Organist Pulls Out All the Stops to Share Music and the Gospel


I am a professional organist from Palo Alto, California. I played the piano and organ as a child but didn't plan to pursue a professional career. For me, music was a hobby that I really enjoyed.

Following my mission (in Brazil), I began my undergraduate studies at Stanford University by majoring in chemistry. I intended on pursuing a career in medicine. I decided to take an organ class and found myself under the tutelage of master organist Herbert Nanney. Although Professor Nanney was not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he had studied with Tabernacle organist Alexander Schreiner.

Alexander Schreiner
Tabernacle organist Alexander Schreiner

As a result, Dr. Nanney was well aware of the Church. 

In discussing my career options—medicine versus music—Professor Nanney looked me in the eyes and said, 'Don't you know why God has sent you to this earth? It's to be an organist!' 

Teaching and Performing

That was all I needed to hear. I changed my major and obtained a doctorate in music, specifically in the organ. I became a university teacher and also embarked on a concert career that has literally taken me across North America and through Europe, Asia, and Latin America. I have played many of the major pipe organs in the world: the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, organs in Germany that Bach himself is known to have played, the National Cathedral in Washington DC, and the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. 


At all of these choice locations, I have been able to share a bit of my personal story of being a missionary and a member of the restored Church of Jesus Christ. It is an easy conversation for me: most people ask what I do for a living. When I answer, I am a professional organist and a church organist, people will ask, “What church do you play for?”

A Multi-faith Musician

And that's when the story gets interesting. In addition to playing for my home ward (which meets on Sunday afternoons), I also play the organ for several other area churches. These include St. Mark's Episcopal Church (on Sunday mornings); Seventh Day Adventist Church (on Saturday mornings); First Church of Christ, Scientist (on Wednesday evenings); and for numerous weddings and memorials and other services at the Santa Clara Mission Church, which is the Catholic Church at the heart of Santa Clara University, where I am on the music faculty.

In September 2019, my son Nicholas and I performed at an “interfaith and friends organ concert” celebrating the 100th year anniversary of the Canada Toronto Mission, which is where Nicholas had recently completed serving as a missionary. The chapel at the Toronto Ontario Stake Center was filled to capacity with stake members as well as clergy and members from the Anglican, Baptist, Scientology, and United churches. This concert again provided opportunities for developing interfaith friendships and furthering opportunities for working cooperatively together.

Rev. Pat Felske (director of special affairs, Church of Scientology Toronto), James Welch (organist) and Rev. Canon Philip Hobson (rector, St. Martin-in-the-Fields Anglican Church) enjoy the reception prior to the concert. 

Some people have asked, “How is it for a member of the Church of Jesus Christ to be the organist for different faiths?”

My reply: 'It has been a marvelous, interesting, uplifting experience for me, meeting wonderful people of different faith traditions and learning of the good they all do. They all know that I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—I make no secret of it. Then, we share our stories of faith and love for the Savior in different ways. The important thing is that we all love God and are trying to serve Him in the best ways we can.' 

I get plenty of questions about the Church, always respectful, and I have even been invited to speak at various forums and classes about different faith traditions. Additionally, other members of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Palo Alto area enjoy coming to the concerts where I am performing. For example, at St. Mark's Church I have performed concerts for Halloween, New Year's Eve, Fourth of July, and other events. These interactions have helped develop a spirit of good will and respect for each other’s beliefs and service.

Be a Light for Jesus Christ and Learn from Others

When I was called as bishop of the Stanford Young Single Adult Ward, I asked the stake president if I would need to resign my positions as organist for these local churches. 'On the contrary,' replied the stake president. 'We want you to stay right where you are, where you can continue to share your testimony with other members of the community. You can be a light to them, and at the same time, you can learn from them.'   

Nicholas and James Welch

Becoming a professional organist and music teacher has been a most fulfilling and satisfying vocation for me. My career has mostly been centered on performing on the organ and piano for a variety of Christian churches, allowing me to meet and develop friendships with people of other faith traditions. These interfaith activities have promoted a united spiritual appreciation of music and singing of praises to God the Father and His Only Begotten Son, even Jesus Christ. I have been greatly blessed to spend my life sharing my love of music.

As the Lord has revealed in these latter-days: “For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads” (Doctrine and Covenants 25:12).