Since the 25th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants was received, hymns and hymn singing have continued to be an important part of worship services throughout the Church. Whenever possible an organ accompaniment is used for support.
"Music does so much to bring the Spirit into our meetings," said Richard Elliott, principal organist for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. "It can only be as good as the preparation — both spiritual and technical — and the skills of the people who are called to accompany and lead the music."
For many wards in the Church, trained organists are the exception rather than the rule and pianists are often called to serve as organists. Such a call often requires service "as soon as possible," sometimes beginning the next Sunday. Now, with the creation of a new resource, pianists of modest skill can quickly become organists without using the pedalboard.
A team of professional organists, including Brother Elliott, began working on the project in the fall of 2008. Headed by former Tabernacle organist Robert Cundick and Don Cook, professor of organ at BYU, the new publications are simplified versions of selected hymns and hymn introductions designed to help beginning or less experienced organists make the transition from the piano to the organ.
"It has been our experience that most people who are playing the organ in the Church have some piano background and so are able to read music and play a keyboard instrument," said Brother Elliott. "[However], they often feel intimidated by the idea of playing the organ's pedal keyboard with their feet. These hymn arrangements have fewer voices and are able to be played with just the hands."
By using the "bass coupler," which is found on almost every meetinghouse organ installed in the past 20 years or so, individuals can make it sound as if they are playing with their feet. Creators of the new publication say that pianists who can play hymns with confidence and accuracy can, with careful practice, become an equally competent organist.
The new organ accompaniment publication, titled, "Manual-Only Hymns for Organ," includes a collection of 38 well-known hymns in easy form. It is set in three, rather than four, part harmony with complete organ fingering. A companion volume, titled "Transformations," contains brief thematic introductions and codas (endings) for each individual hymn, creating music for preludes and postludes when used with the "Manual-Only Hymns for Organ."
"My hope is that these two publications will not only make it easier for organists to do a better job but will also help them to feel a sense of accomplishment and confidence in their abilities to provide the music for Church meetings," Brother Elliott said. "As with all callings, I think that our worst enemy is often ourselves and our lack of confidence. Often it is just a case of not knowing where to turn for resources. These publications have the potential of being just such a resource."
Both volumes are available as a set at Deseret Book (beginning Aug. 2), the bookstores at BYU, BYU-Idaho and BYU-Hawaii, or Jackman Music, 1-800-950-1900. Price: $10 plus shipping.