Dr. Don Cook,
(This is not an official document of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)
One of the great musical misunderstandings in church music is this: if you can play the piano, you can play the organ. This misconception produces terror in pianists as they approach the organ, and results in organists who lack the confidence to provide musical and spiritual leadership in the service. There is no substitute for the kind of training that provides confidence in the organist, and that improves the spiritual effectiveness of music in the sacrament meeting.
Stake and Ward priesthood leadership can arrange training for musicians who are called as organists in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (see Handbook 2: Administering the Church,“Music Training”). Priesthood leaders usually rely on organists from their own stake or ward to provide this training. These organists-teachers usually feel a need for outside help in structuring that training.
I have tried numerous approaches to stake and ward organist training. Some have proven more successful than others, but all of them have helped me improve my instruction.
During a graduate organ pedagogy course at BYU Provo in fall semester 2002, Ben Crandall, Emily Spencer, and I decided to take a new approach to developing plans for LDS organist training. We took as much time as needed to derive a new approach to small group organ training in LDS stakes and wards. In earlier coursework we had explored sound approaches and methods in teaching, so we started by identifying the outcomes that we wanted, then we used these outcomes as a structure for various types of workshops: single-session, three sessions, six sessions, and an ongoing course. In all of our discussions, we tried to avoid using the same approaches we had used before simply because we were familiar with them. We insisted that our desired outcomes dictate our approaches, rather than our approaches determine the outcomes.
We have discovered that no matter how brief or extended the course of instruction, these outcomes remain valid. They can serve as the foundation for any course of study from a single 90-minute session to an ongoing course. For this reason, we are sharing them with you as a means of developing training sessions to fit a variety of situations. In addition, you are welcome to look over some sample course outlines that we developed using these outcomes.
Following is a list of desirable outcomes in LDS church organist training. Click on any one to see an explanation.
1. Provide trained organists for every ward. A trained organist:
Trained organists have the tools necessary to perform several essential roles in the sacrament meeting:
Several trained organists are needed in every ward for a variety of reasons:
Young people who catch the vision of church service as an organist can provide a lifetime of inspired service. School-aged organists are accustomed to developing skills through regular practice, and consequently seem to learn quickly. They often respond enthusiastically to opportunities to play in public, and to recognition of their efforts. They can, simply by example, inspire their peers and even older musicians to study the organ.
Every spark of interest that a young person shows in learning to play the organ should be matched with enthusiasm from parents and priesthood leaders. Long-term training should be arranged. Regular and easy access to the church organ for practice should be provided. Materials should be purchased. Patience should be exercised. Opportunities for service should be provided. Recognition should be given.
What is the minimum age for organ training? Here are a few general considerations:
While an emphasis on training young people is good, those of any age who wish to receive training should be welcomed with the same enthusiasm.
Because of its long history, its interesting development, and its vast literature, the organ can easily inspire those engaged in its study a strong determination to do whatever is necessary to learn to play it. What may begin as a single invitation to play the organ for priesthood meeting may develop into a lifelong commitment to organ study.
All organ training should be designed to spark that fire. Time spent during the training session actually playing the organ or operating the devices, listening to live or recorded organ music, visiting actual organs or seeing pictures of beautiful instruments, touching organ pipes, or hearing about great organists may provide just the needed spark.
Once the spark is ignited, the resulting fire will be self-sustaining if given enough fuel. Over time, a motivated, well-trained organist can themselves become a trainer. When that happens, an organ teacher will have reached one of the highest hopes of any trainer, “to teach a teacher how to teach.”
A trained organist is a valuable commodity in the church. Even a small amount of intensive organ training places the organist in the class of “the precious few” who have valuable skills that can be shared.
It is widely known that the best way to learn is to teach. In every organ course, the teacher should be on the look-out for students who might become the next-generation of trainers. Once those students are identified, the teacher should talk with them about studying the organ not only with the idea of learning how to play, but learning how to teach. It is amazing how much more energy a student will expend when they think of themselves as a teacher in training!
Share your materials with potential trainers. Even with only minimal training, providing good outlines, class notes, handouts, and resource materials can give students just the confidence they need to offer training on their own.
Give potential trainers opportunities to help teach organ classes. They can demonstrate exercises and projects, observe other students play and offer comment, prepare and teach selected topics, and assist in many other ways.