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The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

February 26, 2015

Manchester in Melbourne

evelyn @ 6:06 pm

Blog has been quiet lately because after finishing the last two organ pieces in Australia with the help of my pre-loved keyboard (below), I’ve had to get the whole set into their final form for publication in March. This has meant transferring them to Sibelius, which I don’t get on with at all, but it’s worth it when it gets to the proof-reading stage. Proofs are now done, too, and I’ve had time to see what photographs are in my camera and phone.


I forgot I had taken a picture of old pre-loved.

I’ve also found two pictures taken in the Melbourne supermarket which we frequented.  It was very like our shops at home, except that the self-service machines spoke with an Australian accent, and were a lot friendlier than the Tesco ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’ lady.

But then there was this on the meat counter:



And this overhead sign:


Manchester.  Manchester?

It turns out that ‘manchester’ in Australia means bedding and household linen.  Don’t know why, but possibly in their distant past, they imported this stuff from the mills in the north of England.  As someone has said, it’s a bit like the way we call crockery ‘china’.

Little things like this remind you that you’re in a foreign country, even though the language is a friendly English and they drive on the left.


February 8, 2015


evelyn @ 10:45 am

I’m currently working on a set of easy organ pieces for publication by Fagus Music in March.  When I first realised that we were going to spend almost a month in Melbourne, a bit of a panic set in, as I wouldn’t have access to an instrument for that time. Our son offered to hire a keyboard for the duration, and started sending me links.  That was how I learned about ‘pre-loved':


Other instruments were given as ‘new’, so ‘pre-loved’ had to mean second-hand.  But what a nice way of putting it.

The piano which we finally hired was pre-loved.  It did strike me that we didn’t know how many pre-lovers it had had, but it was certainly in good condition, and did the job nicely.  And I gave it some love, too.

I haven’t yet got a title for the set of organ pieces.  I did wonder about ‘Pre-loved Pieces’.  It had a nice ring to it, but translated as ‘Second-hand Pieces’ – not so good.

Will let you know before March, just in case someone feels like buying …


January 31, 2015

Christmas with a difference

evelyn @ 12:41 pm

We left for Australia on Christmas Day. I had played on Christmas Eve in my church, but didn’t hang around afterwards. Next day, it felt very strange, travelling to the airport while everyone else was preparing Christmas dinner.

But finally there we were, on a very comfortable plane, soaring into the air. We changed planes at Dubai, and had another stop at Kuala Lumpur, all the while with the feeling that we were flying away from Christmas.  So when we arrived in Melbourne at 3 am and heard ‘Silent Night’ playing over the loud-speakers, it was quite a touching moment. Almost like coming home.

Next day, when the intense heat hit us, we realised that Christmas time in Australia was nothing like coming home. Lovely! we thought, as we shopped for the essential hats and sun cream.

Now we are indeed home,  and as I write I am looking out at my snow-covered car and thinking of emigrating.


January 24, 2015

Blog has been Down Under!

evelyn @ 12:28 pm

Wet and cold in Glasgow yesterday, after our long journey back from the Australian summer.  Main reason for visit was baptism of new grandson, but there was a chance to explore liturgy and organ-playing as well.

More when jet-lag wears off.  Yawn …

December 23, 2014

Christmas wishes

evelyn @ 6:24 pm

As we work up to Midnight Mass or an earlier evening equivalent, can I just wish everyone all the best for the festive season. The blog is taking a break over the next few weeks, but will return sometime in January.

Merry Christmas! And a Happy New Year when it comes!



December 16, 2014

Improvising at speed

evelyn @ 6:06 pm

The Mass seemed to be going faster than usual. We were nearly at the final blessing, and my book of exit voluntaries, beside me on the bench, was still underneath the three hymn books and a missal that I had been juggling with for the last hour.  Carefully, I pulled the voluntary book out from under the others, opened it at an eighteenth-century trumpet piece, and laid it on top of the pile. Alas, my action destabilised the pile, and the voluntary book slid away and disappeared, landing with a clatter down beside the pedals, just out of reach.

No time to leave the bench to retrieve it. The dismissal was upon us, and I had to launch into the final hymn.

What do I do? I thought as I played the hymn. Should I BUSK a final voluntary? A fast and furious improvisation on nothing in particular?

I tend to improvise quite a bit before and during Mass, because it makes it easier to keep an eye on the action being covered. But at these times quiet background music is all that is needed, with tempo no more than andante. A ‘playing-them-out’ piece is something else again. One has to be thinking ahead when improvising, and I wasn’t sure if I could think fast enough for this situation. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I had a go.

It wasn’t the most inspiring of exit voluntaries, as I was playing safe both rhythmically and harmonically. But it was cheerful enough, and helped greatly by the lovely tone of the organ and the resonant acoustic. I’m fairly sure most people don’t listen anyway.

But the experience has got me thinking. This is surely an area where one can improve with a bit of practice.  After all, look what the French can do …

Will try it again sometime.  And next time, it will be deliberate.


December 6, 2014

The Christmas Carol Mass has made it!

evelyn @ 2:04 pm

Well, well, it’s all happening now. My Christmas Carol Mass has been officially approved in time for Christmas, which is very nice indeed. You may remember it was rejected last time because it needed all three Memorial Acclamations rather than the single one I gave it. There were some missing slurs as well.

Anyway, it now has three acclamations, slurs in place and one or two other minor points sorted, and can be found here.

November 28, 2014

The dreaded lurgy is with us!

evelyn @ 7:03 pm
The dreaded lurgy is with us!

Last Sunday at the organ I was not myself. I kept coughing and needing drinks of water. I was irritable with the choir, and my playing was pretty substandard. In fact I had to abandon the final voluntary after the first two bars went pear-shaped, and continue it as an improvisation in the same style – the usual coward’s way out for us buskers. The result wasn’t inspiring but at least it was reasonably respectable and not the obvious mess-up it would have been if I’d tried to carry on with the music.

Some of the choir were rather cool as they left; others hugged me and said to calm down. In the afternoon I sent a terse text message to them all cancelling Tuesday’s practice. Some cool acknowledgements to that.

By Monday the family had to call the doctor.

I was flat out with the current November lurgy, a chesty coughing-and-wheezing bug needing, in my case at least, antibiotic treatment.

Now, on Friday, things are improving, and I’m wondering about the best way to get back the goodwill of the choir. Also, I have doubts about my fitness for Sunday coming.

So today I rang our priest to discuss this Sunday, only to discover that he, too, is down with the same lurgy. I had noticed him coughing during Mass last week, but hadn’t put two and two together.

I don’t know how infectious this horrible bug is, but I’m getting a bit worried about those nice people in the choir who hugged me …

November 14, 2014

Scottish composers please note!

evelyn @ 4:04 pm
Scottish composers please note!

The committee which approves for publication new settings of the Mass is back in business after quite a long interval. There is a meeting scheduled for 18 November – next Tuesday. The Roman Missal Scotland website has the news. Its composers’ guide has now been updated, and gives all details.

This is an excellent development for Scottish composers, whose Mass music, if they wanted it first published or distributed in Scotland, has been on hold for some time. Parish musicians will welcome it, too. I’ve had a number of enquiries from people looking for home-grown settings.

I’m assuming this will mean that the list of approved settings on the Roman Missal Scotland website will also be updated following the committee meetings. It’s certainly worth keeping an eye on the website now.

October 31, 2014

Cantors and confidence

evelyn @ 1:25 pm

Our parish has five new cantors, bringing the number up to eleven, and for the first time in several years some serious training is required.

We first started singing the psalm in 2000, when there was a change of priest. It was completely new to us, but we mobilised the choir, brought in an expert to give us a tutorial, and away we went. However, only now do I realise what hard work that was. Sight-singing is not easy, and one or two of the cantors needed tapes, which meant recording the psalm, and I am no singer. There were also regular weekly or twice-weekly practice sessions. But the original batch of cantors soon became proficient, and the workload was a lot less.

As the years went by, we grew more confident and tried various experiments, such as cantor duets. Perhaps the high spot was a Christmas psalm sung in two parts by six cantors grouped around the lectern.

Now, with this new batch of cantors, I have a ‘back-to-square-one’ feeling, and even though tapes have given way to MP3 files, I still don’t fancy making recordings and having endless practices.

So, to a new approach. Using the Responsorial Psalter as a basis, the idea is that the non-sight-singing cantors should first of all learn two chants by rote, one major and one minor. With luck, they should be able to use these with any response, although the organist may have to make some adjustments.

These ‘default’ chants shouldn’t be needed for ever. After all, we want to encourage people to learn to sight-sing, as so many of the original group of cantors did. But the chants will give confidence initially, which is probably what is most needed just now.

So I’ve prepared some material and very soon we’re going to have a Karaoke session with the new cantors on the block.

We’ll see how it goes …


I meant to post the above last week, but things got in the way, and before I knew it, the cantors’ session had come and gone.

It was highly successful, but the big surprise came when they all produced their mobile phones and asked for a recording of the chants on the spot. With the organ, and the help of an experienced singer, it was no bother at all. Handy things, these smartphones.

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