As wards slowly open again during this pandemic, some of us are watching Sacrament meeting broadcasts at home, while others are attending in person. Where I live, it’s been decided that it’s okay to play hymns, but so far no singing is permitted.
And last Sunday my husband, Bob, and I noticed that our wonderful ward pianist, Brent Carlson, was able to embellish the hymns a little bit, including some beautiful trills and flourishes you can’t use when people sing along.
“You know,” I whispered, “music people are always taken for granted.” Not by everyone, of course. But we do tend to overlook what goes into this calling. We dash out of the chapel to whatever’s next, and forget about the person on the stand, continuing to play.
A few years ago, I needed to pop into the church to get something out of the Relief Society closet on a weekday. There, in the chapel, was the organist from the other ward practicing the upcoming hymns for that week.
The back story for all of them is many years of study. Imagine the hours and hours they’ve spent taking lessons and practicing. Then they have to keep the same pace as the chorister, often accompany a singer (which is a whole different skill set), and be ready to play another hymn if there’s a sudden change in the program.
In addition, there are occasional comments from people (“You should play faster”), special requests for funerals or missionary homecomings– often at the last minute and often very difficult pieces—which they’re expected to sit right down and play.
They also sacrifice their time before and after the meeting, to play prelude music or postlude music. We get to socialize; they are isolated.
Various ward members ask them to accompany a duet, a cluster of children, or a soloist, which requires further rehearsing. And if the key isn’t comfortable for the singers, pianists are expected to transpose the song on the spot—something difficult to do.
It’s an honor to soak in the musical part of our meetings, not only because it acknowledges the talents and skills of the musician, but because music is a unique and powerful way to invite the Spirit. Every one of us has felt stirred in our hearts because a certain line or melody brought us closer to the Savior, or opened our eyes to an answer we’ve been seeking.
Composers and lyricists pray for inspiration and often pour their hearts and lives into their music. Some of our favorite songs were written in heartache, repentance, grief, and sorrow. Others celebrate the joyous news of the restoration, the amazing reality of Christ’s atonement, faith and commitment, or the hope we all have to return to our Father in Heaven.
Music is such an integral part of our lives that we often use it to convey what our speech cannot. Masterful singing is not required; all are invited to join in this congregational expression of the beliefs of our heart. But pianist and organists are expected to have a certain level of proficiency.
Not only that, but our musicians— like everyone who has a calling– play completely voluntarily, without pay. Many other churches hire pianists, often ones who aren’t even members of their faith. Sometimes their choir members are pros as well. How our hearts should swell with gratitude for people who step up and help, giving their all.
See if you can sing some hymns from memory, without looking at the book. We’ve heard many of them hundreds of times, and favorites are good to know by heart so we can draw upon them during the week when we need a boost of encouragement, or a focus upon eternal priorities.
Next time you’re in a Sacrament meeting, notice the difficulty of the piece and imagine the time it took to learn it. Study the words. Feel the harmonies. Let it sweep you away for a few minutes. And then call your music leaders and let them know how much you appreciate their talent. You just might make their week.
Hilton’s books, humor blog, and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Inter-Faith Specialist for Church Communications.