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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

June 13, 2014

So easy to miss the obvious

evelyn @ 10:17 am

A couple of weeks ago I gave my first proper organ lesson to two of our trainees. On the following Sunday, one of them – let’s call him James – was due to stand in for me at the main Mass.

‘James played exceptionally well this morning’, said our priest when I turned up for the afternoon Mass. ‘Brilliant’ said someone else, later in the week. ‘So confident’, said another.

Good grief,  I thought, could all this have resulted from that one lesson? No, not possible, it has to be coincidence. However, when I told James about all the plaudits, I ventured, ‘Er – did it have – could it possibly have had anything to do with our lesson?’

‘Oh, yes’, he replied immediately, ‘it had everything to do with it. I played on the Great, as you showed us in the lesson.’

‘You mean, you hadn’t played on the Great at Mass before?’


I was staggered, and felt a bit guilty. James has high piano grades, so I had rather left him alone, and had rarely, if ever, heard him play in public.

I consulted the oracle (my former organ teacher), who said it was very common among experienced pianists, accustomed to controlling dynamics instantly by touch, to want a similar immediate control when playing the organ, and only the Swell pedal can give them that – on a regular pipe organ, anyway. So they tend to stick to the Swell.

Using the strong but unyielding Great takes an effort, and pianists have to work at it before they can fully appreciate its grandeur. James on a single Sunday had managed this with spectacular success, after I had unwittingly introduced him to it.

It reminded me of a similar episode in my days with the Scottish Churches’ Organist Training Scheme (SCOTS). I was adviser to a young pianist who played a nice little pipe organ with great confidence, but no changes of registration within hymns. I assumed she was nervous about taking her hands off the keys.  And then it suddenly dawned on me that she just hadn’t considered it; the piano has only one sound, after all.  I made a few suggestions, and on my next visit she showed that she had no problem at all manipulating stops and couplers between verses. I left her practising, and on my way out of the church fell into conversation with a couple of parishioners. As we listened to the organ music, one of them said with great deliberation, ‘See yon wee lassie. She’s always been good, but noo she’s like Westminster Abbey’.

So simple, really.  So obvious. And I nearly missed it.

1 Comment »

  1. Lovely!

    Comment by Elvira — June 18, 2014 @ 1:43 pm

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