Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Guest Post: An Organist in Trouble

Guest Post: An Organist in Trouble

By: Amy Tanner Thiriot - August 12, 2014

In anticipation of Daniel Berghout’s upcoming lecture at the Church History Library on August 14, 2014, Keepapitchinin is featuring a few selections from long-time Tabernacle organist, hymn writer, and German immigrant Alexander Schreiner (1901-1987). 

The Schreiners lived in Kattenhochstatt, Germany, but attended the Nürnberg Branch, so the picture is of Nürnberg in 1906. Eleven-year-old Alexander was serving as branch organist when his family emigrated to America. He told the following story in his biography.


We arrived in Salt Lake City on a Friday. We were welcomed by Latter-day Saints who formerly lived in Nürnberg and had immigrated previously. We loved them and we were happy, of course, to see them again. There were also former missionaries who had been in Nürnberg. We were given a warm welcome indeed.

On Sunday morning we were taken to Sunday School, and of course, someone else was playing the organ.

At 12 o’clock Sunday School was over. At 12:30 we learned that there was to be a meeting for the German Saints, to be conducted in the German language, in the same ward chapel. It was held regularly every week.

We went to the meeting. And to my tremendous surprise, there was consternation about not having an organist. They wondered if they could hold a meeting.

My father said, “My son plays the organ. He was the organist in Nürnberg.”

So I didn’t miss even one Sunday after we arrived before I was playing again. I was soon made ward organist in the Twenty-Sixth Ward, and later, in the Cannon Ward….

The man who led the singing in the Cannon Ward Sunday School was Ether M. Davey, a happy and energetic man who had a very fast beat, much faster than the congregation wanted to sing.

Sometimes I would try to make a compromise, which wasn’t very satisfactory either. I remember occasionally thinking, “I had better respect Brother Davey’s tempo.” And then I would play exactly in time with his fast beating, whereupon the bishop would turn around and scowl at me for playing so fast. But alas, I was merely doing my duty.

The bishop really should have scowled at Brother Davey for leading the music so fast. This scowling made me slow down my tempo, and then I was in battle again with the man who wielded the baton.



  1. Oh my… a conductor with a very fast beat… you’re gonna make Ardis jealous!

    Comment by Coffinberry — August 12, 2014 @ 6:56 am

  2. Yeah, this one was for Ardis. : )

    Comment by Amy T — August 12, 2014 @ 8:42 am

  3. A wonderful image — the scowling bishop and the concerned young organist!

    Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by David Y. — August 12, 2014 @ 9:20 am

  4. I have totally been in that position from time to time. The organist is always blamed for the tempo speed or lack of when they are only trying to follow the conductor. However…when the conductor is toooo slow, I have been known to speed up. You always have to be about one beat ahead of the congregation or everyone will die.

    Comment by RoeH — August 12, 2014 @ 9:29 am

  5. You always have to be about one beat ahead of the congregation or everyone will die.

    I know RoeH was probably just using a figure of speech (“or everyone will die”), but it occurs to me that, judging by our collective angst expressed here at Keepa about slow hymn tempos, that RoeH is literally accurate about what’s at stake here. :)

    Comment by David Y. — August 12, 2014 @ 10:39 am

  6. If not a physical death, David, certainly a death as to all things pertaining to worship and interest in our worship services!

    I’m all for scowling–it’s especially nice when the music director scowls at the organist for dragging. Unfortunately, I’ve never found that it was effective. :) (How do you draw the emoticon for “scowl”??)

    Comment by Mark B. — August 12, 2014 @ 2:41 pm

  7. Poor Alexander was only eleven so maybe he felt a little intimidated by brother Davey. I’m sure when he got more experience and confidence he was able to impose his will.

    It’s very easy. You just play a little introduction at a reasonable tempo and then keep playing at that tempo. Of course, it helps if there is no one up there waving their hands to distract everyone. In most churches there is no such person and organists have no trouble leading the congregation in song.

    Comment by Bill — August 12, 2014 @ 10:32 pm

  8. “I’m sure when he got more experience and confidence he was able to impose his will.”

    I was thinking along those lines, too, Bill. After a few years of education and experience, good ol’ “Dr. Schreiner” would have had no trouble standing his ground against some scowling conductor.

    Comment by David Y. — August 12, 2014 @ 11:28 pm

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