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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

July 4, 2012

Bridal chit-chat (12)

evelyn @ 7:30 pm

Usher:  She’s ready.

Me:  You’re sure?  All photographs taken?  She’s at the door?  Waiting?

Usher:  Yes, yes.  It’s OK. You can start.

So my pre-Wagner fanfare pealed out.  The congregation stood up.  The Bridal March proceeded majestically and sedately (which was how I used to explain the rather slow pace, but the truth was it was early days, I hadn’t done many weddings, and trembling hands at this point in the service were a problem).

The bridal procession emerged from below the gallery and moved up the aisle.

Reached the altar steps.  Stopped.

No priest.

Help!  What do I do?  I can’t stop playing.

The Bridal March from Wagner’s Löhengrin isn’t very long, of course.  I went round a couple of times.

Still no priest.  Time to become a composer.  My first improvisation experience was at hand.

Like the well-known headless chicken running round the farmyard, I played on.  And on.  For ever, it seemed, as everyone stood in silence.

Has he forgotten?  Is he ill?  Is there anyone I can ask to go and check, without stopping playing?   Looked round for usher, photographer, ANYONE.  I was alone in the gallery.  Damn.

After what seemed like an eternity, he did eventually emerge from the vestry. I had just enough wit left to crawl back into the last phrases of Wagner, and bring it to a conclusion.  Phew!

It turned out that his watch was slow.  He had been organising things in the vestry in a leisurely way, idly wondering why I was playing ‘Here comes the bride’.   Fortunately, the bride was highly amused by the whole episode.   I can’t remember whether they had a video; if they did, it must have been a riot.

As I have said, it was early days, and part of one’s education as an organist.   That was how I learned, first, that there are worse things than errant ushers.  Secondly, always, ALWAYS to make sure both bride and clergyman are in position before starting anything.


  1. I think I’m getting an idea of what people mean when they say “it’s funny because it’s true” reading your blog, Evelyn. I don’t generally get sore from laughing but at least my rib cage is tickling a bit.

    I don’t think I’ve ever had no-show clergy at a wedding, though the bride has been late, and once I had to play the Wagner (on a pump organ) who knows who many times, complete with improvised interludes and modulations to most of the twelve keys while waiting for the bride, who thought it would be a great idea if they drove up in a car to the little chapel while I was playing the thing, which meant a phone call to tell me to start as soon as they were at the front gate of the (don’t ask) golf course, and then, of course, about five minutes of Wagner while the congregation waited and listened.

    There was a time also when, for the longest time, the bridesmaids did not show up, and finally, about four minutes later, came tripping down the aisle, all three of them, about two feet apart. If one of them had stumbled, thought I, they’ll all go down like dominoes! But they didn’t. And the bride followed a minute later with a bit more dignity, if still a little too fast.

    Comment by Michael — July 11, 2012 @ 9:25 pm

  2. I’m so glad you realise it’s all true, Michael, because it is, as every organist knows. And each time it’s different, like your domino bridesmaids – that’s a new one. As they say, you couldn’t make this up. Two questions: what is a pump organ? I probably know, but don’t recognise it by that name. And is that an absolutely gorgeous cat in your avatar?

    Comment by evelyn — July 12, 2012 @ 7:42 pm

  3. That gorgeous cat is my furry friend of thirteen years, Erasmus. He’s quite popular with the ladies, actually, because every time I take him on a road trip I get comments on how pretty he is. He’s also very polite, which is one of the first things I noticed about him when we first met at the shelter–I opened the cage and he came to the front, looked at me, and said a pleasant how-do-you-do.

    Now, to something less pleasant. A pump organ is basically a small parlor organ that you have to keep pumping air through in order to keep the sound going, by alternately depressing two pedals which are positioned in the place where the swell pedals would be, so you can’t get a buddy to do it for you. It’s tiring after a while–and sometimes perilous. Besides the wedding organ, which was against the wall in the little chapel, I played one once onstage in a college production of “Our Town” and found that the vigorous pumping that was required tended to make the organ move downstage. On opening night, the organ began to leisurely perambulate out of my range, causing my legs to stretch more and more, while I quietly hissed to the fellow playing the choir director (who, according to the script is also supposed to be playing the organ, but wasn’t) to help me secure the rogue orgue. He did, and the show went on, but it was a long run, and despite our attempts on the following nights to keep it in place with doorstops and whatnot, it liked to wander off every other night, prompting several close calls.

    I can’t remember what else they are called, but you probably know.

    Comment by Michael — July 13, 2012 @ 6:35 pm

  4. Erasmus is a lovely cat! My family and I are great cat lovers. Our Tipsy died in her twentieth year a little while ago, and we miss her dreadfully. Like your cat, she chose us on a visit to a cat rescue place.

    Your pump organ is what I know as a harmonium or American organ, reed instruments which work like a harmonica, and pedalling them really uses up the calories! Lots of churches had them before the electronic revolution, and I’ve played a few in my time. I must do a post on them sometime, and I hope you’ll let me refer back to your hilarious experience of the organ on the move – that was so funny.

    Comment by evelyn — July 14, 2012 @ 9:55 pm

  5. Of course you can tell that story! I think some part in the back of my brain even thought it was funny at the time, but it helps when you aren’t trying to keep your balance in front of an audience at the same time. Later you can just laugh at the thing in the comfort of your living room without the need to simultaneously fend off disaster! And it’s funnier when you remember how contorted your body was at the time–no wonder people like Charlie Chaplin could make their living doing things like that!

    Comment by Michael — July 17, 2012 @ 1:14 am

  6. Well, I will tell it, and quite soon, with full acknowledgement of my source and a ping-back to your comment, if I can manage it (as you can see from my following post, technology isn’t my strong point!). Many thanks.

    Comment by evelyn — July 17, 2012 @ 3:16 pm

  7. Funny story Evelyn… But I MUST tell you off for not knowing if their was a video. There’s ALWAYS a video, even an iPhone counts…. And that means a double fee for the organist… Musician Union rules! 😉


    Comment by Paul — August 10, 2012 @ 9:04 am

  8. Paul, thanks for comment. It has inspired the latest blog post (17 August).

    Comment by evelyn — August 17, 2012 @ 10:39 pm

  9. I was asked to play the harmonium for the Episcopalian church in Brora, Sutherland. The instrument was very elderly and not in the best of condition, rather like the usual harmoniumist (is there such a word?) who was ill with ‘flu. It was the middle of December so the priest had scheduled several well-known Advent carols. Apparently the harmoniumist didn’t play voluntaries before or after the service so I sat quietly until the priest announced the first carol. I commenced pumping the foot pedals and began playing. After the first few chords I realised that the congregation was accustomed to singing v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y and had to moderate the tempo. Halfway through the second verse the webbing attaching the left hand pedal snapped and dropped to the bottom of its travel, leaving the right hand pedal to do all the work. After the service my right leg was throbbing from the exertion and I’d lost several pounds in weight.
    I’ve played several harmoniums in my time and have found that it sounds exactly the same no matter what combination of stops is selected!

    Comment by Bruce Fletcher — October 27, 2012 @ 6:13 pm

  10. Ouch! Poor you! I’ve had experiences with harmoniums (harmonia?) also, and plan to do a blogpost about them. I believe they are museum pieces now.

    Comment by evelyn — October 29, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

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