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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

June 25, 2012


evelyn @ 5:39 pm

In the old days it took two people to play a pipe organ, one to play the notes and the other to pump air into the wind chest. You can still see where the pump handle would have been on my 1874 Hill. Now, of course, everything runs by electricity. You just switch on and it goes. Wonderful. Except when it doesn’t.

Twice in my organ-playing career I have suffered a power failure. On the first occasion, I was happily playing them out with a cheerful voluntary when the organ gave a short moan and died. After a moment in which shock turned to fury, I pelted down the stairs, pushed my way through the departing (and tittering) congregation and into the vestry, where I informed our then parish priest that there were less obvious ways of criticising my playing. However, it turned out to have been an accident; an altar server had been told to switch off the PA system, and had thrown the mains lever instead.

The second occasion was more dramatic. It was an archdiocesan affair, led by the Cardinal. The church was packed, and everything was going well. I had just finished the first Communion hymn when the main light in the sanctuary gave a flash and a bang and went out. There were some gasps from the congregation, but nothing further happened, and Communion continued.

I turned back to the organ to introduce the second Communion hymn. Silence. Nothing was working. Obviously the organ had been on the same circuit as the faulty light, even though they were at opposite ends of the church.

I got off the organ bench and starting jumping up and down in the gallery, waving my arms semaphore-like, trying to attract the attention of our parish priest, who was giving out Communion. It must have looked very strange. Certainly, the Cardinal watched with great interest (as he told me afterwards).

Fortunately, our PP caught on quickly, and announced that the second Communion hymn would be sung a cappella. The Cardinal, in his final word of thanks, got a laugh by suggesting that we have a collection to pay PP’s electricity bill. Then I sat sadly beside the organ as the recessional hymn was sung unaccompanied, feeling remarkably spare and wondering whether it might not be an idea to have some muscular parishioner kept in reserve, who on occasions like this would rush up and operate the wind manually as in bygone days.

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