Saying Thanks

Through some sordid twist of fate I am now one of my ward organists. There are four of us already, and we need more. Sister C has crippling arthritis and cannot play anymore. Sister F has grandchildren in a neighboring ward and has decided that one of her top priorities is making sure her grandchildren attend church so she is frequently absent from our ward. Sister J just had her fifth baby and is feeling overwhelmed. And me? I don’t play the organ. I can barely play the piano. I know how to play 9 hymns, 3 of which I learned in the last month in order to play them at church.

Last night my home teacher called to see when would be a good time to schedule a visit and mentioned my new calling. He asked if I was already an organist, and I said no- I’m learning as I go. He thanked me for being willing to take it on anyways.

On the first Sunday I played I got a lot of praise, and lots of people expressed their gratitude for my playing. I have no doubt that it was all very authentic, but it still made me rather uncomfortable. While my playing does represent a large time commitment and a specific sort of bravery, it isn’t necessarily more praiseworthy than the time and bravery of a competent organist. The very skilled women who have played the organ for decades in my parents ward rarely even get the perfunctory “We’d like to thank Sister K for providing the music,” in passing during the announcements. Sadly the more skilled and effective an organist is are the more invisible s/he becomes.

One of those women, Sister J, put together a set of ‘transitional’ arrangements for the hymns. Unlike the simplified arrangements available from the distribution center hers are in the same key as the hymns in the standard hymnbook. Learning her arrangements and fingerings makes learning the standard hymns easier. My mom bought me a copy of her book, and I later told my mom how useful I had found it. When my mom passed this on to Sister J it brought her to tears. Sister J confessed that she got so little positive feedback that even hearing it second-hand was very meaningful to her.

Let this be a reminder to thank your local organists, and pianists- especially if they are good at what they do.


Starfoxy is a fulltime caretaker for her two children.

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15 Responses

  1. Senile Old Fart says:

    My wife is one of three pianists who ascended to ward organist-hood after our long-time compose-and-transpose-on-the-fly-seemingly-effortlessly organist relocated. Each has grown into the calling, albeit one with a jazz beat in the prelude and postlude that can be detected under the chapel chatter. Good on you!

  2. Ziff says:

    Sadly the more skilled and effective an organist is are the more invisible s/he becomes.

    I read a book by a former major league baseball umpire who made a similar point about his job. He said that if a game was well-umpired, the umpires would be completely invisible. People only noticed them when they had complaints.

    Good for you for taking this on! And thanks for the reminder to thank people who do things so well that they’re not noticeable.

  3. TopHat says:

    Five of my last 7 callings were piano callings and it really is a lonely job. I often felt like I was over in a corner away from everyone else and had a hard time meeting people. Plus you become the go-to person for special musical number accompanist. It’s like having 2 callings. I’ve specifically requested a non-piano calling this next time. Maybe I’m hiding my talent under a bushel, but hey- maybe I’ll find out I have other talents, too.

    But like Ziff said- it’s always good to get a reminder to remember the people around us who silently make our lives better.

  4. KayG says:

    What a good reminder–I’ll give thanks more regularly to our organist.

  5. Amy says:

    So true. Thanks can rarely be overdone if said genuinely.

  6. Jim Donaldson says:

    For a while, our smallish inner city ward had a reformed accordion player for the ward organist who played completely by ear, but was fortunately familiar with a very large number of our hymns: four part harmonies were replaced with unison melodies the familiar ooom-pah beat of a polka.

    There was a lot to recommend it.

  7. Amanda in France says:


    TopHat, I’ve also asked for non-musical callings. Often, pianists/organists are so few (especially in my neck of the woods) that we never get the chance to develop other talents and serve in other capacities. The first time I “hid” my talent was my senior year of high school seminary, and the teacher actually scolded me, so I ended up playing anyway. Now I don’t care anymore and explain that I’d like to serve elsewhere, especially now that feeding a baby in the middle of sacrament meeting often means missing a hymn or two.

  8. prairiegirl says:

    This can happen in other callings too–and in other ways. I have worked with people with disabilities for more than 15 years. When I was in a different ward, I was asked by the Bishop to help teach a SS lesson on how we (as a ward) could do better to include those in our ward with disabilities (we had residents from a group home whom attended regularly). The lesson went quite well (the Bishop taught some of it–about the Church’s vision on fully including people with disabilities).

    But–even then–one of the sister’s who lived at the group home attended regularly. She was a wonderful woman–and she and I became fast friends. She was basically non-verbal–but did use a few signs and body language to communicate. I became very familiar with her form of communication, as I’d communicated similarly with others before in this way. She used the sign for “toilet” to let the ward members know when they needed to take her to the restroom. All you had to do was push her wheelchair into the wheelchair accessible stall, make sure she stood up okay on her own–pull her wheelchair out of the way–and shut the door. Then, just wait for her until she would let you know she was done. She could take care of everything else independently. I tried to explain this to other ward members, including in the lesson–that ANYONE could assist her without a problem–as it involved no lifting or anything. But, the majority of the ward members (women) were still “stand-offish” about it. Usually I took her, but I realized that by so doing, others in the Ward were missing out (or refusing ) to get to know her better because they were refusing to serve her because of their own fears. So–one Sunday in SS and RS, I just carefully positioned myself not sitting as close to her, and consciously seemed oblivious to when she needed help. When she signed she needed to use the restroom, I remained oblivious, even though members of the ward continued to look to me to assist her. Finally, the Bishop’s wife slapped her hands down, stood up, and somewhat loudly said “okay–I’ll do it”. And went off and helped her. Soon, she passed the word around that it “really was not a big deal to help her AT ALL”–that there was more involved with her taking care of her children in the restroom than with this woman. Soon, other members of the ward were assisting her on a regular basis–even some of those whom I knew had had major “issues” with it. They quit expecting ONE person to do it–and stepped up to the plate.

    Part of the reason why I did this, was because I knew I would be leaving the ward permanently soon–and wanted this Sister to be served as well as I could serve her. The other reason was so the Ward members would get the clue that assisting this sister was their privilege–not something to be afraid of.

    Unfortunately, I do not play the piano. Again–a pretty conscious decision. My mother played the piano incredibly well, and it was always assumed in our Ward growing up that we (her daughters) did to. So, it was kind of nice when the Ward would go straight to asking the daughters to play the piano to say “I’m sorry–I don’t play”–especially since often this occurred because those whom could play the piano, but didn’t feel they were “as good” as my mom would shy away from playing. Kind of forced them to face their fears and serve in the Ward.

    But–I will try to make sure I thank the Ward Music people in my wards more often. Good reminder (as well as others in the Ward who serve a lonely, somewhat isolating calling).


  9. I vote for throwing the organs out of the wards and using piano accompaniment for hymns. Inexpert organists trying to strike the right keys are responsible for the slow, draggy, nonspiritual hymn singing that characterizes most Mormon wards. A brisk piano accompaniment would be a more joyful noise unto the Lord.

    • Caroline says:

      I too would prefer piano accompaniment. It just seems snappier and more lively to me. But I am grateful for all our ward musicians, piano and organ. Thank you to all you who do it!

  10. Ahna says:

    I love it whenever anyone thanks for me for playing, so this is a meaningful post to me.

    But transitioning to organ is tough, so you should really soak up any compliments you get. Have you checked out the new materials the church has for new organists? There are simplified manuals-only hymns and lots more. BYU organ professor Don Cook deserves recognition and thanks for helping so many of us learn organ.

    Are copies of Sister J’s simplified hymns still available? I’d love to use it for my piano students.

  11. Angie says:

    My husband and I both play piano, and my husband has been a ward organist since he was 16. You’re welcome! 🙂 We love playing at church, worshipping God through music.

  12. kmillecam says:

    I took organ lessons from my organist-grandmother when I was 13 and then got found out by my ward when I was 14. So then I was called to play the organ once a month. It terrified me, and I hated it. One time I was so nervous that I completely botched an entire verse of a hymn to the point where I stopped playing and everyone was left singing completely out of key a cappella.

    I eventually got out of it somehow, and from then on I didn’t accept invitations to play as accompaniment for anyone, unless I have several weeks to practice until I was comfortable. I played the occasional piano piece as a special number, but other than that I was too anxious to play on short notice. I eventually ended up not telling anyone I played, and keeping signup sheets at BYU blank when they were fishing for pianists and organists.

    So the bottom line for me is: yes! please appreciate the musicians in your congregation. I love music and I love playing on my own terms, but I don’t love being the organist or choir accompanist. Any time I DO do that, it’s with a lot of effort and practice time.

  13. Starfoxy says:

    Tophat- that is one of my major fears in taking this calling on- will it be the last calling I ever have? I hope not, but I’ve seen you experiences happen to more than one person I know. That is something that is really, really too bad. We shouldn’t let that happen.

    Jim- That is one of the most awesome things I’ve ever heard. I would love to have heard that person play.

    CourseCorrection- I too have wondered what it is about the organ that makes us so reluctant to just let it go. Why can’t we just let the pianists play the piano well, instead of making them play the organ poorly?

    Ahna- I also understand that BYU has put an organ course online for free- something I am definitely going to take advantage of. I will email you about Sister J’s arrangements.

  14. Shawna says:

    As a person who has served in many musical callings, I’ve always been puzzled why we are singled out particularly for thanks. Everybody is serving in their callings to the best of their ability. The bishop, Relief Society president, Elder’s Quorum president, ect. all put a lot more effort into their callings, yet no one has felt a need to include a weekly, ritualized thank you to them. Frankly, I would prefer if they would just do away with it. If individual members of the ward want to express gratitude, that is different, but hearing it said every week over the pulpit just because that is what has always been done is irritating rather than gratifying.

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