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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

April 24, 2011

MacMillan at the Vigil

evelyn @ 8:25 pm

I do regret having neglected the blog lately, with all the hectic occasions which have had to be organised: the March organ event, the 9 April new Mass translation Singing Day (about which much more in a later post!), the frenetic run-up to Holy Week in my own parish, and the intensity of the week itself, culminating in last night’s Vigil.

It wasn’t until I was actually accompanying the final psalm response of the Vigil that I realised that for the very first time ever, I was about to play the MacMillan Newman Mass as part of a parish Mass. I’d played it for the Holy Week practices, and for the 9 April Singing Day, and last year at the parish practice for Bellahouston, but never before actually at Mass. Help! What was it going to be like? No time for speculation, the Gloria was upon us.

Ouch! Priest intoned it in the wrong key – my fault for not stressing the importance of this moment musically and preparing for it, or if we’re being honest, not realising said importance until it went wrong. It took a few beats before the congregation picked up, but once they did we all pounded along in great style, and finished with that superb organ flourish. The people had only the words in front of them, but there was no doubt that they remembered the melody from Bellahouston. In fact, all the melodies.

The Sanctus was a real winner, with its ‘bird-song’ introduction; our Hill has some lovely flutes. Liturgically, the Sanctus cries out for a proper introduction that just flows on from the Preface; the hymn-style first-line-and-pause intro is always a bit of an anticlimax. So the bird-song, descending into the warmth of the first melody, was really very nice. Also great fun was the build-up of the final hosannas, adding stops at the rests James M appears to have provided thoughtfully for the purpose, with the final hosanna leading into the majestic ending for organ alone.

The organ passages that weave in and out of the plaintive Agnus Dei are no problem for the people, as they lead easily into each statement of the prayer. And again, something different for the organ. This time a gentle coda with some gorgeous cross-rhythms.

So what did everyone have to say over the glass of wine in the hall afterwards? Generally, apart from one or two ‘old guard’ comments, the response was favourable. Priest (who has agreed that we will sort out the intoning problem) was complimented on his pioneering attitude to what is in effect an altogether new genre of Mass setting. At least, I hope it becomes a genre; we need more like this.

As an organist, I love the way the Newman Mass treats the organ as an instrument in its own right, rather than as a distasteful but unfortunately necessary object which must never step out of its accompanying role – the old Vatican II attitude. It’s possible that the days of organists being looked upon as show-offs may well be over, if the number of people who said they liked my ‘twiddly bits’ is anything to go by.

Happy Easter, everyone!

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