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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

October 19, 2011

Going with a bang

evelyn @ 10:13 am

‘Can’t we sing this unaccompanied?’ The remark came from the back of the hall.

It was inevitable, I suppose, that the purist point of view should be represented at this fairly large gathering where we were trying out the ICEL chant. I was the accompanist, doing my best to play a very aged home organ.

I looked at our leader, who shrugged and took the polite option. ‘OK, we’ll try it without accompaniment’, she said. ‘Should I go home?’ I asked, equally politely, which got a laugh.

So we set off again, with me sitting to one side, feeling a bit spare. Little by little I became aware of the front row trying to catch my eye. After a while, the first two rows started making piano-playing gestures. I shook my head. After a few more minutes and some low-level muttering, they came right out and asked for the accompaniment to be resumed. Our leader nodded to me, and I returned to my post. There was no comment from the back.

Our purist got the last laugh, however, when the organ started an ominous growling and finally blew up with an almighty bang, sending me tearing across the room in fright, wondering if this was God’s opinion of my playing. We continued unaccompanied.

Two distinct points emerge from this incident:

• Yes, chant is traditionally unaccompanied. At the learning stage, however, most people appreciate the backing of an instrument, even when their ultimate aim is unaccompanied singing. There is actually some evidence that this practice went on in medieval times – I came across it when studying the modes as part of my thesis.

• As I’ve said before, one should be very, VERY careful with aged electronic instruments.

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