Our problem was probably common to many wards: we needed more musicians than we had qualified people. We struggled with the problem for years and seemed to make very little progress. Then the bishopric and I, as ward music director, began to develop a longterm training approach that has proven very successful.
Our plan was to simultaneously improve music skills among the adults and to train youth in those skills. The bishopric issued specific calls to a number of adults in the ward, asking them to study piano, organ, conducting, or voice. They also gave those adults the challenge of being ready to play or sing in ward services at a specific time in the future.
Those calls to the adults did much to help us improve our music program—but we knew that we would not have trained musicians in the future if we didn’t also prepare the youth. That part of our approach has proven to be the most successful and has done the most to make music a viable and exciting part of our worship services.
We felt our first objective should be to create an environment that would motivate the youth to study music and help them to look at performing as significant Church service. This goal was easier to reach than we had anticipated. As some of the popular youth in our ward became involved, it wasn’t long before participating in music was the popular thing to do.
There were four parts to our youth music program: Piano or organ, conducting, choral, and instrumental.
In our piano and organ program, we gave beginners the opportunity to play prelude and postlude music two or three times during the year, on the piano in Primary and on the organ in Sacrament meeting. Even our young children between the ages of eight and twelve are involved. Music teachers help by finding simple piano music the children can play. Since there is much less pressure in playing prelude or postlude music than there is in playing solos or accompaniments, our young people have really enjoyed the opportunity to play in Church—and the program gives them a good goal to work toward.
The most important part of our beginners program is that we let the youth play a lot in low pressure situations. And we always have an adult musician there to help watch the clock, turn the pages, and sometimes join in with a little accompaniment.
Intermediate students also play preludes and postludes, and we give them the opportunity to accompany the singing in Primary occasionally as well.
Advance students alternate with one another in playing the hymns at Mutual and priesthood meeting. They also are asked to play solos in sacrament meeting.
The main part of our conducting program is the Church choral conducting workshop, which we hold periodically in the ward. This workshop is held with a group, and we try to make it as fun and humorous as we appropriately can. Graduates of our workshop are given opportunities to conduct in Mutual and in priesthood meeting. Our goal is to prepare all of our young people who have any interest in music to be able to conduct at least simple hymns by the time they are 18 years old.
Our choral program began with some of the youth wanting to sing. We started with some small ensembles and gradually grew into a complete choir. And it didn’t take us long to realize that others also wanted to join, but were simply waiting for a little urging. We urged them.
Our efforts have really been rewarded. The youth choir, while not a regular part of our meetings, performs on special occasions, and their excellent singing is a treat for everyone in the ward. And the members of the choir have definitely enjoyed their participation.
One reluctant young man who sang bass came to his first rehearsal because of pressure from his friends and parents. He said as he sat in his place, “I don’t know why I’m doing this” and “You are very lucky that I came.” Later in the session I was giving him some individual help (which is not uncommon for many members of the choir—these young people are not musical geniuses, they are just determined to do their best) and suggested that we simplify a section for him. But he said no. “Let’s sing it the way it was written. It’s more fun that way.”
We have not found it necessary, incidentally, to use music that is in the current pop styles. We have successfully ranged from hymns to anthems, to carols and to chorales. When the youth choir performs, other youth sometimes provide the accompaniments.
Our instrumental music program has also brought exciting results. We have young people studying violin, viola, cello, trumpet, French horn, and trombone. All of these have had the opportunity to play in Church functions—in performances ranging from solos to twelve-piece ensembles. We have also given some of our youth instrumentalists the opportunity to play accompaniment to certain choral numbers and occasionally, do preludes or postludes at meetings.
As a sidelight to our instrumental program, we’ve established a ward music scholarship fund. This fund, which was created and is maintained by member donations, is used to provide music lessons or instruments for students who are unable to afford them.
All of our efforts have been well rewarded. At the time of this writing, we have thirty-four young people ages 9 through 17 studying music. Another eleven have studied at least one year, but are presently not involved in the program.
There are two main reasons for our success: First, a view of the ward music chairman as an educator and organizer, not a performer (a nonmusician could be just as effective): and second, an emphasis on the fun and warmth and unity that arise from practicing and performing together. We’re able to learn, serve, associate, and have a great time all at once! That’s an unbeatable combination.
Ours is not a big ward. We have only thirty-six active youth ages twelve to eighteen. But the excitement of those involved in the program has spread, and of those thirty-six, only about six have never studied music. Being involved in the ward music program has become a prestigious thing to do among the youth. And, as one sister said after a youth performance.,“I could just see all the younger children sitting there clearly thinking, ‘Someday I’m going to be up there too.’”