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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

May 17, 2017

A psalm too far?

evelyn @ 2:53 pm

On Good Friday, I did something crazy. We are a bit short of cantors at present, and the unaccompanied Good Friday psalm can be daunting. There had been no volunteers. It is a point of pride with our cantors that we shouldn’t need to double up in Holy Week, but it looked as though this year one of the experienced cantors would have to be asked to sing twice.

Unless …

I have accompanied cantors for years, but have never, ever, sung a psalm myself. Good Friday is the one day of the year when my singing of a psalm is theoretically possible. We use the small organ for the minimal hymns-only accompaniment, and the choir is downstairs in the side-chapel rather than up in the gallery. All I would need to do would be to leave the organ and walk up the altar steps. I could create a psalm-setting to suit my voice and my untrained singing. I could even hitch it up a tone mid-verse if I thought the pitch was dropping.

No. It’s crazy. I have no experience, and have never been taught the mechanics of singing, breathing and all that. Stick to the organ.

But if I could just mention it …

Our head cantor listened, and liked the new psalm-setting. As to my voice, ‘Well, you’ll have the microphone, of course,’ she said. Our priest didn’t seem too enthusiastic, but after a chat with the head cantor agreed to the experiment.

Well, I did it. The large congregation was very responsive, though no doubt surprised. I was mentally psyched up, and there were no major hitches. I walked carefully back down the altar steps, glad that it was over.

What I hadn’t bargained for was the aftermath. All through the long Gospel I was in a daze. At the Veneration my mind went a complete blank, and the choir had to tell me what hymns I was supposed to be accompanying. Why did I ever think of this? As if there aren’t pressures enough in Holy Week.

The choir praised my courage and liked the psalm-setting. Our priest liked the psalm-setting. They all dodged round the question of my singing ability, and I decided that, one way or another, the psalm-setting that they all liked so much should next year be sung by someone else.

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