“Off By Heart”
Recently, there was some quite shocking news to many of the Sanpete members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The Church announced, that later this year, the Manti Temple would be closed for a multiple year renovation.
This part of the news wasn’t the shocking part. We’ve known for a long time that the “pioneer temples” of the church were going to be updated with extensive seismic safety work and other improvements.
The bigger news for many was that the main temple ceremony ordinance is going to be converted to a film version. The Manti Temple, along with the Salt Lake Temple, uses “old school” in person “stage play type presentations.” Temple workers (volunteers) (mostly older people) memorize huge parts in a script for the hour and a half plus presentation.
The ending of the “live sessions” in both Salt Lake and Manti will represent the end of an era. Some people are having a hard time with the idea of letting go of the old ways. The church says it will standardize the ceremony in its many worldwide temples and allow multiple different languages to be provided at each temple.
I know many people in Sanpete who have memorized parts to be an “actor” in the temple. Many of them have been participating for many years into their later years of life. The new change dropping the need for live action volunteers announced by the church read, in part, “…this adjustment will help more members feel confident to serve as ordinance workers without the requirement for lengthy memorization.”
For many of us, it isn’t easy to memorize things. I grew up frequently hearing the phase, “knowing something off by heart.” That meant that you had something memorized.
There are many types of memorization. Students in school memorize multiplication tables, formulas, laws, and all sorts of facts and dates.
The ending of volunteers memorizing lines at the temple has reminded me of the hard work, concentration and repetition it takes to precisely learn a poem, lines in a stage play, or a piece of music on an instrument. I’ve been involved in all of those types of memorization over the years, so I can relate a little.
My mother had my siblings and I learning poems when we were little kids. Back in those olden days, we would have neighborhood gatherings quite often for food and fun. I don’t remember how it was organized, but kids would often be called upon to recite poetry or to play a song on a musical instrument.
One of the poems I learned started like this: “Grandpa dropped his glasses in a purple pot of dye, And when he put them on again he saw a purple sky…” I don’t remember the rest of it.
Snow College put on the Noel Coward play “Blithe Spirit” some years ago. I was especially interested to see it because I had played the lead role in that show years previously in a community theatre production here in Sanpete. I was amazed and still am amazed that I learned that many lines.
Being on stage is quite a scary thing for me. Some people have dreams of not being able to open their school locker or being naked in the street. I haven’t been in a play for quite a few years, but I still have very real nightmares of being on stage and not knowing my lines.
Then there’s the matter of music. I’ve been to quite a few music recitals over the years. When I really pause and think of all the variables involved in performing a piano solo without a music book, I’m in awe.
Depending on the piece, there are hundreds or thousands of notes to be played. Each note requires brain cognition and the link to the motor skills and dexterity of fingers working to hit the proper keys. There is a very narrow margin of error.
Factor in the elements of timing and dynamics, as well as the pressure and distraction of an audience, and you have the recipe for an almost impossible goal of a perfect performance.
As my children took music lessons, I watched them perform in recitals. I don’t think any of them looked or felt as miserable as I looked and felt when I was a kid awaiting my turn to perform at a recital. My palms would sweat and I would look at the clock and console myself by thinking, “This will all be over and done in an hour.” I would fidget and squirm until it was my turn.
One recital was particularly humiliating. My musical selection was the classic, “Oh Susannah.” I forget now whether the composer was Brahms, Beethoven or Bach. It could have been someone else, maybe Stephen Foster.
I was a pathetic kid with stage fright there on that piano bench. I couldn’t find the right keys and stumbled around trying to get through it. I somehow skipped a sizable chunk of the song and went straight to the ending. I just wanted it to be finished.
When you think about it, at just about any given time here in Sanpete, there are piano students working hard on their lessons. Parents are prodding, bribing and threatening in attempts to get kids to practice, practice, practice.
If I had a dollar for every time my mom asked the question, “Have you practiced your piano?” — I’d be on the Forbes “rich list” right there with Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. And if my mom had gotten a dollar for every time I replied, “I’ll do it later” – she’d be just as wealthy.
Next time you see someone playing the piano, whether as a solo or accompanying someone for singing, remember that there was a big investment made for that talent. The investment is not just the cost of the lessons. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. You know the costs I’m talking about: commitment, persistence and sacrifice – for students and parents.
Temple worker memorizing volunteers have made sacrifices with their commitment, persistence, and dedication. I salute them all, as the curtain falls on their unique and time-honored service.