It’s a beautiful sound when all the members of the London Ward in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, sing hymns with the organ music in their chapel. Thirteen-year-old Marvin Cardona is the organist. Anywhere there’s music in the London Ward, you’ll most likely find one of the youth from the ward providing the accompaniment.
It’s strange to think that only a few months ago the members in this ward would either sing without accompaniment in their meetings or play the Church-produced tapes of the hymns as they sang.
Everyone prefers having the young people in the ward play the hymns now. Andrew Cardona, 17, says, “Everyone actually sings in time now. Sometimes we were off a few beats [from the tape]. You feel the Spirit more now.” Jackie Famini, 13, agrees. “It’s nice to have someone play the piano instead of listening to the tapes.”
When the London Ward was split from another ward, there was no one left in the ward boundaries who could play the organ or the piano well enough to accompany the congregation. That’s where Elder and Sister Heap entered the scene. They are a missionary couple who realized that once they left the ward, there would be no one who could play the piano. So they decided to teach music lessons to anyone who was interested.
Almost all the youth in the ward signed up. “I heard about all the other people taking lessons, and I was interested because I wanted to play the piano,” says Sherri Cardona, 15. “So I asked Sister Heap, and she said yes.” Sherri now rotates with other girls in the ward to play the keyboard for Young Women opening exercises.
Rheygan Famini, 17, switches off with his brother, Jonathan, 14, to play the piano in priesthood meetings. “I like doing it,” Rheygan says. “I can play when I’m needed. When I go on my mission, I can play. The hymns strengthen my testimony.”
The youth in the ward are grateful to Elder and Sister Heap for all they’ve taught them. They say the Heaps were not only good music teachers but also good friends.
Jonathan had his own motivations when he took lessons from the Heaps. “At first I wasn’t really keen on the idea,” he says. “Ever since I was young, I wanted to play the piano, but Marvin was always a better piano player than me. So when I was younger, I kind of gave up.”
Marvin and Jonathan are best friends, so they have a healthy rivalry in a lot of the things they do. When Marvin saw that Jonathan wasn’t too excited about taking lessons from Elder and Sister Heap, Marvin challenged him to do better. “I said, ‘Let’s see if you can catch up to me. I want to see how good you can get and how much you can practice.’”
Jonathan responded to Marvin’s challenge. “I realized I should just give it a try, and after the first time I tried, everything turned out OK. I got into the habit of playing, and I started to get good at the piano. And now I can sight-read music pretty well.”
Although Marvin’s challenge got him going, Jonathan says the real reason he loves to play has nothing to do with competition. “We feel the Spirit when playing these songs,” he explains. “I want to encourage others to learn how to play the piano, to bring music into everyone’s life, and to make people happy so they can feel joy and comfort in their souls.”
As for Marvin, he has his work cut out for him. His calling is to play the organ in sacrament meeting. He can play the organ using the foot pedals, and he even knows how to use all the little knobs at the sides of the keyboards to control the organ’s sound. Each week, he and the ward music director pick the hymns for the next Sunday. “I have to practice every day because four songs is a lot,” he says. “And if they’re hard, I have to practice more.”
Marvin loves playing. He agrees with Jonathan that good music, especially the hymns, just makes people happy. And, he adds, “my Sunday School teacher says it makes you live longer because you have less stress when you play the piano.”
The youth of the London Ward are making a difference in their ward, and they also feel like their lives are made much better through their service. Sherri says, “I think it’s really good because the youth are more involved, and they are being recognized for their talents and what they’ve learned.”
And they’ve learned a lot more than just how to play the piano. “I’ve learned to organize my time. I’ve learned to practice,” says Myka Ugto, 16. And to those who are learning to play the piano or going through the Church’s Basic Music Course, she encourages, “Be patient. Just take time to practice, and you’ll be fine.” Jonathan says, “You have to put it all together slowly, note by note by note.”
As with any talent, learning to play a musical instrument takes time, effort, and a lot of heart. And sometimes it just takes putting it all together—““note by note by note.”
“Inspirational music is an essential part of our church meetings. The hymns invite the Spirit of the Lord, create a feeling of reverence, unify us as members, and provide a way for us to offer praises to the Lord.
“Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns. Hymns move us to repentance and good works, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end.
“… We encourage all members, whether musically inclined or not, to join with us in singing the hymns.”
The First Presidency, Hymns, ix.