When Did You Talk to the Composer?

    “When Did You Talk to the Composer?” Ensign, Aug. 1977, 58–59

    When Did You Talk to the Composer?

    Music has always played a very important part in my life. Looking back now, it seems that people and places have come and gone, teachers and philosophies have come and gone, but music has always been there for me to work at and enjoy.

    I recall a very strict piano teacher during my high school years. For one lesson in particular I worked very hard preparing a Beethoven sonata, being especially careful to play all the notes and rhythms correctly. By the time the day came for my lesson, I was really looking forward to it (not usually the case where piano lessons were concerned). I walked into my teacher’s house and sat down at the big piano with great confidence.

    I hadn’t played very much of the piece, however, when my teacher shouted, slamming his hand down on the piano, “That is not the way we play Beethoven!” and brushed me off the piano bench so he could play Beethoven as he felt it should be played.

    It wasn’t the notes or the rhythms that he objected to, but my interpretation, or the feeling that I was putting into the music. When he had finished playing, he gave me an extensive and rather impatient lecture on exactly how the composer wanted his sonatas played. Not having any great love for this teacher, and being in the habit all too often of letting my mouth move faster than my brain, I asked, “When was the last time you spoke to the composer about it?”

    Needless to say, that was my last lesson with that teacher, and my behavior was no small source of embarrassment to my parents. I vowed from then on that I would try to accomplish whatever the next teacher asked of me. As a result, I studied with my next teacher for several years and became accomplished at copying his style, only to find when I went East to study that my next teacher wanted everything changed and interpreted to suit her particular style and taste. This sort of thing continued to happen wherever I went to study; and yet each teacher sounded so sure about the interpretation of the music. I might have asked them all, “When was the last time you talked to the composer?”

    After a while I decided that if I wanted to continue in music without becoming too frustrated, I would have to make a few rules of my own. I determined to read and study all I could about composers and their music, practice techniques as my teachers directed, but from then on I would be on my own.

    I soon came to the same conclusion about religion. Playing the harp brought me in contact with a wide variety of religions and with sermons from rabbis, priests, and pastors of many faiths. They all had different interpretations of what the Lord meant. I might have asked them all the same question, “When did you last talk to the composer?” I guess that’s when I decided that solving the conflict in religion would be the same as solving it in music; I would read and study, but essentially I would be on my own.

    Later I moved to Arizona and was introduced to a Latter-day Saint by some mutual friends. After we got to know each other, we discussed religion. I well remember his comment, “There’s no problem, no conflict over interpretation, because the Lord has spoken to our Prophet. He receives revelation to guide and direct the people of the Church.”

    That statement is just impossible to accept in one sitting, and yet I couldn’t forget his words. If what he said was true, then certainly there wouldn’t be any conflict; and if that was true, it would be the most fantastic discovery of my life. That, however, was a gigantic IF!

    I read and prayed fervently for an answer. Then I attended a conference in Phoenix and heard Elder Gordon B. Hinckley of the Council of the Twelve say, “If this is true, what else matters?” Although there must have been over a thousand people in that meeting, I felt as though he were speaking especially for me. He repeated it over and over, as though he wanted to make sure I got the message.

    I’ll be forever grateful for that repeated statement, because when I was baptized I clung to those words. For the next several months I had to work very hard at being faithful, as I continued to study and pray for a testimony. Several months later the Lord answered my big IF, and now I know that this is God’s true church. It’s the greatest knowledge of my life.

    • Karen L. Krisel, a musician and writer, serves in the Relief Society presidency and as music director and organist in the Cave Creek-Carefree Branch, Scottsdale Arizona Stake.

    Illustrated by Marilee Campbell