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Becoming a church organist can be scary

PROVO, Utah — Newly called Mormon organists can fake it till they make it, says an instructor at the 7th annual Organ Workshop."There are lots of things you can do," said Daniel Kerr, an instructor at the workshop at the Harris Fine Arts Center on the BYU campus. "You can play without pedals the first few weeks. There are coping mechanisms.""I had this idea you had to be perfect," Claudia Johnson of Cedar Hills said. "There are lots and lots of shortcuts, stopgap methods, things you can do while you figure it out, like just play the soprano and bass lines."__IMAGE1__Johnson always wanted to play the organ but she wasn't comfortable on the keys until years after she was called to play in her ward."It was intimidating, yes. I was sick to my stomach every Sunday. Most of the time I would fast so I could focus but I continued to do it."Today Johnson plays the organ at the Mount Timpanogos Temple, a goal she seriously set for herself years ago."It took 30 years to get here," she said. "I've taken lots of lessons."Johnson is one of 150-190 organists who attended the organ workshop Wednesday, learning everything from basic skills to advanced music theory. Some signed up for private tutoring.The attendees listened intently as various teachers discussed tonal and dominant keys, flats and sharps and octaves, major and minor chords, pedal work, posture, timing, modulation and good practice techniques."I'm a band teacher and kind of a substitute organist. I'm excited to understand more," Michael Reeder, one of the workshop attendees, said. "Maybe I can learn to make fewer mistakes."Kerr said many of the workshop attendees are scared and excited at being called to play in their wards and stakes."They need help and they need it now!" he said."It would be nice to be able to tell the bishop, 'Give me six weeks and I'll be back,'" Kerr said. "But you can't do that. It takes time, and an organ makes a lot of sound. Mistakes can be heard."Kerr and Johnson recommend coming to workshops and conferences as much as possible, gleaning whatever one can from experts and other organists."Make some organist friends although they can be hard to find," Johnson said. "That's one thing that's good about this. There are lots of us."She suggested perseverance, finding a good teacher and having consistent access to an organ or keyboard for practice."Most of it is about making it sound right," she said.In the end, the Lord will help."You can pray for help but, remember, he won't practice for you," she said.