88 Keys and the Limits of “Chopsticks”

I thought I’d do one last post on Brad Wilcox’s now-infamous youth fireside. Tuesday I wrote about his offensive take on race and the priesthood (for which he has since apologized, though on the question of its sincerity ymmv). Yesterday I posted about the problems with his expressed views on gender. And today I’m going to look at what he said about other religions.

But today’s post is going to be a little different. Because at one point, he invoked a metaphor. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he said, is like a piano keyboard.

Some churches play a few notes, some churches play several octaves, but we’re the only church that has a whole piano. So when we are saying, “We’re the only true church,” we’re just inviting people to come and see what we can add to the truths that already fill their lives.

A few seconds later, he adds that he doesn’t “want to lose a whole piano. You walk away from the church, say goodbye to the whole piano. Have fun playing ‘Chopsticks‘ the rest of your life.”

His metaphor, as I gather it, is that a piano represents the fullness of the Gospel; anything less is inferior and, in fact, grossly limits the scope of what you can play.

And look, I love piano. I’ve played piano since I was five (and sax since I was nine or ten, guitar and flute—albeit not well—since I was a teenager, and various wind synthesizers since I was in my twenties). As a result, I feel supremely qualified to comment on his metaphor.

And on its surface (and even under its surface) it’s deeply offensive to other religions, implying, as he does, that the truths they enjoy are lesser than and inferior to the ones we enjoy. And, as people have pointed out, it’s also scaremongering members to stay in the church.

But I want to take his metaphor seriously for a minute, because I don’t think it actually leads to the conclusion he thinks it leads to. His conclusion errs both on the side of understating what keyboards without 88 keys can do and overstating the completeness of 88 keys.[fn1]

88 Keys Are Not Complete

Look, I love an 88-key weighted keyboard as much as the next person. But why choose a piano as your representation of completeness? Why not, say, the Tabernacle organ? I can’t find exactly how many keys and pedals it has, but it has five manuals, each of which probably has 61 keys, plus I counted roughly 32 pedals. That’s more than 300 distinct notes that you can play on the Tabernacle organ.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that pianos have 12 notes per octave. You’re stuck with those twelve notes. But there are far more than 12 pitches possible within an octave. Many musical styles, including but not limited to Indian music, take advantage of these microtonalities. And even Western classical music has been experimenting with microtonalities for more than a century.

Now my ears are accustomed to Western 12-note octaves (though I’m fascinated by some of these other scales). But to argue that an 88-key piano represents the whole of music is just not true. There are instruments with more keys, there are notes between the notes available.

And that’s fully consonant with Mormon doctrine! After all, we believe all that God has revealed, all that God currently reveals, and we believe that God will continue to reveal things. We don’t believe that our church contains all truth or all possibility. Just like a piano—it’s really cool, it has enormous potential, but it’s incomplete.

Fewer Than 88 Keys

So if we take Wilcox’s metaphor seriously and say that we alone have an 88-key piano, and we take me seriously when I say 88 keys is not complete, what about all those people who have fewer than 88 keys?

They’re fine. Seriously. I’ve never played a song that demanded I use all 88 keys on the piano. (That’s not to say there aren’t such songs. There may well be, but most pianists don’t play them.) And you can do seriously amazing things with fewer than 88 keys.

I mean, check out the late Chick Corea, playing more on a 36-key keytar than I could on any instrument. He’s only got 36 keys, but this is absolutely not “Chopsticks.” (Warning: extreme 80s clothing and hair in the video!)

Or you can watch jazz legend Herbie Hancock on a slightly-larger 48-key keytar. This is also not “Chopsticks.”

If you want to come down (far!) from the heights of Chick and Herbie, you can watch me play Taylor Swift or Dua Lipa on my Akai EWI, a 13-key wind synthesizer with 7-octave range (which means that, with its 13 keys, it has basically the range of a piano).

If we want to have a lot of fun, we can watch Roland Kirk playing a saxophone and a clarinet at the same time, meaning he’s basically using four keys per instrument to create transcendent blues lines.

Or we can think about a bass guitar with its four strings. A trumpet, with its three valves. A trombone with its single slide.

My Point

My point is this: even if we take seriously that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the piano, and the people outside of the church don’t have a piano, that doesn’t lead to the conclusion that outside is inferior to inside. Outside of the confines of the piano, people may have access to more keys and more tones than are available on pianos.

And fewer keys doesn’t implicate less musicality. You can do stunning things with 36 keys, with 13 keys, with three valves or four strings or a slide.

Do I want to give up piano? Absolutely not. I love playing the piano. But do I want everybody playing piano? Also no. When we bring more instruments together, we get something that transcends what any individual instrument does.[fn2]

Do I think the LDS church has special claims on truth? I do. But I also take Pres. Hinckley seriously. We can’t do this on our own. We need the timbres and ranges and skills of musicians who differ from us. Partly that means inviting people to bring their instruments with them when they join us. But partly it means performing with people who don’t want to join us, who have no interest in piano and, instead, want to stay with their keytar or guitar or sitar or gamelan.

But it also means we shouldn’t threaten people who decide the piano is not for them with the loss of beauty in their lives. We should definitely do everything in our power to help people stay if they want. But if they cannot stay, for whatever reason, we need to inculcate their love of (metaphorical) music. Maybe they leave the piano behind. But that doesn’t mean they can’t play the violin. It doesn’t mean they have to put all music behind them.

And it doesn’t mean we can’t continue to make music with people who choose to leave.

And that’s, I think, the logical endpoint of Wilcox’s piano metaphor: not that those who leave will lose everything (except “Chopsticks”), but that we can help everybody we touch learn to love and perform music, in whatever way works for them. Then together we can make the world more beautiful.

[fn1] I hope you click on at least several of the links in this post. Most of them are to videos of truly spectacular music. Given my interests, the music is by and large jazz or jazz-adjacent though it could equally be almost any other type of music. But at the very least, check out the keytar stuff (and maybe my TikToks).

[fn2] If you get nothing else out of this post, at the very least, you need to watch Live at Emmet’s Place. Every Monday for the last 84 weeks (and counting), jazz pianist Emmet Cohen has streamed a live performance with his trio and guest musicians from his apartment in Washington Heights. Since we’re talking pianos here, I’ll confess that he has become one of my favorite pianists and the performances are always pure joy.

Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash


  1. Thanks. 88 keys, equal temperament, A440 pitch, is an interesting metaphor for the LDS Church. It suggests a certain richness of experience but also severe limitations in the context of all that world music has to offer. Also noting the good stuff in footnotes, I suspect the 88 key piano metaphor doesn’t evoke jazz piano for many LDS Church leaders.

  2. I agree whole heartedly. And I think that Pres Hinkley (and recently Pres Nelson), while I hope they meant what you say here, probably intended their “bring the good you have and let us build on it” to mean exactly what Bro Wilcox did. Namely, that people outside the Church have some good, but that all the good they have we also have, and they should bring their good so *we* can build on *it*, not so they can contribute to us some good that we don’t already have.

    I hope I’m wrong about what they meant. But I doubt it.

  3. I love this, Sam. Great post. I’ve heard the piano analogy before, and hadn’t really considered its deficiency until now. But I see its’ appeal. There’s the twin dangers of exclusivism (our church or bust) or relativism (all roads lead to Rome), and I suspect that Brother Wilcox (and others like him) use the piano analogy because the only alternative to exclusivism, which he espouses, seems to be relativism. And yeah, if we’re not the true and living Church, what’s the point? (That’s how I felt on my mission.) But if anything, I think that points to a conceptual deficiency: can we say we’re the true and living church, and possess distinctive things that are valuable EVEN AS we acknowledge truth in others’ faith and the value in their spiritual paths?

    It’s frustrating because, contrary to Brother Wilcox’s argument, we have this baked in from the beginning. Joseph Smith’s embrace of truth, Alma 29:6-8, Brigham’s “take all the truth you can”, and the 1978 “Statement of the First Presidency regarding God’s Love for All Mankind.” And we’ve got LDS scholars doing good work on making up for the conceptual deficiency by giving us metaphors like farming, the body of Christ, the Spirit of Elijah, the compass, and here, the orchestra! I wish Brother Wilcox would teach THIS strand of our faith: that yeah, we have distinctive things (priesthood, prophets, a unique take on the Plan of Salvation, covenants that culminate in the temple, and Restoration scripture) that are SO precious, but others have other truths and gifts and stewardships, and that leaving isn’t the end (ever heard of the Progidal Son?!). Grrrrr: it boils my blood. We have so much to offer the world, such a framework for making sense of truth, and we think we have to scare people into staying.

  4. Love this. Thank you.

  5. Plus, you can’t play a decent glissando on any keyed instrument–you need a string instrument (no frets, please!) or a trombone for that. Which is really too bad, because the last word of the verse in “Who’s on the Lord’s Side” fairly screams out for a glissando.

  6. It is the matter of exclusion that makes me most uncomfortable. After a recent presentation by our Bishop (in Utah) regarding acceptance and inclusion, with which he did an excellent job, I asked him that if a Latter-Day Saint was moving in next door to him and asked about the neighbors, would he use the words “belong” or ‘don’t belong” in his description. His reply was that sometimes we certainly need to think things through. I have since thought that if it were Jesus who showed up on your door step and asked about the neighbors and you used the words “belong” or don’t belong” he would likely say, “To what?” Or maybe he would just give a long, low sigh.

  7. What’s the point in having a grand piano if you don’t learn to play it? Wilcox is proud to show off the shiny instrument, but when he sits at the keyboard he can’t even manage to produce a passable version of “Chopsticks.”

    This is the problem, in a nutshell. We lose the vision of what we’re trying to accomplish with our blessings. We think it’s all about preserving the piano’s glossy finish, never realizing that we have reduced a magnificent musical instrument to a mere piece of furniture.

  8. As a lifelong pianist and BYU trained organist I agree with the observations in this post. In fact the first place my brain jumped to was “well the Organ is the kind of instruments, not the piano.” I’d also say that while the guitar has only 6 strings, in a real sense it’s a more useful and more accessible instrument than a piano.

    All metaphors have a point and a limit, but my response to Brother Wilcox would be that the piano is indeed amazing but I’d rather have an orchestra in the eternities (including a piano) than only a piano.

  9. I’ve also played the piano since age 5 too, Sam!

    I’m going to deviate from the analogy in my comment, however, despite my love of music.

    The answer to “what will I miss if I leave” is apparently “everything.” How incredibly vague. I mean, he later mentions you will miss the temple, and prophets, but really he can’t articulate anything concrete we would miss outside the church. How would I miss the prophets? Outsiders have the same access to them that I do.

    My neighbors rock! They are kind, charitable, and friendly. They raise amazing kids, donate time and talents at school and in the community, and from my perspective, don’t appear to be missing anything, notwithstanding they are not Mormon. In fact, sometimes I feel they have more than I do.

    Maybe this message works in Alpine, where kids don’t really know how people cope without the Church based on their limited geography. But I’m surprised this message would resonate elsewhere; it certainly would not work in my corner of the world.

  10. @Loursat I had similar thoughts. The irony is that it is Brad Wilcox who keeps playing “Chopsticks”. Same notes on different pianos. He can’t stretch past the octave. . As has been commented on in different places, he has lost his ability to think critically by turning over his thinking to an institution.

  11. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I think it’s alright to believe there’s something special about one’s own religion, and that you maybe have more to offer. I don’t think it’s necessary to denigrate other religions to make that point. And while we may have more “keys”, as Sam (and others) note there are no compositions that use all of the keys, and many of the most beautiful pieces use a very small percentage of those keys. Also, the LDS church just has a number of keys that are simply made-up, others that aren’t functional for any composition, and then some that are so out of tune that they wreck any music that is being played. So, if we want to stick with this metaphor, let’s get real about it.

  12. lastlemming says:

    Not to dispute your deconstruction of the analogy, but if you take it at face value you could ask why we tend to use our 88-key piano to play only the base clef of works that are written mostly in C major (which, for nonplayers, minimizes the use of black keys).

  13. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917-2008) taught:

    Some are lost because they are different. They feel as though they don’t belong. Perhaps because they are different, they find themselves slipping away from the flock. They may look, act, think, and speak differently than those around them and that sometimes causes them to assume they don’t fit in. They conclude that they are not needed.

    Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole. This variety of creation itself is a testament of how the Lord values all His children.

  14. This reminds me greatly of Patrick Mason’s metaphor of the garden and Latter Day Saints have their patch with priesthood and temple blessings while others of God’s children have their own patches but all are part of God’s garden (or vineyard). But who wants to just eat wheat and olives when all kinds of other delights exist and enrich our Godly diet?

  15. Seriously so good. Thank you for this, Sam.

  16. Coffinberry says:

    This resonates with what has been rolling in my head (about what was missing from this fireside presentation) since this began:

    “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. . . . Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil.” (1 Cor. 13:1-2,4-5, 7).

    Charity was missing. Or to paraphrase… if you have all 88 keys of the piano keyboard, but have not charity, you have nothing.

  17. Adam Wilcox says:

    Just over a decade ago when I was a YSA bishop, Brad Wilcox approached me at the start of our Sacrament meeting and asked if he could be our speaker. He wasn’t a GA/GO at the time, just an institute teacher and LDS author who had been in the area speaking at a youth conference. He said he really loved the YSAs of the church and wanted to be able to speak to them. I remember how shocked I was by his audacity and arrogance to make a request like that.
    As I watched this whole episode of the Alpine fireside unfold, none of it has been surprising to me based on that experience. I saw it best on this post (https://twitter.com/M_Dub_8645/status/1491670391139405826), “This fiasco illuminates our own form of priestcraft. White CES types on the EFY and youth fireside circuit who disrespect those of other faiths, trivialize real faith struggles, and pose caricatures for laughs and adulation.” That’s not the worst part of it — the racism and misogyny and bigotry have deeper, uglier and more lasting effects. But as a cause, this side structure of CES and EFY and fireside types who act like they’re speaking for the church when they’re speaking for their own popularity is rotten and bears rotten fruit.
    What makes it even more frustrating to me in this case is the hypocrisy of what he said. Here I had watched a person actively pursue influence and voice demean those who have historically been (and still are) limited in voice and influence in the church. It’s really ugly when those who selfishly pursue influence and authority act like those who are subject to the structures are morally wrong to seek a fix.

  18. I love this, and the analogy fails for SO many other reasons as well.

    If I were to leave the Church (I haven’t), why on earth couldn’t I take all the good with me? He says we can’t believe in God and Jesus as separate beings if we don’t believe in Joseph Smith. Well first of all, not sure I care, but second of all, why ever not? What prevents me from taking the good I learned in this Church somewhere with me? That’s so binary, black-and-white thinking that pushes people out the door. And is illogical and false.

    He says if we leave Church, we leave God. What?!?!? Sorry but, as I’ve explored outside correlated bounds, I’ve found a bigger God than the one I get at Church. Definitely a bigger God than the one Wilcox is peddling. There is zero reason that someone needs to leave God if they leave Church. In fact, what he’s teaching is extremely harmful and part of why I’m putting Church at arms’-length with my kids. It is more important to me that they develop a relationship with God than the Church, and I don’t want bad experiences at Church to interfere with their relationship with God. Wilcox is precisely the type of bad experience I’m concerned about, especially to the extent he suggests that Church is a proxy for God in our life. It’s not. And it interferes with our own personal relationship with God to suggest that. And makes a false idol of the Church. Do a lot of people abandon God when they leave the Church? Yes (although many do not). But perhaps that is because we as a Church do an insufficient job of cultivating personal relationships with God because we are more concerned about tethering people to the institution and human leaders. That is extremely problematic.

    He says if we leave Church, we leave the prophets. Well, I don’t particularly care but – even if I did – that’s, umm, not true. I could tune into General Conference and subscribe to the Liahona for the rest of my life and listen to what they had to say if I wanted to. Honestly, does he think we are stupid? That’s just a terrible, terrible argument.

    So yeah, agree with @Chadwick here.

    I also was thinking along the lines @Alain mentions & Patrick Mason’s book “Restoration.” Mason has SUCH a better approach to religious pluralism. It is possible to celebrate the goodness of our Church, its important place and mission in the world and our place in cultivating that mission, without trashing others. It is possible to deal delicately and sensitively with issues of race and gender without trashing the prophets. Mason does all of that in Restoration. That’s probably why Mason had a lot to say about the talk on Twitter – it was everything that Mason is trying to improve in Restoration. Now I don’t think Mason is perfect (didn’t like that he left off LGBTQ issues) but boy his approach is about ten trillion times better than Wilcox. But since Wilcox has been giving this talk for years, I guess he has not had time to assimilate Mason’s approach.

    @TomIrvine, I also was reminded of the Wirthlin key analogy. Another one that Wilcox basically obliterated with this talk.

    Amen @CoffinBerry.

    @Sam, you’ve dealt with most every topic now except for the threats! I still think that one needs serious attention, especially given (as I mentioned in a comment) the high suicide rates among youth in that area. The threats are definitely connected to this piece of the talk re: piano keys, but a bit different.

  19. There are so many problems with the way Brad Wilcox used the piano analogy, let alone how deeply flawed his point is. Anytime we try to leverage Mormon exceptionalism to put down other religions in order to make ourselves look more favored, we display not only poor form but we also demonstrate our ignorance.

    As one who grew up outside of Utah, has a close relative who is an ordained minister in another denomination, a MIL who is Episcopalian, best friends who are active Seventh Day Adventists and a lifelong friend from childhood who is the senior pastor at a community church that routinely draws 500+ to Sunday services, all Brad Wilcox did was show me how narrow minded and morally arrogant he is. Every part about his talk is offensive, but this part of his talk struck me personally. My friends who are involved in their religions not only worship meaningfully on Sundays, they take on community service projects that focus outwardly and require a level of long-term service commitment I have never seen from my Mormon wards. They do their work quietly without being motivated by any kind of public relations ROI. Like Narcissus, Brad Wilcox made me feel like we Mormons should be so happy to stare endlessly at our own reflection, deepening a love of ourselves more than developing the ability to see how much good there is in the world and what we can learn from it. He stands for the opposite of everything I have taught my children to be under the banner of Mormon truth.

    @Elisa, I was a long time resident of Alpine before moving my family out because of troubling social dynamics with which that area is plagued. The area is full of smart, talented and committed members–I have never been a part of such perfectly run wards. However, its perfectionistic and high-achieving culture places youth in a crucible of social expectation that leads to social capital hording (resulting in some youth experiencing crippling isolation), vanity and duplicity. There is no question in my mind that gay youth suffer there probably more than they do in other areas. We had specially called stake meetings to try and stem the problem of suicide and it always felt like none new what to do, even our stake leaders who were visibly shaken by the problem were exasperated. Julie Beck’s general conference talk (she was in my stake) on making sure children are perfectly presented for church is illustrative of the misordering of priorities in the community, IMHO. I am not an expert on suicide and my guess is the suicide rate of that area is a complex, multivariate problem. Notwithstanding, I can’t help but feel its perfectionistic culture contributes heavily to the problem. In that regard, since we now know that Brad Wilcox’s talk was scripted and he was just going through the motions, he failed to seize the opportunity to truly listen and learn about his audience and then speak to them in a way that could have helped. Instead he gave a self-indulgent, rote talk. It’s so sad CES culture rewards this kind of narcissism and bad thinking.

  20. Elisa, thank you both for your comments (across all three posts) and for pushing me to develop a more fulsome response; I appreciate both.

    And I take–very seriously–your point about perfectionism and potential suicide risk. I’m going to decline to write that post, though, because I feel drastically underqualified to talk about causation and suicide. And while I’m perfectly willing to write about things I don’t know (a friend emailed me after this post to let me know that I vastly understated the breadth of what organs can do!), questions of suicide are far more important, and getting things wrong there is far more impactful.

    So again, I really appreciate everything you’ve said and I agree that questions of suicide and perfectionism are critical to address, I don’t trust my knowledge enough to draft a post.

  21. Alma Frances Pellett says:

    @Mark B. – My tympani and the opening of “Rhapsody in Blue” would like to object to your limitations on glissandos. ;)

    I’m still trying to come to terms with the amount of anti-intellectualism that seems foundational to the Church. We started with schools not to learn from people who knew about things, but to discuss and debate and maybe, possibly settle on something near an answer. Our disdain of other religions (starting with “those professors were all corrupt”), historians, and professional study means that we’ve created a habit of not “learning from the best books” but by starting with an idea that may nor may not be correct (e.g. This is the only True Church so any others are just “playing” church), then working out a personal explanation for that and support it with selected scripture, carefully curated Authority snippets, and our neighbors who came to the same conclusion.
    CES seems to be all about this. Instructors have some very very different views on the various aspects of our theology. (I personally enjoy the memory of the one who taught me that the location of City of Enoch was the entirety gulf of Mexico) Promotion (or being sent to instruct is some small institute) seems to depend upon the number of beliefs that align with the beliefs of those higher up. Study of Theology and Scholarship simply do not happen. When secular institutions want to know about something the Church believes, CES isn’t even in the rolodex.

    I keep feeling like I need to rant about this, but I’d much rather spend time defending Chico Marx as the master of the piano glissando.

  22. Brian Cowley says:

    I find your analysis interesting. My take away is that there are a variety of musical instruments out there to help us achieve different sounds for different occasions. There are also musical cultural norms that each of us relate to over others and that is fine as long as we allow others the freedom to listen to the style of music that inspires them. There are also those who do not like or simply do not listen to music. There are others who continually explore different forms. These are all valid uses of music. I think religion is the same. If you like to worship in a community there is one out there for you. For some of us, we like a particular form of worship, theology, community, etc. For many of us we relate to the religion that we are familiar with or one that can be found in our culture. Some do not want to affiliate with religion, some don’t worship, and some explore continually. To take one instrument or one religion and say that it is the only one is arrogant. It is a position that does not take into account the diversity of humanity. A diversity of humanity that I believe God created.

  23. @Sam, that makes a lot of sense. And I don’t want to touch causation either and am not suggesting a post about suicide or that Wilcox is going to cause or increase suicide. I just can’t help but be struck by how tone-deaf it is to give that kind of talk in that kind of area. It his close to home for me because that’s where I grew up and still have family & friends there, know multiple families & people affected by suicide there, and am very familiar with the pressure cooker environment & the homophobic environment. But I don’t think people should be giving threatening, fear-based talks in any area.

    Uchtdorf (of course) gave such a good talk a few years back about how we shouldn’t be using fear, but no one else in leadership seemed to listen. Fear is manipulative and IMO takes away agency. So whether or not Wilcox will have any impact on the mental health of those youth (I can’t imagine that talk will have anything but a neutral-to-negative impact, there was nothing positive, did he even tell them God loves them? Maybe but it was certainly not the focus), I think it is an immoral, unChristlike, dishonest, agency-destroying kind of tactic to use. For many kids, it will only backfire. And for those who believe him (can you imagine if you believed him? some of those kids will believe him!), it will do harm.

  24. purple_flurp says:

    I’m an active member of the church that has spent a lot of time outside North America doing anthropological type stuff and I no longer believe we hold any kind of monopoly on ‘truth’. There are lots of other ways out there to think about the nature of the divine, the afterlife, and our relationship to other humans and living things. And some of those ideas (that are not part of our current theology) seem better suited for dealing with human problems than others.

    I don’t think our particular brand of Calvinsim covers the entire nature of god, humankind, and the afterlife. I don’t mean to say that the Church isn’t “true” but there are a lot more equally important keys out there that our church’s keyboard can’t even comprehend.

  25. Excellent post. Love it!
    “do I want everybody playing piano? Also no. When we bring more instruments together, we get something that transcends what any individual instrument does.” Awesome thought. I don’t actually think God wants everyone to be Mormon…If He did, I think that He’d be doing more to make that happen.
    “we can help everybody we touch learn to love and perform music, in whatever way works for them. Then together we can make the world more beautiful.” Yes! When we do missionary work, I believe the purpose is to bring people unto God and Christ, and to bring God and Christ to them. Not to bring them to the church.
    Excellent posts. thank you.

  26. @Coffinberry


  27. my only child died a tragic death several years ago, I spent time with a spiritual director from the Franciscan tradition, trained in the art of compassionate listening. During one conversation, as we were discussing different religions and their rituals, she quietly stated that “it was all just playing.” I was a little surprised by her candor, but grateful that she hadn’t held back. She clearly didn’t mean for her words to be insulting and, in any case, I had often had the same thoughts.
    My sisters and I used to ‘play church’, with the protestant church services of my youth modeling that ‘play’ in the best sense of the word. Those services exercised our minds and hearts as we sang, prayed and otherwise acted out our devotion to God. There was nothing second class or second fiddle about them. It’s unfortunate that Brad Wilcox’s ‘playing church’ metaphor is so well understood and even appreciated by some latter-day saints. It is understandable, however. The exclusivist doctrine of the one and only true church was baked in from the beginning and can’t be undone with an apology.
    All that remains for those of us who have left the fold is to find others with whom we can play and “step to the music which (we hear), however measured or far away.”

  28. Given how the Handbook has just dethroned the piano and organ for use in LDS worship, this metaphor is hilariously ill-timed.

  29. Prayin' for Bro. Wilcox says:

    My wife likes to attend other churches often and we have attended many many of them. My experience is precisely the opposite of a Wilcox piano. One could take a member of any ward in this area; blindfold them and spin then around 12 times and have them walk in that random direction and soon run into another church that is operationally better than ours on the ward level. Better music, better prayers, better preaching, better youth programs, better community service and most important- clearer, more inspiring focus on Christ and the gospel.

    I have searched for years for a worse church than ours, in vain. (I think I might have finally found one recently. The miracle healing ministry of Benny Hinn -wiki him. You might recall another evangelical minister with whom he had a nasty affair and who gave the invocation at Trump’s first inauguration.) We free thinkers around here have a term for us: the true but crappy church. These white shirts on the brainwashing circuit don’t get out of the Mormon bubble much.

    What is truly tragic? Brother Wilcox is probably sitting home, wondering how or why this is happening to him. He has been a valiant warrior for the church for many years and moved up the ladder. Now he has been denounced in the Deseret Snooze and his chance to make apostleship is ruined. He doesn’t listen to the social winds of “False Doctrine” blowing to and fro. He tightly follows the prophets and church leaders before him. And as Uncle Golden used to say, if you follow your church leaders to hell, you will go to hell. The institution of the church did this to us and to him. I have compassion for him, bless his heart. He is now in sore need of prayer.

    There is little unique about us that is good. And there is nothing good about us that is unique. Exceptionalism is a Mormon delusion. We like to trot out the priesthood authority. But our own scriptures remind us that worthiness is required, else “Amen to the priesthood of that man.” Yet the moment we forget that we are all sinners, fall short of the glory, and look through a glass darkly, we fall into the sinful quagmire of pride, if we think we are worthy. I say, anyone who can answer that temple recommend question, are you worthy in every way… in the affirmative; is not worthy, does not understand their estrangement from God, or else is performing some level of mental gymnastics of which I am not capable. .

    The pandemic really highlighted our utter failure to do little more than flounder. Some congregations gained membership and strength from the pandemic as a consequence of providing genuine pastoral care. Others lost ground or were shut down completely. Our ward response to it was pathetic.

    We might play a party game: Each participant sitting in a circle would write the answer to this question and then share them: If Mormonism was a musical instrument, which one would it be? My response: A harpsichord would be a better fit than a piano. That is before correlation. Bagpipes played by a deaf, arthritic and mildly senile old man? A 2 string dulcimer not in tune? I took a 20 foot piece of 3/4 inch PVC pipe and stuffed it up through the middle drainage hole of an empty 3 gallon plastic flower pot. I named it the red neck alpine horn. The neighbors called the police and cited me for disturbing the piece. I am, after all, a Mormon boy to the core.

    Do you think the bishop will let me play “Wallow, the Prophets” on it in Sacrament meeting?

  30. We used to be a Bösendorfer piano/church, but then we decided those extra polygamy keys at the far left were muddying things up a bit much.

  31. Just have to jump on here to make the irrelevant comment that the pitches of an organ’s manuals (aka keyboards) overlap. If the Tabernacle organ has 300 keys, that doesn’t mean it plays (300/12=25) 25 octaves. The range of human hearing is only about 10 octaves anyway. A middle C on the great (main manual) and a middle C on the swell (next manual up) both play the same note, if you have the same registration set to both.

    The point of all those keyboards is that you can set different registrations to each, so that when you play on one manual you get, for instance, soft flutey sounds, and when you play on another you get bright brassy sounds. The standard LDS chapel two-manual Allen or Rodgers organs are sufficient to allow an organist to make the fanfares in “God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand” sound like trumpets while the rest sounds like an organ, or to add some tonal variation to give a “call-and-answer” quality to “Jesus, Once of Humble Birth” (which gets old after a couple verses), or to make one of the three upper voices stand out by playing it on a different manual than the others. Three manuals is good enough for the vast majority of organ music. Four is enough to accommodate pretty much any duet playing. The only reason I know of for an organ to have more than that is just to show off–although maybe a professional organist would disagree.

  32. Thanks Travis! I always enjoy learning a little more about, well, any instrument at all.

  33. As a fellow jazz fan I enjoyed your music links as always, and I think this point is illustrated so well by the sample of “Live From Emmet’s Place” You write “When we bring more instruments together, we get something that transcends what any individual instrument does.” The way Emmet plays is so masterful at showing how the piano player in a jazz combo can listen to the vibe of what the other musicians are playing on their different instruments and complement and build on it. We should all play our LDS pianos that way.

  34. Late comer here. I have often thought that the Church would do better as either a piano tuner or a piano teacher than a piano. We have the “key” to spiritual playing, however you do it. Why do we not teach it?


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