There is a sense of trepidation accompanied with moving into a new ward. It’s not the rush of unfamiliar faces and names you try to lock in your memory. It’s the waiting. When will that balding bishopric member tap you on the shoulder?
When he comes for you, he leads you to a quiet, secluded room with two chairs set facing one another. You get first choice of the chairs and slide it backwards. He sits down opposite of you and scoots closer. Then he chats, like he wanted nothing more than to discuss what your kitchen countertops are made of. Without any transition, he jumps into the invitation for a calling. Ward organist! As a musician, the only thing you are surprised about is how they found out about you. No complaints, even though you just were the ward chorister. You accept and exit the interrogation room with the realization that no matter where you move, your primary bag of tricks and folders of music will always come along. You are a Mormon musician. Once you sit at that bench, you never leave.
Musicians in the Church can be divided into two groups. There are those who are “out” and those who are hiding in the musical closet. The pianists who are out and about happily volunteer to play whenever the bishop suggests that the fifth Sunday adult meeting open with “Master, the Tempest is Raging” because they know that the a cappella version is equivalent to a raging drift of squealing pigs. Despite their sensitive ears, this group genuinely loves music.
The latter remain in the closet because they know that there is only one way to be removed from the music list and that is by butchering “As Sisters in Zion.” Even though we can all agree that it needs to be transposed down a few notes for the Relief Society to stay in key, the stunt may cost you your salvation.
These pianists also hide because their mothers forced them to persevere with piano lessons all through adolescence while threatening, “You’ll regret it on your mission or when you’re in a branch if you quit now!” hanging around their necks. Thus they sit back, regretting nothing, and refuse to raise their hand when asked if anyone in the congregation can play the piano. Once the silence gets stale, you raise your hand. No doubt, one closest dwelling female will swat your hand down and say, “It’s okay, there are plenty of people here who play.” She will nod and wink at you and expect you to understand one thing. She is protecting you.
What is so bad about being the designated piano player? I confess to being one of the “out” crowd. I have to say it is liberating. Besides being approached ten minutes before the start of sacrament meeting to accompany the special musical number, being a musician in the Church is a sweet gig. You provide an irreplaceable service and have the opportunity to practice and perform, all for less time and effort than Youth.
The troubling part goes back to that moment in the tiny room sitting too close to the bishop’s counselor. Right before he invites you to be the choir director, he says something along the lines of, “As a bishopric we have prayed and feel impressed to call you as….” I know that Church callings come from God. I have witnessed my husband being called to positions that I never would have imagined for him, but he thrives in the challenge and blesses those he serves. We musical folk do not always have the same experience. There are usually a handful of musical aficionados the bishop rotates around every couple of years. When I hear that the bishopric has prayed and knows I need to be the primary music leader again when that was my same calling in my previous ward, I wonder if I am filling a spot and playing a predetermined role.
That is a closet pianist attitude. Perhaps filling the spot is not that bad. It is still fulfilling to the Lord and those who listen. As a child, I remember studiously watching the primary pianist pump the pedals and wondering how the instrument functioned. That wonder urged me to beg my parents for piano lessons. I bring the same child-like enthusiasm to my primary today in the hope of being inspiring. Considering the awkward memory of my only non-music calling when I was eighteen-years-old teaching the Old Testament to a room of single-adult age men, called to that position by none other than my dad who was bishop at the time, I will happily keep my place at the piano bench. As it turns out, those music callings are inspired after all.