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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

March 4, 2011

Turning the page

evelyn @ 10:09 pm

Page-turning is one of those very necessary things that one doesn’t give much thought to in the normal course of events.  In straightforward church services, there isn’t usually a need for it.  Photocopying part of a voluntary to avoid page-turning is legal, and that’s what most of us do.  Occasionally a hymn will run to three pages – usually one of those dreadful modern things where every verse is different – but again, we can photocopy legally, or just use a second copy of the hymnbook if one is lying around.

The serious business of page-turning comes when you have a recital.  Notice ‘have’, not ‘give’.  If you give a recital, someone else organises the page-turning.  But if you have a recital, it means that somebody rather brilliant is coming to play your organ much better than you do, and you have to be in attendance. Sometimes the recitalist will bring along a person to do the job, such as a pupil or a spouse.  But generally they expect the page-turner to be provided, and in most cases it falls to the lot of the organist of the host church.

My sad experience is that when I’m concentrating on page-turning I can’t enjoy the music properly.  There’s always the fear of turning over two pages at once, or not realising that there is a turn back for a repeat, or losing the place in a fast and furious cascade of demisemiquavers.  It’s even worse if you are on display.  There you are, standing in full view of the audience, your only purpose being to put a hand out every so often to move a bit of paper.  You have to be careful about what you wear.  If it’s a formal recital, you can’t stand there all scruffy and sloppy.  On the other hand, you mustn’t dress up too much and rival the performer.  A reasonably smart but self-effacing look is what’s called for.

I’m no recitalist, and have only asked for page-turning to be done when I was taking organ examinations.  Otherwise, if I’m playing something too protracted for photocopying, I prefer to turn the pages myself.  On one occasion, this independence was very nearly my undoing.  I had been asked to play the piano accompaniment for a full-length children’s musical at the local primary school.  In the middle of one riotous dance number, I was having to whip the page over every few seconds.  Suddenly, to my horror, I overdid the energy required, and the whole score shot off the music rest and landed on the floor.  Stopping to retrieve it was out of the question.  The stage was full of children in costume, dancing furiously.  I continued from memory, desperately trying to work out how much more of it there was, hoping for hints from the choreography.

Luckily, I was rescued.  By the greatest good fortune, the one teacher who could read music had seen what had happened.  She came over, picked up the book, found the place in the music and put it back in front of me.  No one else realised how close the performance had come to total disaster.

In this age of wonderful technology, can no one invent a better way of turning pages?  Or a way of presenting music so that pages do not have to be turned?  It would solve so many problems.

Comments and suggestions welcome.


  1. Interesting point… I feel something akin to the Kindle or other eBook Readers is called for, though they seem to be considered too small for reading music just now, plus that would still require tapping the screen (not sure how you’d ever avoid that interface – a brain implant that wills the next page over maybe..?)

    Comment by Ant — March 5, 2011 @ 5:16 am

  2. Ant, your comment has got my imagination going. An e-pageturning system probably wouldn’t appeal to most instrumentalists, but it could be done with the organ, I think, as organists are always having to take a hand or a foot off keyboards and pedalboard to manipulate stops, thumb-pistons, toe-pistons, etc. It would have to be something that couldn’t happen accidentally, but a special brightly-coloured thumb-piston, or something to kick quite far back, or both, might work. Better still, couldn’t some clever person tinker with these computer typesetting programs that follow the score in real time? The performer could mark the score electronically beforehand at the page-turning points, and the screen would just change at all the right moments! Now there’s a challenge for somebody in the IT line …

    Comment by evelyn — March 7, 2011 @ 1:00 pm

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