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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

August 18, 2010

Bridal Chit-chat (8): Soloists

evelyn @ 4:04 pm

As a rule, I have considerable trouble with wedding soloists. These people arrive with warm-up exercises, bottles of water to gargle, and requests for music to be transposed at sight into five flats. They can be trained or untrained, the latter subdividing into confident or nervous. The untrained but confident type can be quite pushy, while the nervous ones need a lot of jollying along.

If they are untrained but all dressed up and wearing buttonhole flowers or corsages, then they are wedding guests and known to all the company as singers, if only at the local pub karaoke. It doesn’t matter how they sing; everyone will love it. They almost always sing Panis Angelicus or one of the Ave Marias. Sometimes their dismay when they first enter the church and look around shows how different this is from their normal singing environment.

‘Where’s her microphone?’ demanded the mother of a teenage soloist. I explained that she would be singing from a gallery in a three-quarters-empty church with a splendid acoustic and an organ that could throttle right down to the quietest possible flute. Everyone would be quiet and listening to her. She would be fine. ‘We’ll see about that’ growls mother as she slams out. Ten minutes later she is back, even more furious. ‘He won’t give me the hand-held microphone. He says he needs it for the vows. Have you ever heard of such a thing?’

Others like to give Ave or Panis the Oh, hohh, hohh treatment. That’s OK by me; the lovely resonant acoustic can blur the fact that you’re playing the same group of semiquavers three times instead of twice to accommodate the passionate, held-on bits.

Sometimes the couple will ask the soloist to sing along with the hymns ‘to get the guests going’. With an untrained belter, this is fatal. The ‘big voice’ takes over, and any congregational efforts are completely drowned.

And then, at the end, when all your attention is needed for the final voluntary, so often a tricky one, the soloist will sidle up to you, all the bottles of water now taking effect. ‘It’s been lovely working with you’, she will say, ‘and can you tell me where the toilet is’?

There’s so much less hassle with a trained singer who understands your part of the action as well as his/her own, assesses and responds to the acoustic straight off, and if asked to boost the hymns, knows how to blend so as to bring out the other voices. One such lady did a marvellous job, and then stood quietly by until I had finished the exit voluntary before making her farewell. I told her how much I’d enjoyed working with her. She said very charmingly that she had enjoyed it, too. ‘As a rule, I have considerable trouble with organists’, she added.


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