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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

April 5, 2019

Augmented unison? What on earth … ?

evelyn @ 7:32 pm

More and more frequently these days I’m having to fight with the typesetting program Sibelius. My friends all use it, publishers use it and if I want to communicate with these people, I have to grit my teeth and use it too.

The latest episode involved the aria ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’ from Handel’s Messiah, which our soloist is to sing on Easter Sunday. She sings it in the correct key of E major, and has provided me with the accompaniment. All would have been well, except that my organ-voluntary version of this piece is stupidly in E flat major (but that’s another story). At this short notice I couldn’t trust myself not to revert unthinkingly to three flats and wreck the poor lady’s solo. What to do? Eventually we decided that she would sing it in E flat major, and I undertook to scan the four-sharps version into Sibelius and transpose it down a semitone.

All went well until I got to the actual transposing. Here’s part of the original:

And here’s the transposing menu, which offers up/down buttons and drop-down intervals.

So I click on the ‘down’ button, choose ‘Minor’ and ‘Second’ for the interval. Click OK. And … what the dickens is this?

The darned thing has gone into D sharp! With a three-flat key-signature and double sharps galore! What a mess. I go back and try again two or three times. No improvement.

Finally, I dig out the manual. Now I hate this manual for many, many reasons, one of which is that it won’t stay open, even under two huge paperweights. After physically wrestling with it for a bit, I find there is a transposition ‘particular case’ (p 536). To transpose by a semitone, you have to invoke an interval called an ‘augmented unison’.

Augmented unison? That has to be a contradiction in terms. Surely unison is simply unison. You can’t do anything to a unison interval without turning it into something else. Unless Sibelius is inventing – er – quantum tonality?

Oh well, let’s try it …

… and it works, which is a relief. But still, you’d think they could do better than that.

Methinks I shall have to widen my typesetting horizons.

Oh, and just for fun, this is what happens if you go for a ‘diminished unison’:

March 29, 2019

… and the floor will shake

evelyn @ 5:35 pm

I’ve been adapting a fiendish-looking piano score for the organ.  It’s amazing how satisfying the experience is.

For example, you could have this on a piano score:

Both hands going furiously to
get huge prolonged sound.

To get the same effect on the organ, all you need is one foot:

Make sure every diapason, reed etc.
is out at every pitch, plus all couplers.
The hands can do that. They’re not busy.

Here’s the last fortissimo bar of the actual piece I’m working on, together with its organ equivalent.

Get stops and couplers right, and the floor will shake.

Oh, I do love the organ.

March 22, 2019

Judge not, and always check your junk

evelyn @ 3:43 pm

It wasn’t very charitable of me, I have to say. The continuing absence of a much-overdue email reply was getting on my nerves. Finally, I decided to pass the matter to our priest, which I did in an email containing my opinion of the dilatory correspondent.

The result was a phone call from one puzzled priest. The person involved had replied, and had copied the reply to him. He has now forwarded it to me. Still on the phone, I check the inbox on my desktop. Nope, it’s just not there, although his forwarded copy has arrived.

‘Check your junk’, says priest. Nope, desktop junk empty as usual. Priest refuses to believe anyone’s junk folder can be consistently empty. I pick up my mobile phone (priest having come through on the landline) and check its junk folder.  This time I find 32 emails, mainly offering shopping items and the usual unmentionable commodities. And in among them all, looking totally out of place, is the missing email. Eureka!

‘So you see, you should always check your junk’, says priest cheerfully, ringing off.

Obviously, there is junk and junk. Some items, as in this case, don’t make it to an email client program on one’s local computer. But the email client does have its own junk folder, which occasionally receives the odd – usually mistaken – email and therefore deceptively appears to be doing a full-scale filtering job. The real work, however, goes on higher up the chain, on the server of the email host, and that junk never reaches the local computer.

As to why an email about religious music should have been considered junk, I haven’t a clue. But all this does mean one has to check junk at more than one level, and regularly.

And definitely one shouldn’t pre-judge one’s correspondents.



March 15, 2019

Small hands

evelyn @ 1:24 pm

There are two kinds of hand in my family – lovely big hands with long ‘piano fingers’, and small stubby paws with short fingers.  And of course I inherited the latter.  It’s always the way.

I can barely stretch an octave.  I can’t physically play legato octaves, and even staccato octaves are a strain.  Ninths and tenths have always been completely out of the question.

Learning the piano had real drawbacks.  I had to arpeggiate so many chords, or miss out notes, even when my hands had reached full adult size.  Maybe this was why, as a teenager, I was more interested in theory than performance.

In my twenties, everything changed.  I discovered THE ORGAN.  You need never play an octave on the organ, just pull out a 4 foot stop and your octave is ready-made.  There’s no sustaining pedal, of course, but the organ pedalboard can often free up one hand to help the other with big chords.  In fact, the bigger the organ, the better for small hands.  And organists are needed!  Whole congregations want you to play for them, rather than just doting grandparents and not-so-doting Associated Board examiners.   You might even get paid.

And because you are assisting in worship instead of having all the attention focused on you, it’s more relaxing as well. This has implications for small hands because nerves make muscles tighten up.  The day I decided to give up piano was the day when in an examination I turned a cascade of descending octaves into a cascade of sevenths.  The examiner came over and looked at my hands in silence.  Amazingly, I passed – just.

A lesser benefit, but one not to be sneezed at, is the ability of small hands to reach down between the organ pedals to retrieve dropped pencils, tissues and other debris.


And maybe this guy should be an organist!


March 8, 2019

You can’t win …

evelyn @ 4:28 pm

Last year our choir worked like mad for Holy Week and the Easter Vigil. All through Lent we slogged away at ever-longer practices. For the Vigil itself we had produced some new and interesting music, and it was a bit disappointing that when the time came attendance was on the low side. At the previous year’s Vigil the church had been packed.

It wasn’t until we started getting complaints that we realised that for some reason most people that year had gone to Mass on Easter Sunday, when we had been too tired to provide any special music, but had just sung a few Easter hymns. Some of the congregation said they felt let down. A number of people who had been to the Vigil stood up for us, bless them, but we ourselves were too exhausted after our long week to take part in the fray.

This year we considered things, and have decided that we ought to do something on the Sunday. So we’ve asked that those of the choir who can stagger out on Easter Sunday to do so, and our soprano soloist has kindly agreed to sing ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’ from Handel’s Messiah. That at least will be special.

But what’s the betting that everyone will come to the Vigil this year?




March 1, 2019

The verses, the little verses

evelyn @ 6:06 pm

No, not the Song of Solomon, but the song of the average parish cantor, and those little gospel verses that can spoil things if you aren’t careful.

The run-through of the Gospel acclamation, be it Alleluia or one of the Lenten ones, tends to be thrown in at the end of psalm practice with the cantor. And perhaps the least attention is given to the short verse sung by the cantor between the two congregational acclamations. In our church, and no doubt in many others, this is usually sung to a simple chant with chordal accompaniment, which is probably why it gets such short shrift in cantor practices. But there are pitfalls.

The most common chant is:

and our cantors all got used to that pretty quickly. However our present priest uses another common one:

and our newest cantors have picked that one up. Not that this matters, except that the organist has to remember who sings what.

One of our memorisers can sing both chants and has even been known to change horses in midstream. When this person is singing I always hold back the chord following this point:

until it is clear which way the cat is going to jump (metaphors getting mixed here).

Then you get the long sentences where you must try to vary the accompaniment while staying on the same chord. Or the acclamations that land you in a key for the verse which you don’t want – D Major, for instance – which can take the cantor down to A. Not all cantors like being down there. The trick here is to rush in with the first chord for the verse in a more suitable but not too distant key, having warned the cantor beforehand to wait for this. Trouble is, when you go back for the repeat of the acclamation you can’t expect the congregation to wait, so split-second timing and plenty of diapasons are critical.

Then there are the special verses for Palm Sunday/Good Friday and the Easter Vigil when more than a simple chant is required. The former is long, complicated and difficult to set musically; I’ve yet to find a really convincing setting. The Vigil verse, on the other hand, is itself a psalm – Psalm 117 – and there are several settings to choose from. One by Martin Morran beautifully joins up the psalm with the plainchant Alleluia.

Lastly, it’s useful to have verses up your sleeve to suggest for weddings, funerals and weekday visits by the Archbishop. It’s always a help to a busy priest if you can come up with something suitable.

February 22, 2019

Lenten Gospel acclamations – complete set

evelyn @ 9:40 pm

Following last week’s post, I’m pleased to announce that all of Brian Gill’s Gospel acclamations for Lent have now been uploaded to the Forth in Praise website. Click HERE or on the picture above to access them.

Brian is happy for readers to make copies, so long as authorship and copyright notices are retained.

February 15, 2019

New Lenten Gospel Acclamations

evelyn @ 4:16 pm

Preparing for the liturgy of Lent now, and it is nice to have those few extra weeks this year to get things organised.

The Gloria takes a holiday in Lent, of course, so any new Gloria planned for Easter has to be taught to the people right NOW. We just hope they can remember it when the time comes. But what else can you do?

And then we have the four Lenten Gospel acclamations. I’ve never understood why we need four of these, when during the rest of the year we just sing ‘Alleluia’ at this point in the Mass. However, there is at least a bit of flexibility about them. The priest can always decide to use a different acclamation to the one in the Missal, or even keep the same one for all six Sundays. Of course, if the people are using published Mass sheets they might be a bit puzzled at any deviation from what is on their page.

Our parish has tried various ways of handling the music for these acclamations. The last one, where we used the same melody for all four, and for the verses in between, was pronounced totally boring by the congregation. I had to pretend it was intended as a penance.

So I was interested when Brian Gill told me about a complete set of Lenten Gospel acclamations which he had written some years ago for his former parish of St Columba’s, Edinburgh. He is kindly allowing Forth in Praise to make these available online.

I hope to upload all of them next week, but here as a sample is the acclamation for the first Sunday in Lent.

Click on the picture above to view it more closely, right-click to save it as a JPG file. Or click HERE to download it as a PDF file.  Please retain Brian’s copyright notice on any copies made.

February 8, 2019

Colours of what do what?

evelyn @ 3:48 pm

Colours of day dawn into the mind,
The sun has come up, the night is behind.
Go down in the city, into the street,
And let’s give the message to the people we meet.

So light up the fire and let the flame burn,
Open the door, let Jesus return.
Take seeds of His Spirit, let the fruit grow,
Tell the people of Jesus, let His love show.

Go through the park, on into the town;
The sun still shines on, it never goes down.
The light of the world is risen again;
The people of darkness are needing a friend.

Open your eyes, look into the sky,
The darkness has come, the Son came to die.
The evening draws on, the sun disappears,
But Jesus is living, His Spirit is near.

Recently, I was asked to play ‘Colours of Day’ at a funeral. ‘Colours’ is a fairly early post-Vatican II offering, which seems to have remained reasonably popular generally and is sometimes requested at funerals. However, it has to be a careful choice; its chorus – ‘light up the fire and let the flame burn’ – is definitely NOT appropriate for a cremation.

As I played, I reflected on the words, which have always seemed to me to be rather strange.

What are the colours of day, anyway? ‘Dawn’ suggests they might be sunrise colours, but ‘into the mind’? Does the stuff about darkness being behind mean a mental transformation? Dark night of the soul and all that?

Just when one starts thinking that this is deep mystical musing, and not for the Philistines, the whole thing turns prosaic. We are told to ‘go down in the city, into the street’ and in verse 2, to ‘go through the park, on into the town …’. Someone has said the next line should be ‘Turn right at Tesco’s …’

In verse 2 ‘the light of the world is risen again’ but in verse 3 ‘the Son came to die’ and ‘the sun disappears’. Shouldn’t these be the other way round? Or might there be an underlying morning-midday-evening sequence, as in ‘I watch the sunrise’? All very puzzling.

As far as the music itself is concerned, it’s just a seventies’ ditty, but the whole thing was written by no fewer than three people!

So light up the fire …

February 1, 2019

Bridal chit-chat (28): what if you don’t get paid?

evelyn @ 12:15 pm

The set of bridal stories posted last week seems to have gone down well. Thanks to those who have emailed. Comments are welcome, too. I seem to get more emails than comments, but it’s always nice to hear from people.

To kick off the 2019 wedding stories, here’s another little bridal post, partly taken from the past.

What if you don’t get paid?

Sometimes the worst happens, and after all your efforts, you end up standing alone outside the church, surrounded by confetti and empty-handed. Bridal car has gone, bridesmaids and ushers have gone. Bus full of wedding guests is disappearing round the corner. Only the priest remains, and when you seek him out you find he hasn’t been given an envelope for you. Sometimes he hasn’t even been given one for the church.

Well, they can’t be allowed to get away with it. In this era of text and email, chasing them is easier than it was in the old days when often all you could get was an answering machine. I wait a fortnight for them to come back from honeymoon, then pounce. Usually it transpires that the best man had all the envelopes and forgot about them, or they were left in someone’s sporran and only found by the kilt-hire shop the following week. To do most couples justice, cheque and apology usually come pretty quickly, and I thank them kindly.

Only once was I let down completely over a wedding fee, and in that case it turned out that the middle-aged couple involved had also left church fees unpaid, entire reception bill unpaid, and skipped off abroad on honeymoon. They never came back.

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