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Forth in Praise

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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

July 16, 2010

Religious experiences on holiday

evelyn @ 2:27 pm

No. 1  A village in the Landes, Gascony

What a wonderful voice! A rich, vibrant baritone, equally impressive in speech and in song. And dominating. This was the priest. The organist had obviously been tamed long ago. She followed him meekly, underpinning his melodies with long chords. He provided all the phrasing and articulation required, whether it be in hymns, Mass parts or psalm response. There was no cantor, perhaps understandably.

What was sad was that the congregational Mass sheet was designed to get the people singing, no doubt on the initiative of this very priest. The words for all the hymns and Mass parts were there, together with words and music for the Alleluia and for the responses to both psalm and bidding prayers (something I’d love to see here). The priest probably thought his compelling voice was simply another help for his flock. Unfortunately, he overdid it and drowned the poor lambs, though they did try.

No. 2 Lourdes

Here the drowning took a different form. It was pouring from the heavens, absolutely tipping it down. We attended a Vigil Mass in English in one of the smaller chapels. No music at all, apart from the drumming of the rain on the roof and the dripping of the umbrellas. But there was something immensely peaceful about this wet, music-less Mass. Or maybe it was just the very special Lourdes atmosphere making itself felt.

No. 3 San Asensio, La Rioja

Old Spanish churches are traditionally dark and mysterious. The architecture of this one is a mixture of sixteenth century and Baroque. Behind the altar the ancient and beautiful retablo, with its gilding and its angels, stretches upwards towards the dimness of the ceiling. On the left, the Lady Altar fades into the darkness beyond.      And on the right?    A Powerpoint screen.    Ouch.

Musically, it was interesting. When the time came for the psalm, the organist left his instrument, marched up to the lectern and sang the psalm unaccompanied, conducting the people’s response as they read it off the screen. Then he nipped smartly back to the organ to get ready for the Alleluia. How many of us could manage that, I wonder? There was a cantor as well, who led the rest of the singing, although he would have done better without his microphone. The flock were again overwhelmed though, like their French counterparts, they did their best.

No. 4 Ripon, North Yorkshire

On the final part of the drive north, we went to Evensong at Ripon Cathedral. Anglican music at its very best. Absolutely beautiful.

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