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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist



May 17, 2019

Time to relax a bit

evelyn @ 3:25 pm

Received a link to the music below from my long-time friend, Frances. And it’s so true. Our choir has only just gathered again following our Holy Week exhaustion. And yes, definitely the tension goes out of rehearsing as we approach all those Sundays of the Year.

We are more fortunate than the writer of the hymn below. No Confirmation this year, only one wedding and the sun is shining …

 

 

 

 

May 10, 2019

The joys of scrolling

evelyn @ 2:16 pm

 

 

Ancient Roman boss: Mandy, have you got the scrolls?

Secretary: No, I always walk this way.

A bit of a chestnut, but it always got a laugh when we used it in our 1980s religious drama group, and I was reminded of it on Easter Sunday, when I accompanied our soloist in ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’.

I kept thinking that the music I was playing should have come on a spindle, and you can certainly see why the Romans did things in this way.

Arranging music as a panorama avoids:

  • Page-turning by me (with danger of falling on the floor – the music, not me).
  • Page-turning by someone else (never satisfactory, and in this case there was only the soloist).
  • Any technology (bad for my eyes and you still have to touch screen for each turn – I’ve seen it done).

A friend does something similar, but arranges just one easy page turn so music can be bigger. I must try this.

Page-turning has always been a problem. I’ll never forget the occasion when the music did fall on the floor

 

 

 

May 3, 2019

Bring flowers of the rarest – quickly

evelyn @ 11:44 am

 

It’s that time of year again, and the Forth in Praise website is getting hits from people looking for easy music for ‘Bring flowers of the rarest’ (you’ll find three versions to download here).

I once heard a priest say that the tune of ‘Bring flowers of the rarest’ was originally a German drinking song. He said it contemptuously, but it’s an idea I rather like. Drinking song melodies are invariably cheerful and bounce along at a fair pace. ‘Bring flowers’ is a springtime hymn, and I’ve always thought it should be cheerful and bouncy. And if the original tune is German, our congregations are unlikely to make the Biergarten connection.

So although ‘Bring flowers’ usually appears with a 3/4 time-signature in those hymn books which include it, I prefer playing it briskly in a 2-in-the-bar 6/8 rhythm. At this pace, it also lends itself to improvisation, as I discovered on one fateful occasion.

However, surfing Youtube to find just such a con moto version had surprising results. I couldn’t find a single one. All of them were on the slow side of andante, or even adagio. The most popular treatment seems to be a languishing string introduction, a crooning male soloist and this slow, slow tempo. Might this account for the ‘Bring flowers’ widespread unpopularity, to the point of its omission from the Laudate hymnal?

Or is my bright and brisk interpretation a minority one? If so, could I have been offending people at funerals all these years by taking their favourite hymn too fast?
 
 

 

 

April 26, 2019

A very small token of appreciation

evelyn @ 3:14 pm

Church music is for worship, never for acclaim. A choir piece at Communion, no matter how well done, should be greeted with silence. The Mass then proceeds. The singers should know themselves if they have succeeded in enhancing the liturgy, and that knowledge is all their reward.

Likewise, if they mess things up there will be no booing or rotten tomatoes. The most likely result would be a few suggestions afterwards from the priest.

This year we had worked, and worked, and worked at our choir piece for the Vigil – the English version of Mascagni’s Easter Hymn from Cavalleria Rusticana, ‘O rejoice, that the Lord has arisen’.

We should perhaps have realised that this piece might be a little too ambitious for our simple parish choir. True, we had recently acquired a trained soprano soloist. True, we had successfully brought off the Benedictus from the Jenkins Armed Man Mass last year. But the operatic counterpoint of the Easter Hymn was new to us, and more difficult than expected.

Even arranging the score for our limited forces was a massive job – I was exhausted before we even started rehearsing. An ever-increasing number of extra practices were needed, and our choir organiser and conductor were both fast reaching the hair-tearing stage.

Things improved, however, as time went on, and our performance at the Easter Vigil was sincere and heartfelt, even if the right notes were not necessarily always in the right order. But on this occasion we had no idea how successfully we had performed. Had we made an inspiring contribution to the Easter liturgy? Or would the priest be having a word afterwards?

As the final chord died away in our excellent acoustic, a solitary member of the congregation started clapping, then stopped. Embarrassing for that person, no doubt, but oh, how reassuring for the morale of the choir was that tiny spontaneous sound. One person had liked it.

Thank you, whoever you were!

And here’s an excellent performance of the Easter Hymn with all the notes in the right order:

April 19, 2019

All depart in silence

evelyn @ 12:24 pm

 

[No blog post today, as it is Good Friday. Back next week.]

 
 

 
 
 

April 12, 2019

Lorry mirror

evelyn @ 12:09 pm

Me (on the phone): Lorry mirror? Lorry? You mean ‘lorry’ as in truck?

David: Yes, that kind of lorry. It’s just the thing for organs.

I have to say I’d never have thought of it. Any mirrors I’ve seen on organs have been smallish, sometimes free-standing things, and I had wondered how such a mirror could be mounted on our Hill. It seemed impossible. But this was David, our organ-builder extraordinaire and the inventor of the incredible organ backrest. When it comes to lateral thinking, there’s no one like him.

The mirror had been under discussion for some time. With our choir becoming ever more ambitious, I really needed to be able to see the conductor while accompanying. Up to now playing had been by guess with a quick look backwards at significant moments. It just wasn’t good enough, and having had the go-ahead from our priest, I contacted David for advice.

Later that day there is a call from him – can we meet in the church in half an hour? He has been and purchased a lorry mirror. It is huge. He explains that there are new rules for lorries, and mirrors have to be bigger than before. Now he has to go and work things out in among his other commitments.

A few days later, I go for a practice and find that the mirror has appeared. It is perfect, having a sort of wide-angle view that takes in the whole gallery. And its horizontal placing makes its lorry-nature not at all apparent.

The only drawback is that in the foreground, disconcertingly, I have an incredibly good view of – myself! Only a narcissist can be happy with that situation. Our priest, who approves greatly of the whole setup, dismisses the issue. ‘That’s your problem’ he says. So I’ll just have to live with it.

Otherwise, though, it is excellent, and has made an immediate difference to our choir practices for Easter. I still find myself turning round occasionally, quite unnecessarily, but no doubt that will pass.

And speaking of passing, every time my husband overtook a lorry on the motorway yesterday, I had a good look at its mirror. A fascinating subject!

Vroom! Vroom!

April 5, 2019

Augmented unison? What on earth … ?

evelyn @ 7:32 pm

More and more frequently these days I’m having to fight with the typesetting program Sibelius. My friends all use it, publishers use it and if I want to communicate with these people, I have to grit my teeth and use it too.

The latest episode involved the aria ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’ from Handel’s Messiah, which our soloist is to sing on Easter Sunday. She sings it in the correct key of E major, and has provided me with the accompaniment. All would have been well, except that my organ-voluntary version of this piece is stupidly in E flat major (but that’s another story). At this short notice I couldn’t trust myself not to revert unthinkingly to three flats and wreck the poor lady’s solo. What to do? Eventually we decided that she would sing it in E flat major, and I undertook to scan the four-sharps version into Sibelius and transpose it down a semitone.

All went well until I got to the actual transposing. Here’s part of the original:

And here’s the transposing menu, which offers up/down buttons and drop-down intervals.

So I click on the ‘down’ button, choose ‘Minor’ and ‘Second’ for the interval. Click OK. And … what the dickens is this?

The darned thing has gone into D sharp! With a three-flat key-signature and double sharps galore! What a mess. I go back and try again two or three times. No improvement.

Finally, I dig out the manual. Now I hate this manual for many, many reasons, one of which is that it won’t stay open, even under two huge paperweights. After physically wrestling with it for a bit, I find there is a transposition ‘particular case’ (p 536). To transpose by a semitone, you have to invoke an interval called an ‘augmented unison’.

Augmented unison? That has to be a contradiction in terms. Surely unison is simply unison. You can’t do anything to a unison interval without turning it into something else. Unless Sibelius is inventing – er – quantum tonality?

Oh well, let’s try it …

… and it works, which is a relief. But still, you’d think they could do better than that.

Methinks I shall have to widen my typesetting horizons.

Oh, and just for fun, this is what happens if you go for a ‘diminished unison’:

March 29, 2019

… and the floor will shake

evelyn @ 5:35 pm

I’ve been adapting a fiendish-looking piano score for the organ.  It’s amazing how satisfying the experience is.

For example, you could have this on a piano score:

Both hands going furiously to
get huge prolonged sound.

To get the same effect on the organ, all you need is one foot:

Make sure every diapason, reed etc.
is out at every pitch, plus all couplers.
The hands can do that. They’re not busy.

Here’s the last fortissimo bar of the actual piece I’m working on, together with its organ equivalent.

Get stops and couplers right, and the floor will shake.

Oh, I do love the organ.

March 22, 2019

Judge not, and always check your junk

evelyn @ 3:43 pm

It wasn’t very charitable of me, I have to say. The continuing absence of a much-overdue email reply was getting on my nerves. Finally, I decided to pass the matter to our priest, which I did in an email containing my opinion of the dilatory correspondent.

The result was a phone call from one puzzled priest. The person involved had replied, and had copied the reply to him. He has now forwarded it to me. Still on the phone, I check the inbox on my desktop. Nope, it’s just not there, although his forwarded copy has arrived.

‘Check your junk’, says priest. Nope, desktop junk empty as usual. Priest refuses to believe anyone’s junk folder can be consistently empty. I pick up my mobile phone (priest having come through on the landline) and check its junk folder.  This time I find 32 emails, mainly offering shopping items and the usual unmentionable commodities. And in among them all, looking totally out of place, is the missing email. Eureka!

‘So you see, you should always check your junk’, says priest cheerfully, ringing off.

Obviously, there is junk and junk. Some items, as in this case, don’t make it to an email client program on one’s local computer. But the email client does have its own junk folder, which occasionally receives the odd – usually mistaken – email and therefore deceptively appears to be doing a full-scale filtering job. The real work, however, goes on higher up the chain, on the server of the email host, and that junk never reaches the local computer.

As to why an email about religious music should have been considered junk, I haven’t a clue. But all this does mean one has to check junk at more than one level, and regularly.

And definitely one shouldn’t pre-judge one’s correspondents.

 

 

March 15, 2019

Small hands

evelyn @ 1:24 pm

There are two kinds of hand in my family – lovely big hands with long ‘piano fingers’, and small stubby paws with short fingers.  And of course I inherited the latter.  It’s always the way.

I can barely stretch an octave.  I can’t physically play legato octaves, and even staccato octaves are a strain.  Ninths and tenths have always been completely out of the question.

Learning the piano had real drawbacks.  I had to arpeggiate so many chords, or miss out notes, even when my hands had reached full adult size.  Maybe this was why, as a teenager, I was more interested in theory than performance.

In my twenties, everything changed.  I discovered THE ORGAN.  You need never play an octave on the organ, just pull out a 4 foot stop and your octave is ready-made.  There’s no sustaining pedal, of course, but the organ pedalboard can often free up one hand to help the other with big chords.  In fact, the bigger the organ, the better for small hands.  And organists are needed!  Whole congregations want you to play for them, rather than just doting grandparents and not-so-doting Associated Board examiners.   You might even get paid.

And because you are assisting in worship instead of having all the attention focused on you, it’s more relaxing as well. This has implications for small hands because nerves make muscles tighten up.  The day I decided to give up piano was the day when in an examination I turned a cascade of descending octaves into a cascade of sevenths.  The examiner came over and looked at my hands in silence.  Amazingly, I passed – just.

A lesser benefit, but one not to be sneezed at, is the ability of small hands to reach down between the organ pedals to retrieve dropped pencils, tissues and other debris.

 

And maybe this guy should be an organist!

 

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