Lutherans: 1, Mormons: 1

To dissipate a little bit of the stress of being massively overcommitted these last few months, I have recently begun to try to follow in my wife’s footsteps and learn a little piano. As myriad Latter-day Saints before me, I have elected to do so on the basis of the familiar hymns. Yesterday, I spent some time struggling through two beautiful hymns, and I thought I would just acknowledge how marvelous Be Still, My Soul (go Luther/Spener!) and Where Can I Turn for Peace? (go Emma Lou!) are. That is all (now if only I could figure out how to get the left hand to work on the piano I’d be golden).

PS, how is it that this Lutheran pietist hymn ended up copyrighted by Westminster Press? At first I thought it was a Presbyterian hymn, but some random info on the web suggested she was a follower of Spener and a Lutheran.


  1. Jean Sibelius, who composed the music for “Be Still My Soul” (which is actually called the “Finlandia”), was Lutheran, so maybe someone on the web assumed the music is a Lutheran hymn.

    It not. It’s actually a Finnish national hymn, much like our “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” or “America the Beautiful”–not a national anthem, but a national hymn. Gorgeous music–especially if you hear the real version with the full orchestra.

  2. It is the arrangement of the tune which is copyrighted by Westminster Press, not the basic tune, and not the words. The author, Katharina von Schlegel, was Lutheran, but Jane Borthwick, the translator of this version, was a Scot and a Presbyterian. You can find considerably more information in books such as “Guide to the Pilgrim Hymnal” by Ronander & Porter, which give background information for both tunes and words.

  3. Ah, those Lutheran hymns. On the whole, it’s a rather dour hymnody. When people ask me what the Lutherans are like my response is “They’re like Catholics but without all the excitement.”

    I was raised Lutheran and later converted. Bet there are tons of LDS who started out Lutheran. There are a lot of similarities between the two cultures, although the Lutherans get to drink beer! (So in that regard it’s Lutherans: 1, Mormons: 0)


  4. I’m pleased to see that you count both those hymns as “familiar.” Would that it were so in all our wards!

    It’s also interesting that you chose those two–I’m a second-rate beginner of a pianist, but I find both of them relatively easy to play. Great start–let us know when you start playing for priesthood meeting!

  5. I’m also learning piano. I’m using the easy-method: left hand does chords. While I’ll never learn classical pieces that way, I’ll be able to play most things I’m interested in learning, including many of the hymns.

  6. lets not forget #68. A Mighty Fortress is Our God” Penned by Luther himself. Apparently he is Uchdorf’s ancestor.

  7. “Where Can I Turn for Peace” got me through my teenage years.

  8. good for you! we need more pianists in the church. our kids have a rule that they can’t quit lessons until they can play all the hymns, and think they’re doing pretty well since they can get through We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet, and Choose the Right. they don’t know the doozy i’m saving for that final test–I’m a Pilgrim, I’m a Stranger–got to be the hardest one (and least sung) in the book!

  9. Mark–I cannot get the stupid left hand to come along smoothly. trick’s in the trying, though.

  10. Those two are neither the hardest nor easiest hymns to play. You may have already discovered this, but it is probably easier to take the tenor of the entire third line of hymn 124 in the right hand, and then again at the beginning of the last phrase.

    Since many of the hymns were written, not with the piano in mind, but as four part vocal textures where there are often big streches between tenor and bass (much more easily negotiated on the organ where the feet handle the bass line), taking the tenor in the right hand is often a good strategy when playing them on the piano. Occasionally, as in the first chord in the last line of hymn 129, there are stretches that someone with small hands will find impossible, as soprano and bass are at extremes, with the inner voices far from both. In that case, the best cheat is to take the tenor B to right hand an octave above. Sometimes it may be better to leave the bass an octave higher, but here that would be awkward as the previous bass line is leading to the lower octave.

    I’m a Pilgrim is not too difficult technically, but it is filled with a lot of odd and unusual harmonies. Similar hymns, like Lean on My Ample Arm and The Wintry Day, are also hardly ever sung. A similar scenario unfolds in the chorus of Bless Our Fast: in the meeting I attended on Sunday, the organist played an A natural on the word “feel” for all three verses, making the tune even more chromatic than intended.

  11. What Bill says….(I think)

  12. If you are having troubles, start with just playing the melody through very slowly a few times until you are comfortable with it. Then add the alto notes and play that a few times until you are comfortable.

    Then try the left hand all by itself with just tenor, then try adding the bass. Get these as good as you can get them. Then play the right hand with just the tenor part of the left hand, and when you are comfortable with that, add the base.

    The faster you can get at putting your fingers on the note that you see, the faster you will get at playing. Don’t bother thinking what letter it is called.

    Good luck on practice!

  13. Agreed, Finlandia is best played from the fourth beat of the first measure of the third line until the penultimate measure with the tenor part in the right hand. This often requires memorizing the hymn.

    I need to get back to learning the hymns. Despite the fact that I make my living from the cello, I’m a terrible piano player and don’t think I could play a single hymn correctly. Schade.

  14. psychochemiker says:

    Simplify the left hand part by just playing the bass in octaves. Tenor’s who don’t know the notes without the piano probably shouldn’t be singing them anyway. The real problem is that the bass part is meant to be played on the pedals of the organ, the tenor part on the left hand, and the Sop/alto on the right hand. Individual adaptation may apply.

    Good luck on improving yourself.
    Ralph Vaughn Williams may be ahead of your level, but his compositions are unfairly beautiful.

  15. My kids introduced me recently to Vocal Point. Their version of “Be Still, My Soul” is incredible. For anyone who is interested, here is the link:


    Their “Nearer, My God, to Thee” also is gorgeous. It is the second in the “Related Videos” section of the above link.

  16. Too bad someone has not posted a link to the Lake Woebegone story about the Lutherans (they had a complete hour on them on PBS).

  17. re: 16 Yes! That was fantastic! Garrison Keillor rocks! (He had a minor stroke this week, by the way, but seems to be doing OK)

    Would be great if somebody could find a link to that broadcast. I couldn’t find it.

  18. Mike,
    That’s too bad about Keillor. I actually never listened to Prairie Home Companion until after I was married—as a Southern Californian, I just couldn’t relate. But my wife’s family is all from the Midwest (Ohio and Wisconsin) and listened kind of religiously. And what I heard of the Lutherans episode was great.

    You can listen to the episode here.

  19. The awesome thing about the piano is that it’s never too late to learn to play it competently. (Unless one loses the ability to use one’s hands, God forbid.)

    Your cause is righteous. You shall surely be blessed.

  20. #19: …”it’s never too late to learn to play it competently.”
    Oh… if it were only so. I honor anyone who can play the piano. There never was a time in the past (or now) for me. I can’t sing or dance either.
    I do have a great Jazz collection of all the great “Stride” players.
    Wikipedia has a great U-tube showing the “meaning ‘of Stride

  21. Playing piano and to merge in its tune is very relaxing…… so its my advice to the same if you are in stress.

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