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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

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.


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


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


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


March 3, 2018


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:


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!

December 18, 2017

O Holy Night (again!)

evelyn @ 5:53 pm

I’ve noticed that a number of bloggers simply upload a Christmas carol or two at this busy time of year.  A lovely idea.

I’ve decided to follow suit, and for the third year running will give readers my favourite version of ‘O Holy Night’.  (If video doesn’t work, go here and scroll down).  I promise I will not feature it next year!

Our choir leader hates ‘O Holy Night’ even more than I do, but it is now an institution in the parish and there would be a riot if we missed it out. We have to pacify her by letting her have her own way elsewhere.


December 16, 2017

While we’re on the subject …

evelyn @ 4:25 pm


… of the Scottish Federation of Organists, their freely-downloadable booklet Church Organs is absolutely excellent. Contains advice on purchase, maintenance and general suitability of both pipe and electronic organs.

To access it, go to the SFO website, click on Organ Advice, then click on Church Organs.

December 9, 2017

Pipe organs in winter

evelyn @ 4:30 pm

While playing at a wedding yesterday, I suddenly heard the organ humidifier kick in. It was to be expected in this dry and icy weather (bride was elegantly muffled up in what looked like a polar bear stole!).

What was interesting was that since our priest changed the heating system from a forced-air outlet to more organ-friendly radiators, the humidifier has come into action much less frequently.  But it is reassuring to know that it is still on the alert.

So I’ve decided this is as good a time as any to repeat an earlier post on the subject:

Winter is the danger season for pipe organs!

Church heating during a dry, cold spell (and we seem to be getting a lot more of these in recent years) can seriously and often permanently damage the wooden pipes and other wooden parts of a pipe organ by drying them out. Heating systems which force hot air into the church are the worst offenders. There are some lovely pipe organs in our churches, and if you are lucky enough to play one, you will want to keep an eye on its welfare.

Some ways to do this:

1 Keep a hygrometer (a little instrument registering moisture in the atmosphere which can be bought cheaply in garden centres) at the organ and check how often and for how long it dips below normal humidity range. From this you should be able to tell how bad the danger is.

2 Have the organ tuned regularly (twice a year is usual) by a professional organ-builder, who will be able to spot internal signs of damage and hopefully deal with them before they become worse.

3 Call in the tuner if you have a cipher (a note won’t stop playing – you would want to call him in for this anyway!) or a part of the organ goes badly out of tune when it shouldn’t, especially the wooden pipes, such as the flutes.

4 Take advice from your tuner on ways to make the atmosphere in the organ area more humid. Sometimes a strategically-placed tray of water will help; keep it topped up and try to stop a skin of dust forming on it. An old blanket draped somewhere near the organ with one end in the water can be useful (steer clear of electrical fittings!).

5 See if the church heating can be adjusted a bit downwards. With the present cost of fuel the parish may well be prepared to take this on board.

6 Ask the parish to consider installing an organ humidifier, a mechanical device for moistening the air. Your tuner can tell you more about these, and whether one would be suitable for your instrument.

7 Make use of the advice available from the Scottish Federation of Organists. An independent expert will assess the condition of the organ and make recommendations. For more details, go to the SFO website, click on ‘Site Directory’ then ‘Organ Advice’.

Original post (with a comment) can be found here.

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