Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Confessions of a (reluctant) ward organist

Like a lot of good Mormon girls my age, I took piano lessons growing up from the piano teacher down the street.  I learned to play passably, and once I could play all the hymns in the hymnbook and became more interested in violin and everything except piano lessons, I quit lessons and went on my merry way.

But as any Mormon who even pretends to play the piano knows, once anyone knows you play, you will be playing piano in meetings frequently, whether you like it or not.  And I really don't mind playing the piano so much.

Then there's this beast.

I admit to being more than a little terrified of this monster.

Many people believe that just because you can play the piano, you should be able to play the organ.  In front of a lot of people.  During sacrament meeting.  Um, not true.   First of all, there are usually multiple keyboards, which has never made sense to me.  How are you supposed to play on two at once without getting completely lost?  And I have to confess, as many times as I've been told, I still can't for the life of me remember which is the Great and which is the Swell.  And then there's the mysterious foot pedals.  Seriously, how in the world is a girl like me, who can barely walk a set of stairs without falling supposed to play an instrument that requires two hands and two feet?  And all the buttons with names like "Great to Swell" and "Flute 8'"?  Seriously, it scares me.

Now don't get me wrong.  I'm not knocking the organ.  I have a good friend who is an amazing organist, and has tried to teach me something about it more than once.  I think it's a beautiful instrument when in the right hands.

Problem is, those hands aren't mine.

In college, my bishop decided that it was time for me to learn to play the organ.  After approximately fifteen minutes of instruction from another pianist-turned-organist, I was set loose on my unsuspecting ward. 

One of my first Sundays on the organ, I realized I couldn't see the foot pedals because I was wearing a long skirt that was covering my feet.  I made a move to adjust my skirt, and slipped off the bench.  (Told you, I have a problem with coordination!)  Just as a bishopric member was sustaining someone in the ward, and asking "Any opposed?" my feet fell on the pedals, honking the organ and sending everyone in the congregation into fits of laughter.  The bishopric member handled it wth grace, and responded by saying "Anyone opposed besides Stacy?"

And still my "career" as an organist continued.

Another Sunday, in another ward, I was accompanying during a congregational hymn that had four verses.  I was playing along and thought that we had finished. I played the last chord, and started to scoot off the organ bench.  Problem was, the congregation kept singing.  Turns out I had decided to stop after the third verse, and the congregation had collectively failed to read my mind.  The speaker that followed wasn't at all phased, and began his talk by saying "You know, I think I'll just take after Sister Smith today and give three-quarters of my talk and sit down."   I was more than a little mortified.

Then their was the Sunday I was playing the sacrament hymn, quietly and reverently, like a good little organist.  I was even managing the pedals fairly well, until I misjudged, and hit one of those metal knobs that sit right above the pedals.  I didn't even know what those were for.  Well, we all got an education that instant, when the organ changed from a soft and mellow, appropriate for the sacrament sound to "Let's sing 'Called to Serve' at Stake Conference" blasting organ.  I think I continued blushing all the way through our three hour block that day.  And I've learned to stay far, far away from those metal knobs. 

When we moved into this ward, it took the bishop about 5.2 seconds to find out that I played the organ.  That tends to happen when he's the one that moves the piano into your house and asks your husband if you play organ too.  I haven't yet managed to convince my dear husband that I don't really play the organ.  I think he enjoys the sacrament meeting entertainment.  The bishop told me that this ward had about eight organists that rotated duties, and I was thrilled, assuming that I wouldn't be needed.  I avoided the organ rotation for almost a year, gracefully declining when the poor unsuspecting music director asked me if I would be interested in playing the organ in Sacrament Meeting.

A few months later, just as I was gloating in my organ-avoiding successes, I had a really hard time telling the Bishop "no" when he asked me directly if I would start taking a turn.

My first Sunday, I thought I had avoided complete humiliation, until my Bishop shook my hand afterwards and jokingly said "Sounds like you might be a bit rusty!"  Um yeah, Bishop, this might be as good as you get!

A few weeks ago, I was playing prelude on my appointed Sunday, and Tom left the heathens girls with instructions to watch Max while he went to do whatever it is guys needs to do before Sacrament Meeting.  (Does anyone really know what that is?  Seriously, I would like to know!)  I was innocently playing prelude, trying not to make the organ honk, when I noticed my toddler running gleefully up the aisle.  Apparently, Max decided he wanted to get down, so the girls let him.  Ok, that makes perfect sense.  So, I continued my prelude playing while shooting rays of death at my girls, trying to will them to come get their brother before chaos ensued.  No dice.  Max was not only thrilled to be on the stand, but more excited to see that Mommy was playing the piano, and decided, of course, that he wanted to join me.  I really need no help making a mess of things when I'm playing the organ, but with Max's accompaniment, it was worse than usual.  I faced the choice of stopping the prelude right before the meeting started and taking my screaming little boy out, or letting him continue to bang on the organ.  Just as I was about to risk Armageddon by removing Max from the organ and the meeting, my husband strolled up on the stand, picked up Max and took him out, with Max screaming "My mama!  My mama!" the whole way out of the chapel.

At this point, I think my ward looks forward to the Sundays when Stacy plays the organ, because they're guaranteed some cheap entertainment.

I think I should be allowed to stick to the violin, and at least minimize the potential for complete humiliation.


  1. You had to know I'd get a kick out of this post, didn't you? :)

  2. Loved the story about your feet opposing the sustaining!

    I agree about the assumption that pianist=organist. I am neither, so I get out of it, but my husband plays and has battled that.

  3. Yeow! An instrument that requires full use of both hands and feet...that's def. one instrument I'm avoiding.

    I never really learned church hymns as a youth, did finally learn a few as a missionary in Uruguay, and now, dabble here and there, but leave music to the masters, you!

    PS: Cheap Sunday morning entertainment sounds great, wanna come to our ward sometime?? We'd love to have you! :)

  4. I took piano lessons for about half a year. I can read music due to playing other instruments, but I really wish I could play the piano better.

    My husband on the other hand plays beautifully. Even played at our wedding reception for me. He gets the piano=organ thing a lot too. It seems people just assume one keyboard is like all the rest of them. But the difference is huge.

    Visiting from MMB.

  5. I have a few of these stories myself! A pianist does not an organist make! Though I never touch the pedals, I just push the one button I KNOW what it does, the great bass coupler. Great post!

  6. Oh man! Am I glad that I never learned to play any thing!

  7. I've been playing the organ as a pianist-turned-organist for years now. I, too, love the bass coupler. Always use it and never the foot pedals. I've had some funny sacrament meeting organ experiences!! I think you just gave me my next post content.

    Fun post!
    Coming from MMB.

  8. Thank you for the laugh! I totally "get" you. I had a lady in my ward growing up who played the organ for over a decade because she was the only one who knew how. Well one day she just couldn't take it anymore I guess and asked the bishop to release her. And he did. And then he called her to be the RS president. Let's just say that after a couple of months she was kicking herself for asking to be released as ward organist. Ha!

  9. Great post, I laughed out loud while reading, which I don't usually do.

  10. Wow, I'm laughing pretty hard right now. I had no idea you had so many entertaining stories about the organ. Now I wish I could be there to see you play. I have to give you props for at least trying...I still haven't told anyone in Virginia that I even play the piano (shhhhh no telling)!!!

  11. I think you should charge admission when you're playing--like a cover-fee...just for the entertainment!lol

  12. This is the REAL reason I gave up piano lessons as a child.

    Okay, not really, but still....

  13. This is the REAL reason why I gave up piano lessons as a kid.

    Okay, not really, but still....

  14. OK, I'd laugh but it's too close to home. We just had two wards split into three. All our musical talent is in the other two wards. Except me. I am a pianist TURNING organist. (BTW, bass coupler? God really does love His children!!) And yes, I will play organ for the rest of my life if it means I don't have to be RS president. I think I might be ready to play organ in a couple of weeks. The problem is, I have yet to meet most of the sisters in my new ward, as I have to run from playing in Sacarament meeting to get to the other side of the building to play for Primary. Don't get me wrong, I love playing, but it does play havoc on your socializing. Everyone knows you, but you don't have a CLUE! who they are.


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