The organ

April 19, 2006 | 13 comments
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It was a historic day for our tiny Flemish branch when we replaced the old harmonium with a new electric organ. Nothing could better symbolize our progress, lift the morale of our handful of members, and prepare the way to convert the whole city.

Still, some regrets accompanied the exit of the crumbling harmonium. It had served to the best of its ability, with its two squeaking foot pedals to pump the bellows, and the left pedal faltering regularly. If I remember right, it had six of seven worn-out stops above the keyboard to produce voice changes, but none had ever worked properly. The two knee pedals to control volume had broken off long ago under the power of some passing missionary. The instrument still gave sounds, but our newly called local organist could not play it. A problem of distance between his feet and the foot pedals. No pumping, no voice.

So it was a wreck with limited musical memories that we carried out the building when the truck of Muziekinstrumenten Bex arrived one Thursday afternoon with the long awaited jewel. A real Hammond organ! Its polish and freshness made the old living room – our chapel – beam with religious revival.

Mister Bex himself made the delivery and demonstrated the capabilities.
- Twenty-nine voices, pan flute, oboe, tenor sax, clarinet, violin… For percussion, twenty variants… This is the bass guitar tuba… A special feature is the stereo reverberation…

And he played, his hands wandering over keys and voices, engulfing the room with the vibrancy of luscious variations. I, along with two other members who were present for the event, nodded approvingly, adopting the clever stare of experienced musicians.
- Thank you so much, mister Bex.

Sunday came. Our teeny knot of Saints felt renewed reverence as we gathered in the room, greeted by the smell and sight of our organ.

Welcome. Announcements. Opening hymn.

Our new organist had already taken his seat: little Frank, nine years old, three lessons far in his first piano year. And now he played, absorbedly, with one hand and one finger, his eyes jumping from hymnbook to keyboard and back.

And we sang, elated, intently watching his finger, modeling our voices to his hesitations:
O mijn Vader, die daarboven… O my Father, thou that dwellest in the high and glorious place…

13 Responses to The organ

  1. Wilfried on April 19, 2006 at 7:03 am

    I’ll make a first comment myself. I’d love to hear about your experiences, something small in family or Church life, where sheer simplicity becomes a vehicle for the Spirit, where limitations tell more than brilliance.

  2. Kristine Haglund Harris on April 19, 2006 at 8:01 am

    I’ve never quite figured out why, but I almost always come undone when someone fumbles one of the sacrament prayers and has to repeat it–somehow I find it so moving to witness the effort required to get those simple words just right, and to feel the unifying concentration in the room as everyone listens harder to those sweetest words and tries to silently encourage the boy saying the prayer.

  3. Mark B. on April 19, 2006 at 11:38 am

    Two young men at the sacrament table, both West Indians. In any other place, relatively normal, tough, city-raised boys. The older, perhaps 17, a veteran. The other, 16, at the table for the first time.

    Several faltering attempts by the new priest–never reaching the end. Finally, the older priest kneeling beside him, arm on his shoulder, whispering the words of the prayer to the younger, helping him finally to the end, and helping all of us see the pure love of Christ.

  4. Left Field on April 19, 2006 at 11:39 am

    I wonder what became of the organ. Is it still in use? Do they know its history?

    Your story reminded me of sacrament trays. Forty years ago, I was six years old living in New Mexico with my family and attending the Socorro Branch. The branch met in a rented hall above the drugstore by the main plaza. I remember my parents making a set of sacrament trays for the branch. They cut plexiglass sheets with a handsaw, heated them in our kitchen oven, and shaped them with wooden molds they constructed for that purpose. I distinctly remember long strips of hot flexible plexigass being placed with oven mitts in the mold that shaped them into the gracefully curved handles for the trays. I helped in such manner as I could at that age. We drilled holes for the cups and smoothed them with a round file and sandpaper.

    I don’t really know why the branch commisioned us to make the sacrament vessels. I’m sure standard issue sacrament trays could have been purchased from Salt Lake. Perhaps the branch thought they could save a little money. Perhaps they thought we could make better trays than what could be purchased. Perhaps they just wanted to get members involved. Maybe my parents saw a need and volunteered to make some trays.

    The Socorro Branch is now a ward with their own building. I wonder what became of the trays. I don’t imagine they are used any more. The ward probably needs more trays than we made, and they would want a full matching set. Perhaps they are sitting unused under the sink in the sacrament preparation room. More likely they were discarded a few decades ago, perhaps when they moved into the new building. I still think of those trays occasionally when the sacrament is administered. The sacrament is more than the vessels that carry it, but seeing the work that went into their construction, I think I have a better appreciation for the ordinance.

  5. Space Chick on April 19, 2006 at 11:51 am

    Left Field–if you were to track those sacrament trays down, and send them to an LDS chaplain, they would probably be very grateful. Military groups meeting in a deployed location often resort to using full-size cups and a normal plate for serving the sacrament.

  6. Kevin Barney on April 19, 2006 at 12:38 pm

    Wonderful, as always, Wilfried.

    When I was seven (in 1965) my family moved to DeKalb, Illinois, which is where I grew up. We had lived in Utah and Colorado before that, so this was our first experience attending a small branch. They had bought a building already: a beautiful old stone church with stained glass windows. When I was a teenager, how I longed for a regulation LDS building with a basketball court in it. But in retrospect I am very glad that I got to grow up attending church in that magnificent old building. It had charm and character–and even a sort of spiritual power–that more than made up for the lack of a place to play basketball.

    Attending church in a branch really was wonderful in so many ways. My first memory of attending church there is of everyone sitting together at a long table. I don’t recall what we were doing, whether it was a class or we were sharing a meal after church. But the whole group sitting together at the same table seemed very communal, very familial to me.

    It was a wonderful way to grow up in the church.

  7. Brian Duffin on April 19, 2006 at 5:36 pm

    Wilfried, I love reading your posts! So thoughtful and inspiring.

    Sunday my wife and I attended the services of the Camano Island Ward in Washington. Being Easter Sunday, the congregation was comprised of many visitors, filling in the seats left vacant by vacationing ward members.

    When my wife and I walked in, I noted a teenager playing the organ. She had obviously never played the organ, at least the halting manner in which she played the notes suggested as much.

    Anyhow, as the singing commenced, the voices of the congregation made the organ sound less halting and more congruous. The music was beautiful and the spirit was strong.

  8. Wilfried on April 19, 2006 at 7:53 pm

    Thank you all!

    Kristine and Mark B, the referral to Sacrament prayers, said with errors or hesitations, is very touching. Indeed, we pay more attention when it has to be repeated, or when the words do not come easily. The right spirit leads us to sustain every word.

    Left Field, you ask about what became of that Hammond organ. I don’t know, the story happened many years ago, and a new chapel has been built since then. I presume, if the instrument is still usable, that it ended up in another small unit, where perhaps a beginner is now playing it. Your story about the sacrament vessels is amazing. Such items also have so much historic value as witnesses of creativity and dedication. Invitation to all readers: go look in closets, basements, attics of your church buildings before precious memories are thrown away on a thorough cleaning project.

    Kevin, I agree, old church buildings have indeed a charm that our correlated buildings-with-cultural-hall sometimes miss. Many of the memories I write about took place in a rowhouse that was not even a “church building”. But it had a charm and uniqueness, and “classrooms” which we accessed through a stairway I could still use, eyes closed, now after three decades.

    Thanks, Brian, for sharing that experience in Washington. It comes very close to the memory I was telling about.

  9. tyler on April 19, 2006 at 10:22 pm

    I taught English as a second language in the MTC. While I saw some dramatic miracles, one of the most moving was simply walking down the hall. I can still remember, at least roughly, the order of the rooms: Latin America (including Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and all the rest), Latin America Portuguese Speaking, Mongolian, Chinese, Japanese, Philipino, Tongan, Somoan, West European, East European, and, best of all, “other.” The missionaries didn’t have to say anything (and some of them, like those who spoke in the tongue used in Kiribas, didn’t say much), the extraordinary blending of the colors of their skin was miracle enough.

  10. Wilfried on April 19, 2006 at 10:46 pm

    Beautiful, Tyler. This morning I was walking past the MTC, along the parking lot of the adjacent chapel. A Wednesday morning. That’s when the parking lots are full with cars that bring new missionaries to the MTC. As I walked over the parking, I found it moving to simply look at the license plates: Utah Utah Utah Idaho Utah California Georgia Utah Nevada Arizona Utah Texas Utah California Colorado… I thought about these parents having brought their boy or girl to the MTC, now saying farewell, with so many emotions. And within a few weeks or months these young people will be leaving to their destinations, all over the world. A Utah boy to Russia, a Georgia girl to Peru…

  11. el_godofredo on April 20, 2006 at 12:19 am

    So that instrument is called a harmonium? They had one in the San Miguel church building in Buenos Aires in the early 90′s. Gosh I loved that instrument. Yes, it had taken a beating over the years, but it had a great sound. Thanks for the memories.

  12. manaen on April 20, 2006 at 12:57 am

    We had a foot-pumped harmonium in the chapel in Campo Mormon in Rosario, Argentina when I was a missionary there in the early 1970s. Nestor Fabrini, one of two priests in the branch, would pump and play that wheezebox while we sang about as well as the instrument sounded. What great people in that branch, now several stakes! They took care of the missionaries, endured our frightened arrogance, and helped us open to their country.

    What an interesting system the Church is: it sends youth from the core to the struggling branches so the members there can help the youth mature and discover the wonders of others — and gain a convert’s faith. It sends youth from the struggling branches to the core to see the (more-)fully developed Church so they have the vision of it when they return.

  13. Wilfried on April 20, 2006 at 7:01 am

    Thanks, el_godofredo and manaen! This is how our harmonium looked like. Notice the knee pedals. Pumping with the feet and adjusting volume with the knees… Ah, those memories…