April 30, 2016
Details are now posted on our News page. If you’re a beginner, or just thinking about it, do come along.
April 27, 2016
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!’
April 17, 2016
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
‘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
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
||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.
February 25, 2016
That’s lieblich gedeckt according to Google Translate. So much nicer than ‘stopped flute’, isn’t it?
I am trying to learn German – again. Rather like those people who keep giving up smoking. I’ve always regretted not having had the chance to learn in school the language of music. Yes, I know Italian is the language used in scores, but so many of the great composers were German or Austrian. So many editions of their works are in German, so that the music is perfectly clear, but the commentaries, or worse, the words of songs, cannot be easily understood.
Previous attempts to learn German included a book whose philosophy was that vocabulary was all the mattered to get by, and never mind grammar. I could understand the reasoning, but the sheer quantity of words to remember overwhelmed me. Then there was the book designed to teach German to musicians, which I thought would be ideal. However, it seemed to be aimed at orchestral players travelling abroad, with lots about practice and rehearsals. Again, I drifted away.
What I’m doing now is quite different. It’s a free computer application called Duolingo, which my son introduced me to. It’s almost addictive, and great fun. It takes a classroom attitude, working on a single subject at a time. It sends you emails if you miss a day. It encourages you to go back over earlier themes. And you can listen to genuine German speakers, while getting a chance to speak yourself (and being told off if your speaking is not up to standard!).
And what a language it is to pronounce! So different from the flowing Romance languages which I did learn at school. German seems to be all consonants. Just try saying Knobf (button) or Pferd (horse), pronouncing every letter! However, an advantage of this precision is that you can work out what people are saying, even if you don’t yet know what it means.
A couple of small drawbacks for me with the otherwise excellent Duolingo:
First, I’d like to know more about the underlying grammar, especially the declension of nouns and pronouns, which I haven’t had to face since school Latin. But a textbook to widen this aspect should be easy to find.
Also, the English used is American, although they do accept British English in answers. It works fine most of the time, apart from odd moments such as finding that der Garten means ‘the yard’. More of a puzzle is der Hosen which translates as ‘pants’. I decided this must mean ‘trousers’, which my dictionary confirmed. No doubt Duolingo’s underwear section, when I reach it, will put the matter beyond dispute.
On the plus side, I can now pronounce correctly the names of a number of organ stops, and things like Oktave and Prinzipal no longer look strange. As for Waldflöte and Lieblich gedeckt, these now have real meaning.
Mind you, ‘Forest flute’ and ‘Covered lovely’ on the stop tabs just might, in my case, have produced more inspired playing.
February 16, 2016
Occasionally I’m asked to play at weddings for people from other European countries. Sometimes it is for a family from abroad who have settled in the parish. Or else it can be a ‘tourist wedding’ for which our historic town has been chosen, like the French one several years go.
On that occasion, when it came to the actual marriage liturgy, all the guests surged into the sanctuary and gathered closely round priest and couple, cameras and video recorders flashing and whirring away. Those who couldn’t get in front of the altar went round the back, until the sanctuary was full of them. Our then priest was obviously quite taken aback at the sudden rush but decided to keep things peaceful and not to send them packing. Whether this was a French custom, or whether they were just taking advantage, I wouldn’t know. And of course this rumbustious crowd may not have been typical. Maybe the blog’s French readers could enlighten us?
Then there was the Italian wedding. The flower arrangers spent the whole of the previous day filling the sanctuary to within an inch of its life with white flowers and absolute masses of greenery. And I mean ‘filling’. The floral arrangements climbed high towards the ceiling and as for floor space, there wasn’t much left at all. The priest they imported said a good deal of the Nuptial Mass in Italian, and I thanked the Lord for my knowledge of Spanish, which at least gave me the gist of things, more or less.
Our own priest’s face was a picture the next day, as he parted the fronds of the Amazonian jungle which his sanctuary had become in order to reach the altar and say Sunday Mass.
And then there was the Irish wedding. Ah, but that’s another story …
February 1, 2016
Our Lenten Gospel Acclamations for Year C are now available for free download on the Forth in Praise Publications page.
Here’s an excerpt from last year’s post about this project:
The experiment concerned the Lenten Gospel acclamations which replace the usual Alleluia. There are four different texts for the people to sing, all of which appear in no apparent sequence in missals and Mass sheets the year. It can’t just be a form of Lenten penance, surely?
However, you don’t have to stick to what is in the missal for any particular week. It is acceptable to select another of the four instead, and in the heady but confusing times following Vatican II, many parishes took the easy way out and adopted the custom of singing the same Gospel Acclamation – music and words – all the way through Lent. The most popular choice for this purpose was an acclamation which had originated in Glasgow shortly after Vatican II, but soon became known everywhere. Priests especially liked it, because it was easy to lead the people with when there wasn’t an organ.
It is still widely used, and our parish tended to go in for it quite a bit. But this year, parish priest Father Paul Kelly demanded a change. He was very precise about it. He wanted a chant, which the popular tune wasn’t. He knew which chant he wanted:
and he wanted it used for the cantor’s versicle as well.
This was an opportunity to address something that had always bothered me: the fact that if the same acclamation was used for every week in Lent, there was only a one in four chance of the words in the people’s hands coinciding with those which they would actually sing. So the acclamation was duly arranged each week in this form.
At first, the people were a bit wary, but by about Week 3 they had got the idea. Using the cantor to introduce the people’s line helped them to see how the words fitted.
Here’s an example for Lent 2016. This one is for the first Sunday in Lent:
The rest can be freely downloaded from our Publications page, together with easy organ accompaniments and chords.
I know it’s all very boring, but Lent isn’t supposed to be fun, is it?
January 18, 2016
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Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
‘Bring me my organ shoes! I’ve forgotten them, and it’s Jerusalem!’ Thus went out the cry of panic, and my husband had to leap into his chariot of fire and bring the shoes over to the church.
Normally, forgetting the shoes just means rather more manuals-only stuff, and some careful, easy, quick-look-down pedalling. But not when the tune is Jerusalem. Not only is the pedalling fairly intense, but it is such a wonderful piece of music that one wants to do it justice. The shoes are essential.
Although the original words aren’t really relevant in our Scottish environment, other texts have been set to Parry’s glorious tune. The two in our hymn book are highly popular, not least with the organ itself, as it peals out with everything blazing.
As it happens, William Blake’s inspiring poetry doesn’t always feature even in English hymnals. When it came to putting the text to music, it was seen as an anthem or a song rather than a hymn. Apparently Sir Hubert Parry, when asked to set the poem in 1916, had misgivings, due to contemporary war-related politics. However, he eventually wrote his famous melody at the request of Walford Davies, who commented:
- We looked at [the manuscript] together in his room at the Royal College of Music, and I recall vividly his unwonted happiness over it … He ceased to speak, and put his finger on the note D in the second stanza where the words ‘O clouds unfold’ break his rhythm. I do not think any word passed about it. Yet he made it perfectly clear that this was the one note and one moment of the song which he treasured …
Of course, Jerusalem is now currently the front runner in the quest for an English national anthem, and the English half of me rejoices in that. Most refer to it as ‘Blake’s Jerusalem’; many musicians, myself included, as ‘Parry’s Jerusalem’. There is no doubt, however, that it is one of the best combinations of words and music of all time.
And I do so like sentences beginning with ‘And’.
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.