Monday, March 16, 2009


March 15, 2009 composer

The Bishop's counselor sat back in the settee and thought a minute. "Really? I guess I can go ask him if you want. I've just never done that before."
"Well," I said, " I just don't want to outright say no, and I have never said no to a calling before, but I just think he didn't have all the information when he thought of this one."
The conversation had started on a Sunday afternoon, when Dave Snow knocked on the door and said he needed to talk to me. We Mormons know what that means, when our neighbors show up on a Sunday afternoon in their suits and ties and say they wonder if we can chat for a minute. It means we are about to be invited to lay ourselves on the assembly line of a well organized church. I actually quite love that our church has a lay ministry, and that all of us take turns participating in what we know as "callings". Our bishop and his counselors ponder and pray over who should serve where when, and I generally trust their inspiration. But when Dave Snow told me the Bishop wanted to call me to be Ward Choir Director I told him he had to be crazy. It's a good thing Dave Snow knows me as well as he does, or he might have been offended.
"Don't you think a choir director aught to be able to read music?" I asked.
"Well, Ummm, I don't know. Maybe? But you do read music.", Dave said.
"But you are a composer. You write music." He said this as his left eyebrow scrunched up toward his hairline, shifting in his seat as he talked.
"Yes, I write songs, but not on paper. You don't have to read to talk do you?"
He shifted his book in his lap and thought for a minute. I'm sure he had never pondered this question before, and he probably didn't particularly care to ponder it that Sunday afternoon. All he wanted to do was get his callings made and get home to the dinner Margene had prepared. There was an awkward moment of silence. I waited for him to say something like "never mind", but he didn't. He just sat there. So I spoke up.
"Maybe you could go give this information the Bishop and ask him to pray again."
I was sure he would see the light and call someone who had at least stuck with more than three piano lessons when they were 12. Someone who could tell if the altos were coming in at the right time. Someone who could tell the altos what their part should even sound like. Someone who was ...not me!
So Dave did that. He went back to Bishop Simmons and told him the truth. I was sure the Lord would back me up on this.
The next week Dave came back and tapped on the door. "I told him what you said."
"Oh, good," I replied, grateful to have reasonable people as my neighbors and leaders. "Did he pray again?"
"He did."
"OK, so now what would you like me to do?" I'm thinking I might teach the five-year-olds on Sunday mornings in Primary. I'm thinking I could be on the Compassionate Service committee because I like to make chicken soup and take it to people. I'm ready to hear what my new calling might be.
"We think you should still be choir director."
So I became our Ward Choir Director for two very long and troubling years. Every rehearsal I stood before the choir and bawled. "Sheesh, I am so sorry you guys." There were people in that choir who could read music with their eyes closed. They tried very hard to be diplomatic in telling me how to do what I couldn't do. A number of very dear friends sang in that choir out of pity-love for me. Reed Gardner, and my sister Libby; they came to every rehearsal not because they loved choir singing but because they knew I needed the emotional support. I am still touched by that.
Eventually Dave Snow came to my door again and offered another calling and things set themselves right in the world again. Nowadays I am most happy to sit among the small group of sopranos in our Ward Choir and follow the fabulous imaginary baton of Dave Thomas. Now there's a guy who can read music! And he's a composer to boot.


  1. Yeah. They did that to me, too. I can read a little. I can read the part I'm supposed to sing, if it's not really hard or complex. And I can read hymns. And give me three hours and I can sort of figure out a two part invention. But pick choir music? Teach parts?

    And yet, I did the thing. I wouldn't let them set me apart because I was only doing it as a favor, until the real choir director showed up. The saving grace here was Michael, the organist/accompanist. He's a brilliant person who, if you say, "Play just the tenor and the alto, and give me five bars, and could we kind of speed up that counter point part?" He can do those things. I felt like Mickey mouse in the sorcerer's apprentice with him - I'd raise my hand, and this music would suddenly dash against me. It was sublime. A wonderful breath of aesthetic power for an otherwise mediocre musician.

    We ran the choir together - and managed Bach and Mendelsson (sp?-see?) and a host of really quite challenging pieces - for about five years. Maybe more. Then Mike announced that he and his family were moving to Cedar Hills. He told me this in the aisle of the chapel. I turned around immediately, headed for the bishop and gave him my notice. I quit on the spot. And the man was gracious enough to let me go.

    Since then, I have conducted the Sac meeting music. I don't know how long. Seven years? Longer, I think. It's so odd. I never had any training to this at all, and probably, a real music person would knock his head against the back of the pew ahead of him, watching me. I fake it every week. Every week for seven, eight years. But I do it with passion, and so they all believe in me.

    I thought, with my high school teaching, that I'd be put into young women's, go to camp, teach the older kids in SS. But no. There's this. My mother taught me to harmonize when I was nine. And for almost twenty years, I am suddenly the guru of music?

  2. I hate it that we put so much emphasis on these callings coming from the Lord in the church. Don't you think that some do and some don't? Like the time when I had a 6, 4 and 8 month old and got called to be the Blazer scout leader...teaching lessons in Primary and Scouting every week. I didn't know a thing about scouting and really didn't want to know at that time in my life but I did it. Is it about learning obedience? Did I have something to learn here? Recently in my new ward they called me to cub scouts. I said no. "I have done that with all three of my boys and my cub scout days are over, thank you. I am 62, so find me an out to pasture old lady job." I am still suffering from a lot of guilt over it, well, maybe a little guilt. I am just worried about lightning strikes for not being obedient.

  3. Amen! Some callings I have had, I would have NEVER thought they were a calling from above. Some of those turned out to be life changers. Others, not so much.

    But I still can't figure out (kinda like the comment from Charmaine) Why would a mother of 2 small children, a pediatric nurse and on her days off takes the neighbor babies in to give mommies a break....really be the best person to take on a nursery of 19...ALONE! Can I please talk to a GROWN-UP?

    Just because a person is "blessed" with fertility issues - doesn't necessarily mean she wants to be with non-growing up, raised in different homes with different rules toddlers 24-7. I think the Lord KNEW I couldn't really effectively handle the 2 I somehow received....let alone the 6 I wanted. So, yeah... love the babies...but sometimes... a person just needs a grown-up around. Maybe I'll change my tune when in Heaven raising my 12.

    Sorry to vent - but this post - hit it right on the head with me! Thank goodness - I'm in a WONDERFUL and FITTING calling now...first time ever and I LOVE IT!

  4. Charmaine - my daddy was a bishop, and he told me quite plainly that most callings are not from the Lord. They are from men who are trying their level best to fill positions in their wards - and they pray for guidance, and they do what they can. Some callings have that Celestial seal, I guess. But I can tell you this: when I was the first counc. in the Primary years ago, I ran the place. And when I decided I needed somebody, the bishopric took me seriously. Ask me how many time angels told me who to pick?

    Yeah, yeah, the spirit may be nudging - but I never ***kneeewww**.

    In fact, one time I asked for a young married who'd just moved into the ward, and to her. Only to find out a few weeks later that she had said yes to the calling and then turned around and dropped classes at BYU so that she could handle it. If I had had ANY idea that she was feeling so overwhelmed, if I had had ANY idea that she was in school and was going to drop classes because of a PRIMARY class, I would NEVER have requested her.

    My dad said that we must always be upfront and say what we have to say about our lives to those who call us in to the office. They don't know what we're up against. And frankly, I think that knowing when to say "NO" is part of the spiritual maturity we are expected to cultivate in this life.

    Better, I think, to say "no" than to go home in tears and bitterness (which I did once - long story. My husband turned the car around, took me back and made me tell the bishop how I really felt). We need to serve and learn and grow - but not at the expense of sanity, our family life and BYU classes.

    I'm just sayin'

  5. Cori, I loved it when you were our choir director. Your exceptional musical talent is so-so admired. I can read music, I can lead music, But I cannot compose, or use words like you do and will be eternally grateful for you and the incredible blessing of witnessing your incredible talent. I am so sorry it was a dreadful experience for you. None of us ever knew it.