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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

February 3, 2010

Interlude: the uses of Youtube

evelyn @ 8:27 pm

It started when one of my churches decided to forbid the playing of CDs at funerals.  This caused some upset to families who wanted the coffin to go out to the deceased’s favourite piece of music.  The inevitable happened:

Undertaker: The family want to know if you can play ‘Amapola’ on retiral. It’s a Benny Goodman jazz band number.

Me:  (Jazz band number! Help!) Can’t say I know it.  I might if I heard it.  Can anyone provide the music?

Undertaker: I’ll check and get back to you.

What came back from the family were three pages of the full band score.  This was similar to an orchestral score, and if you’ve ever dealt with orchestral scores, you’ll know that three pages of a piece going at any speed is equivalent to about ten seconds of music.  No use at all.

One doesn’t want to pester the bereaved, but I was on the point of asking if they could lend me a CD when I thought: how about trying Youtube?  I’d first discovered Youtube after watching a cable TV programme of some pretty dreadful figure-skating, where they all kept falling down. To counteract this I went to the computer and googled ‘John Curry’ and immediately got a Youtube video of that wonderful gold-medal performance in a Winter Olympics years and years ago.  I have since found you can get just about anything on Youtube. So on this occasion I googled it with ‘Amapola’ and lo and behold! up came a clip of the whole thing.  Excellent.

Transcribing pieces like this for organ is OK so long as you don’t even try to produce the same effect as the original, in this case a jazz band (well, maybe some of these gaudy electronic organs with rhythm sections could do it, but it’s risky).  The treatment I use is a bit similar to the old music dictation which we all hated at school or college: get the melody written down first, then the main bass beats, then a rough harmonic structure (chord symbols will do), then any noticeable twiddly bits (sorry, motifs) in the accompaniment.  You finish up with a melody you can solo if you wish, plus an underlying chordal accompaniment and possibly even a pedal line.

When it comes to playing the piece, it can be quite poignant to start softly and then build up by adding stops.  A bit like those old films where the heroine is thinking back to happier days and the love theme very gently begins in the background before crescendo-ing like mad and taking over.  If you become aware that the family are in tears, it doesn’t necessarily mean they feel you are totally mangling their precious tune.   In fact, usually it’s quite the opposite; it has gone to their hearts and they are really grateful for the trouble you’ve taken.

I’ve quite a collection now of these organ arrangements via Youtube, including ‘My Way’, ‘Moon River’, ‘When I grow too old to dream’ and a few I hope I never have to play again.  But it’s worth keeping them safe, as you never know when they’ll be needed.

The only time Youtube appeared to fail me concerned a wedding. The groom, who was French, asked for a French hymn which he called ‘Holly Mary’.  This returned nothing from Youtube.  I suspected it might be ‘Holy Mary’, but still no go.  Finally he sent me the link to a French Youtube version, and it turned out to be ‘Je vous salue, Marie’, which is of course ‘Hail, Mary’.  Oh well.

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