I was recently thinking about music in the church. To be specific, I was wondering about the church policy of not hiring professional musicians, but simply plugging the best available members into any slot where they can conceivably fit. I have been ward organist myself, despite my complete lack of training on the organ. Our current ward organist is Logan’s lovely and talented wife, who has also (I believe) had no formal organ training. This is not to critique her efforts (or my own); we have both done pretty well, I think, especially with liberal use of the Bass Coupler button.
I have also, while living in New York, attended the Manhattan First Ward. The organist there is no mere pianist-pressed-into-service, but a bona fide, trained specialist in the instrument. The result — as anyone who has attended that ward can attest — is awesome. It is also, in my observation, the exception rather than the rule. The “Kaimi or Amy pressed into service” model seems to be predominant.
I have wondered since then about the “lay” approach to church music. It seems that the benefit of the lay approach is that members can expand, develop, and share their talents.
On the other hand, a professional rendering of church hymns can be a truly wonderful experience. The church seems to recognize the tension here. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, for example, is not accompanied by a piano player plucked randomly from the local ward.
I can certainly accept the current balance of interests here, with local members given the chance to develop talents, while the more visible Choir is accompanied by professionals. But I sometimes wonder about the potential negative consequences of this approach. I have attended meetings at times where the music was barely functional. In some cases, I felt that it did not add as much to the Spirit as it could have.
What would things be like if every ward was like Manhattan First (where a half dozen members are Julliard students)? What difference would it make if the church had a professional organist in every ward?