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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

June 26, 2016

Prayer in turmoil

evelyn @ 7:33 pm

The conversation after Mass today was all about the EU referendum. There was really nothing to say, but we said it at length and finished up:

Well, there’s nothing we can do about it.

Except pray.

For what?

Er … don’t know. Not sure.

Oh, let’s just ask God to sort it out somehow – please.





June 17, 2016

Locks and blocks

evelyn @ 12:35 pm
Comic book - door knocking

Organs have to be protected from random tinkering by casual visitors to the church. This is done either by a locked door or a hidden organ key. Recently the door to our organ gallery had its lock changed, the old Yale having finally given out. As I was about to discard the well-worn key which had been on my ring for forty years, my mind ran over a couple of ‘lockout’ incidents.

One of these happened about ten years ago, on a Sunday when I was on holiday. Our custom has always been that organist and choir go down first to Communion. Normally, I would precede the others so as to get back to the organ first, and as I passed through the opened gallery door, I would click the Yale up on to the latch. This automatic action was both visible and audible to my companions, so much so that I assumed that in my absence the first person to go down would go through the same routine without even thinking.

Of course, they didn’t. Even then it might have been OK but for a stray gust of wind which slammed the door shut, to the dismay of the choir returning down the aisle. The key was now locked in the gallery, so someone had to push back through the busy Communion queue to hunt up a duplicate from the sacristy, while the others huddled round the locked door, wondering whether there would be any further music that morning.

The other lockout concerned the door from the church into the sacristy. A further door within the sacristy leads into the presbytery, both doors being lockable for maximum security. During Mass, however, the door between church and sacristy is closed but not locked. Except on one memorable occasion many years ago …

The priest saying Mass was a visitor, helping out our then parish priest. He processed out of the sacristy to start Mass accompanied by six or seven altar servers. At the end of Mass, this large group processed back again, only to find that the door to the sacristy had been locked. In those days, the hymn was expected to be curtailed once the priest moved off the altar, but in this case I thought I’d better keep going to try to disguise the banging, thumping and shouting, not to mention repeated bell-pushing, which was coming from the crowd of vested people clustered around the sacristy door. They did not appear to be succeeding in attracting the attention of the parish priest in the presbytery, who had obviously inadvertently locked his colleague out. Fortunately the hymn was a long one.

I didn’t see exactly how the situation resolved itself – possibly an enterprising parishioner went round and rang the front door bell – but when I looked up at the end, the sacristy door was open and they had all gone in.

Ah, those were the days, thought I, looking at my shiny-with-wear-and-about-to-be-binned Yale key.

June 1, 2016

Organ beginners

evelyn @ 7:32 pm

Blog has been a bit neglected – apologies to my (probably few by now) regular readers. The reason has been, of course, Saturday’s organ afternoon for beginners, which needed a lot of preparation. And here they are:


There were fourteen people altogether, representing six different parishes in our archdiocese, which was quite a lot for this sort of event. Two of them were playing three-manual instruments on Sundays.

They were a cheerful, attentive crowd, and I hope they had some benefit from the afternoon. We looked at the nature of the organ itself, touched on the things to remember when leading the people, and, I regret to say, spent some time on an item called ‘shortcuts and surgery’, which told people how to cheat their way through a difficult or inadequate hymn setting; perfection is not the name of the game here. Working with chords was also a theme, with the emphasis on being simple and smooth. You can’t strum the organ.

The Forth in Praise 100 Hymns for Organ Beginners went like hot cakes. I’m beginning to understand the attraction of that book, which has been far and away the Forth in Praise best-seller. But that’s for another blog post.

In the meantime, I’m wondering what to do about the response to the question ‘What next?’ The strongest reply was ‘Pedals!’

May 14, 2016

A choral mystery

evelyn @ 7:34 pm

The choir was surprised and pleased when we heard from our priest that we had been asked to sing at the Confirmation service, by special request of the parents. How nice. We hadn’t realised our own popularity.

Our priest suggested we sing the Veni Creator chant, and learn the response to the psalm which would be sung by a cantor. What we didn’t know were which hymns had been chosen by the school for the beginning and end of the service. By the time we got round to asking about this, the school was on its two-week Easter holiday, and no-one else seemed to know the answer. We decided that there wouldn’t be time to learn parts to the hymns, so we would just boost the singing of the melody. Meanwhile, I would email the school ahead of their return, politely regretting that at short notice we couldn’t do more.

A friendly but rather puzzling reply came back on the first day of term, saying that they were pleased I was playing the organ and giving me the names of the hymns. The email added that the parents were delighted with the involvement of the choir, and also named the teacher (we’ll call her Alice) who would be the choir overseer.

Choir overseer? Why did we need overseeing?

I put this to the choir at our next meeting, and they were equally mystified. Don’t they trust us or something?

Then it dawned. ‘Is there a school choir, does anyone know?’ I asked. There was indeed. Alice’s husband, who is in our own choir, immediately phoned home and got the answer. The parents had asked for ‘the choir’, meaning the school choir, but our priest had, naturally enough, taken this to mean the church choir, i.e. us. This explained our unexpected popularity, and why we apparently needed to be overseen. It also cleared up the school’s puzzlement and concern at Father’s insistence that the choir should be in the gallery, which is off-limits to children on safety grounds.

I met Alice in the car park on the evening of the Confirmation service, and had a laugh with her about the comedy of errors. She hadn’t known about her new role as choir overseer, and thought it hilarious, adding that with her husband in the choir, there might be a certain sense in it.

Our choir’s work has not been wasted, however. We have prepared the Veni Creator for singing tomorrow at Pentecost.

children_choir School Choir, NOT Church Choir! church_choir


PS Important! There has been a good response to the Organ Afternoon for Beginners at Linlithgow on Saturday 28 May. If you would like to come but haven’t booked, get in touch now. Details on our News Page

April 30, 2016

Organ beginners afternoon 28 May

evelyn @ 7:25 pm

Details are now posted on our News page.  If you’re a beginner, or just thinking about it, do come along.





April 27, 2016

Discernment and Vibrancy

evelyn @ 11:08 am

It isn’t about music, but I can’t resist sharing this.

After choir practice last night, we were chatting about the ‘clustering’ of parishes in our archdiocese, which is woefully short of priests. A handbook has recently been issued to all parishes to accompany a series of meetings on the subject.

I had read the booklet, but found it difficult to understand. Two words kept recurring which quite frankly didn’t mean anything to me: discernment and vibrancy. I asked the others if they could translate.

‘Oh, it’s quite straightforward,’ replied one of the baritones, ‘discernment is deciding which kind of beer you want, and vibrancy is the feeling you have when you’ve drunk it!’

beer man

April 17, 2016

Organ beginners afternoon 28 May: advance notice

evelyn @ 4:53 pm

Calling organ beginners! Or pianists thinking of taking the plunge!

If you live in or near the Linlithgow area you will be very welcome to come to the organ afternoon in St Michael’s Catholic Church, 53 Blackness Road, Linlithgow for this 2-hour session. No charge.


More details will be given on this website and sent round the Forth in Praise mailing list. Meantime, put the date in your diaries, and watch this space …

April 5, 2016

Follow that film!

evelyn @ 11:14 am

‘Is it true that you play the piano?’

I looked at the speaker through bleary eyes. It was breakfast time in the Kirkwall guest house, and I am not a morning person. My husband answered for me. ‘Yes, she does.  Why do you ask?’

‘We’re showing some silent films from World War I, and it would be wonderful to have a piano accompaniment’.

We were in Orkney for the Science Festival, which that year was featuring the era of the First World War. My husband was to give a talk on military installations of the period in the archipelago. Our acquaintance of the breakfast table had come from London with some early filmed material. I decided I must have been half-asleep when I agreed to the proposal. This was something I had never done before.

It was an experience I won’t forget, either, although I’ve done it several times since. First, the screen is all-important. You have to watch it all the time, and change the music as the mood of the film changes. Reading a score is out of the question; a combination of memorising and busking is the only way it can be done. It was the only occasion when I had to play throughout wearing my distance glasses.

A run-through of the film in advance was essential, although this takes time, and I remember they had a job fitting it in. But I insisted. In later years, I was given a DVD to play on my computer in the guesthouse – much easier. I had to ransack my memory for old music-hall songs and other well-known pieces of music, trying not to be anachronistic. Then I had to apply these to the different parts of the film, stitching them together with improvised links. No point in making notes. There would be no time to read them. I just had to remember the plan.

Once underway, eyes focused on the cinema screen, it began to be fun. It was a real piano, just slightly (and authentically) out of tune, and the sound came across well. Enjoyment led to more inspired busking, and I finished with a flourish, to congratulations from the people round about, and my own relief.

The local paper reported that the film had been shown ‘with a piano soundtrack’. We were furious. It was live, live, LIVE!  But for the rest of my stay I was referred to by our friends as ‘Dr Soundtrack’.


PS  It was the recent post on word-screens that reminded me of this episode.  But static, boring word-screens are just not the same at all.

March 23, 2016

Holy Week

evelyn @ 6:02 pm

There were things to blog about this week.

Like the 1978 hymn suggested for the Vigil which turned out to be impossible for the choir to learn, let alone the people.

Like that condescending Sibelius program which sits in judgment with its questionable notions of ‘good taste’ and deliberately prevents basic editing.

But this is Wednesday, with its ecumenical service, followed by the Triduum and Easter Sunday, and there is no time for an irritable rant. Maybe next week.

Happy Easter, everyone!


March 11, 2016

Going with the flow – Alleluia

evelyn @ 2:48 pm
frustration Baritone: No, it isn’t going to work.

Alto: Definitely not.

Another baritone: The people will come in too soon.

Soprano: That’s for sure.

Thus spake the choir, having practised for the first time the full version of the newly-composed (by me) Psalm 117 that precedes the Gospel at the Easter Vigil.

Me: So it’s back to the drawing-board, then?

Choir leader: Well … maybe not entirely. If we can just strike out those two organ bars before the response …

Choir (all at once): Yes. Good idea. Excellent. Just the job. Who’s got a pencil?

Me: OK.  (I really LIKED those two bars – sniff)

Actually, they were right, although I hated to admit it, even to myself. We have in the past used the well-known plainchant Alleluia for that particular response. This time I thought a metrical Alleluia which they could sing in parts would make a change. They had agreed to the idea, and there had been no objections when they practised the response on its own last week. It was when I produced it joined up to the cantor part that the trouble started.

At the end of each verse, after the cantor had finished, I had the organ building up to a two-bar really loud sort of fanfare, which I’d taken care to construct to give a strong melodic lead-in to the ‘Alleluia’ response. I’d put a lot of work into it, and thought it was OK.

But it wasn’t. Build-up OR fanfare, not both, they said, and what convinced me was that they said it instantly after the first run-through. They had obviously felt impelled to come in right after the build-up, and the congregation would feel the same, if not more so. So I’ve now removed the fanfare and am revising the cantor part. Fortunately the cantor, who isn’t in the choir, is (a) highly efficient and adaptable, (b) good-natured and (c) for the moment, totally unaware of all this agony.

Unless she reads this blog, of course.

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