Starting from the beginning – remembering my music experiences through the years .
When I was just 2 or 3 my mother sang songs to me. I remember learning the songs, “I Have Two Little Hands” and “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam”. There were many others, but these two I particularly remember because when I went to Sunday School at that age for the first time (yes it used to be called Sunday School, not Primary) they sang those songs. I was so surprised that everyone else knew my songs. Infact, I was a little mad because I thought they were MY songs and no one else’s! I soon got over that though and loved singing the songs with everyone else.
My Piano Teacher – Mr. Jensen
Music has always been an important part of my life. At 8 years of age, I started piano lessons. My teacher lived in a small town (Manti, Utah) which was 21 miles from the town I lived in (Moroni, Utah). His name was Mr. Lavar Jensen. He was a retired concert pianist from New York City.
I remember my piano lessons and how he always stressed to be relaxed - to not get tense and tight in my hands and shoulders. I had to strike the keys with the ends of my fingers – not to lay them flat on the keys – (because of this, I couldn’t have long fingernails – I had to keep them short while learning to play the piano). I had to keep my wrist level and even – not way up high or way low resting on the keys. Sometimes as I was playing I would tense up and he would stand behind me and push gently on my shoulders to make them go down so I would relax. Consequently as some of my grandchildren are now taking lessons and playing the piano – I’ve sat down with them and told them all of these things to do also.
A Spoonful of Sugar
A funny thing I remember Mr. Jensen doing is giving me a spoonful of sugar if I got the hiccups during a piano lesson (which did happen several times). I would eat the sugar and then take a drink of water. It worked every time – my hiccups always went away.
Hours of Practice
I took piano lessons until I was a Junior in High School (which was 8 years). I really got involved in extracurricular activities in High School, so my parents left the choice up to me. As I progressed in my piano lessons I had to practice a lot. I always had to practice in the morning before school getting up at 6:00 am so I could practice an hour and then when I got home from school I practiced another hour. In the summertime I was supposed to practice 3 hours a day. Now of course I didn’t always do this and sometimes fudged on how much I was supposed to do, but most of the time I came close.
Some of my favorite songs I learned to play were – Autumn Leaves, Rhapsody in Blue, Malagueña , Polonaise by Chopin and many others I can’t remember now.
My parents later on purchased an organ and I started lessons when I was in the 7thor 8th grade I think. I was called to be the organist in my church ward a few years later. If I remember right, I was the organist for at least 3 or 4 years. I played for the choir when they sung also and I was the pianist for opening exercises in MIA (which today would be the Young Men’s and Women’s program). One of the hardest songs I accompanied the choir with on the piano was the Battle Hymn of the Republic that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings. I really had to practice on that one. Because I had played the church hymns for so long I had a lot of the song’s page numbers memorized. I still remember a lot of them to this day. When the church came out with a new hymn book – it messed me up because the page numbers were changed. When they announce a song to be sung – I still remember what the original page number used to be on many of the songs.
Playing in Junior High and Senior High School
In Junior High and High School I played the piano for the music choirs along with 2 or 3 other s who played the piano also. I participated in music contests both playing the piano and singing in a Double Trio with my friends. I also discovered in high school that from playing the piano so much – I was a very fast typist. I typed in the 70 to 80 ppm range in high school and got up to the 90 to 100 ppm in college. I also participated in various typing contests in school and won awards for that.
Our Double Trio
Through the years some of my friends and I sang in various programs and different places. We sang special numbers for Sacrament Meeting and other church activities. We sang in contests for the Music Program in School. We had great fun singing together. The group consisted of Paula Bailey, Nora Olsen, Karla Blackham, Rinda Arnoldson, Susan Livingston, and myself. Sister Nelson was our accompanist and taught us how to sing together. She did this all on her own. We sang at church and other events, including School.
Turning point in my piano ability!
When I was in Junior High, one day some people my dad knew came to visit us. Their daughter played the piano and played a couple of songs for us. She played sooooooo beautifully with so much feeling. I remember hearing my parents talk about her and how beautifully she played, so I started to try to do that more in my piano playing too. From that point on, music really changed and meant a lot to me, especially as I started to accompany others who sang. The words were so beautiful and it was fun to accompany someone who had a strong voice so I could play with more depth and feeling also as I accompanied them.
Music and the Church.
Church callings related to my music ability have been – Ward Organist, accompanist for the Ward Choir, Primary Pianist, Primary Chorister, Stake Primary Chorister.
President David O.McKay .
Because of my church calling as pianist for MIA, I got to sing in a choir for General Conference held in Salt Lake City which was composed of all the Pianists and Choristers for MIA in their own stakes. It was a wonderful experience; I went with Anna Blackham (a cousin a couple of years older than me) to Salt Lake City to sing. It was in the old Tabernacle on Temple Square. I ended up sitting near the bottom of the seats that were close to the general authorities .
I was probably sitting only about 8 to 10 feet from President David O. McKay. I just sat and watched him all through conference. One thing I remember was he would fold his hands together and would twiddle his thumbs in circles. That was a very very special experience to be so close to so many General Authorities -- one I will always treasure.
Primary Chorister for our Church
Being the Primary chorister or pianist for music in Primary for at least 7 or 8 years was great! I got to be in with my children in Primary and interact with all of the children in leading the music. Jeanne Bryce (who was the other chorister) and I had a great time planning fun ways to teach the children about music. We dressed up several times and made music fun for everyone, including games and pictures and stories. We made posters and signs to teach specific songs for the Primary Program which was held in Sacrament meeting annually. The children who learn these songs are from age 3 to age 11. After that they move up into the Young Women's and Men's programs.
Just recently (Nov 2010) I was called to be the Primary Chorister again in Pflugerville, Texas where I live. I can’t believe that 25 years ago I taught my children the primary songs and now I’m using the same visual aids to teach my grandchildren!!!
Music and Teaching coloring classes!!!
Teaching coloring classes??? What does that have to do with music? Well, since we created our own visuals to teach the children the songs, I wanted a way to color them. So I experimented. I didn’t like crayons or colored pencils they were too hard to have them look good with a smooth surface and too time consuming for large areas to be colored. I also wanted a way to paint skin so it looked natural and wasn’t just pink or an orange color.
I came up with the idea of using Crayola markers and chalks (pastel chalks – not the regular chalks for blackboards). I mostly used the chalks to fill in color and then outlined them with the markers. They really looked great and the children loved them. Other adults liked them also and wanted to learn how to do it, so I started to teach classes on coloring. I had several teachers from schools that wanted to learn how so they could do things for their class rooms. Of course computers came along with colored printers, so that’s how I do most of my visual aids now – but I probably taught coloring classes for 4 or 5 years. I’ve tried to teach some of my grandchildren the same way to color using their crayons and markers.
I have probably created around 150 different visual aids for meters and songs etc. Just a few samples of some of the visual aids using the markers and pastel chalks to create them.
The goosebumps - when they sang their best - the goosebumps slid up in plain few letting the children know they were doing great!
Boys against girls getting that head all the way to the top singing their best.
Learning a new song about prayer
Learning a new Mother's Day song
Children helpers get to choose which sign describes how they sang.
"Ele-phantastic" - "Blooming" Good -- You make us "Hoppy"
Singing ooohh, eeehh, aahhh to learn a new song.
Music and my children
Through the years music was fun for our family. My girls and I sang together several times for church functions. On a couple of rare occasions our whole family sang together in Church. The boys all had great voices too, but even now say they don’t. I remember accompanying my sons and some of their friends when they sang at some of their other friends Missionary Farewells. They sounded wonderful.
I remember having a special number to sing in Church for the Easter Program. All my daughters and I sang “Jesus was no Ordinary Man”. It was beautiful!!! I was so proud of them. Jeanne Bryce told me that she asked her 9 year-old -son what part of the program he liked and he said he liked it all, but he liked best when we sang our song.
Through the years we would all gather around the piano and just sing songs. I LOVE IT! It was so much fun. I could never tire of singing together with my children. Sometimes they would get tired of singing some of the same songs over and over again. When most of them were gone and married and on their own, my youngest daughter Ruthy and I were on the same wave length. We could sing the same songs over and over and over again and never get tired of them. Sometimes even Levi would join in with us.
We also sang together a lot during the Christmas holidays. I would go into the piano and start playing some songs and they would gradually come in and start singing too. Those were some wonderful times and I miss not being able to sing as much with them anymore since they’ve all moved away. Another tradition each year at Christmas time I played a song called “Trinity Chimes”. It was the music of “Silent Night” and “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” combined. It is played high up on the keyboard and sounds like bells ringing. I think I even recorded it and sent it to some of the boys when they were on their missions.
Several times we went caroling together at Christmastime. We always sang a song “Oh Come all ye Faithful”. Gary would sing it in Spanish, the kids would sing it the regular way and I would sing “Oh here come the Carolers singing on their way”. It actually made a very interesting song with all the different parts.
Good Music is such an important part of all our lives! I’m so thankful for the blessings it brings to us.