… and it’s up to us to both play it and heed it’s call. I’m not talking about a United States president or anything related to government politics. I’m talking about church musicianship. I came across a few scriptures in Corinthians today that caught my attention and resonates with musicianship in the church:
Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
This had a very real meaning to Paul and the people of Corinth that he was teaching. In his day trumpets were used as armies were going to battle. Trumpet calls in war were battle cries, increasing vigor and courage in the individual soldiers and fear in the opposing army. As a fun example, you can get some perspective from these snippets from the video series of Tolkien's "Lord of The Rings" and "The Hobbit".
Consider also the story of Gideon in Judges 7 of the Old Testament when he managed to scare off an entire host of Midianites with a small army of 300 just by giving each a trumpet and having them play as the Midianite army advanced on them. The Midianites retreated in fear and not one life was taken that day.
In the same way, we have a spiritual battle that we are calling to arms in our church meetings with a foe even uglier than the trolls and orcs of Tolkien's books. Every day we are faced with increasing pressures from the adversary in a multitude of forms be it peer pressure, self-doubt, rationalization, or the increasing social norms that the church actively speaks against. We have a spiritual battle that requires us to put on the armor of God to fight against “principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
Just as the trumpets called the men of old to don their physical armor, we need a trumpet that calls us to don our spiritual armor of God. That trumpet, in our day, comes through our church musicianship, and I mean that quite literally. Remember the trumpet calls of ancient times, and the theatrical examples from from the Lord of The Rings series. Now consider this video, pay attention to the trumpet call at the beginning, you can't miss it:
IInvigorating isn’t it? It’s even more invigorating when you experience it in person. There’s a very real difference between experiencing music live than when you hear a recording. There’re just some things that our current technology can’t convey through electronic speakers.
Now reconsider the scripture from Corinthians, “if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” Is this striking home yet? Consider the effect of an "uncertain sound" on an entire army headed into battle. Hardly encouraging. We can't let ourselves get away with "uncertain calls" in our church music either. I’ve spoken before about performance anxiety at church, and fear of showing off. These issues have become so prevalent that it’s stopping us from giving us the rousing call to arms that church music has to offer, to don the spiritual armor and fend off the adversary on a weekly (and daily) basis. Singers? We need your voices. Conductors? We need your visible expression and passion. Pianists and organists? We need those invigorating tempos. Organists? We need those Mixture III’s and IV’s, you have a REAL trumpet available at your fingertips. Don’t back off. Don’t let self-doubt or judgmental criticism from your peers bring you down, or let your musicianship and musical cravings waver. We need you. Your church family needs you. Your church leaders need you. In the words of Elder Holland, (I’ve taken liberties with the text),
I am looking tonight for [musicians] who will not voluntarily bind their tongues but will, with the Spirit of the Lord and the power of their priesthood, open their mouths (and hands) and speak miracles. Such [music], the early brethren taught, would be the means by which faith’s ‘mightiest works have been, and will be performed.’”
Even with the liberties I take in the text I consider this to be every bit as applicable. Speaking as a music therapist with a pending certification there are very real and evidence based physiological and psychological effects of music on the person. I believe that music can heal our hearts, minds and bodies just as literally as Christ did in his mortal ministry. Remember that for Joseph Smith, when he reached out to find the truth, that Satan bound his tongue to prevent him from the prayer that lead to the first vision. It is the same Satan that is causing church musicians to waver in their courage and shy away from the quality of music that they are capable of. As Joseph Smith did, I invite us all to pray and then to work our hardest to bring the music that we need into your local branch, ward or church congregation. It will be more and more critical to our spiritual well being as we steadily continue through the latter-day turmoil that approaches with the second coming.
This blog is dedicated to helping others come to Christ through musical participation. As a part of that, I will be beginning a new series of articles commenting on resources that are available for Latter-Day Saints and other Christians to improve their musical craft and magnify their musical callings in church. A lot of it will be directed towards resources available for those called within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who have music callings; those of you who have limited musical training, but with a strong desire to help those around you come to Christ through the music you implement in your weekly meetings. For this first post I will be commenting on Dr. Don Cook’s course for beginning LDS organists.
For those of you who aren’t aware, this course is available for free, and through direct MP3 download at this address:
It includes a set of twelve podcasts all directed to teaching beginning organists, and especially those who play piano who have little to no experience on the organ. There is a packet of supportive materials available as well. I must say, those supportive materials were very valuable to me as I began exploring the organ.
I became aware of this course many years ago, back before my mission when my grandma pointed it out on an LDS news article. I had been playing piano for several years, which sparked my grandma’s thought to let me know about it. I looked up the course, found an old mp3 player, and begin listening to the materials. Honestly, I didn’t have the luxury too often of having the church organ all to myself, so I would frequently just listen to it at home in my bedroom. (I was a bit of a music nerd, probably drove some musicians in my ward through the roof with all the questions I came with). Anyway, it got to the point I would be found practicing in the chapel on a weekly basis… I was sixteen years old and would practice after our weekly activity nights. It wasn’t too long after that the bishopric found out. I was called as ward organist six months after I originally downloaded the course, still sixteen years old. I wasn’t perfect. I carried a slow tempo a lot. I also happened to pull out the 8’ trumpet a few more times than typical which got a few raised eyebrows from the bishopric AND stake president (remember, I was sixteen). But in the end, I contribute a large amount of my musical development to that experience.
So here’s my review of the course. Among its strengths is it flexibility of use. You can download the course whenever you want, listen and practice whenever you want, and at your own pace. Because of its format on podcast, I was even able to go back and listen to selected chapters as my understanding of the music organ deepened. Among my favorites, if I recall correctly, was chapter three, “Playing Prelude Music that Invites the Spirit.”
Another strength is the credibility of the course’s author. Dr. Don Cook is a professor at BYU, who teaches organ pedagogy. The courses break down the organ components into small steps that I was able to understand very well as a budding and mostly self-taught musician. There were no technical terms I didn’t understand and it was all applicable to my understanding of the piano. I learned very well what the difference was between the piano and the organ, and the strengths of the organ in accompanying a congregation.
Now to its weaknesses. It is very important to understand that this course does not replace a private organ teacher. Through this course I was able to learn the basics of the organ, using the pedal, playing hymns with legato lines, registration, and on. What I would have gained through private lessons from an experienced teacher at sixteen years old is using appropriate tempos for different hymns, as well as added depth in understanding organ registration. It was several years later that I was also able to take lessons from Sister Rebecca Parkinson who teaches at BYU-Idaho. There I learned so much more in organ technique and the appropriate amount of legato vs separation when playing individual lines in a hymn. Even at this point, with degrees in piano, and a pending graduate degree in music therapy, I look forward to eventually taking more organ lessons down the road to build my understanding.
In the end, I would highly advise you taking this course if you are even remotely interested in playing the organ. There is a dearth of organists even in the professional world of organ outside of the LDS church. If it’s any incentive, organists at other denominations are high paying jobs and are in high demand. The church itself is growing rapidly. Due to its fast-paced growth, professional musicianship is having a hard time keeping up with demand. In your own ward you probably have one good organist. What happens when your ward splits into two? Or that one organist has had enough? In short, WE NEED YOU, and your skills are vital the continued growth of the church and the gathering of Israel that President Nelson so often speaks of. Don’t let the organ itself intimidate you. As I explored the organ at my own pace I fell in love with it more and more. The richness of timbre available through the organ is like no other. There’s a reason it’s called the king of instruments.
Finally, I know that others have utilized this course successfully. If you are one of those people, please leave a comment below on your story using the course, how much of a help it was to you and where you are now in your development playing the organ. I’d love to hear from you, and future takers of the course will benefit from your insight.
I'm a sacred music enthusiast. I'm one of those people that attends church for the music just as much as the sermon, one of those people that give an evil glare at the people who leave for the congregational hymns, (Ok no, not really).