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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

June 20, 2014

Bringing them in

evelyn @ 1:17 pm

Am preparing another lesson for the troops. They’ve been asking about the organ introduction to hymns and Mass parts. So while getting together all the usual advice on this topic, I find myself remembering with some embarrassment one or two of my own experiences of this aspect of organ playing.

I discovered the hard way that the Church of Scotland really has the introduction business sussed. The first time I ever played for an ecumenical service, I got quite a shock.  It was in my own church during the old harmonium days when the instrument was down at the front.  I was a real rookie, although I should have been warned by the presence of all the nearby hats that the other churches were there in force.

At the end of my two-line introduction to the first hymn, it was as if someone had pressed a button. The hats all stood up as one – instantly. Anyone who knows Catholic congregations will understand my astonishment at this level of discipline. A rush of adrenalin nearly had me off the harmonium bench – did I think they were going to attack me? – and there was probably a longer gap than there should have been before the start of the first verse.

Since then I’ve played at many C of S services, and am used to this phenomenon. Even in the funeral parlour it works. Most people there are not church-goers, but a sign from the minister at the end of the introduction does the trick, and I duly wait until they are all on their feet.

Another memory was of a long-ago holiday in France, the land of organ improvisation. At Mass in a biggish town in the south-west, I was enchanted when the organist’s opening improvisation effortlessly turned into the introduction to the first hymn, to which the people responded immediately. ‘Must try that at home’, I thought.

I did. It was a disaster. Either the French, being used to improvisation, come in naturally, or that particular organist had them trained. All I got in my own church gallery was a feeling of ‘huh?’ from down below.  I had to stop, wait a beat or two, then provide the proper introduction, while priest and altar-servers no doubt wondered what the hold-up was.

Ah, well. We live and learn.

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