A standing ovation

It was my second week in the ward. Brother Aamodt, who was conducting priesthood meeting, closed the session with a request. “Brethren, as you know, we have been lacking musical talent in our priesthood quorums for some time. Could you pray that we might have some sent to us?” I waited for the laughter — Brother Aamodt had been the accompanist for the opening hymn, and had done a perfectly fine job. There were a few smiles, but even more nods.

The next week before priesthood meeting started, I carried my not-quite-nursery-aged son Trevor with me to the podium, and told Brother Aamodt, “I just moved into the ward, and heard what you said last week, and I figured I should let you know that I play the piano.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful!” he exclaimed, with genuine enthusiasm and a bit more excitement than I had expected. Did he really dislike playing the piano that much? “Let me find the bishop. Bishop, this is Brother Inouye. He plays the piano.”

The bishop expressed his gratitude for this news and offered to take care of Trevor while I played. I accepted the offer somewhat reluctantly, worried that Trevor might not be too happy about being handed to an unfamiliar set of hands, but the bishop managed to keep him from crying, although Trevor had a worried look on his face.

I sat down at the piano and started to flip through the hymnbook. Brother Aamodt asked, “What hymn would you like to play?” meaning perhaps to ask, “What hymns can you play?”

I told him, “It’s your meeting. I’ll play whatever you would like,” to signal back to him my comfort level with the hymns.

Brother Aamodt replied, “Oh, you don’t know how happy everyone will be. I’ve been playing for us, but I’ve never had a piano lesson in my life. I’ve taught myself how to play six hymns, and everyone is just sick of them.”

As I started to play some prelude music, one of the priests leaped up the stairs to the piano. He was holding a hymn book in his hand — clearly, he was tasked with leading the music. “Are you new?” Nod. “Do you play the piano?” Nod. “Are you good?” Shrug. He turned to Brother Aamodt and said, “Yeah, he’s good.”

He then turned to the rest of the assembled priesthood quorums and announced in a loud voice, “Everyone, this is our new brother. He plays the piano….and he’s good!”

The young men in the audience, seven or eight of them, all seated in a group in some of the side pews, jumped to their feet spontaneously, applauding and cheering. That was the only time I’ve ever seen a standing ovation in the chapel.

18 thoughts on “A standing ovation

  1. Bryce, what a great story. When I lived in Brazil, the only people who knew how to play the piano in sacrament meeting (much less priesthood or relief society or primary) were the visiting Americans — either the occasional missionary or daughter of a mission president, for example. Most of our sacrament hymns were sung a cappella. So I know exactly how those young priests feel — it’s much more fun to sing accompanied by an instrument. Because of that experience, I went out and bought the simplified hymn book and started trying to teach myself the piano. Six years later, I can play perhaps 15 simplified hymns, but very haltingly and poorly, and I practice several times a week. Being a good musician is a real talent — don’t underestimate how hard it is for some of us out there.

  2. Awesome. I know just how they feel. My ward had a similar lack of talent. We had someone from another ward come to play organ for our Sacrament Meetings. And a player piano/keyboard in RS with all the hymns programmed into it. It was pathetic.

  3. When our ward split some years ago, the other ward got most of the musical talent. Boy, did we miss those guys. We’ve never really recovered from that and those who do play the piano are really overworked. Most of them are also among the most talented among us in other ways, including leadership, so we need them in presidencies as well. They all look pretty tired at the moment.

    Sarah plays the piano, but she is sort of stuck up about it. I preach to her all the time that God has given her a gift, one that people need and she should share it. So far, not much.

  4. You guys, no offense, but I find this new format a little daunting. It’s just more problematic and not as convenient to read.

  5. In our building, they recently installed a new organ that has the capacity to play the hymns automatically. This one Sunday I look up to see a sister sitting there, not playing anything, yet the prelude music was in the air. At that time I didn’t know about the new organ yet so it kind of freaked me out. I asked her about it later, and she said that someone still has to sit there, because you have to press a little button to go from one stanza to the next.

    In our ward, they usually play the organ manually, but when the singles meet I know they appreciate the automatic play feature.

  6. The automatic player has been a great help in the five branches in our district. In the three Spanish-language branches there is not a single member who can play at all, and they always sang a capella unless a piano-playing missionary was there. And, of course, a piano was not loud enough to accompany a congregation of 90 people.

    Now they have the option of singing about half the hymns in the Spanish hymnbook (which has half the hymns of the English book). It is interesting, though, since there are primary songs programmed into the organ too, and if a hymn and primary song share the same page number, they’re identified by that common number (and their names, in English) on the organ console.

    I hope that the upgraded version of the instrument has all the hymns programmed into it, rather than the current limited number. The amount of memory needed must be insignificant.

    Or we could just get Inouye-kyodai to clone himself and send his double to our priesthood meeting. I may stand up and applaud.

  7. The new programmable piano/organs are a great help I’m sure but it’s rather sad what it says about the place of music in our society. Is no one learnging piano anymore? Not everyone can afford lessons I know but we had piano class in my high school as an elective.

  8. If we would only allow electric guitar as accompaniment I’m sure many more young men would be able to supply the music in the various meetings…

  9. It surprises me that the church doesn’t do more to develop musical talent–I don’t wish this to be another item on parents’ guilt-filled ‘to do’ list, but how hard would it be to call someone who plays the piano to give lessons to three people who don’t play the piano (which would be their calling–to learn)? I realize that learning to play the piano is a huge deal, but surely not more of a time investment than being a bishop or seminary teacher.

  10. Julie: I think there is an upswing to this. In San Antonio, many of the high school choirs are PACKED with young LDS men. My wife teaches voice lessons for a living and there seems to always be young men from the Church going to state. At least in the area of singing, I think the Church is doing well.

    I took a piano class in college, just before my mission, but haven’t touched it sense. Maybe I should go home tonight and practice a bit.

  11. This reminds me of when we first moved to Albuquerque about 15 years ago. The ward didn’t have anybody to play piano or organ, so they were singing to the tapes in Sacrament meeting. Between meetings I told the bishop I play, and he spent the next 5 minutes or so finding the key to the organ, and I had a calling before the block was over.

    I have given lessons in almost every ward or branch we have lived in, and have even offered to not charge for families that really couldn’t afford it. None of the parents have taken me up on it, even though in one case it was the only thing their son showed any promise in.

  12. I would posit that the lack of piano playing people has to do with
    1) the much more mobile society we have (you move 8 times in 10 years and you want a piano?)
    2) The development of more enticing indoor activities
    3) Hyper=programmed youth activities.

  13. Growing up, my Bishop challenged all of us priests to learn 5 hymns to play on the piano. It’s amazing how far 5 hymns will take you in the mission field. I served in Portugal and Africa. During my 2 years, I only came across one member who could play. Because I got transferred every 3 to 4 months, I was usually leaving just as everyone was getting tired of my 5 hymns.

    He was a great Bishop.

    A funny side note. We had a prominent member pass away in one of my areas. Most of her family was Catholic. As the chapel filled to about 300, I was asked to play prelude music. “Nearer my God to Thee” was fine for awhile but after 15 minutes straight, I had to add “Called to Serve” and “Praise to the Man” into the rotation. Try playing those two in a way that makes them somber–doesn’t really work. I don’t know if the non-members noticed, but members and the missionaries were having a hard time keeping a straight face.

  14. Mark B., my first calling post-mission was as the branch pianist for one of the branches in the Bronx. I loved it.

    Seth R., I don’t remember. I played “The Spirit of God” this last week, though. The men sounded wonderful. There are a number of good musicians in the group, just no keyboard players.

  15. TOTAL Nathan is just sore because I made him sing soprano at the mission Christmas party.

Comments are closed.