… And Please Bless My Fingers
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“… And Please Bless My Fingers,” Ensign, Apr. 1987, 58–59

“… And Please Bless My Fingers”

I stumbled out of bed and made my way across the room to the ringing telephone. The luminous dial of the clock glowed 11:30.

“I’m sorry to wake you up, but I have just received word that my mother has been taken to the hospital and is not expected to live,” said my friend Joanne. She continued, “I am catching a plane first thing in the morning. Would you be able to play the Messiah for me on Friday?”

I was still not quite awake, and my thoughts were jumbled. “I don’t know the music, and that’s less than a week away,” I said. Who did I know that could replace her? No one. Joanne was the professional polish behind all of our church programs. Both soloists and choirs sounded better with her at the keyboard. She played everything flawlessly, without drawing attention to her own performance. How could I possibly step in and do justice to the sixty-voice choir that had been rehearsing for weeks?

But there is only one answer when a mother is dying. “I’ll come right over and pick up the music. Either I’ll do it or I’ll find someone else who can,” I assured her. I quickly dressed and drove to her home.

The night was cold and the streets were deserted, but her warm greeting and gratitude for my presence made up for the discomfort of the hour. Together we paged through the music, noting which numbers were being performed and who the soloists were. All I could see were hundreds of fast black notes I had never played before. But I was sure I could find someone else to play it. We talked for an hour while she put things in order for her departure. Then, with the spiral-bound score stuffed under my arm, we exchanged hugs and good wishes, and I drove home.

Back at home, sleep seemed a waste of time. Learning the Messiah was something I had always planned to do, but not in a five-day crash course! Strains of the music filled my mind, along with lists of other pressing matters as well as the names of all the other organists I knew.

At the earliest respectable hour I called the choir director. We discussed the alternatives, including hiring someone to play. But her expressions of genuine trust and confidence convinced me that it was not an impossible task. Words from my patriarchal blessing crossed my mind: “Be a hundred percent with the Lord, because he expects to be that to you. Through this cooperation as daughter and as Father, great things will be accomplished.” I quickly made several other phone calls, canceling my commitments for the week and arranging to get the keys to the chapel and the organ.

With a diaper bag, a few toys and books, a five-year-old, a baby, and a prayer in my heart, I arrived at the church. The children played quietly with each other between the choir seats. By midweek the preschooler was whistling “The Trumpet Shall Sound.” One afternoon as I returned home to meet my school-age children, a neighbor followed behind me, toting supper. “Thought you might need a little extra help,” she announced. It was the only real dinner we had all week.

“Pray always,” says the scripture. And, “Pray over your flocks and fields.” And fingers, I thought to myself. More quickly than I had ever imagined, the notes began falling in the right places. The results of many, many hours of practice squeezed into a few short days were beginning to show. By Thursday I had made final notation of the registration. I was grateful for the responsive pipe organ with its range of color—from the sonorous “He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd” to the jubilant “Hallelujah!”

Thursday night was the dress rehearsal and my first opportunity to practice with the choir. The choir members arrived, and many stopped to express a word of encouragement. But I was suddenly overcome with feelings of anxiety. As we rehearsed one song after another, the anxiety turned to nausea. My head throbbed, and my back and shoulders were painfully tight. Most of the notes were there—barely. But the sound was not the sound I had heard at my practice session earlier in the day. The tension continued throughout the night, preventing any kind of decent rest. By Friday the week-long strain had produced nervous and physical exhaustion. I was a wreck.

Hustling the children off to school, I returned for one last practice session, with the hope that I could somehow resurrect the musical excitement of Thursday morning. The baby settled into her morning nap behind the organ bench, and I began to play. The notes were there, but I was still tormented with nervousness. All week I had prayed for help with this difficult assignment. The choir director had prayed in my behalf. And I had had help—with the notes, with the children, and with dinner. But I needed one more thing.

Checking to make sure I was alone in the chapel, I knelt down beside the organ to offer one last plea: “Please, Heavenly Father, help me. I have worked hard to learn this music. I have really given my best effort. I can play this music, but I can’t play it when I feel this way. Many others have rehearsed long hours. Please relieve me of these difficult feelings so that the performance will be a credit to thee.”

Back on the bench, I began to play: “For Unto Us a Child Is Born,” and “Lift Up Your Heads, O Ye Gates.” Gradually I felt calmer, and my distress was replaced by a peaceful assurance that the performance would go well. The practice time flew by. The baby woke up. It was lunchtime, and my opportunity for practice was over. I turned into a mother again for the afternoon.

That evening I arrived a few minutes early to open up the organ. Flowers banked either side of the pulpit. Extra lights were set up to illuminate the choir. The pews were already beginning to fill. After arranging the music on the rack and pulling the stops for the first number, I joined the choir in another room for some warm-ups and a prayer—again asking for special help in my behalf. As we filed into the chapel for the performance, I was plagued by the usual nervous stomach that I have felt when I have played in recitals ever since I was a child. But I also felt a warm, comforting feeling that I had never felt before. I knew the performance would go well.

The choir sounded marvelous. The organ seemed almost to play itself. All the interludes, the cues, the stop changes—everything happened right. My husband winked at me from the tenor section, as if to say, “All is well.” With the last “Amen” still ringing, the director wound her way through the choir seats to the organ. Tearfully, she embraced me. She and I knew that I had not been alone on that bench.

Now when I hear the closing words of The Messiah—“Blessing and honor, glory and pow’r, be unto him … that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever”—I recall the lesson I learned anew that week. When we couple intense effort with dependence on the Lord, our faith can move mountains … and fingers, and hearts.

  • Betsy Haglund Nagel, a homemaker, serves as ward choir organist in the Greenwood Village Ward and as a counselor in the Young Women presidency of the Willow Creek Colorado Stake.