How one Latter-day Saint ‘shares her heart’ through nearly 60 years as ward organist

‘I don’t think I could find a soul in this world that wouldn’t just adore Nancy’ Zornes of McKinney, Texas, says her lifelong friend

Greg Wood remembers a sacrament meeting where his mom — Nancy Zornes of the Frisco 4th Ward, Frisco Texas Stake — accompanied him on piano for a solo. While singing, he realized Zornes was missing occasional notes, so he looked to see why.

“Mom, bless her heart, was bent over to the side of her bench, playing from a score that had evidently fallen to the ground,” said Wood, who now lives in Mesa, Arizona. “We laughed about it, but I learned a valuable lesson in making the best of a potentially bad situation.”

Years before, Zornes had started as a piano accompanist for her mom at around age 12. Not long after she was baptized as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 19 years old, Zornes received the calling of organist for the Manhattan Beach Ward in California.

Except for occasional gaps, she has been an organist in various wards ever since — a total of almost 60 years.

Nancy Zornes playing an old organ with two candelabras on top.
Nancy Zornes plays a pump organ at the Kibbe Hancock Heritage Museum in Carthage, Illinois, in 2014. | Provided by Amy Burr

Nancy Zornes’ music journey

Now living in McKinney, Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Zornes first raised her family in Simi Valley, California, northwest of Los Angeles. She has accompanied or directed choirs in her ward, stake and community, including for other denominations.

She is an accomplished flautist, having played the flute and piccolo with orchestras and wind ensembles, including in pit orchestras for musicals. Zornes has also been on the acting end of musicals and operas, such as portraying Dolly in “Annie Get Your Gun” and Second Lady in “The Magic Flute.”

Another fond specialty of Zornes is composing music for choirs as well as for flute choirs. She has posted several of her compositions on for use free of charge.

The reason? Zornes explains it on her site: “I’ve done my share of publishing ... and have come to the conclusion that one does it out of love for music and for the sheer satisfaction that comes from knowing that someone, somewhere, wants to perform your music, and not for the modest profit involved.”

Linda Smith, her friend of over 50 years, said, “Her contributions to church and community were endless.” The two met in a stake Relief Society choir in Simi Valley, where Zornes was the choir director. “I cannot think of anyone I have ever been closer to ... than Nancy.”

Smith and Zornes would often participate in rehearsals and music classes together. What Smith remembers most is their travels as they commuted together and got lost in conversation.

“We would get so caught up in our talking,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many exits we missed and how many detours we had to make over the years.” Yet their bonds grew from memories made.

Despite associating with many not from the Church, Zornes’ peers “knew what she stood for, because she showed it. ... She is one that lives like she believes.”

With tears, Smith continued, “I don’t think I could find a soul in this world that wouldn’t just adore Nancy.”

A group of family members sitting around a room and holding sheet music, with Nancy Zornes in a pink shirt and playing the piano.
Nancy Zornes, left, plays Christmas music on the piano for her children, children-in-law and grandchildren in late 2007. Cameron Wood said that with his parents, “the house was full of music, and I loved it.” | Provided by Amy Burr

Family upbringing

Nancy was married in 1956 to Deane Wood, whom she met at a band rehearsal. So, having music at home was a clear decision.

The couple’s five children were never deprived of music in their childhood. Ward choir rehearsals were often held at home; their mom conducted an annual Christmas concert for the community; pads of manuscript paper to write music were more common around the house than notepads.

“Music was never absent in my upbringing,” said Amy Burr, one of the daughters, from Snohomish, Washington. Burr’s brother, Greg Wood, said “music was always a part of our family life.”

An old photograph of a man and woman in formal attire and smiling.
Nancy and Deane Wood, both gifted musicians, were married in 1956. | Provided by Amy Burr

“Music was as integral to her being as breathing,” said Christy Burdick, a daughter, from McKinney, Texas. Her sibling, Cameron Wood — also from McKinney — said: “God bless her and Dad. Between them, the house was full of music, and I loved it.”

Each child developed an appreciation for music, whether through piano, singing, music directing or violin. More important, though, were the relationships strengthened together. Burr said, “My most treasured spiritual experiences are easily wrapped up in making music with my mother.”

Their father died in 2000, but the priceless memories together will not diminuendo anytime soon.

Nancy Wood later married Robert Zornes, now her husband of 18 years. Like many close to his dear wife, he admires her “devotion to the Lord through performance of fine music.”

Generous with time and talents

“We kids were so completely musically spoiled, and we had no idea,” said Cameron Wood. “‘Hey, Mom, can you sight-read this thing for me so I can practice?’ And I just figured anyone who played piano could do the same thing at the drop of a hat. Oh, naive me.”

Burdick said Nancy Zornes, when accompanying, “would always quietly play in the background, never trying to upstage anyone. So humble and sweet. She is an absolute musical giant, though.”

Zornes’ willingness to offer beautiful music pairs with her humility and recognition that talents are to serve a greater purpose.

Meghan Frost, a ward organist and friend, said, “She realizes that her ability to play and her talent is a gift from God, and that is something that is such a vital part of the Church.”

Nancy Zornes sitting down and playing the flute next to other flautists.
Nancy Zornes plays in a flute choir. Meghan Frost said, “She feels that music should absolutely be shared in church and is willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen.” | Provided by Amy Burr

Lessons from Mom

Admiration for music will remain a key medium through which Zornes reaches out. “Music is the way she expresses herself and shares her heart,” said Frost.

Greg Wood said Zornes helps both friend and stranger with compassion. “Mom has always been an example of the Savior’s teachings in every stage of my life. I remember her prayers. I remember the family home evening lessons.”

One day, Burdick was given the piano she and her siblings had grown up with. “One of the sweetest moments I have ever known,” she said, “was when I, as a new mom, sat at the piano in the middle of my new home’s living room accompanying my own ward’s choir practice. ... It felt like a torch was being passed or carried along.”

Zornes’ patience with family helped Burr gain a closer relationship with her own children: “I remember explicitly wanting to be a very similar kind of mother to what she was. She so rarely demonstrated disappointment in the various dumb foibles of her kids. She most often delighted in them.”

She continued, “I told myself I would find joy in the quirks that make my children the individuals they truly are and want to be, and now, I ... so enjoy their company and their personalities, and I thank my mom for that.”

‘I am so grateful for her beautiful heart’

After being released as ward organist earlier this year, Zornes invited over her ward friend Meghan Frost to pass on the baton with a gift.

They found “shelves of music that she gave to me to continue on her beautiful legacy of playing the organ,” said Frost, who has been an organist in the Frisco 4th Ward for a year or two and a ward organist while living in Mississippi and Utah.

Frost said the faith-filled, dedicated legacy will live on through future generations as she and her three daughters — assistant ward organists — discover the wealth of Zornes’ new music arrangements to play.

“I will always make sure I spread music in the Church as my testimony because of her,” said Frost. “That is how she shares her spirit and her heart and her testimony, and that is her legacy.”

Though Zornes is retiring from almost 60 years of service as a ward organist, the selfless example she’s left to loved ones remains in crescendo.

“I am so grateful for her beautiful heart, her beautiful voice and great talent,” said Burdick. “The fact that she has been willing to share it with everyone has been such a great example to me. I still hope that I can grow up to be more like her.”

Nancy Zornes wearing a pink shirt and conducting a choir in a music room.
Nancy Zornes conducts a flute choir. Christy Burdick said: “I am so grateful for her beautiful heart, her beautiful voice and great talent. The fact that she has been willing to share it with everyone has been such a great example to me.” | Provided by Amy Burr
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