Saturday, July 12, 2014

Music; My Heavenly Gift! (Part 1)

A couple weeks ago I had the experience of leading a discussion with our YSA Relief Society on dating and feeling “flow state”. It made me reflect on where I’ve experienced that kind of effortless energy the most in my life. Of course it’s been when I’m doing music, whether singing, teaching music and leading a choir or accompanying my kids singing. There’s nothing that puts me there like music. It’s made me realize I need to record some of the experiences I’ve had from my very beginning with music. .


I KNOW music came from heaven with me. I don’t ever remember not having music in my soul. One of my earliest recollections I have is being asked to sing on the temple grounds in Salt Lake City for a man dressed in white (he must have been a temple worker and I must have already been singing for my mom to ask me to sing for him). I’ll never forget him promising me that one day I would sing in the building behind him, the Tabernacle on Temple Square. (His prophecy came true. I never got to sing in the Tabernacle Choir, but did sing many times with my choirs from BYU, even in a conference session.)

My next earliest memory happened when living in Tulare. I had to be 5 or 6. We lived in a tiny branch that met in the Scouting building for church and primary. My mom was Primary President AND Primary Chorister. In order to get kids to Primary my mom would take our yellow station wagon and go pick up a load of kids for mid-week primary and then take them all back home. Because she taught us the new music in Primary we would always end up singing the songs on the way home with all the kids in the car.

This one Wednesday afternoon at the close of Primary we all climbed into the car, maybe 10 kids (no seatbelt laws in those days!) As was the custom we started singing one of the new songs my mom has just taught. As we sang my mom started to sing something different. It was the same words, but a different melody. I was stunned. It was GLORIOUS!!! I was so in awe that I turned and told everyone to be quiet and then in an excited voice asked her, “What is that you are singing?!!! My mother’s simple reply, “I’m singing the Alto part. I’m singing harmony.” Oh beautiful glorious HARMONY!! All the way home I begged my mom to show ME how to do that.

When I was around 7 and living in Tulare my parents purchased a small spinet piano (which I inherited when I married!). I was enthralled, so excited to learn how to play. Soon after my mom enrolled me, along with my two older siblings, in piano lessons. I remember being so frustrated. I thought with one or two lessons I was going to be able to play right away! I soon realized, to my great disappointment, that I was going to have to pay the price and practice in order to play.

Our poor mom would remind us daily to go practice. All of us complained, found excuses why we couldn't go practice and would sneak out after practicing only a few minutes. One day in exasperation my mom told us if we didn't get in there and practice she would have us quit. She said she couldn't afford to continue to pay for lessons we didn't prepare for. The threat had no effect on my brother and sister, but it worked on me. Even though I hated practicing I loved my music more. I got up and went and practiced!

It was those early years of piano lessons and learning how to read music that gave me many opportunities in elementary school to sing in a select 5th-6th grade city choir. I also was chosen by the orchestra leader to be taught how to play a viola and then participate in an elementary city orchestra and then Junior High Orchestra, all because I could read music. I will love my mom forever for providing me the chance to learn to play the piano in my youth.


I matured physically at a very young age. So did my singing voice. By time I was in Junior High it became obvious I was a singer. At 14 I stopped piano lessons and begin voice lessons. I feel like we were spiritually guided to a woman that would have great impact on my life. My voice teacher’s name was Lillian Warneke. Though she wasn't a member of the church, she was a deeply committed Christian who was equally passionate about God and music and anyone who loved it like she did. We hit it off right away and became dear friends. It was under her direction, standing at her piano I learned how to use my voice to glorify God and feel His spirit speak to me in song. She introduced me to whole new vistas of musical repertoire, from opera to pop to spirituals. It was there I fell in love with the human voice.

Monday Club Audition

I remember one experience vividly. I was a senior in high school when I was encouraged to audition for the Monday Club Music Scholarship. It would help finance attendance at BYU and also ready me to audition for a music scholarship from BYU. The Monday Club scholarship was serious and highly competitive. I worked hard learning an Italian Aria and a very difficult number in English. As the audition came closer I doubled up on my lessons with Mrs. Warneke. I practiced like I never had before. The last lesson I attended the week of the competition was magic. When it was over I knew I had it!!! I was ready!

It was dark outside when I walked out of that lesson to my car. As I reached for the door to open it to drive home I fell against the car, overcome with emotion, and started to cry. I cried out from the deepest part of my soul in humility and gratitude that the Lord would have honored me with this gift. I knew it wasn't something I learned or had somehow earned. It was a gift from God that had been a part of me from before I was born. Standing there in the dark I raised my voice in praise to God. And in that moment I pledged that my heart and my talents would always be used to glorify His name. It was a tender, never to be forgotten experience. 

I have tried to keep that pledge my whole life.

Mr. Letson

High School was filled with opportunities to sing. As a freshman our school district hired a young man, fresh out of university, to be our new music teacher. His name; Mr. Letson. He was full of fresh ideas, energy and enthusiasm. He brought the music program at SLO High back to life. I was blessed to have him all four years of high school. (When our class graduated he left with us to go teach at a college.) I would go on to sing in many choirs at BYU, but it was Mr. Letson who I patterned my style of conducting after. He was amazing and so inspiring!!

One of Mr. Letson’s innovations was starting a Mixed Ensemble (four people on each part; sixteen all together in the group). He called us “The Carousels”. We ended up performing 2-3 times a week for the next four years. We became well-known throughout SLO County. We were good. One of the innovations Mr. Letson brought that is done now all the time but back then was unheard of, was doing choreography with our singing. We were able to go on several tours all over California. We became experienced entertainers and I had continuous opportunities to solo.

The best part of Carousels was that over half the members of the group, along with our accompanist Cathy Jones, were all Mormons. My senior year in high school we baptized 17 people (one was Jim) and most came from Carousels and our Concert Choir.

In high school I was also able to do some musical theater. My favorite role was that of Bloody Mary in South Pacific. She was the comic character of the play. Bloody Mary’s part was a little naughty and so fun to play. Plus Bloody Mary had two of the best songs in the play, “Happy Talk” and Bali Hi”. So fun!

A Musical Experience I'd Like to Forget

Because my group of LDS friends all sang with me in Carousels we were asked to do a lot of singing in church and at church events. There is one experience I wish I could forget.

Our church region, which included Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo Stakes, decided to have a concert that included small groups of youth singers. The Region asked that each stake provide at least one quartet of young singers to participate at the event. I remember we got notified late so we didn’t have much time, but because we all could sight read and had Cathy as our amazing accompanist we were confident and threw it quickly together in a couple rehearsals.

I look back now and realize how badly we underestimated this event. It had to have been a big deal. Our leaders had to drive us down to Santa Barbara to perform in front of a very large crowd. We were surprised and a little intimidated, especially because we all knew we weren't really prepared.

Our turn came to sing. We stood up on stage and Cathy begin her introduction. I’m sure because of our nervousness we missed our entrance and then it just went downhill from there. It finally got so bad we started to giggle, then laugh, then guffaw. AND WE COULD NOT STOP!!! We finally had to leave the stage. And when we finally stopped laughing we truly felt awful and embarrassed. We were mortified! It was a long trip home. Our leaders never spoke one word to us the whole way back to San Luis!!! (But as bad as it was, to this day I still giggle when I think about it!)

In high school there were two things that had the greatest impact; meeting Jim and my music. I can’t tell you who my other teachers were, but I can give you detail about those that brought music into my life. My best friends were involved, right there with me, singing and preforming. It was my passion, my identity and my contribution to the world. It's what introduced me to the Spirit.  I don’t know who or what I would have become without the leavening effect of music in my life. It was at the core of my high school experience!

(To be continued)


  1. Love your passion, your identity, and the finger print of the image of our Creator on who you are (and ALL) that truly means in your life. XOXOXOXO

  2. I am SO happy to have all this written down in one place. I knew most of those stories, but not all of them. You were truly prepared from a young age to change lives with the love and enthusiasm you have for praising Heavenly Father through music. I am grateful for the blessing of growing up in a home constantly filled with music. I love you and your abundantly talented self!

  3. I. Loved. This. I cried when I read the part where you fell on your car and wept because of the gratitude of your talents and voice. I have felt that way, and because of you, cultivated it into something even better and gave me opportunities to share it. SUCH A FUN POST!