The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog
The personal views of a Catholic parish organist
November 21, 2016
There’s been an incredible amount of interest in our free download of Eugene Burns’s St Magdalene Christmas Gloria. Not that St Magdalene has much to do with Christmas, of course. The St Magdalene Gloria, which has been around for some time, has been modified by the composer to include a Christmas carol refrain for seasonal use, hence the name.
There have been some requests for audio files, which we were pleased to be able to to upload today. They are computer-generated and without words, but give an idea of how the music works.
Those interested can find all this here.
November 14, 2016
Just added to the Downloads and Shop page: a Gloria for the Christmas season. It’s the existing St Magdalene Gloria by Eugene Burns but with a Christmas refrain, based on ‘Angels we have heard on high’.
If you already know the St Magdalene Gloria – our parish sings it all the time, the chant is so straightforward – then adding in a well-known carol should be no problem. If you don’t know it, it might be worth learning. The composer has kindly agreed to our publishing it as a free download, at least for a limited period. So why not try it out?
Also, the full Christmas Carol Mass is again available in the Forth in Praise shop.
October 31, 2016
Busy getting the Christmas Carol Mass back on the publications page after several enquiries. It should be there tomorrow.
And I haven’t bought a single Christmas card yet …
October 24, 2016
Following the liturgical shake-up of the 2010 Missal, I wonder if somewhere along the line the idea has taken root that you can’t split up a Mass setting into its component parts and use them separately?
I know of three parishes, and have heard of more, which adopted a certain revised Mass setting in its entirety at the time of the Great Change in 2011. They must have made a real effort, as the setting I’m thinking of includes a through-composed Gloria. Five years on, they are still singing it. Even if some of the people are becoming restive and would like a change, the idea of again going through the process of learning a whole new Mass setting is making them think twice.
Other parishes, mine included, tackled the 2011 challenge with a bit of mixing and matching …
OK, the Agnus Dei hasn’t changed, so we can use existing ones for now. The Sanctus has changed just a teeny bit, so we’ll get tweaked versions of the ones we know, and maybe find a couple more. Hmm, those Memorials are all new. Better go with the ICEL chant for the time being …
… and so on. The upshot is that five years later there is quite a variety to play with. For example, a single Mass could have the Missa de Angelis Gloria (in Latin), a Sanctus by Schubert, an ICEL Memorial Acclamation chant and the old Bellahouston Agnus Dei. My parish is currently ringing the changes with four Glorias and five Sanctuses, although we do need to find a new Agnus or two, and the Memorial Acclamations are rather hanging fire.
Agreed, these patchwork Masses don’t have the unity of a Mass by one composer, but they make it much easier to introduce and teach new Mass parts, slipping them in one at a time. And we’re not singing the same melodies week after week.
Unless we mix-and-matchers have got it all wrong, and the Church has indeed made a rule about unity of music. I wouldn’t put it past them. Does anyone know?
Don’t answer that.
October 17, 2016
The other day I looked into the Twitter app on my iPad and found … amazing things! Some people have been following Forth in Praise, some have retweeted one or two of our tweets, and some have even been sending messages. And I never knew!
For someone of the older generation, I had always thought I’d kept up quite well with advancing technology. Facebook and Twitter, however, have always defeated me. I was on Facebook briefly, but was put off by the jargon and worse, by the eternal fear of clicking in the wrong place and sending a friend request to a stranger. I gave up on Facebook, and just put the odd bit of news on the Forth in Praise Twitter account, which had been set up by our previous webmaster.
Now I’ve discovered all this Twitter interaction which everyone will think I’ve ignored. So apologies all round and thank you to followers for remaining with Forth in Praise.
I’ve decided I must work at Twitter now. The next thing is to find out what happens when you follow someone.
Yes, Forth in Praise will become more active on Twitter. And the first thing I’ll do is tweet just that.
October 10, 2016
I suppose every funeral organist at some point will start thinking about the music for his or her own funeral. Many of my organist friends, including younger ones, have actually decided what they want, and some have even written down their wishes.
I haven’t got that far yet, but I have some very definite ideas about hymns I don’t want:
- Walk with me. I just hate this ditty with its totally inappropriate accompaniment. Yet it is incredibly popular, and I’ve never understood why.
- I watch the sunrise. Hate this one, too. The gaps in the melody make it so difficult for the people to keep together.
- How great thou art. The wide range is tricky to sing and there is that awkward downward leap of an augmented 4th at the first ‘How great thou art’, which so many people overshoot.
- Going home. The well-known symphonic melody is great for orchestra, not so good for singers, with its wide range and all the high notes towards the end. And the words vary from hymn book to hymn book.
- Anything by Graham Kendrick.
- Anything with meaningless and cringe-making tempo indications, such as ‘Worshipfully’, ‘Thoughtfully’, ‘Prayerfully’, and the like.
- Most – possibly all – Catholic post-Vatican II hymns.
Strange to say, I wouldn’t automatically count out those two old faithfuls, Crimond and Abide with me. There’s always such a massive response to them. Even the non-churchgoers know them, and can make the rafters ring.
However, I mustn’t assume there’s going to be an enormous crowd …
October 3, 2016
Yesterday I got off the organ bench and joined the choir.
Our soprano situation has got so bad (we have ONE, and she is also the choir leader and conductor) that we couldn’t sing an anthem – any anthem. Hymns in parts are OK, because the people all sing the tune, but just imagine, say, Mozart’s Ave Verum with a minimal melody. We’re completely out of balance.
We’ve tried recruiting from the congregation, with so far no success. We’ve tried to persuade some altos to turn soprano by lowering the pitch a bit, although you can’t go too far with that without complaints from the other parts that they are singing in their boots. I’ve done some rearranging into two parts, trying to give everyone notes within their range, with the organ filling in. But it’s all very unsatisfactory.
At last week’s practice we hoped that a very simple little three-part choral piece might work, but our solitary soprano said she couldn’t concentrate on projecting her own voice while conducting the others. The alto we got to join her was willing, but unhappy about the high notes.
Then I had my brainwave. ‘Let’s try it unaccompanied‘,I said, ‘and I’ll sing soprano’.
Now I don’t have much of a voice at all – that’s probably why I’m an organist – but what there is of it is most definitely in the soprano range. High (well, reasonably high) notes have never been a problem, even if somewhat weak and breathy.
So we tried it, and our baritones and altos proved to be so reliable that the lack of organ went unnoticed. And yesterday, with the two sopranos well to the front of the gallery and helped by the lovely church acoustic, we successfully sang our little anthem.
It was well received. The fact that it was unaccompanied gave it novelty. We must do this more often, was the feeling.
Hmm. Maybe I’d better go in for a bit of voice training …
September 19, 2016
They were processing out to the Trumpet Voluntary, and the bride and groom had already passed under the gallery. Suddenly the guests following behind halted. Guests standing in the pews ready to make their way out also stopped where they were. The entire church was at a standstill. The only thing moving was the music.
At first, I thought it was just a log-jam, perhaps caused by a photographer taking pictures of the bridal couple exiting the church. But the pause went on and on, minute after minute. Even with a log-jam there is some inching forward here and there. Not this time, however. No-one moved, not even to chat to each other. Everyone was just staring at the door. It was like a video with the pause button pressed.
All this time I’d been bashing out the Trumpet Voluntary, going round and round. I thought I’d better give them a break from the decibels, so I removed a few stops and even added a variation or two. After a further few minutes, I decided they must be sick of the Trumpet Voluntary. I certainly was. So I stopped. I got off the organ bench, and looked over the gallery rail. No-one noticed me. They were all still staring ahead at the door.
Had they really become frozen? As in a science fiction film where time stands still? Then I noticed our priest, pottering about at the altar, not apparently bothered by the situation, and certainly not frozen.
All of a sudden the pause button was released. The crowd surged forward. I returned to the organ bench and played them out with a fairly subdued Trumpet Voluntary. Once they had gone I hurried down to our priest to find out what had happened.
‘Oh, it was raining’, he said casually.
All became clear then. It was one of those days when beautiful sunshine alternates with short but intensely heavy downpours. Had the bridal pair left when they were meant to, they would have been completely deluged. So everyone in the church had been watching the downpour through the open door, waiting for it to cease.
Everyone except me. I couldn’t see the door, and hadn’t a clue what was going on.
We have a huge window in the gallery, but it is frosted. There is talk that it might be changed to stained glass, with some clear panes included. That change can’t come quickly enough for me.
September 12, 2016
Saturday’s recital in our church by Robin Bell was excellent. It was wonderful to hear the organ properly put through its paces, the counterpoint of Bach bouncing round the church. Some interesting unpublished sixteenth-century Scottish keyboard music, too. Glorious.
Quite a crowd came from far and wide, and stayed for tea and chat afterwards. A couple of Catholic organists who now play in the Church of Scotland (see last week’s post) told me of a particular horror story in their own diocese. In one parish, quiet organ music is strictly forbidden before funerals, presumably on ‘organist-mustn’t-show-off’ grounds. The mourners must sit in silence for up to half an hour.
Now everyone knows that if there is one time when gentle background music is really needed, it is before the start of a funeral Mass. Soothing and consoling, it makes all the difference. Undertakers demand and expect a full half-hour of such music before their funeral parlour services. Family mourners appreciate it, and often ask for particular melodies. It helps.
But it does look as though some clergy are still living in the dark days immediately following Vatican II, when many believed that no note of organ music should be played that wasn’t a humdrum accompaniment to the people’s song. It was as if the organist had to be kept down.
However, there’s no doubt that I am one of the lucky ones. I’m very privileged in my Catholic organ job. My only problem on Saturday was nervousness at the thought of having to follow on Sunday the wonderful performance we had all just heard …
September 5, 2016
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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.
When will they ever learn …?