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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

September 28, 2012

At church in Orkney

evelyn @ 9:56 am

Back from Orkney now. Lovely as usual. I always enjoy our visits there. This visit included two Sundays, on which I went to the church of Our Lady & St Joseph in Kirkwall.

I wasn’t sure if I would make it to Mass on the first Sunday because the car was needed by my husband for his Science Festival commitment, but happily I was offered a lift by parishioner Ben, who has recently had a book about liturgical music published by the Catholic Truth Society, and who runs a schola cantorum which sings from time to time in Orkney’s famous Italian Chapel.

Definitely I must attend one of these occasions on my next visit.

On the second Sunday I had a chat with Michael, the organist. He does wonders with a fairly limited keyboard, the organ having been a casualty of severe flooding some time ago. His playing included some nice eighteenth-century voluntaries, and a nifty bit of modern-style improvisation at Communion. You always know that your improvisation has been successful if someone comes up and asks what the name of that piece was, as I did with Michael. Improvisation (or busking, if you are being modest) is so useful in Catholic liturgy; you are never at a loss for something to play in these odd moments which seem to need it.

I do hope they manage to replace the organ soon. It is a beautiful little church with such a good acoustic that they don’t use microphones. The smallest of electronic organs would suffice, without any amplification. Perhaps on my next visit Michael’s improvisation will include flutes, string stops and even the odd reed …

It’s funny, though. There’s still no getting away from Australia. ‘We’ll be starting to learn a new Mass soon’ said Michael, ‘the Mass of St Francis’.


  1. Glad you enjoyed your trip to Orkney. Michael the organist visits us on Stronsay to tutor an evening class in “Singing Techniques”. He’s been doing this for nearly 9 years and we are delighted to have his expert knowledge.

    Comment by Bruce Fletcher — September 29, 2012 @ 4:41 pm

  2. Thanks for comment, Bruce, and sorry for delay in replying. Yes, I could tell from his playing that Michael is quite out of the ordinary as a church musician. I do hope he gets a proper organ in Kirkwall soon. He’s mentioned his work on Stronsay and your interesting church. On one of these visits I really must try to get there. In fact, I’d love to go to all the islands. This time we made it to North Ronaldsay and saw those incredible sheep!

    Comment by evelyn — October 13, 2012 @ 10:47 am

  3. North Ronaldsay lamb has a taste all of its own!

    Comment by Bruce Fletcher — October 20, 2012 @ 7:09 pm

  4. Michael is even better than you suggest: he does incredible wonders with a very, very, very limited keyboard. We are extremely lucky to have him.

    Comment by Elizabeth Lawrence — October 21, 2012 @ 4:54 pm

  5. Thanks for comment, Elizabeth. I did actually realise about the keyboard, but I was trying to be diplomatic, not being sure how people would react if a visiting stranger made derogatory remarks. And yes, Michael IS a superb organist who deserves a really good instrument. Hope I can show my face in the Kirkwall church again now! 🙂

    Comment by evelyn — October 25, 2012 @ 11:17 am

  6. Everyone says this about North Ronaldsay lamb, Bruce, and my husband is anxious to try it. I’m not quite so sure …

    Comment by evelyn — October 25, 2012 @ 11:23 am

  7. My wife is not at all keen on “ordinary” lamb – too fatty. However, she thoroughly enjoys a roasted leg of North Ronaldsay lamb.
    (By the way, there’s a lovely response to the recent article in the Boston Globe advocating removing the organ from churches – http://view-from-the-loft.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/killing-us-softly.html)

    Comment by Bruce Fletcher — October 27, 2012 @ 5:57 pm

  8. Bruce’s link is worth reading. The original article about ‘killing the organs’ in the Boston Globe is appallingly irresponsible, and the reply to it by an American blogger is excellent.

    Comment by evelyn — October 29, 2012 @ 12:30 pm

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