapes, cadences, etc. Discover all you can about the music you play.
8. Avoid mindless repetitions; it will help you avoid mind wandering when you perform. 9. Plan your practice; set realistic goals for each practice session.
In the book But I Played it Perfectly in the Practice Room by Whitaker and Tanner, we read:
Recent research has produced amazing results in determining that an extremely large amount of our responses are directly related to the attitudes and thoughts within our mind. [Whitaker and Tanner, But I Played it Perfectly in the Practice Room, p. 37.]
President Ezra Taft Benson has stated:
The Lord said, “Look unto me in every thought.” (D&C 6:36) Looking to the Lord in every thought is the only possible way we can be the manner of men and women we ought to be.
The Lord asked the question of His disciples, “ What manner of men ought ye to be?” He answered his own question by saying, “Even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27) To become as He is, we must have Him on our mind—constantly in our thoughts. Every time we partake of the Sacrament, we commit to “always remember Him.”
If thoughts make us what we are, and we are to be like Christ, then we must think Christlike thoughts. Let me repeat that: if thoughts make us what we are and we are to be like Christ, we must think Chrislike thoughts.
Paul, en route to Damascus to persecute the Saints, saw a light from Heaven and heard the voice of the Lord. Then Paul asked a simple eight-word question—and the persistent asking of the same question changed his life. “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6) The persistent asking of that same question can change your life. There is no greater question that you can ask in this world. “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” [President Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Think on Christ,” Ensign, April 1984, p. 9]
A wonderful example of obedience to this thought, “Lord, what wilt thou have me do,” is the following story of Clara Neu, which I have permission to use. Quoting Sister Neu’s own words:
My maiden name was Clara Grover Tilton, and I was at Syracuse University from the fall of 1956 to June of 1960, when I graduated with a BM in organ performance, summa cum laude and also received the Outstanding Music Student Award of the year. Dr. Poister, who never wanted to be called that, only Mr. Poister, was my teacher every semester except one, when he went on sabbatical. I was very blessed that way – I had no idea when I auditioned for him and asked him whether, if I came to Syracuse University, he would be my teacher, that he really didn’t teach undergraduate students anymore. He assured me at that time that he would teach me, and so it was.
May I interject that Arthur Poister is considered by many to have been one of the greatest organ teachers of the world. In 1979 at BYU he gave the last master class of his life. Continuing Sister Neu’s story:
My study with Anton Heiller in Vienna, Austria, began in the fall of 1960 on a Fulbright Scholarship and lasted until spring of the next year.
Again, parenthetically, Anton Heiller had an international reputation, with students coming from all over the world to study with him. Continuing with Sister Neu’s words:
Brother Ray Arbizu, a voice teacher from BYU, was on a Fulbright Scholarship in the same group as myself. Heavenly Father saw to it, frankly, that I was quite humbled at the time and looking for an anchor in my life. I had been a Methodist. I joined that church at junior high school age in order to participate in the choir program, and because I was studying organ and piano with the Methodist organist, John Ferris, who later became the university organist at Yale University.
I had a childhood testimony of Jesus Christ, but did not have more than that inside. A fellow Fulbrighter, Ann Alberts and I went at Ann’s instigation to see Marion and Ray Arbizu. Ann had said that if anyone could help me at that point in my life, it would be the Arbizus. They taught us the gospel with tears in their eyes, until 2:00 am.with young children wailing to be put to bed. I felt something different and remarkable in the Arbizu apartment. The Holy Spirit bore abundant and generous witness to me that what I was hearing was true, and I needed to do something about it. The Arbizus gave Ann and me a Book of Mormon, but Ann would not let me have it at first, saying that I had not read enough in the Bible. So I commenced there, and soon got the chance to read in the Book of Mormon. Also, Ray and Marion gave us a copy of “The Articles of Faith” by James Talmage. I read that also from cover to cover and checked out every single footnote in the scriptures…. It all added up.
Ann and I went back to the Arbizus and Ray asked if we would like to come to church. We did, and it was very nice. I was impressed by the simplicity—there was no chapel in Vienna in 1961, and we met in a rented room over an auto-body shop. But the spirit of sincerity was strong, and I found it without frills, but honest and good.
Ray Arbizu finally asked if we would like meet with the missionaries, and I remember saying to him, “Well, is that how we get in?” On our first meeting, one of the elders said to us that if we would read the Book of Mormon, we would come to know that it was true. I remember replying that I already knew it was true. He then looked quickly at his companion and said he would like us to prepare to be baptized. We were both baptized (and are both still active in the church) in a swimming pool, the Deanabad, by Ray Arbizu himself on 17 January 1961. . . For me the story becomes a little more difficult at that point. I wrote a letter home to my parents telling them that I was investigating the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The next letter that I wrote home was to tell them that I had been baptized. Mother came as quickly as she could to talk me out of that commitment. She….was determined that I should not continue as a Mormon, and was unwilling to listen to anyone’s defenses. And so with this battle raging, my study shortly ended in Vienna. We came home and continued the fight.
I had been accepted at Union Theological Seminary as an organ student candidate for the Master of Sacred Music degree, planning before my joining this church to be a protestant organist and choirmistress and went there that fall. I completed the degree but felt that my organ teacher, Vernon de Tar, resented my new found religion. My mother had a confrontational interview at one point during those two years at Union with the Dean of Students as to why no one had been able to turn my mind back to being a Protestant.
John Schreiner, Alexander Schreiner’s son, brought her to church the first time she went to the Manhattan Ward in New York City. Clara met Robert Neu there and began a courtship. They married August 3, 1963, in the Manhattan Ward and were sealed two weeks later in the Swiss Temple. Their seven children were born in New York. Clara Neu decided to direct her efforts eventually to her family and gave up her position in the Christian Science Church at Red Bank. Sister Neu remembers not wanting to have conflict and questions from their children as to why Mother went somewhere else to church. She decided that she was going to go where her family went and where she wanted them to be; so she closed the chapter of trying to be a professional church organist.
Back to Sister Neu’s own words:
All five of our sons have served missions. All five of our children’s marriages so far have been temple marriages. We have been active in the church all the time. We have prioritized Church participation in our lives, feeling that the gospel and the church were of paramount importance, and if we could do other things also, it would be fine, but nothing at the expense of the first. I feel that we have been greatly blessed.
Our missions here in London are a delight. This is the first mission we have served. Robert is truly the office boy, and enjoys it. I run the concert series at the Hyde Park Chapel. Our first concert of the Winter Series was 17 January 2008, and we just had the last one, an organ concert 2 August 2008 by Ruth Eldredge. It was lovely. My calling is also to teach organ and piano. I have three or four active organ students and about 40 piano students. I have some real young children, some teenagers and then quite a few adults. All are beginning to intermediate level. . . I do think this work is worthwhile.
The Lord knows us, our talents, our needs, and our thoughts and desires. If we keep our thoughts pure and directed to do His will he will be able to use us in the great Latter-day work, as he is using Sister Neu. What a great blessing for her, Brother Neu, and for others in London, England! What a wonderful example of a person acting on righteous thoughts and impressions!
Controlling our thoughts blesses various aspects of our lives–from the practical to the spiritual. In the words of Elder Boyd K Packer, “I have come to know that thoughts, like water, will stay on its course if we make a place for them to go.” [Elder Boyd K. Packer, “Inspiring Music–Worthy Thoughts,” Ensign, January, 1974, p. 25]
Especially, may our thoughts be of Christ, and may we strive to be more like him, love and serve Him with all our heart, soul, and mind, and always remember Him.
Keynote Address by Bonnie L. Goodliffe
August 4, 2009
I am humbled at the prospect of speaking to you today. I pray that I may say something helpful to each of you.
I was in my senior year at BYU when this building first opened. I walked by the construction site almost every day before it was completed. I spent three additional years roaming these halls as a graduate student. I have many sweet memories tied to this building Most of the special faculty members that I knew are gone now. Even people I went to school with who were on the faculty are retired now. People younger than I am are running the department. This continues to astonish me. I still think of myself as being about 29, maybe 31.
I feel that I have been very fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time to have had the experiences that I have had. I have had excellent teachers, indispensable family encouragement and support, wonderful mentors, and unlikely opportunities. I never expected to be able to spend so much time in musical activities. I have, for some reason, been given the chance to do many of the things that I would have thought to be impossible
I believe that one of the things which has made these experiences possible is my topic today. Let me illustrate with three seemingly unrelated items. I hope you will see the connection by the time I finish this talk, or I will be very embarrassed.
#1 Some years ago I read a Dear Abby column which had a great influence on me. It must have affected many others too, judging by the letters which were printed as a result. The column has been re-printed numerous times It deals with a decision to go to medical school, but that is irrelevant here.
“Dear Abby: I am a 36-year-old college dropout whose lifelong ambition was to be a physician. I have a very good job selling pharmaceutical supplies, but my heart is still in the practice of medicine. I do volunteer work at the local hospital on my time off, and people tell me I would have been a wonderful doctor.
“If I go back to college and get my degree, then go to medical school, do my internship and finally get into the practice of medicine, it will take me seven years. But Abby, in seven years I will be 43 years old! What do you think?
(Signed) “Unfulfilled in Philly”
(She answers) “Dear Unfulfilled: And how old will you be in seven years if you don’t do it?”
My Dear Brothers and Sisters,
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#2 Years ago I saw an article in the newspaper about making lists to accomplish certain goals. Since I am a professional-caliber list maker, this appealed to me in a big way. Here is the gist: make a list of 100 things you want to do. (This is harder than you might think.) They can be things to buy, places to go, projects to complete, whatever. Then start working on them. Cross off each item as you complete it, and replace it with a new goal. I have my list in a spiral notebook, with 25 lines to a sheet. I draw a single line through the listing and date it when I complete an item, so I have a record of what I have done. Then I use that number for a new item. I, of course, have made several sub-lists grouping my 100 things into categories such as simple purchases, large-scale travel, household improvements, things which require time but no money, that sort of thing. One of the sub-categories I call “poco a poco – things which can be done a little at a time.”
#3 1993 was the centennial year of the Salt Lake Temple. As you may know, it took 40 years to build. I never doubted this fact; I just didn’t consider the implications. During that centennial year, the temple construction was talked about at General Conference, written about in church magazines and various other books, documented in a special church motion picture, and featured in a wonderful exhibit at the church museum of history and art. Some of the details of the building problems finally made me realize what a stupendous project the temple was. I was stunned to learn that the entire foundation had to be dug up and re-done after the episode with Johnson’s Army. Cracks were found which necessitated virtually starting over. Elder Boyd K. Packer’s conference talk that April related that it took an ox team approximately one week to leave the Salt Lake Valley, arrive at the granite quarry, load one single block of granite, and travel back to the temple site in Salt Lake City. One week if nothing went wrong. If there were problems, of course it took longer than one week. I’m afraid that I would have found the situation so discouraging that I would have just given up on the whole thing. I would have said, “this is hopeless; we won’t live long enough to see this temple built.” Or “what a crazy idea; any realistic person can see that this is just a pipedream.” Fortunately for the church, I wasn’t there. Fortunately a prophet was in charge, a prophet who wasn’t limited by what was reasonable, or logical, or possible within an allotted time period. He just had the vision. And a mere forty years later, the temple was completed.
Now to bring these three ideas together. I had realized that large-scale projects, including musical ones, could be effectively worked on a little at a time, but I had applied the concept only to known, near-term performances. I hadn’t envisioned how effective the idea could be with long-term musical goals.
I belong to a group which calls itself the Piano Club. It was in existence long before I moved to Salt Lake City, and I am one of the younger members. It is an informal group of ladies who meet once a month during the school year and perform for each other. Sometimes, and by some people, the performances are very polished; some are less polished. We try things out on each other, sometimes before we are actually ready. Over the years I have played an assortment of things, mostly dredged up from my student days. But in 1985, the Bach year, I decided to revive the Bach B flat partita, which I like very much and which I had performed in high school. Many years before. I did just one movement each month. I really wasn’t practicing the piano much at the time. I enjoyed it so much, I decided to learn the second partita, which I had never completed. Then I did the third. And so on. So, in the spring of 1992 I realized that I had learned all six partitas and the overture in the French style. I hadn’t really set out to do that; it just sort of happened. But it was like a revelation to me. One of my musical life goals was to
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learn all the partitas. I hadn’t really conceived of how or when that might happen. It was just a nebulous idea out there in space. But there it was, suddenly, done.
I did the French Suites next. Since that time, I have also completed the Well- tempered Clavier, Book 1; the Goldberg Variations; and the English suites. I am now working on the Well-tempered Clavier, Book 2.
Now it seems like almost nothing to learn just one movement of a Bach partita. Okay, that is an overstatement; a few of them are long and quite difficult, but most are just one or two pages. It is no gigantic accomplishment to learn one movement in a month. But the cumulative effect was remarkable to me. When I realized that I would complete the set, I thought of Abby’s answer. How old would I have been in 1992 if I hadn’t learned all the Bach partitas. I thought, “How many other musical things can I work on this way? How many non-musical things can I work on this way?” I came up with a long list (and sub-lists, of course.)
You may think that you are not interested in this type of commitment. But remember there is no penalty for not accomplishing all that you hope for. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Count only the successful efforts, and forget the rest. The times you miss do not lessen the accomplishments of the past or the future. Close the door on any past lapses or failures, and move forward from wherever you are. You don’t have to commit never to miss a practice session in order to have practicing pay off for you.
Ongoing diligence will improve your abilities. Whatever your musical circum- stances, you can learn new things. Look for instance at the 1985 hymnbook. Are you familiar with all the newer things in it, or is it still like the sealed portion of the golden plates to you? Could you learn one new hymn or mark one pedal part every month?
How old will you be in 5 years if you don’t make such an effort? If you don’t use any initiative in your music calling? If you just squeak by week after week, collecting ideas and possibilities, but never applying them. The days and months and years will pass by just the same. But, one step a week or even one a month adds up to a fair distance down the road after a while. The cumulative effect can be impressive. But it does require a decision to make the effort, a decision about what direction to take.
I have long been inspired by a statement of Elder Neal Maxwell’s. He wrote, “eternal things are always done in the process of time. . . . Direction is initially more important than speed.” (Of One Heart. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1975, p.35) At least most of the time, try to be going in the right direction. I also like to remind myself of Alma’s admonition “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass.” (Alma 37:6)
With regard to inching forward in the right direction, I hope you will allow me to share some things I have learned about preparation and attitude.
I believe very strongly in careful preparation of your music. Thorough preparation is probably my best skill. It has saved me on many occasions. I know that if I work through every conceivable problem mentally, beforehand, I can overcome or eliminate the great majority of problems. I can even overcome a certain amount of performance anxiety ahead of time.
Keep in mind that thorough preparation cannot be forced. I like this comment by the violinist Itzhak Perlman: “If you learn something fast you often forget it just as fast.
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You need to give it time, let yourself grow with it, let it become a part of you. I don’t like practicing under pressure. I like to give a piece about a year, doing ten minutes here, twenty minutes there, letting the whole thing mature organically.” (“All Play is Work” (an interview with Itzhak Perlman by Jeremy Siepmann) BBC Music Magazine, May 1995, p. 22) Perlman refers to this as the “baking” method – putting something in the oven and coming back later when it’s ready to take out. A slow process, much like building the Salt Lake Temple one granite block at a time.
In your performances, do not rely on your emotions. Emotion is not a legitimate substitute for technical skill. Do not rely on inspiration. The Lord can magnify your abilities but not if you have done nothing first. Remember that Nephi asked the Lord where to go to find ore. He didn’t ask the Lord to drop a set of ship-building tools into his tent. Even in church service, the angels may attend you, but they do not practice for you.
I have a philosophy about working in church music which has been very successful for me. It is this: Take all the blame yourself. Never accuse anyone else of causing poor results. If your choir director never gives you music ahead of time, perhaps you could say to him or her, “I wish I had the skills to be able to do justice to this without so much practice, but I am so far just unable to do it.” If you don’t get the hymns ahead of time, offer to choose them yourself. Offer to come to the music director’s house to pick up the schedule. Ask which day you should telephone to find out what the music will be. If the musical numbers are inadequate or inappropriate, offer to line up some better ones. Don’t complain unless you are prepared to do something constructive to improve the situation. Do everything in your power to be a positive influence: on the quality of the music, on the quality of the presentation, on the testimonies of those you work with, and on the spirituality of the worship service. Remember that sometimes the most positive thing you can do is keep quiet.
I would like to tell you two stories. True stories. A prominent citizen passed away. An equally prominent organist was asked to provide music at the funeral services. The organist arrived at the chapel, inspected the instrument, and declared it inadequate. The organist played the piano instead. I think this is a very sad story. I can hardly imagine any justification for such arrogance. I think it is a terrible insult to the grieving family. I have played some pretty poor instruments myself. I have played funeral music which I thought was quite inappropriate. But, I say, if the family wants it and the bishop approves it, then who am I to dictate to them? I have played – at funerals – The Stars and Stripes Forever, When the Saints Go Marchin’ In, and even Help Me Make it Through the Night. Don’t think that you are too good to play a particular instrument or a piece of music. Pride is a sin much worse than musical ignorance.
The second story happened to me. I took my organ shoes to a shoe repair shop to have the suede soles glued back on. I explained to the young woman who was helping me that I was an organist and the significance of the suede soles. She actually seemed rather interested. Finally she said, “Have you ever played anyplace really big? Like a baseball game?” I smiled and said, “No, I’m sorry. I guess I haven’t.”
If you find yourself thinking that you are quite accomplished, or quite important, or at least superior to those with less training and taste, remember the shoe repair shop. It will bring you back to reality.
On one of my morning walks I was thinking about this talk and about goals and accomplishments and what was really possible in this lifetime. I had this bizarre idea.
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What if, in the next life, I don’t get to work on all the things that I have been putting off until then. What if I get there, and there is a rule that I can only continue to work on projects that I have already started. What if I can’t begin anything brand new? What would happen if I protested and showed a long list of all the music I was planning to learn and all the skills I was planning to develop and the gatekeeper angel asked for some evidence that those things are truly important to me. I am going to feel pretty terrible about all those things I didn’t even try to accomplish–all those things on my list of 100 that just got shelved until I had that mythical chunk of free time. I am comforted to know that the Lord knows my heart and my mind, but what do my actions show?
I have for many years loved Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”. I like it even more since I learned Randall Thompson’s musical setting of the text, which I played on my very first broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word in 1988. I would like to share it with you in closing.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I– I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
(A Pocket Book of Robert Frost’s Poems, p.223. New York: Washington Square Press, Inc., 1963.)
For me, and perhaps for many of you, church music in general and playing the organ in particular have become the road taken, and it has made all the difference. I wish you success in all your musical ambitions, and I am grateful that we are travelling companions on that road.
Bonnie L. Goodliffe August 4, 2009
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Keynote Address by Mike Ohman
August 3, 2010
I ask your forgiveness as I speak to you today. I have felt prompted to share some very personal experiences.
A few months ago, Elder David A. Bednar gave a moving talk to the missionaries at the MTC. His message was simple. He asked a very stimulating question, “How does one recognize the Spirit?”
“You will succeed as you learn to follow the Spirit, and, learn to understand the Holy Ghost and how He works.
So, he said, How do YOU recognize the Spirit?
The answer is simple and direct. Now, listen carefully, he said.
Quit stewing about it.
Just be good boys and girls. Just be worthy.
Sometime you will look back and see that you were in the right place at the right time. And you will recognize that you were prompted and directed.
I have seen so many wonderful people who are paralyzed by not having an immediate prompting to be guided. . . .NOW! Should I get married, should I go to school, should I buy this car, or should I do this thing?
Most of us just need to press forward. Take that step in the dark, make that leap of faith.”
I was raised in a home filled with music. My mother was a good pianist and my father was an untrained vocalist and drummer. Together, when they got on the dance floor, others would move aside to watch them “cut a rug”.
My earliest musical memories are of sitting on the piano bench next to my mother as she played and I learned to sing the Primary Songs, and little folk songs of the day. She taught me the notes and I began to experiment with the piano. Some of my fondest musical memories are of playing piano duets with my mother.
In my pre-teen age years, Dad and I often worked together in our garden. Most mundane jobs were done to music. It had rhythm and tempo. Those important elements were used to advantage. Planting potatoes was accompanied by “I’ve been working on the railroad! Or, “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?” It was in this setting that I learned to harmonize.
At age 12 Mom took me to the church and taught me how to turn on the Hammond organ and how to work the drawbars. In a few weeks I was called as the ward organist. When I was 16, my parents bought a Hammond Organ and I began private lessons with Gene Halliday in Ogden. At 18, I graduated from high school with a four year scholarship, a gold watch as outstanding musician, and had made a commercial organ recording.
Immediately after graduation, my family moved to Northern California and I was hired by the Hammond Organ Company to demonstrate new models for dealers on the West coast.
At 19, I was called to serve in the West Mexican Mission and came to the Language Training Mission at BYU for Spanish training. I dislocated my shoulder and had to go home for surgery. My mission was then transferred and I served in the Western States Mission, headquartered in Denver, Colorado. While there, I fell in a rather unkempt shower and tore the previous surgery apart. I went home for a second, more radical operation on my shoulder. Many weeks later, I returned to Denver. Baptisms were scarce in those years. My one experience was with Paul Rudolph, a Tlinket Indian . . . we call them Eskimos. I felt discouragement from my mission experience. Two major surgeries, some permanent disability and some “Oh woe is me” left me with the thought, “What a waist of time!”
After my mission, I went to BYU as a music education major with organ as my instrument. My first experience was memorable. Professor JJ Keeler asked about my background. From that time on he called me Mr. Hammond.
I soon discovered that my training on the Hammond Organ was not at all acceptable to the world of classical organists. One must have special shoes. One must sit “just so” on the bench. Classical organists write fingering, pedaling, phrasing, registration and piston numbers on their music. Precision and exactness, I soon learned, are far more important than digital dexterity, showiness, and improvisational skills.
It was discouraging to say the least. I felt I had something to offer in the world of jazz and popular organ playing. But, I was at the bottom of the barrel when it came to the more churchly instrument. I felt something like the venerable May West, who is believed to have said, “I used to be Snow White, and then I drifted!”
I left BYU for several years and developed a restaurant chain of three stores called Pipes and Pizza. It was a good business. One Sunday afternoon, I opened the Church News and saw a picture of Paul Rudolph. I could hardly believe my eyes. I opened to the article and read about his accomplishments. He was the son of the Tlinket Tribal Chief, who had died. As is the tribal custom, Paul had become the Tribal Chief. He had invited his people to learn about the church so that they would understand his religious beliefs. Several hundred people eventually joined and he had been called as the bishop. As a boy, he had learned to chant the genealogy of his people, since there was no written language. Through the efforts of wonderful people in Salt Lake, Paul was able to have his chant transcribed so that temple work could be completed for the people of his tribal ancestors.
All of a sudden, my missionary experience had become a success. I felt embarrassment for my rather immature attitude and asked the Lord’s forgiveness. I made a commitment right there and then that I would do everything I could to help prepare my children for missions. And, if one could serve the Spanish speaking people of the world, it might in some way vindicate what I had been unable to accomplish during my mission.
“Just be good a boy and a good girl and someday you will look back and see that you were in the right place at the right time!”
1976 we sold our interest in the Utah stores, and moved to California to operate that business.
One evening, a familiar voice was on the telephone. Newell Dayley said, “I will be in Los Angeles next week; can I come and visit with you?” He was kind. He asked about our family, our church service, our happiness. He asked if I had considered finishing my degree and opened my mind to other possibilities. My wife and I talked and prayed and fasted. I came back to BYU for one semester to complete my required California Teachers Certification. I returned home to teach music in the Ventura County School Systems.
I loved teaching, but I was uncomfortable in the environment of fenced campuses, drug dealers, and budget cuts. After more prayer and soul searching, we sold our business and returned to BYU to graduate school.
Many powerful experiences began unfolding in our lives. I was called to a bishopric and saw the Church from a very different perspective.
I was privileged to serve as a guest organist at the Salt Lake Tabernacle. That was a treasured experience. The mixing of a unique building, the magnificent tonal pallet of the organ, and the feeling of reverence and awe that permeates ones soul; coupled together to create genuinely sacred moments.
I was assigned to go to Jerusalem to inspect the Marcussen Pipe Organ installed in the BYU Center for Near Eastern Studies. While there, I was privileged to have some time alone sitting under a tree on the shores of the Sea of Galilee reading the New Testament. I read about the Savior’s walk on the water, and Peter’s dramatic attempt. I read about the Saviors call to the fisherman to “cast your nets on the other side.” I wondered if I might somehow be in the vicinity of these and other great miracles. Is it possible that the Savior might have been where I was then privileged to be?
From over my shoulder came the sound of a voice. Abada, Abada, he called. I turned to see a Bedouin shepherd calling one of a small herd of sheep. Abada was easy to identify. Her tail perked up, her head raised from grazing, and she followed her master as he led her to the edge of the fresh water. There he knelt down beside her and washed her eyes and face and her rump. Then he carefully examined and cleaned each foot. After she had her fill of the fresh water, he wrapped his arms around her neck and petted her, and snuggled her, and spoke softly and lovingly to her. Then he stood, led her back to the fold, and called another. I watched with tenderness as he repeated the process over and over with each of the twelve or so sheep.
I became witness to the Saviors instruction to “feed my sheep, feed my lambs”.
Soon after my return, I was called as bishop of my home ward. I quickly understood the lesson. Leave the ninety and nine, and go after the one.
At my release as my home ward bishop after 6 1⁄2 years, I was called as a bishop on campus to a freshman ward. We sent out approximately 50 missionaries a semester. After 3 1⁄2 years I was released from that wonderful service.
While serving as bishop our first son was called to serve a mission. I was full of great anticipation as that process unfolded. When his call came to Santiago, Chile, I was beside myself in joy. Tears flowed easily as I understood how much the Lord loved me, and answered my plea. When our second son received his call to Anaheim, California, Spanish, my gratitude was so deep and my heart so full, I could hardly speak. Our third child, a daughter, was then called to Santiago West, Chile. There are no words to express my feelings. I just looked at her letter and wept. Our fourth, another daughter, had been engaged to be married twice. She finally said, “Dad, I think I need to serve a mission, but I don’t want to learn a language, but instead want to learn a culture. I suggested that she needed to talk with her Heavenly Father, that I had nothing to do with such matters. Her plea was heard and she was called to Atlanta, Georgia. She was blessed with learning a culture. Each missionary served with spiritual awareness and humility. I was awakening to the power of the Spirit and the knowledge that He knows us and loves us and wants to help us.
Quit worrying, quit stewing, and just be worthy!
Another assignment came to serve in a BYU stake presidency with Newell Dayley. Our stake was comprised of single adults under 30. We sent many women on missions, and were privileged to witness hundreds of marriages in our years together.
The MTC was our next adventure. We were called to serve in a Spanish Branch. Imagine, some 40- plus years after being called to serve in Mexico, to now be able to serve with those wonderful Latino missionaries. I knew the Lord had a plan for me. I was asked to play for Devotionals and accompany the missionaries to sing. No one sings with the joy and exuberance of 2500 committed missionaries as they belt out Called to Serve.
In 2004 I was asked to go to Jerusalem again to work on the organ. I took my wife. On the way back we spent two weeks in London and 10 days in Sweden. For many years our family has been stopped in getting genealogy beyond my great-great grandfather. I felt prompted to take my genealogy and to see if someone could help.
We flew to Stockholm. From Stockholm we drove 7 1⁄2 hours north to Harnosand; and then we drove 20 miles inland to Sabra and found the City Library that was for some unknown reason open on a holiday afternoon. It just happened that a young man about 25, was at the library and could speak English fluently. He helped us locate the cemetery and my great-grandfather’s grave and the family farm on a City map. He asked why we had come all this way. I told him that I was interested in genealogy and was trying to track down some information about my ancestors. That I had come to a dead end and thought I might find some clue if I came to the land of my heritage. This young man said he was very interested in genealogy and wanted to see my genealogy sheets. After a brief study of a few ancestral lines, he said, “I think some of your lines coincide with some of mine. Let me go home and get my genealogy and I will meet you at your hotel.
He provided us with links to new information and several hundred names for which we were able to complete the temple work. He also provided us with a book on the history of Sabra, Sweden, which included pictures, stories, accounts of importance, and yes, more genealogy. Consider the magnitude of that simple encounter just because of what I will describe as a step in the dark, a leap of faith, just pressing on!
We feel that our steps have been guided.
We have felt the prompting of the Holy Ghost.
We have tried to be a good boy and a good girl.
We have tried to honor our covenants.
We feel that the Lord has guided us in our journey through life.
I have been blessed with significant opportunities as an organist.
Teaching music theory at BYU has been a most rewarding and satisfying journey.
Serving in the councils of the Church has deepened my testimony. I know we are lead and guided by a prophet of God.
For 25 years I have served in the Executive Council of the School of Music. I have been personally involved in the recruiting, admission, scholarship awarding, teaching, and nurturing of hundreds if not thousands of wonderfully talented music students. What a significant blessing in my life.
I have seen my four children serve honorable missions, marry in a temple, and I can now extend my arms to15 grandchildren.
Like the saints of an earlier time, we have learned that:
The Lord is extending the Saint’s understanding, Restoring their judges and all as at first.
The knowledge and power of God are expanding; The veil o’er the earth is beginning to burst.
We’ll sing and we’ll shout with the armies of heaven, Hosanna, hosanna to God and the Lamb!
Let glory to them in the highest be given, Hence forth and forever, Amen and amen!
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
I am honored to address you today as the keynote speaker at this annual BYU Organ Workshop. This event continues to be a superb source of information and inspiration for all participants.
I was very surprised when Don Cook invited me to speak as I do not accept speaking or performance requests because of my physical condition. The spirit falters and the flesh continues to weaken. The only exception is an occasional special funeral, such as my close friend Beverley Sorenson’s. I had previously played for her husband Jim’s services. The very large congregation was filled with luminaries from throughout the state. I selected the simplest organ music possible and played it very slowly. I felt that I myself was not far from being in a coffin and I’m sure that the listeners agreed.
I’m now almost 87 years of age. I am the oldest living Temple Square organist as well as the oldest living Tabernacle choir organist. Thus, I have lived and experienced a long period of continuing evolution in the music of the Restored Church as it strives to meet the complex needs of a now world-wide presence. Let me share some of my singular musical experiences both past and present.
I started “in the trenches” so to speak when a new Hammond model A electronic organ arrived at our Sandy 2nd ward. It replaced our old hand-pumped reed organ. “This is the instrument of the future”, the salesman confidently proclaimed. “Pipe organs will be obsolete in ten years”. I was fascinated by the sound which could be synthesized in seemingly endless variety by means of the drawbars. I promptly enrolled in a General Music Committee sponsored 12 week course for beginning organists. Upon the completion, I was called to be a Sunday School organist. I was twelve years old at the time. In those days, organ and even vocal music was performed during the passing of the sacrament. Among other ear-pleasing pieces, I often naively played “Hymn of the Nuns”. (This was during World War ll.) I remember attending a neighboring ward and hearing “Comin’ in on a wing and a prayer. (Tho’ there’s one engine gone, we will still carry on, comin’ in on a wing and a prayer”). Shortly thereafter, the Church abolished all sacramental music. While I was initially shocked, I soon realized that this was an inspired change. Thereafter I have continued to treasure this time in our services when we can contemplate the true meaning of the sacrament in complete (or almost complete) quiet. How I wish that this was the case during the organ prelude as well.
We sang the songs in Deseret Sunday School Songs published by The Deseret Sunday School Union. “Count Your Many blessings”, “Did You Think to Pray” and “Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd” were among the favorites. These songs were beloved by the General Authorities. Though they were omitted in later publications, they reappeared in our latest hymnal due to the desire of these elderly brethren. They are now often curiously referred to as “Hymns of the Restoration”.
To be prepared for every Sunday School song practice, I spent an entire summer learning to play all of these songs. I would start with the first page and proceed to play each song at a moderate tempo without stopping. I would continue to play each successive song in the same manner until 1 finished the last page of the book. It was a grueling task but at the end of the summer I could confidently play any of these songs at the correct tempo without mistakes. As a result I found that I could sight-read most music. This skill has proved to be invaluable throughout my entire career.
After several years of private lessons, my teacher felt that I should study with Alexander Schreiner. Neither my parents or I could afford his very high lesson fees during these Great Depression times. Fortunately, Schreiner accepted me as his only scholarship student.
At the same time I met my wonderful high school music teacher, Donald Olsen. A BYU graduate, he was a fine violinist and a former student of Leroy J. Robertson. He showed me a manuscript copy of The Lord’s Prayer. The heavens opened. I was overwhelmed by its glorious sound. This encounter later proved to be a turning point in my life when 1 entered the U. of U.
After high school in 1945, I served in the Merchant Marine for two years. Following my release, I enrolled at the U. of U. as a freshman music major. Since my service was not included in the GI Bill of Rights, I didn’t receive any financial assistance. I continued to be self-supporting, as 1 had been since high school days. In addition to teaching piano and organ lessons, I played piano in jazz bands.
One of my organ students was Charlotte Ann Clark. She lived just a block away. She was 16 years old. I was 4 years older, but we had much in common. We belonged to the same ward (Sandy 2nd) and had attended the same high school (Jordan High). Moreover, we were both friends and faithful and fully committed Mormons. Mutual admiration slowly became deepest love and she accepted my engagement ring. When she excitedly showed it to her parents, her father asked, ”How will he support you?”. She confidently replied, “He’s a musician!”. Her father retorted, “I repeat the question, how will he support you?”
We were married in the Manti Temple. We bought a small home at 424 Douglas Street, very close to the U. campus. I continued my studies while teaching dozens of beginning GI piano students in the U. of U. music department serving as organist at other churches such as 1st Unitarian and United Methodist on Sundays, plus Temple B’nai Israel on Friday nights and Christian Scientist mid-week, to earn a few extra dollars. I was Maurice Abravanel’s rehearsal pianist. This was all in addition to being a full-time student and loving husband and father. I did, indeed, support my wife and children very well, much to my father-in-law’s amazement. In retrospect I can appreciate his concern for his wonderful daughter. She truly is one-of-a-kind. Without her, I never could have succeeded. My greatest blessing is our eternal marriage. We now have 5 children, 23 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren.
As a student at the U. of U. I finally met Leroy Robertson. In his graduate Bach to Contemporary class, he taught me to compose music for the first time in my life. Robertson was a superb teacher. This wonderful internationally famous composer was amazed at the maturity of Three Preludes and Fugues Tor Piano, which was my first work. Under Robertson’s constant inspiration and encouragement, I never looked back. I have continued to compose ever since. I have also stayed in close contact with the family since his death. I continue to make every effort to perpetuate his name and his priceless legacy.
After graduation, we moved to Provo where I taught music theory at BYU. Five years later President David O. McKay called me and my family to England where I was to serve my first mission as organist at the new Hyde Park Chapel in London. One hectic week after our call we arrived to replace Roy Darley, who immediately left to return to Temple Square to resume his work as Assistant Tabernacle Organist.
But where to begin? I hadn’t played the organ since we left Salt Lake, except to serve as organist in the Oak Hills 2nd Ward. All I had was a briefcase full of music. I was to play my first recital two days later and continue to play daily recitals 6 days each week. Other professional organists would ask, ”How can you possibly play six different recitals each week without breaking down?” To my consternation, our English ward and branch members would ask, ”ls that all you do?
I began by contacting Robert Munns, who was organist at nearby Holy Trinity Church. He came to my rescue. He taught me appropriate new repertoire and explained British organ design and registration. With almost constant practice and a wonderful patient wife and family, I managed to cope with this formidable challenge. Alexander Schreiner had dedicated the organ and played the initial recitals. He had set a high standard. I felt that I would be on constant trial before a potential audience of world-famed musicians. I was only able to succeed with the constant help of the Lord. Equal amounts of prayer and careful practice was the final answer.
Among many wonderful experiences, I will mention just two:
The first was playing a recital at King’s College, Cambridge. My wife thought of King Henry VIII while I practiced in this silent dark, historic chapel. I was awed by the sound of this superb instrument. We were there as Francis Jackson’s guests. It was a singular feeling.
The second was playing the organ accompaniment for Zoltan Kodaly’s Missa Brevis at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Robert Munns conducted his Holy Trinity Choir. Ralph Downes was scheduled as organist but was suddenly needed elsewhere. Robert asked me to deputize, or as we would say, “substitute” for Downes. The reverberation time was enormous. The console is located high above on the central screen. It is reached by a winding staircase. When I was rehearsing before hand, I played and abruptly released a single chord, quickly slid off the bench and raced down the stairs to stand in the center of the nave below. The chord was still sounding! “Use the dome trumpet as sparingly as possible”, I had been warned. “We’re afraid that it could crack the dome”. I had to use it for the final chord of the Kodaly. I could just imagine the possible world headlines: “Mormon organist destroys the dome at St. Paul’s Cathedral”.
After our English mission, we returned to Provo where I resumed teaching at BYU. A year later, another call dramatically changed our lives. I was teaching a counterpoint class. A secretary threw the door open and excitedly shout, ”You must call the office of the First Presidency!” I ran to the phone and returned the call. I was told to come to Pres. Hugh B. Brown’s office immediately. When I arrived he told me that Frank Asper would retire. I was to be his replacement but I could only tell my wife until I was sustained at General Conference. Speculation on campus was rampant. I only could say that I wouldn’t be excommunicated or called on a another mission. I could say nothing more, I was certain of just one thing l would retire at age 65.
As my close friend, the late Edward L. Hart wrote: “The past returns, the springs of time unwind, and all is present in the heart and mind”. So it is at this moment. I have shared my memory and feelings of these past events. In my mind’s eye, they are as vivid and real as if they had just occurred.
The Tabernacle organ bench is a never-ending hot seat. The pressure of the work is unrelenting. In addition to live broadcasts, organ recitals, intensive organ practice and trying to be a good husband and father, I was executive head of the Church Music Dept. under Alexander Schreiner as chairman. As such, I designed and printed the Guidebook for Organists and assigned Ralph Woodward to write a Guidebook for Conductors and others to write similar guidebooks.
I also managed to persuade the Primary and Sunday School organizations to agree upon the contents of a new children’s songbook. It was titled Sing With Me. I composed two new songs and invited such composers as Reid Nibley, Gaylen Hatton, Newell K. Brown, Jay Welch Merrill Bradshaw, Crawford Gates and others to contribute. I included songs from previous songbooks by both organizations. Finally. I carefully copied the entire contents in pencil manuscript for the printer.
When Alexander Schreiner retired I was now the head organist. I chose John Longhurst as Schreiner’s replacement. John became my closest friend and confidant.
I was privileged to work with some great men at the Tabernacle: Alexander Schreiner, Richard P. Condie, Jay Welch and Jerold Ottley. My happiest time was with Jerry. When Jerry became the conductor, we were able Io work together as a team conductors, organists and business manager. Although we have all retired, we still meet with these friends and their wives once a month. We are a closely-knit group. We call ourselves “The Emeritabs”.
I had many friends and no known enemies among the General Authorities. Many called me “Bob”, rather than”Robert” or “Brother Cundick”. During our mission in England, Mark E. Petersen and N. Eldon Tanner became our close friends. Upon our return, both these and other General Authority doors were always open to me. Thus, the various worthy projects that John and I undertook had every chance for success.
Among these are the procurement of the Robert Sipe tracker action organ, basement practice organs, harpsichords and Steinway pianos in the Assembly Hall. The only problem was that 1 personally had to raise the purchase money, which I did. John and I were so involved in the design of the remodeled building We also were responsible for procuring the necessary First Presidency approval for the rebuilding of the Tabernacle Organ by the Schoenstein Company, and the Casavant Organ in the Joseph Smith building.
We initiated the guest organist program and received permission for the appointment of Bonnie Goodliffe and Linda Margetts as Temple Square Organists. They became the first women to hold such a position since Katherine Romney Stewart in 1900. We felt that such a change was long overdue.
In the year 1991 as I had previously vowed, I retired as I was now 65 years of age. Pres. Howard W, Hunter had earlier asked us to serve as hosts at the BYU Jerusalem Center. Nov. 30th was my last day at the Tabernacle. On Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7th, just one week later we landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. From there we were driven up to the beautiful BYU Jerusalem Center on Mt. Scopus.
Our assignment was to change the public perception of the Center from mistrust to complete trust and appreciation. This we accomplished by improving the hosting procedure and starting a new concert series. The Iron Curtain had now fallen, the USSR had now allowed Russian Jews to leave. Superb new Jewish musicians from Russia were arriving by the plane load almost daily. It seemed that everyone getting off the planes carried an instrument case. The saying was: “If they don’t carry a musical instrument case, it’s because they are a pianist”. As the musical job market was saturated, they were forced to accept menial work in order to survive. We featured them on the series, much to the native Israeli’s appreciation. Soon, every fine Jewish musician wanted to appear in concert at the center. We gained the sponsorship of the national music network, Kol Israel, the Jerusalem Rubin Academy of Music and the Jerusalem Symphony. These concerts have continued to be held to this day, even when BYU did not have students at the center. Visitor attendance grew from 9,000 per year to 70,000 when we left.
I was also the catalyst to bring the Tabernacle choir to Israel. Their splendid concerts did much to bolster the Church’s image in Israel.
We knew that we had accomplished our assignment when, just before we left, we were standing in a line at the Israel Museum. We heard a fine jewelry-loaded Jewish woman ask her obviously equally wealthy Jewish companion, “My dear, have you a«ended the marvelous concerts at our Jerusalem Center? If not, you must!” Her choice of the pronoun “our” was most gratifying. We wanted to cheer aloud!
Richard Condie used to say, ”Good Mormons have ants in their pants”, meaning that they are “anxiously engaged in a good cause”. Your attendance here today is indeed proof of your commitment to organ excellence.
I thank you very much for your kind attention.
Jerry L. Jaccard, EdD
BYU School of Music
Thank, you Brother Cook, for this special opportunity to share some thoughts with fellow musicians of the Church. When Brother Cook invited me to give this keynote, he mentioned the possibility of also sharing some of my experiences with our late brother, Doug Bush. Therefore, I would like to dedicate this talk to the memory of Douglas Earl Bush. Doug was one of my very best friends; we drove all over Europe together sharing favorite places with each other while also working on our research projects. We teased each other that between us, we were all too well acquainted with every pastry and chocolate shop between Amsterdam and Budapest. Doug served a mission in German- speaking Switzerland, and I am of French-speaking Swiss ancestry, so we were both hopelessly in love with all things Swiss. However, he was not acquainted with Swiss chocolate from the French cantons, so that gave me an opportunity to expand his already considerable palette of options. From then on, he always brought back to me from his trips a few delectables made by the company where one of my Jaccard cousins had worked before retiring.
Doug had never been to Hungary where I have been researching their wonderful and highly developed national music education system since 1980. So, my wife Alta and I arranged to meet him one day about 10 years ago at the main train station in Budapest, where he would be arriving from Vienna. We had already warned him about the over- eager (and sometimes aggressive) taxi drivers in case we were late. In what was surely the Lord’s perfect timing, Doug stepped out of the station just as we made our first circuit around the parking lot. I threw his suitcases into the trunk, he climbed into the back seat and we were off on our wild adventure. I noticed that he was carefully holding a cake- sized pastry box by the top strings and instinctively knew that chocolate would soon be involved. Our first stop was the Bulgarian Culture House where we would spend the first night. As soon as we installed Doug in his room, he invited us to sit on the edge of his bed and opened up the box to reveal a Sacher Torte fresh from Vienna. He divvied it up, and we polished it off like the three little pigs.
The next day, as we drove deep into the interior of Hungary, Doug would tell us to stop at what seemed like every other gas station to treat us to a Magnum ice cream bar. We must have eaten at least four apiece that afternoon. Alta and I later reflected that it was his way of thanking us for taking him around Hungary to scout out the possibility of his doing a future organ performance tour there. Alta and Doug both grew up on ranches, she in Arizona and he in Montana, so they understood each other perfectly and I was always the fall guy for their hilarious ranch stories. All it took was the sighting of a single cow to set them off again. We basically ate, laughed and giggled our way through the Hungarian countryside.
However, as many of you know, there was much more to Doug than food, chocolate and his devastating wit (we couldn’t sit anywhere near each other in BYU faculty meetings). He also loved people, especially his students. We shared many students and what struck me the most was his acceptance of students with a wide range of abilities; he was as concerned with raising amateurs as well as professionals. I believe Doug never forgot his own humble journey from a less than musical rural atmosphere to the great musician, composer and teacher he became. The rest of my remarks today are intended to convey that attitude and spirit. It is perhaps the best way I can honor him and pass the baton to you and all those you will edify and teach in your homes, wards and stakes.
From my vantage point as a teacher of music teachers, I find that “talent” is one of the most misused words in our vocabularly. It seems that almost every person in our national society equates the Savior’s use of “talents” with the ability to perform something. However, in His context, it is clear that He is talking about opportunities for growth. The unprofitable servant was chastized not because he wasn’t capable, but because he did not seize the opportunity to become more capable. Understanding the matter of talent this way profoundly changes how we should think about whether or not people are “musical.” For my part, I boldly tell you that all of us are born musical; hundreds of my colleagues around the world agree with me. So, it becomes a matter of education, serious lifelong education, not haphazard or unsubstantial “tone baths” as one of my early mentors called it.1
I home teach two wonderful sisters who have a sign prominently displayed for all visitors to see upon entering their humble home. It reads: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Nothing could apply more perfectly to the world of musicians! The first great truth of music making is that there will always be someone who sings or plays better than you. Admit it, get over it, celebrate their accomplishments and enjoy yours. They are not truly artists if they give the slightest hint of disdain toward you, and you are not a true artist if you think you are superior to those of lesser musical prowess. The Zion standard for musicians must surely be one of mutual encouragement and cooperation as we build each other. The scriptural record teaches us that Zion will be a cooperative rather than a competitive endeavor.
The other great truth of music is that no matter how good we may be now or in the future, we all pale in comparison to the immense mountain we musicians choose to climb, that vast ever-growing body of literature called Music. I have always loved how Belgian-Swiss music psychologist Edgar Willems characterized our dilemma:
Bad musicians cannot hear what they are playing; Mediocre ones could hear it, but they don’t listen; Average musicians hear what they just played;
Only good musicians hear what they are going to play.2
In brief, music requires lifelong learning, whether at the professional, amateur or church calling level. It requires developing a careful balance among heart, head, ears and hands, in that order. We too often begin at the wrong end of that journey.
We are not great musicians just because we say we are, what I call “The Aïda Complex.” We lived back East for several years and at one point in time, a sister moved into our ward and announced that she was an opera singer. She was what Doug Bush would have called “one spicy meatball.” I happened to know from being on the Stake High Council and having heard her sing in another ward, that she thought she was an opera singer. She had the presence, she had the sound, but she did not have the ear. Unfortunately and inexplicably, bishop after bishop called her to be the ward music chairperson, which literally kept her from growing in the ways that other non-musical callings would provide for her. From that position of authority, she made sure that she sang in church once a month. Moreover, she sang opera arias slightly out of tune and loud enough to peel the paint off the walls. After a few months of this, a young child gave voice to what everyone was thinking in a scene that I shall never forget. The sister made her usual grand entrance from the back row up to the stand, tossing her thick mane of beautiful hair. Just as she started up the aisle, four-year-old Todd caught sight of her, stood up on the pew and loudly cried “Oh, no!” All of the adults immediately stuffed their fists in their mouths and their head between their legs. The whole congregation was a sea of heaving backs trying with all their might to maintain some sense of decorum. She was stunningly oblivious to the scene before her. Would you believe that it all happened again a month later, except that Todd’s mother reached up and grabbed him just as he said “Oh, no!” and when she pulled him down he whacked his forehead on the back of the pew, sounding like a rifle shot? He began to wail, and the tragic comedy of it all once again put the congregation nearly convulsing under their pews. She blithely sang through it all.
I came to understand that this dear misguided and unfortunately enabled sister was suffering from a sort of musical sickness in which her self worth was bound to her own misconception of music. That realization was only the beginning of my own sorrows because I was soon called to be the ward choir director. She came habitually late to rehearsals and insisted on singing with her opera voice. I finally had to do something about it to avoid driving away the rest of the choir members. So after much thought, prayer, and practicing the right tone of voice, I finally mustered up the courage to say, “Sister, would you please be so kind as to use your choir voice.” Her response was, “Oh no, I can’t do that because my voice has been trained.” And so while you are here this week to seek “training” in organ playing, please remember that music is something we do with people, not to them. It should not be an affliction we visit upon those within our spheres of influence.
Now, please be aware that as organists, you play the biggest, potentially loudest instrument on earth. Please do all you can to make sure that the little Todds of the Church will not cry out in anguish, “Oh, no!” when you begin to play. Church service playing, including preludes and postludes, are not recitals. One of my favorite local high school choral directors once told me of being on tour with their university choir in a resort town in another country. While they were walking down the main street together looking in the shop windows late at night one of their singers who was notorious for being the resident diva (another “spicy meatball”) shouted, “Look, it says GO Diva!” They were stunned to see that she was pointing to a display of Godiva chocolates, then stunned again when they realized she really didn’t know! The Church does not need divas or divos of any sort, but humble musicians who know the true place of music in the sacrament service.
Elder Kevin S. Hamilton of the Seventy indirectly spoke about the true function of music in the sacrament meeting in his October 2013 conference talk: “Each week we have the opportunity to attend a sacrament meeting, where we can renew these covenants by partaking of the bread and water of the sacrament ordinance . . . God’s promise to us in return is His Spirit as a guide and protection.” Continuing on he says, “We renew our covenants, receive an increased measure of the Spirit, and have the additional blessing of being instructed and edified by the Holy Ghost.”3 In other words, all of our playing of prelude music and the accompanying and singing of hymns must help the congregation approach the ordinance of the sacrament in the utmost reverence while also inviting the Spirit to attend.
Nothing could be clearer. Please work with your choristers to agree on tempi, staying within the range of beats per minute as indicated in the Hymnal. Please chose prelude and postlude pieces that invite and retain the Spirit rather than displaying your technically virtuosity. To play lyrically, softly and in a subdued, quiet way requires a different kind of virtuosity rooted in your own spirituality. Mastering the art of registration on the particular organ in your chapel goes a long way toward providing spiritually conducive music. If you respect the music, then others will also and many of the musical problems we experience in wards will disappear. Take the music seriously, yourselves not so much!
As if the “Aïda Complex” episodes in our ward out East were not enough, the new bishop was also an organist. Up until his arrival, we had enjoyed the soft, reverent music of our three very fine ward organists, any two of whom occasionally played wonderful organ-piano duet hymn arrangements for special musical numbers. But this highly competitive bishop wanted everyone to know that he was a “classically trained” organist and to my horror, dismissed the three from playing the postludes so that he could play them, which he choose to be the great Bach preludes and fugues at full blast. The congregation fled from the chapel and so began the habit of “fellowshipping in the halls” instead of going straight to Sunday School classes. I tried to talk to him about it, but he disdained what he perceived to be the inferior talents of the other three, harking back to what I said at the beginning of this talk. As one who believes in the innate musicality of all mankind, I was greatly saddened by his attitude.
Now Here Comes Something More Than Music
Music is a powerful force pervading the Universe. In the 1970’s, the NASA Voyager missions transmitted back to Earth musical sounds seemingly organized like compositions as emitted by the magnetospheres of the planets of our solar system, their moons and their interactions with the solar wind. But music also fills our inner universe, that of our souls. One of my dearest colleagues is a masterful musician, Gabriella Thész, the former director of the world reknown Hungarian Radio Children’s Choir who now directs the Children’s Choir of the Hungarian National Philharmonic. She once told me in a recorded interview:
Part rehearsals are very intimate. I can sit down and talk to them and I can tell them so many times just little things in comparison to the music. Not only pure intonation, because if their soul is okay, they will be singing much differently. Now, this Bartók piece for example, Párnás Tancdal, is philosophical and here comes something more than music, because this is about life. The main idea is to form their personality through their soul [and] their sensitivity, and that means they become different people through music. So the music helps me talk to them. The music is the instrument I’m using to change them [and] to give ideas [to them] from people like composers. Music doesn’t give you words—music gives you more, it changes the soul. I teach them how to speak the language of music, and actually, we form their spirit, their soul, their mind, their whole personality. It’s part of the work, which belongs to the art [of music]. So art forms people and we would not be able to live without art.4 (edited for clarity and continuity, emphases added)
Find the Balance
As organists, you may be wondering why I keep talking about singers, singing and choirs. Well, it’s because singing is how the vast majority of Church members make music during Church services. Your calling is to accompany them, but as you already know, you often find yourselves in the position of enlightening and teaching them, an aspect of your calling which will require much tender Christlike nurturing, patience and diplomacy. Albert Lavignac, one of the great musical minds of the Paris Conservatory and Debussy’s teacher once wrote: “He/she who is only a pianist is not a good pianist.” In other words, you must have a multi-dimensional life, because your music can only reflect the richness of your life or the lack thereof. All good organists know that they should also
be able to conduct, to rehearse, and to sing. These are the tools they have through which to help others give public utterance to the Spirit during times of worship.
I also encourage you to have frequent, long and deep talks with yourself about your own life, the musical part of it and all of its other dimensions. President David O. McKay often taught the importance of personal and prayerful meditation. Use these times to check up on whether you are balanced. Are you so consumed by your passion for music that you are telling the Lord and His local Church leaders what callings you should have? Do you have the faith and courage to open yourself up to other callings through which, as in the Parable of Talents, you can seize opportunities to grow in other directions and dimensions? If you can, I promise you that you will become a better musician because you will ultimately have more to express through your musicianship. A great deepening and maturing will take place in your musical expressions because the prime function of music is to express the life in Life.
I once saw a wonderful sign on the door of a restaurant in Paris: “Fresh vegetables served according to the rhythm of the seasons.” Meditate on the times and seasons of your life in which music may sometimes be at the forefront and at other times in the background. Live, love, have a life, be well rounded, be an interested and interesting person. This life is the one chance you have to fully experience the delights of mortality in this beautiful creation the Lord has made expressly for us. As Isaiah wrote, “Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.”5 Let Him be yours as well, for His purpose is that you “might have joy.”6 Alma asks us if we “have felt to sing the song of redeeming love.”7 May all of our music making and teaching convey that pure love melody, first to Deity and then to those we serve. Bach knew this, whose Solo Dei Gloria not only adorned his compositions, but also Doug’s home.
If I were to ask you to remember only one thing from this talk, it would be that “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Rejoice in who you are and in who you are becoming. Celebrate the fact that God made you, that there is just one of you that has ever been created, that you are unique and wonderful! Greet yourself in the mirror every morning in this way, even make a sign to stick on the mirror if it will help you to remember: “I am loveable, capable and competent, and when today is over, I will have made this world better!” Filling it with music is a great place to start.
Thank you and God bless you!
1 The late O.M. Hartsell (1919-2005), former Head of Music Education, University of Arizona School of Music.
2 Willems, Edgar (1987). Psychological Foundations of Musical Education-Fourth Edition (Les Bases Psychologiques de l’Éducation Musicale). Translated by Jerry L. Jaccard, published by Brigham Young University Creative Works. ISBN: 978-0-8425-2827-6. Originally published in French by Éditions «Pro Musica», Bienne, Switzerland, 215 pp.
3 Hamilton, Elder Kevin S. “Continually Holding Fast,” The Ensign, November 2013, p. 100.
4 Gabriella Thész in conversation with Jerry L. Jaccard, West Hartford CT, August 1993.
5 Isaiah 12:2.
6 2 Nephi 2:25.
7 Alma 5:26.
Compilation and presentation ©2014 by Dr. Jerry L. Jaccard
All duplication, electronic storage or transmission and distribution rights reserved.
BYU Organ Workshop Keynote Address
August 1, 2017, by Dr. Clay Christiansen
Brothers and sisters – my dear fellow organists in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What a blessed lot we are! What a noble and unique calling we have: to lift souls through the matchless power of inspiring music in the worship of our Heavenly Father and His Son, our Savior and Redeemer! Do we fully appreciate the heavenly gift we literally hold in our hands and feet — the gift of bringing the harmony, unity and peace of heaven directly to the hearts of Heavenly Father’s children? Music aligns the very molecules of our soul which vibrate in harmony with the air around us to bring us a measure of the eternal unity and harmony that pervades heaven. We actually feel the peace of heaven in our souls. Truly, music is rightly called “The Divine Art.”
Ponder with me, if you will, the unique characteristics of our particular musical instrument, the organ. Its profound, gentle low tones we sometimes feel more than we hear. Its sustained, unwavering still small voice can whisper so subtly that we must be still to hear it, and yet the glorious splendor of its unwaveringly powerful chords – tuned vibrations from lowest to highest musical range – bring the almighty power of God and the glorious exalted splendor of our eternal home back before our spiritual eyes. Is it any wonder that such god-like qualities caused the great 19th and 20th century French organist and composer Charles Marie Widor to call the organ “The voice of God!”
During the next few days you have special opportunity to further develop and hone your abilities to use this wonderful voice in the service of Heavenly Father. If you put your prayerful heart and soul into your work, you will bear testimony to all who worship just as surely as those who stand at the pulpit. If you seek to ever more effectively sing the inspired words of our hymns through the organ’s voice, then the songs of the righteous will truly be a prayer unto the Lord.
As a long-standing member of the Church’s Musical Instrument Selection Committee or MISC, may I now speak about the organs that we play in our meetinghouses. Please forgive me for perhaps boring you with detailed information, but experience has shown that many of you have questions regarding official Church policies. I hope that this citing of “chapter and verse” will be helpful to you. If you do not catch all of it you desire this morning, I’m told by Dr. Cook that this keynote address will be posted on the BYU Organ Workshop website.
For those few of you blessed to play pipe organs in your buildings, the Church’s official policy as found in the Operations & Maintenance Policy Point Manual on page 39 under “Replacement Standards” is: “Pipe organs should be maintained as required and not replaced.” If problems are identified such as broken parts or insufficient quality of sound, the organ is to be renovated using “Pipe Organ Renovation Guidelines” also found in the Policy Point Manual. These Pipe Organ Renovation Guidelines specify additions such as multiple memories, celeste duplexed on Swell and Great manuals, mutations including 2 2/3’ and 1 3/5’, chorus reed at 16’ as well as 8’ and 4’ pitches on manual and pedal, sufficient pedal foundations at 16’ and even 32’ pitch using digital stops if necessary and
maximum flexibility of existing pipe ranks, including finish voicing to correct rough and uneven pipe speech and to transform it into smooth and warm sound.
Most of you, however, play digital organs each Sunday. The quality and variety of sound found in our digital organs has vastly improved over the 25 years that I have sat on the MISC. We have been blessed to work closely with our digital organ vendors Allen, Johannus and formerly Rodgers to produce custom 2-manual LDS instruments that have unusually comprehensive specifications. Eight foot and four foot string and flute celestes create the “still, small voice” with soft 32’ pedal perhaps felt more than heard. Beautifully colorful imitative solo reeds such as English Horn, Krummhorn, Clarinet, Oboe and French Horn sing reverent melodies, as do open and capped flutes at 16’, 8’, 4’, 2 2/3’, 2’ and 1 3/5’ pitches. A full chorus of principals from 16’ through mixtures with the added celestial fire of chorus reeds at 32’, 16’, 8’ and 4’ pitches sound the full musical range to invoke the splendor and power of God’s glory. We hope you will not be afraid to explore and use these voices to sing the hymns into the hearts of the people.
Useful examples which you may use as models for such registration combinations should be factory preset into memories 1, 2, 15 or 16 of our LDS digital instruments built since 1999. A printed “Preset Registrations” sheet was shipped with each of these instruments along with the Owner’s Manual. You may also download these Preset Registration sheets which include basic registration instructions by visiting lds.org and clicking on “Scriptures and Study,” then “Music,” then “Accompanying Others,” then “Playing the Organ” and scrolling down and clicking onto “Owner’s Manuals for Church Organs.”
We are aware that some of you are playing older digital instruments which do not allow the variety, flexibility or quality of sound found in our organs built in the last decade or two. If you long for a newer instrument and wonder what the replacement guidelines might be, here they are quoted directly, again from the Operations & Maintenance Policy Point Manual, page 38 under “Replacement Standards” for electronic organs: “Age based electronic organ replacement should be on a case by case basis. Consider the following guidelines: –replace organs 33 years old and older.”
Replacement may be also justified if the organ is in poor condition. “Poor Condition” is defined as: “The organ no longer produces a quality sound as designed and shows substantial mechanical and outer-case damage. The organ will not work properly without major repairs.”
Should replacement be deemed justified, you might like to be aware of the two “Replacement Directives” printed at the bottom of page 38:
- Replace only with full-sized electronic organs found in the Purchasing Reference Guide (PRG). [I would add that there are two approved organs from which to choose: Allen model LD34A and Johannus model WM47-LDS.]
- Encourage priesthood leaders to involve unit organists in selecting the new organ from the PRG.
Now may I share a few of my thoughts on accompaniment of congregational hymns which is the most important part of your role as a church organist. It can make such a wonderful difference to your playing if you can sing the words of the hymn in your heart as you play! Spend some time pondering the words. The closer they are to being memorized, the less you will need to keep one eye referencing
them as you play the notes. Conversely, the better you know the notes, the more easily you can concentrate on the words. To a certain degree they can shape your articulation and phrasing. Certainly they should influence your registration!
When I was an undergraduate organ student here at BYU I was called as organist for BYU 65th Ward. We met in the auditorium of the old Joseph Smith Memorial Building which seated maybe 1000 or more people and housed the old 80-plus rank four-manual Austin pipe organ which was taken out of the Salt Lake Tabernacle when the new Æolian-Skinner was installed in 1948. As I was called, the 65th Ward Bishopric counseled me, “This is a large organ and we are a small congregation. Please do not use too much of the organ or it will blow us away!” So I started hymn introductions and first verses with less organ than I personally desired – in this case secondary principals without mixtures. As the hymn progressed from verse to verse I gradually added stops. The congregation’s singing gradually increased as the organ built with each verse. Guess what! By the last verse of a big hymn I was using full organ and they were singing their hearts out! Time after time I was told by my fellow ward members how blessed we were to have that large and wonderful organ for our sacrament meetings. So the secret for hymns of praise is: Start conservatively and build with each verse until the final verse includes 32’ pedal reed chorus, manual 16’ reed chorus and, of course, mixtures.
What about meditative hymns such as sacrament hymns? May I share with you two rather unorthodox registrations I use in my ward for a verse or two of a sacrament hymn? I love the rather somber but round, warm and soothing sound of what the French call fonds d’orgue, that is the foundation stops of the organ combined without any upper work. Pull on and couple together all 8’ principals, flutes and strings without celestes, maybe adding a 4’ flute or two and you should have a profound “voice of God” kind of sound that works for the first verse of a sacrament hymn. And, by the way, if you use this sound on the Great manual to play a hymn tune down an octave in the tenor range with your right hand while your left hand accompanies with strings and celeste on the Swell manual, you will hear a very useful and sacred prelude sound reminiscent of General Conference.
My second registration is definitely unorthodox for hymn accompaniment. I save it for the occasional ethereal verse of a sacrament hymn such as the second verse of hymns 181 and 182 which speak of “rev’rence sweet” and of joining “the heav’nly throng.” For such ethereal verses I sometimes combine and couple together all 8’ and 4’ strings with celestes. Only bolster the sound with an 8’ flute or principal if necessary.
While we’re considering registration of sacrament hymns, may I suggest that not all verses of every sacrament hymn call for a subdued registration. More than a few of our sacrament hymns end with an exultant verse which calls for an exultant registration through mixture and reeds. A classic example is the final verse of “While of These Emblems We Partake:”
But rise triumphant from the tomb,
And in eternal splendor bloom,
Freed from the pow’r of death and pain, With Christ, the Lord, to rule and reign.
I doubt you could show me a more triumphant verse in all hymnody! It seems to me that the power of these words is denied unless your registration lifts up the congregation. Yes, I would use Hymn Preset General 10 – full organ, including 32’ reed to “…rise triumphant from the tomb.”
Other final exultant sacrament hymn verses I would urge you to consider include hymn numbers 175-6-7, 183-4, and 192 & 195. A building registration during the final lines of hymns 172, 181 and 193 seems appropriate.
The Brethren have recently called on us to renew our commitment to making the sacrament portion of our worship more meaningful. Your inspired registration of the sacrament hymn can directly contribute to this sacred experience.
Finally, I cannot leave the subject of congregational hymn accompaniment without touching on the matter of appropriate embellishment of the printed hymn harmonization. Some of you may have noticed that I am unable to get through all verses of General Conference rest hymns without adding at least a few passing tones and occasionally reharmonizing a chord of two for emphasis, particularly during the last verse. My plan is to play the first verse straight, then gradually unfold embellishments as the hymn builds through successive verses. I am more conservative in this endeavor at General Conference than when playing for sacrament meeting. Reharmonization and even an interlude with transposition up a step can be very inspiring for exultant hymns sung in your own congregation. Such practices I heartily endorse. Hymn singing is meant to be a powerful experience!
It has been an honor to speak to you about such a sacred trust as we all have as church musicians. The Church is so blessed to have you who are so dedicated to improving your talents to bring organ music to the hearts of our worshipers. That you are dedicating a week of your time and money to be here to receive this remarkable training is proof of your commitment to the Work of the Lord. May you go forth with His blessing to inspire and impart what you have learned to the training of others, especially of the younger generation, in your wards and stakes. Know that we love you and appreciate you and pray for you.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
BYU Organ Workshop 2018
Good morning, everyone. It’s wonderful to look out and see many familiar faces as well as many new ones! This is my ninth year at this workshop, and though my role will be somewhat different this year than in previous years, I consider it a great honor to be here with you. For many years, I have drawn great inspiration from the people that come to this workshop. Your dedication to this marvelous instrument and the sacrifices you make to be here are so admirable and are a great reminder to me of why I love the organ. Before I start into my remarks for today, I want to let you know how much I love and admire the people you’ll be learning from this week. The instructors of this workshop are some of my closest friends and I hold them in highest respect. I encourage you to take every opportunity to learn from them this week. They have much to offer, and your lives will be enriched by the time that you spend with them.
Those of you who have been coming to the Organ Workshop for some time are aware that my life has undergone some rather drastic changes since we sat here one year ago listening to Clay Christiansen give the keynote address. At that time, I was an adjunct faculty member here at BYU. The Tabernacle Choir had posted an open position, but had not yet begun reviewing applications. If I look a little older and more haggard than when you saw me last year, it’s because I spent the last four months of 2017 practicing and nervously waiting, which culminated in an audition that I never wish to repeat, followed by more nervous waiting, followed by two weeks of major secret keeping, followed by four months of teaching at BYU and working with the Tabernacle Choir simultaneously, followed by a trip to France with the BYU organ department, followed by moving (twice!), followed by the Tabernacle Choir’s
Classic Coast Tour in June. I should also mention that my first few months with the Tabernacle Choir included two complete performances of Handel’s Messiah, April General Conference, and recording a new CD! It has been an eventful year at the Mathias home. After all that, I’m happy to report to you that my children still recognize me and my wife still likes me! As a family, we feel tremendously blessed by the events of the last year. It has been a year full of great challenges and even greater blessings.
In this magnificent whirlwind, I’ve had to learn many things very quickly. As I have pondered what I might share with you today, I felt it fitting to relate to you some of the things I’ve learned during these first several months on the job in hopes that some of them might be useful to all of you, wherever you might be in your organ playing.
To provide context for these remarks, I will briefly describe what being a Tabernacle Organist entails. As most of you are probably aware, the Tabernacle Choir has three full-time and two part-time organists. Our most important duty is to accompany the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in General Conference, weekly Music and the Spoken Word broadcasts, concerts, and rehearsals. In addition to our work with the choir, we perform daily organ recitals on Temple Square and provide music for various other events on Temple Square as needed. All of this requires a lot of practicing, and that is where we spend a great deal of our time each week.
For many years as an observer of the tabernacle organists, I marveled at the high standard of excellence that has been a part of the Temple Square musical tradition for decades. As a newcomer to this group, I am keenly aware of the burden that is now mine to help uphold that standard. Sadly, I have learned over the last several months that at least one of the Tabernacle Organists is very, very human! But I have also learned a great deal by pushing myself harder
than ever before and have been the recipient of much-needed grace in times of need. Today I would like to share with you some of the insights gained from these experiences.
The first lesson might seem obvious, but it is that thorough preparation is essential to a good performance. This is a concept I’ve believed in and practiced for a long time. However, I’ve come to appreciate it more deeply in recent months as I have been working to hone my practice habits to a higher degree than ever before. As I’m sure you can imagine, the Tabernacle organ bench is, at times, a very hot seat. The pressure of playing—particularly as a soloist—on a live TV broadcast can be immense. I will never forget sitting on the bench during my first broadcast this last March. As the time approached for my solo—the fiery final movement of Charles-Marie Widor’s sixth organ symphony—I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a cameraman getting into position just a few feet to my left. In that instant, the reality of what I was about to do struck me in a rather profound and terrifying way! Thankfully, I had been warned by my colleagues about this, and I had some sense of the mental struggle I was about to go through. What we all need during performance, whether it’s in a recital, a church meeting, or even a routine practice session, is to remain focused, calm, and confident. You know as well as I do that this is extremely difficult at times, and that is where good preparation will save you. In this moment, I was very grateful that I had spent the last few weeks drilling this piece of music in every imaginable way—slowly, in sections, in various combinations of parts, in alternate rhythms, recording myself, playing for others, etc. This preparation gave me a very reliable foundation to fall back on even in moments when I struggled to maintain perfect focus.
This experience also taught me the value of a different kind of preparation. In the weeks leading up to my first day on the bench, my colleagues encouraged me to practice playing through the entire broadcast from start to finish. This is something I wouldn’t have thought to
give much attention to, but it proved to be one of the most valuable steps in my preparation. Because most Music and the Spoken Word broadcasts today proceed without any announcement between pieces, we often have a very short amount of time to get prepared to begin the next piece on the program. Immediately after releasing the final chord of the Widor Final, I had to jump right into “His Yoke is Easy,” from Handel’s Messiah with no time to rearrange the music on the rack. This proved to be a challenging transition, but with plenty of practice, it was perfectly manageable. Playing through the entire broadcast, from “Gently Raise the Sacred Strain” to the iconic “As the Dew from Heaven Distilling,” a few dozen times in the days leading up to that first Sunday morning was a lifesaver, and it’s something I’ve made a consistent habit of since that time. You might consider giving this a try for your next sacrament meeting. Practicing in this way is a great way to circumvent silly errors such as starting on the wrong memory level, hitting the wrong piston, forgetting to turn pages between pieces, etc., and can also help you prepare for the mental transition required to move from one piece to the next. Building these habits in a less pressure-filled situation (when no one is watching you!) has been very helpful to me, and I think many of you may benefit from trying it as well.
The next lesson is that there is never enough time to prepare, so it’s important to use practice time efficiently. As I mentioned earlier, between daily recitals, choir rehearsals, broadcasts, and concerts, we are performing on a nearly daily basis. There is new music to learn and practice every week. I’m sure many of you feel the same way. Whether you’re preparing hymns for sacrament meeting, repertoire pieces for an Independent Study course, or technical exercises for an upcoming lesson, it’s hard to squeeze everything into the time you have available. For this reason, we would all benefit from examining the way we use our practice time. Allow me to offer a few suggestions for this.
First, use goals to structure and plan your practice. I often keep a list of every piece I need to be working on, ordered by priority. At the start of my practicing each day, I look over this list and make a plan for what I want or need to accomplish with each piece and how I will divide my time in order to reach that goal. Of course, it frequently happens that I underestimate the amount of time a particularly tricky passage might take or perhaps manage to make the progress I need on another passage in less time than estimated. Your goals will need to have a little flexibility, especially in the beginning. The important concept here is that goal-oriented practice encourages a mindset in which you are not simply sitting down to practice for an hour— you are sitting down to accomplish a specific goal or set of goals. With this mindset, every minute counts for something. If you’ve never practiced in this way, I encourage you to try it. You will be surprised how much you can accomplish.
Second, use practice techniques that are efficient. In my roughly twelve years of teaching, I found that the majority of students that came to me had never really been taught practice habits beyond the “sit down and play it a bunch of times” method. If this is your current routine, listen carefully this week, and I’m certain that you’ll come away with some helpful strategies and techniques that will help you practice more effectively. Organ playing is a complex task, and trying to play everything at once at full tempo often amounts to “practicing” mistakes that later have to be corrected. It is a well-known fact that the shortest distance between any two points is a straight line. If we apply this rule to our practicing, we might find that learning the right notes with the correct fingering by slowing down, playing hands or feet separately, or working in small sections allows us to take the shortest, most direct path to accomplishing our goal. Many people feel that they don’t have time to do this kind of practicing because it takes too long. Personally, I
don’t have time to not do this kind of practicing. It is the fastest way I know of to learn music, and that’s something we can all appreciate and use in our lives.
Looking at this issue from the opposite direction, I would also encourage you to make sure that you’re not taking more time than is actually needed to learn something to the point that you can perform it confidently and securely. We all know the feeling of having a hard time putting something down during a practice session. “Just one more time,” we tell ourselves. And then another. And another. I’m absolutely in favor of being thorough, but at a certain point, the repetition can become counterproductive and take precious time away from other pieces that might need some attention. Work until you accomplish your goal, and then move on to whatever is next.
Once you have made your preparations, it’s time to actually perform, by which I mean to play in any situation where other people are listening, which nearly always influences our thoughts as we play. This could be a sacrament meeting or other worship service, an organ lesson or recital, or something else. The BYU School of Music offers a course in performance psychology taught by Dr. Jon Skidmore. One of the essential concepts he teaches is that at a certain point, you have to say to yourself “my preparation for this performance is complete.” At that point, you have to let go and acknowledge that the time for preparing is over and the time for performing has come. Dr. Skidmore then encourages students to adopt a mindset of being “Bold, Confident, and Free” when performing.
When I arrived at the University of Kansas as a new doctoral student, I had established a routine of meticulous, methodical practice and tried to carry that approach over into my performance. Imagine my surprise when during one of my first lessons with Professor James Higdon, I was playing Jehan Alain’s Litanies when I heard him yell from the back of the recital
hall “Faster!” In this lesson and many subsequent lessons, we discussed how there is a time to be slow and methodical, and there is also a time to let it rip. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we should perform recklessly, too fast, or overly loud. What I mean to say is that performance is not the time to be worrying about making mistakes—that’s what practicing is for. Performing is about making music and sharing something with your listeners that can’t be communicated any other way. Practice diligently when it’s time to practice, and when it’s time to perform, let it rip!
The third lesson is that there is tremendous value in asking questions to people who have answers. Between the Tabernacle Choir’s conductors and organists, I work with a small group of some of the most capable, knowledgeable, and talented musicians I have encountered anywhere. This is an incredible privilege, and one I am most grateful for. The combined wisdom and professional experience in this group is mind boggling. In the choir office, there is a closet of shared organ accompaniments. For each piece in the choir’s repertoire, there is a score that is prepared to reduce or eliminate page turns. Each score is also marked with the registrations previously used, manual changes, and various other helpful notations. As a newcomer to the staff, this closet is a goldmine containing decades of battle-tested performance knowledge. Even with this great resource available, I still often have questions about various things. Taking the time to ask my colleagues has provided many opportunities to not only get my questions answered, but to learn lots of other things that I didn’t even know I needed to learn. You will have many opportunities to ask questions this week, and I encourage you to do so. You might worry that your question is a “stupid” question, but in reality, there’s a good chance that someone sitting near you is wondering the same thing! You will rarely have the opportunity to be surrounded by so many experienced organists, so don’t let the week pass without getting answers to your burning questions.
Fourth, never let pride or ego get in the way of making good music. I’ve just described the incredible depth of talent and accomplishment among the choir staff. What’s even more impressive is that they all get along—something that highly accomplished musicians are not always known for! This is so essential to accomplishing the Tabernacle Choir’s mission “to bring joy, peace, and healing to its listeners.” While there are varied and diverse opinions among the staff on various musical issues, what they uniformly understand is that making good music is more important than being “right.” Given that so many of our efforts as organists are directed toward the act of worship, we would all do well to adopt this philosophy. Our congregations, choirs, and we ourselves will be uplifted in a more profound way as a result.
The last lesson is something I’ve already alluded to: that at some point (and hopefully sooner than later), we must come to accept our own imperfection. Despite our best efforts, at the end of the day, we are human. Have you ever made a mistake in General Conference? I have! If your Sunday morning mistakes are keeping you awake at night, I encourage you to enjoy a peaceful night of sleep on me. Of course, I don’t intend to make light of this or suggest that we approach our responsibilities casually. I practiced more for April General Conference than almost any event I can remember. However, it is true that despite my best preparations, I didn’t play quite as cleanly as I would have liked to. But that’s the beautiful thing: when we give our best efforts, we receive the gift of grace from a loving God and his beloved Son, who made an infinite sacrifice in order that we could be strengthened in our weakness, and our imperfections made perfect. Because of this, we can miss a few notes and still make a perfect offering by giving the best of ourselves and accepting his grace where we fall short.
The day before my first Music and the Spoken Word broadcast in March, I went to the Tabernacle to practice in the afternoon. After running through everything several times, I felt that
I had done everything I could do, but I was still struggling to utter the all-important phrase “my preparation for this performance is complete.” Given the magnitude of what I was about to do, I felt that no amount of practicing would be sufficient for me to feel like I had done enough. While sitting in my office packing up to go home, I recalled a scripture from the 84th section of the Doctrine and Covenants that I was previously familiar with, but which suddenly took on an entirely new meaning: “And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”
I truly believe that what we do at the organ each week matters. When we combine our efforts with the Spirit’s power, we have the ability to strengthen our brothers and sisters in profound and even life-changing ways. I hope and pray that the Lord will be with each of you in your efforts to serve the Lord’s children through your service on the bench of the King of Instruments in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.