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The music department’s worst fears

President Henry J. Eyring
8 Jan 2019
No Greater Time in History
President Henry J. Eyring Photo credit: BYU-Idaho

President Eyring’s Quip

Earlier this month, President Henry J. Eyring sang a few lines from “Follow the Prophet” in his devotional speech, then gave a humorous apology to the Music Department.

While it may have been unexpected, Daniel Kerr, who oversees organ studies, said with a smile, “He did just fine.”

“President Eyring’s singing is a plus for us — kind of an acknowledgment that singing is important and influential, and we are pleased and grateful that he was willing to do that,” said Eda Ashby, a vocal professor.

The Music Department appears to have enjoyed President Eyring’s song. Impromptu solos in devotional speeches are the least of their anxieties. Here are some “horror stories” that cause the Music Department to cringe.

Organ Failure Reenactment
Organ Failure Reenactment

Organ Failure

Imagine you’re the new ward organist in your first sacrament meeting.

You have made it through the first verse of a hymn. Your eyes are glued to your hymnal. Without warning, the organ music stand shifts downward an inch, sending the hymnal toppling toward the rows of keys.

As book meets keys, your confidence dissolves. There is an abounding CRASH! The hymnal crushes rows of keys, and your fingers, causing dozens of pipes to blast the congregation with unexpected sound … organ failure.

In his experience as an organist, Kerr has watched several books fall on the hands of startled students. At times, all it takes is the air conditioning turning on before sheet music melodically floats away.

Instances like these add to the growing conspiracy theory among musicians who believe that architects purposefully engineer air vents to blow over the organ consoles, wherever they are located in a building.

“It will always happen at the most inopportune time … never beforehand, never after, it’s always during (the performance),” Kerr said. “It adds to my grey hairs a little bit.”

Choral Catastrophe

Now, picture you’re singing in a choir in the assembly hall at Temple Square. A peaceful feeling fills your heart as angelic voices fill the room.

Suddenly, out of the corner of your eye, you see something swoop from the ceiling. “What in the world?” you think as you glance upward and see several bats hanging out. All of the sudden, you’re competing for the audience’s attention with flying, furry acrobats.

Kevin Brower, a vocal professor, experienced this during a performance on Temple Square. However, the show must go on.

There are times when musicians find creative ways to work around a challenge. For example, when the fire alarm sounded during a choir concert, Brower had his choir move outdoors and resume their performance.

Ashby said that some of her biggest frustrations come in choir rehearsals when she finds the choir has the wrong sheet music or discover a page is missing.

Issues at the Opera

Voice professor David Olsen said one of the worst fears in the Opera Workshop is the possibility that a soloist with a big part might get sick and lose their voice entirely on the day of a performance with no one to replace them.

“This actually happened to us just last semester, the only time in my 10 years of directing the show,” Olsen said. “It’s also a calamity when someone goes snowboarding or skating just before the show opens and breaks their foot or wrenches their back, both of which have actually happened; they could still sing, but couldn’t march or dance well on stage.”

The Show Must Go On

Murphy’s law says, “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” When it comes to a live performance, this theory can certainly be true.

Fears of being ready for the performance are common, but Ashby relies on tender mercies to see them through.

“We just try to meet whatever issue arises in the best way possible,” Ashby said. “We try to go on and make the best of it as if nothing happened.”

To deal with this “common anxiety” that performers experience, Brower teaches his students to be still.

“In the Lord’s terms, ‘If you are prepared, you shall not fear,’” Brower said. “A sense of stillness comes, in large part, from significant preparation.”

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