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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

June 11, 2018

More about the incredible organ bench backrest

evelyn @ 4:49 pm

There has been an enquiry about my organ backrest chair, so I thought I would post a bit more detail. How it all came about is explained in the original post.

This was a one-off created by David, our genius organ-builder, after I failed to find anything commercially. The swivelling padded seat is the best part of it, to my mind (it was originally a discard from one of those mobility scooters you see travelling along High Street pavements). A wooden frame was built to the width of the pedal board, the seat slotted in, and the steps added. It was important to make sure that the seat was in the same position for the player, horizontally and vertically, as was the original bench.

It’s nearly a year since my injury and I’m almost ready to return to the real organ bench, which will be a relief to my co-organists, who have to shunt round bench and chair every Sunday. But I will miss my chair, as it has extra functions: I can swivel right round to talk to the choir, and swivelling half-way wound enables me to face the front for readings, sermon and announcements.

I’m still full of admiration for David’s ingenuity. It’s been life-changing!

May 21, 2018

Bridal chit-chat (27): The Royal Wedding

evelyn @ 4:10 pm

Like a billion others, I tuned in. Like most organists, I had downloaded the Order of Service. Lovely day, well-planned rites, lots of dresses and hats to look at, and plenty of pageantry. But for the organist with a few spring and summer weddings coming up, the music was the main point of interest.

The bride came up the aisle to a Handel ode for soprano, trumpet and orchestra. Most tasteful, and tears were being shed. Handel solos do go on a bit, so the couple had to wait for the finish, exchanging a few lip-readable remarks as they did so.

Hymns – Slane and Cwm Rhondda – were just right. Motet and anthem – ditto. The gospel singers opened my eyes to the merits of a genre which I’d previously dismissed as ‘ok, but not my kind of music’.

Lovely cello pieces at the Register signing. The only slip-up was by the BBC when they labelled the Sicilienne as Fauré’s Après une Rêve, which was next on the list.

However, the most interesting moment for me was the music for the final procession. For a few seconds I thought it was Handel’s Hornpipe in F from the Water Music, which the opening resembled. But in fact it was one I didn’t know, Boyce’s Symphony No 1, first movement, for string orchestra. It was light and breezy and spring-like, a cheerful ending to this varied service.

At church on the Sunday after a royal wedding, some organists make it almost a point of honour to play the people out with the final music of that wedding, which is often something we already know. I could find only the four-part string version of the Boyce on the internet, but I downloaded it and spent a good part of Saturday afternoon cutting and pasting together the outer parts, with a view to a figured bass-style accompaniment. Alas, I just couldn’t get it to work on the organ. It needed the lightness of the strings. Or maybe it was me. I don’t know.

I reckoned it was pretty un-memorable to the majority of people, anyway. So I decided the Handel Hornpipe would be just as good, if not better.

 

April 29, 2018

Where have all the Catholic organists gone?

evelyn @ 8:24 pm

As yet another Catholic organist that I know of casts his lot in with the Church of Scotland, I thought it might be worth revisiting this post of two years ago:

organists leaving

flowers_gone1

We had a visitor a few days ago, who casually remarked that the last three organists in her Church of Scotland church had been Catholics. That immediately added three to my ever-increasing tally of Catholic organists whom I personally know, or know of, who are now playing in the Church of Scotland.

As far as I can tell, these musicians don’t abandon their religion. They make use of Vigil or Sunday afternoon Masses to fulfil their obligation. One or two even play at those Masses now and then, in addition to their official Church of Scotland commitment.

But what is our Catholic Church about, that these gifted members of its flock feel they have to take their talents elsewhere?

It’s easy to say that they are doing it for the money, but the situation is more complex than that. Certainly, for some the payment is the important thing, but these are usually people who need the money, students in particular. A more subtle attraction is perhaps the fact that organists are seriously valued in the Church of Scotland, where they have good, well-maintained instruments, responsive clergy and congregation, the chance to extend their skills with voluntaries and choral works, and a voice in the running of the worship. In contrast, Catholic parish organists can often find themselves stuck with aged, decrepit and inappropriate instruments, indifferent clergy and perhaps even some hostility from the congregation (he’s just a big show-off, playing that stuff as we go out!). There are notable exceptions, of course, such as my own church, but is it any wonder that some organists decide to escape?

Professional playing in the Church of Scotland is not easy. The standard expected is high. Organists have contracts and can be sacked. The Catholic organists who make the transfer are therefore highly skilled and motivated musicians. Why should we have to lose these people?

If our Church saw its organists as providing the essential basis of liturgical music, and valued them as such, it would invest in them. Not just payment, maybe not even payment. What we need is encouragement, resources, decent instruments and a modicum of appreciation. A little TLC could work wonders, and might bring back people whose real desire is to play good music in their own church.

flowers_gone2

When will they ever learn …?

Or do they just not care?

 

 

 

April 3, 2018

An Easter Crisis!

evelyn @ 3:58 pm
An Easter Crisis!

 

We were halfway through the Litany of the Saints at the Easter Vigil when I realised I had omitted an important duty. The dreadful question loomed in my mind: Were the correct numbers on the hymn board? As soon as I could, I flipped my organ glasses to long-distance and with great trepidation looked at the board. Horrors! The Good Friday numbers were still there.

Why, oh why, did I forget to check the board before things started? Stress, probably, at the end of an exhausting Holy Week. Still, it was my responsibility – mea maxima culpa – and what could be done about it now?

At the Vigil the congregational hymns don’t really get going until Communion, so there was still a chance. I clambered out of my organ chair for a quick word with the altos. Could someone possibly change the numbers when the choir goes down to Communion? One of them pointed out that the box of numbers was not visible, so must be in the vestry. However, God bless them, two of them agreed to take it on, one to start fixing the board from the numbers already there, while the other would unobtrusively collect the box from the vestry. The hope was that all this would pass unnoticed in the general movement of people at Communion time.

Anxiously I watched from the gallery, not wanting to start the Communion hymn (no. 270) until the number appeared on the board, which had now become blank. Suddenly I recognised an arm in a blue sleeve which put up a 2 and then a 7. Where’s the zero? I thought. Of course, it must be in the box. Should I start? No sign of a zero yet – doubtless the second helper was still edging her box past the now enormous Communion queue. I started anyway, and when I looked up at the end of the first verse the numbers were all in place, and the choir returning in triumph.

There were varied reactions from the congregation at the different stages of this rescue operation. They ranged from:

Very mournful hymns for the Easter Vigil, I must say.

through

Oops! Just found it in the hymn book, and now the board’s gone blank.

to

‘Christ is alive’. Ah, now that’s better than Stabat Mater.

 

Thank you, kind altos. Isn’t our choir wonderful!

 

March 3, 2018

Beastly!

evelyn @ 12:35 pm

The choir’s Holy Week programme is being been messed up again. Last year the cause was a copyright issue with Boosey and Hawkes. This year it is –

The Beast from the East!

It is three days since either of the cars in our drive has moved. Our priest told me on the phone that two people made it to the weekday Mass that day (there are usually 40 or so), and that the big Tesco opposite the church had closed at 3 pm with empty shelves. A text has arrived from this week’s cantor, who went to London by train, to say that she can’t get a train back for Sunday. As for me, I’m not sure if I’ll even manage the two-mile drive over the hill. Ah well, a Mass without music is perfectly valid.

But Holy Week will be a problem if we can’t practise. Especially as it will all be new to our stand-in conductor, the American lady from last week’s post. Time for a Plan B, I’m thinking. There’s certainly time to think of one when snowed in.

In the meantime, I used my phone to take some photos of our garden to send to my son in sunny Australia. When I went to look at them I found, to my astonishment, that the phone had turned them into a video, complete with music! Somewhere along the line I must have tapped in the wrong place. Anyway, I thought readers might like to click on my first accidental attempt at movie-making:

BEAST!

Maybe the choir should be next …

February 10, 2018

Notes across the Pond

evelyn @ 11:00 pm

An alto (to stand-in choir leader from USA):     Half-note? You mean a quaver?

Stand-in leader:      What’s a quaver?

Me (to the alto):       No, no, a half-note is a minim. A quaver is half a beat, if you’re working in crotchets, that is.

Stand-in leader:      What’s a crotchet?

It’s all very well for me, of course. My favourite type-setting program is American, so I’m sort-of bilingual.  But this very specialised culture clash came as a bit of a shock to everyone else.

The American system is a sensible one, working down from the whole-note (semibreve) through half-note, quarter-note etc. The British names are quaint and intriguing, especially breve, semibreve and minim, which date from medieval times, when they were considered very short notes indeed. (Longa and maxima, the old names for longer notes, have fallen into disuse. Not surprisingly, as today any one of them would last for ever!).

I’ll give our stand-in leader a copy of the table below before the next practice. And as this learning exercise should be two-way, I’ll give out copies to the choir as well.

Oh, and a measure (US) is a bar (UK).

February 2, 2018

Bridal chit-chat (26) – the winter wedding

evelyn @ 2:15 pm

The congregation was remarkably quiet. Usually, while awaiting the bride’s entrance, they chatter at an ever-increasing level of decibels until, depending on your mood, you either ratchet things up and force them to listen, or simply shrug and let them get on with it. But as I said, this lot were different. They were sitting in what appeared to be a devout silence.  Maybe it was something to do with the icy weather outside.

However, it didn’t last. As the bridal moment approached, I became aware of noise coming from a different direction. High-pitched squeals and shrieks were coming up through the gallery stairwell. What on earth was going on? There was nothing down there except the stall merchandise and a few hymn books. I didn’t dare leave the organ to investigate, as the Big Moment was nearly upon us. But who were these people, and did they realise that their squeals and giggles were audible to the entire church?

Next thing it was ‘Please stand for the bride’ and I launched into Pachelbel. When I had finished, the noise downstairs had stopped. Thank goodness.

The wedding proceeded as normal and everyone surged out of the church to Mendelssohn. As I wound up the voluntary, I could hear the shouting and squealing start up again below. This time I marched across to the top of the stairs and called out ‘What’s going on down there?’

A head popped into view. ‘Oh, we’re the bridesmaids. We’re just changing.’

‘Was that you changing earlier, just before the bride’s entrance?’

‘Yes, it was far too cold to wear our dresses to the church.’

I hadn’t the heart to tell them that the whole church could hear them in their improvised changing-room, but no doubt someone at the reception would delight in passing on the news.

When I finally packed up and descended, they had all gone. Later, the lady who runs the stall told me they had left behind a sock, a pair of tights and, strangely, an electric plug.

January 26, 2018

Cantors from Hell!

evelyn @ 6:28 pm

I couldn’t resist posting this list of what shouldn’t happen at the microphone! It was written by my very good friend, Frances Mary Dunlop, an experienced cantor who teaches upcoming cantors in her parish of St Mary’s, Greenock.

Meet the Cantors from Hell!

SADIE THE STYLE QUEEN always wears clicky heels so that she clatters around the altar like a geiger counter. The congregation are usually so mesmerised by her huge dangly earrings that they pay scant attention to the words of her psalm.
The good cantor moves quietly, does not distract the congregation by idiosyncratic dress or mannerisms.

CASUAL CLAUDE approaches the lectern pulling from his pocket a crumpled piece of paper from which he proceeds to sing the Word of God (Claude often acts as reader, usually at his cousin’s funeral).
The good cantor uses a book or folder for a more professional appearance, and to show respect for the Liturgy.

FRISKY FREDA is a young thing, fortunate not to have stiff knees. She runs briskly up and down the altar steps.
The good cantor acts with decorum, moves unhurriedly, whether suffering from stiff knees or not!

MESSY MARY is disorganised, spreads all her bits and pieces – books, papers, specs, glass of water – along the altar rails.
The good cantor is well-organised, well-prepared, avoids clutter.

FIDGETY FRANK sits during the Readings, searching his psalter for the right page, hunting through all his pockets for his glasses, blowing his nose …
The good cantor listens attentively to the Readings, participates in the Mass as a member of the Assembly.

OPERATIC OLIVIA has had singing lessons, and doesn’t let anyone forget it! She bellows into the microphone the whole time, even when the people are singing their response.
The good cantor engages in dialogue with the Assembly, does not sing while they are responding, knows how to lead without dominating.

HASTY HARRY is anxious to save time. He and the reader (Hurried Hughie) start moving towards the lectern during the Opening Prayer. (‘No sense in making the Mass longer than need be.’) At the end of the First Reading he is treading on the reader’s heels, and beginning the psalm almost before the people finish saying ‘Thanks be to God’.
The good cantor observes the principle that there should be no movement during a prayer, knows the difference between an ‘empty’ silence and the reflective silence which should follow the First Reading.

 


Frances M Dunlop

January 16, 2018

January blues

evelyn @ 3:29 pm

The January bugs have been going around. Cantor rota is all over the place – it’s a question of finding out who is still capable of singing. Not so bad for organists. They don’t have to sing, and can snort, snuffle and cough in the gallery while playing.  At least, I hope so, as I now have picked up something myself.

Weather is miserable.

My son is here for a few days from Australia, where temperatures are around 40 degrees. He must feel he has stepped into a fridge …

January 2, 2018

All over bar the shouting

evelyn @ 2:33 pm

Actually, there’s been no shouting – just an exhausted silence.

Carol service and Christmas Mass seemed to go really well. Even our new anthem, which we had agonised over and which had a stinker of a pianistic accompaniment, simply labelled ‘Keyboard’, was without major incident. Choir and instrumentalists were all smiling and exchanging Christmas cards at the end.

The church was the fullest I have seen for a long time. Congregation sang lustily, especially when it came to ‘O Holy Night’. When it was over singers and musicians all went home, no doubt for a well-deserved drink.

Since then, there’s been no news. I haven’t seen any of the church people to find out how things were received. Everyone is celebrating at home, and the weather has been lousy – ice, snow and then a deluge of rain.

Sunday 31st came sneaking along. No special music, just me in the gallery. I asked our priest if he had had any feedback from Christmas Eve. ‘Oh it was very good.’ he said vaguely, adding ‘It always is’. Obviously his thoughts were on the days ahead, and with ice, snow and a funeral coming up, this was understandable.

The cantor, when she came up for the quick run-through before Mass, was more forthcoming. Two of her relatives had been in the congregation. ‘They were still crying when I got downstairs’, she said. I felt myself go pale. Had it been that bad? But no, it turned out that they were just feeling emotional, carried away by the occasion. Phew! I thought. Maybe it was really quite good, if it had had that effect.

‘Oh, those two are always emotional’, continued the cantor, ‘Anything at all will set them off’.

Oh well.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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