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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

November 9, 2018

A leaner, meaner website

evelyn @ 10:13 pm

Things are not as promising as they were a few years ago.  We were so much more optimistic.  Even the 2010 revision of the Mass text couldn’t put us down. It was just another challenge.

But now – all has gone quiet. We don’t hear anything from the usual sources. Catholic church music seems to be fading away.  Or else the lines of communication to the parishes are down. Things may be happening, but we don’t hear about them.

Well, Forth in Praise has decided not to give up.  We do still have readers, believe it or not. And the response to our check on the mailing list was incredibly heartening.

So we’ll cut away a lot of the dead wood from the website, and focus on what seems worthwhile to us.  Who needs guidance, anyway?

November 2, 2018

Blog is in its tenth year!

evelyn @ 8:01 pm

Ten years is a lot of blogging, as was pointed out to me at last week’s meeting. Some sort of celebration will be in order next year.  Must start working on it now …

October 26, 2018

Watch this space …

evelyn @ 5:34 pm

The way forward for Forth in Praise is to be discussed tomorrow!

August 22, 2018

The Three Tenors

evelyn @ 8:05 pm

No, not those three!

 

Organist friend with deep speaking voice: Yes, I’ll come and sing in the choir for the parish concert.

Me: Great! We’ll have a really strong bass line.

Organist friend: Well, actually I’m a tenor.

Me: Oh, that’s good, too. We have only one tenor, and he doesn’t like singing on his own. So now we can be SATB.

It was a parish gathering and I was recruiting for the choir’s appearance at our forthcoming parish concert.  I pounced on my next victim. He was the MC, announcing things in a strong and (as I thought) low-register voice. I’d heard he’d just joined a local choir. He agreed cheerfully to take part in the concert. Later someone told me he had joined the local choir as a tenor.

Then we realised our second bass would be on holiday at the date of the concert, leaving us with three tenors and one bass.

Why does our choir always buck the trend? It is well known that tenors in choirs are like gold-dust, and now we have three of them. Choirs are supposed to be awash with sopranos, but there was a time when we had none at all. That was OK with hymns when the congregation sang the tune, but just try doing Mozart’s Ave Verum with no top part!

So here we are, out of balance again. Our solitary bass is very good, and perfectly capable of singing on his own, but he still could be drowned by such a strong tenor part. We are hunting basses now, but if we strengthen that line too much we’re going to need more ladies to stop the upper parts being overwhelmed. We’ve already had complaints from the altos about the off-putting sound of the men immediately behind them.

This parish concert – an innovation suggested by our priest – is going to be a riot …

August 15, 2018

Quite a surprise!

evelyn @ 8:13 pm

Not many people at Mass this morning for the Feast of the Assumption. The main body of believers had probably attended last night’s Vigil. I was a bit disappointed, as I had planned to give the organ its head with the popular hymns to Our Lady.

But when I started off with some very moderate diapasons, the enthusiastic response from below gave me such a jolt that I quickly built things up, and stayed that way. Are there more people there than I can see? I wondered. I took a quick look over the rail during the Creed, but no, there wasn’t a huge crowd hiding just below the gallery.

It was just the old Marian magic at work again. These hymns, which surely must put to rest the ‘Catholics can’t sing’ argument, are totally Catholic in origin. Except for ‘Tell out my soul’, which appears to be a Protestant paraphrase of the Magnificat acquired by us as part of the changes after Vatican II. Nevertheless, they belted out that one as well. Terrific tune, Woodlands.

We finished up with ‘Hail, Queen of Heaven’ and all stops out.

However, I still miss the wicked men. I felt other people did, too.

July 8, 2018

Swimming the Forth

evelyn @ 4:46 pm

On 22 September my daughter, along with a number of others, is going to dive into the River Forth and swim from South Queensferry to North Queensferry, if not blown off course! Her swim is in aid of MIND, the mental health charity. There will be various craft in the river to fend off the swimmers from obstacles in the water, mainly the (now) three bridges over the Forth at this point. Here is Katy with all three bridges in the background:

Forth in Praise felt we couldn’t let this pass. The Forth is very important to us. It cuts across the major part of the Edinburgh archdiocese, and is a symbol for us of the many parishes grouped around it with whom we have had happy times exploring church music.

So well done, Katy, and accept a small donation from Forth in Praise (should anyone else be interested, donations can be made online here).

Mental health is so important. Sometimes I worry about my own … (see last week’s post)

June 28, 2018

Running late

evelyn @ 4:42 pm

I thought I had a good five minutes.

With ten minutes or so to go, the cantor upstairs was getting restive, presumably because he could hear me gossiping in the church porch. He’s just being a fuss-pot, I decided as I climbed the gallery stairs. Because he seemed so anxious, I went straight to the organ without changing shoes or digging out organ glasses. I got out the psalm, and we ran through it quietly a couple of times. It seemed fine. Cantor hurried off downstairs and I began preparing for the start of Mass. As I said, I thought I had a good five minutes.

Getting things in place before Mass is a bit of a ritual: find hymn books and missal, put shoes on, glasses on the console, psalm, newsletter, Mass sheet and other bits and pieces on the music rest. Then climb on to my ‘organ chair’, specially created to help while I recover from my back injury, and open hymn book at first hymn. It sounds a lot, but it actually only takes two or three minutes. Then I improvise on the quietest flute until the bell tells me to go straight into the entrance hymn.

This time the bell went as I was doing up the buckle of the second organ shoe.

What on earth?? I thought, plus a few other things which one shouldn’t think in church. I staggered over to the special chair. This takes a little time to install oneself in. There are two steps up, and you have to sit sideways first then use a lever to swivel round.

‘The first hymn is number 846’ announces the priest, obviously not too pleased at the delay. The congregation dutifully stand and wait.

By this time, I am in the chair and frantically leafing through the hymn book, peering through my bifocals as I look for 846 (haven’t a clue where the organ glasses have got to).

‘Number 846’ repeats the priest, with a hint of menace this time.

‘OK, I’ve got it!’ I shout irritably (Oops! Did he hear that, I wonder?) as I launch into ‘Amazing Grace’.

‘What happened?’ he asked afterwards, reasonably amiably. I told him my clock must have been slow, but I knew it wasn’t really that. I never did work out how I could have timed things so badly that day. Was I just being over-confident? Do I need a holiday? Or is the forgetfulness of old age at last setting in? I can’t say I like that idea. Or did time become elastic, as with Einstein relativity? Now I do like that idea.

Anyway, it hasn’t happened since.

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?

 

 

 

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