“Gift of Music Blesses Many,” Ensign, Apr. 2009, 76–77
In many small congregations around the world, Latter-day Saints are singing hymns to simple accompaniments played on basic keyboards.
Although the music is simple, teaching members to play the piano rather than relying on recorded accompaniments brings blessings to the individual, his or her family, and his or her congregation as a whole.
The growing number of members blessed by learning to play the piano is the result of a partnership between the Church and one couple’s desire to leave a legacy of music that would live on after them.
In 1992, the Church created the Basic Music Course with the intent to teach members basic piano skills and how to lead music. During the previous 15 years, Church membership had more than doubled from 3.7 to 8.1 million, however, the number of members with music skills who could accompany singing during worship services had not kept pace, particularly in areas where resources for music lessons were scarce.
The Basic Music Course includes the Conducting Course manual, the Keyboard Course manual, a Hymns Made Easy simplified hymnbook, a CD of examples, music flashcards, and a cardboard keyboard for practice at home.
While anyone can purchase the course through distribution centers, it is usually taught by senior missionary couples under priesthood leader direction in locations as diverse as Brazil, Cambodia, Europe, Jordan, India, South Africa, the South Pacific, Ukraine, and more.
“Because the conducting course and keyboard course teach music skills using the hymns, members focus their learning on preparing to serve in the Church,” said Diane Bastian of the Music and Cultural Arts Division “These members are blessed by developing their own talents and being able to serve. In addition, their dedication and participation in Church meetings blesses and inspires others in their families and congregations.”
In 1998, Jack and Wauna Harman, a philanthropic couple in the state of Washington, set up the Jack and Wauna Harman Music Fund to work in harmony with the Church’s Basic Music Course.
The fund pays for the Music and Cultural Arts Division of the Church to purchase four-octave electronic keyboards and ship them with the Basic Music Course when requested.
The fact that the Church had already published the Basic Music Course and had missionaries in place around the world as potential teachers “helped seal the deal” for the Harmans as they were searching for the right place for their endowment fund, Sister Bastian said.
The availability of the electronic keyboards has made a difference for those participating in the Basic Music Course.
“Having the keyboard has made a world of difference in students’ interest in learning and how quickly they progress,” said Sister Bastian.
Sister Bastian now sends about 1,000 four-octave keyboards each year to areas where the Church is relatively new or music instruction is scarce or unaffordable. The keyboards are loaned to students during the course, but at the completion of the course, budding musicians without the resources to purchase their own keyboard can apply for help from the Harman Music Fund.
“The Harman Music Fund has blessed a lot of people,” said Sister Bastian.
The goal of the program is for the students to learn basic skills well enough to provide keyboard accompaniment for hymns in their meetings. But the benefits extend far beyond keyboard ability. Learning to play is increasing self-confidence, inviting the Spirit into homes and Church meetings, and blessing individuals and families.
Sister Susan Nye, a missionary serving in the Uganda Kampala Mission with her husband, teaches the keyboard course in three branches. She told of a young convert of 10 months, a keyboard student for less than a year, who was called upon at the last minute to accompany four young men in a talent show.
“Although he played only the melody,” she wrote, “it gave the group the confidence to sing.” Previously, the young man would not play in sacrament meetings because he felt he wasn’t accomplished enough. “After the talent show, he realized that even if only the melody is played on a keyboard, it helps promote reverence and invites the Spirit in sacrament meetings,” Sister Nye continued.
Sister Shona Kasper, living in Hyderabad, India, and serving in the India Bangalore Mission, reported there were no experienced pianists in one branch, but “through the music training program, one young man, Rama, has become very capable playing the melody line of most hymns and even a few hymns with both hands.” She added that Rama is the only member of the Church in his family, “and they are very proud of what he is doing.”
In another branch, a young mother named Siritha was allowed to take a keyboard home to practice because coming to the meetinghouse every day was a hardship. Sister Kasper said Siritha made quick progress and surprised herself as she learned to put two hands together and play a hymn in a very short time.
“Siritha tells of how music has brightened the spirit of their home,” wrote Sister Kasper. “These people are so thrilled with what they are doing and learning. This would never have happened without the wonderful keyboard program.”