David’s history of music performance
Posted by mesasmiles
My mother signed me up for piano lessons when I was a boy. I’m guessing I was in second or third grade. Both my father and my mother enjoyed playing the piano. Both were reasonably good, but not outstanding. And neither my older brother nor my twin sister were that interested in it. My other love at the time was playing baseball, and I remember telling people that when I grew up, I wanted to be a professional baseball player in the summer and a concert pianist in the winter.
I remember that my piano teacher thought I was really good. Then one time when I showed up for a lesson my mother told him that I had learned the last song in my new book. It was a John Schaum piano book, and the last piece in the book was a fun number titled “Bobcat Boogie.” I played it for him and he was so impressed that he said that, since I could play the last song in the book so well, we should move up to the next level. He gave me a book of sonatas, but the pieces were difficult for me and weren’t interesting, and my interest in the piano waned. At the same time, I was having great fun playing baseball after school with the guys, which was putting pressure on my piano practice time. I ended up announcing to my mother that I wanted to quit taking piano lessons. As best I can remember, she just acceded to my request without any argument, and I was done with piano, after only about two years of lessons. Looking back, I wish she had pushed me more or resisted. But that would not have been like her. She pretty much let me do what I wanted, and she rarely disciplined me for anything.
I continued to tinker off and on with the piano, and during high school acquired some sheet music to some popular songs and learned to play them reasonably well. But I had never disciplined myself to sight read. I just plowed through each of the pieces I had, just about memorizing each one before I could play it very well at all. And I only learned a handful of songs. I went off to college where I didn’t have a piano any longer.
Then, in the final six months of my mission to Spain, I was assigned to labor in Sevilla, where they had a branch meeting in a house with a piano, but no one could play. I volunteered to play for sacrament meeting on the condition that I could pick the songs. I would come to the church during the week, prepare some songs, and play them on Sunday.
The next step forward in my music career was moving to Cedar Rapids after I finished dental school. That was 1979. The Cedar Rapids Ward had just split, and this was the first Sunday that the Second Ward met. Bishop Charles Harvey got up at the beginning of priesthood meeting and said that they had been praying for a priesthood holder who could play the piano – could anyone play? They wanted to have an opening song every priesthood meeting, and they liked to sing all the verses. There was a long pause. I waited for someone to volunteer, but no one did. Finally, I timidly raised my hand about halfway and told Bishop Harvey, as I told the branch president in Sevilla, that if I could pick the songs, I would play. I served as the priesthood pianist in that ward for about fifteen years, until I was called to the high council.
Through all this, my children all took piano lessons and became quite proficient in their piano playing, even winning piano contests. I began to realize that I probably had strong musical talent and wondered if I should put more effort into developing that. I prayed about that and the answer that I got is that I should just focus on learning to play the hymns. So I let those ambitions rest and just continued playing for priesthood meeting and family home evening.
The next step forward came when I moved from Cedar Rapids to the nearby town of Mount Vernon in 1999, where there was a branch of the church. The wife of the branch president was the organist, and she was pulled in a number of directions and was tired of having to play every Sunday, so I was called as a part-time organist playing one or two times a month. I had never had any formal training in playing the organ, and pretty much just figured it out on my own. I believe it was the first Sunday that I played – the Aaronic Priesthood had forgotten to bring bread, so they sent someone out to get some. President Cardon announced that I would play sacrament songs while we waited. The only problem was I only knew two sacrament songs at the time – “I Stand All Amazed,” and the one I had practiced for that sacrament meeting. I figured out some songs that were as close to sacrament songs as I could do and winged it.
Then, when I married Sharon and moved to Mesa, we started off in the Viewpoint Ward. I noticed that when they needed a substitute organist, they called on the primary president. I figured that had to be really hard on her. I know something of what primary presidents go through, and on Sundays, they are mostly worried about having teachers for all their classes, and they look around to see if any of them are missing. The last thing that poor sister needed to be doing was play the organ, so I offered to substitute, provided I could get enough notice to prepare the songs. I did a couple of Sundays of substitute work, and then the bishop called me to be an alternate organist, playing about half the time.
And then when I moved to my current ward, the Kensington Ward, I told the bishop that this was one of my callings in the previous ward. When their current organist left the ward, I was called as the organist. I have done that now for a couple of years. I stumbled quite a bit at first, but as time went on got feeling reasonably proficient. My goal is to learn how to sight read well enough that I can play any song in the hymnbook without any advance notice.
By the way, I still remember and can play “Bobcat Boogie.”