I headed to the organ after choir practice. Twenty minutes till Sacrament meeting started — enough time to quickly run through the hymns and play some prelude. I knew what hymns we were singing (the music director e-mails me once a month), and none were too difficult. Suddenly the chorister approached me, with a worried look on her face. “There’s been a few changes to the music,” she began.
This was a potential problem.
I’m not really that good of an organist. I’m mostly still coasting on those piano lessons I took twenty years ago. I sit and practice something a few times a week on the piano, but nothing serious or sustained.
On the flip side, though, most hymns aren’t very hard to play. And after decades of being a pianist or organist for various wards and quorums, I’ve played the hymns a lot. At this point, I’ve got many of the more familiar hymns — We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet, or I Know That My Redeemer Lives — practically committed to memory.
Our chorister knows this, though, and she looked worried. That was a bad sign.
The new hymns came at the request of our high council speaker. She held out a list of numbers. I glanced at it. A few easy ones, and . . .126? What was that one? I turned to 126. It was a hymn I’ve never played — I’m not sure I’ve ever even heard it played. And it wasn’t going to be an easy one.
How Long, O Lord Most Holy and True is a 2/2 hymn in the key of E minor. It’s got about a thousand different accidentals, with different voices moving at different times. I ran through it for the first time, fifteen minutes before Sacrament would begin. I absolutely slaughtered it. I missed accidentals, botched the timing, just completely killed it.
The ward early-birds were steadily filing in. (Hopefully, they thought I was trying something weird and avant-garde for prelude.) I played over the hymn again, and then again. I was getting a little better with it, but was still light-years from good.
This was going to be bad. On an unknown hymn like this one, the ward would totally rely on the organist to carry them. My inability to correctly hit that weird D-C-sharp-C-natural melody meant that the congregation would completely botch that line, too. This was going to be ugly.
I looked at the program, and tried to come up with a contingency plan. 126 was the closing hymn. Maybe I could sneak out during the high council talk, find a free classroom with a piano (if they weren’t all tied up by the other ward), and try to practice this more. But what if the rooms were all busy? And how would I know when to scurry back to play?
The second counselor came over, five minutes before Sacrament started. “So you got the message about the new hymns,” he said. “126, How Gentle God’s Commands.”
What?, asked the chorister.
“Yep, How Gentle God’s Commands. 126, isn’t it? Oh, wait, I guess it’s 125. Anyway, that’s the closing hymn for today.”
Thank you, God, for small favors.