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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

September 8, 2017

Blog returns!

evelyn @ 1:29 pm

To the very few readers I may have left:

I’m really sorry for the long absence, which was unavoidable. In June, halfway through a short holiday in the west of Scotland, I had the misfortune to trip and fall, and managed to injure my back. It was fiendishly painful at the time but I was assured it would get better though it might take a long time, they said (long time? weeks? months? years? Help!!).

Two-and-a-half months on, everything has improved enormously but there are still things I can’t do. One of them is operate my desktop computer on which I do all the blog posts. Another, sadly, is play the organ for more than 15 minutes, but I have an excellent helper who does the rest.

Yesterday I discovered that I can dictate into my iPhone and I’m going to see if I can speak this post and then somehow upload it.

If so, you’ll soon be reading all about the backrest bench our organ-builder is creating, just for me!

That is, if there are any of you left to read about it …

May 31, 2017

Bridal chit-chat (25): Ave Maria continued

evelyn @ 2:14 pm

Some more candidates for the ‘fake Ave Maria’ slot. The most authentic, having as its chorus the Latin words right down to benedicta tu is As I kneel before you. Usually known by its title, it’s what a recent bride came up with when I asked her to think about which Ave Maria she wanted. It’s very popular as a modern Marian hymn, although I personally think the words a bit sloppy, and musically it is unremarkable.

The Bells of the Angelus takes me back to convent school days, and then there’s Holy Virgin, by God’s decree, described as ‘the new Lourdes hymn’, although I haven’t heard it sung for quite a while. Both of these have ‘Ave, Maria’ as the chorus, and there may be more.

However, in my view there’s no rival musically to the two ‘greats’ – Bach-Gounod and Schubert. However, the age-old plainsong version could perhaps be better known:

May 24, 2017

Bridal chit-chat (24): which Ave Maria?

evelyn @ 8:08 pm

Bride: I would like Ave Maria at the signing of the register.

Me: Which one?

Bride: Are there more than one?

Me: The two best-known are Bach-Gounod and Schubert.

Bride: Who’s Bach-Gounod?

I try to explain the nature of the hybrid piece, then give up and say ‘Gounod wrote the tune, Bach the accompaniment’. It makes Bach-Gounod sound like Lennon-McCartney, except that Lennon and McCartney knew each other, whereas Bach died in 1750 and Gounod wasn’t born until 1818. I suppose I could call it Gounod’s Ave Maria, but the underlying prelude is the making of the piece, and really J S Bach should get the credit for that. It’s such a pity that you can’t play Prelude 1 of The 48 at a wedding without the guests expecting a song to come in at bar 5.

Schubert’s Ave Maria is equally well-known, and goes well on two manuals and pedals.

If there is a soloist, however, neither the original German words nor any English translation I have found is directly equivalent to the Latin Ave Maria prayer. The bride might not mind this, of course, but soloists seem to want to go for the Latin words. Although these are tricky to fit in, they can be made to work using a lot of repetition.

Then there is the ‘fake Ave Maria’, the popular 60s song, The Wedding, which finishes with the bit of Schubert above. Brides have been known to confuse unwary organists by insisting that this is ‘Ave Maria’.

The guests frequently sing along, so I usually treat this one as a laid-back sort of hymn.

The first time I was asked to play The Wedding, I did a bit of research. I discovered the original melody was entitled La Novia (The Bride), and was written by Latin-American composer Joaquín Prieto. I suggested our own bride should put ‘The Wedding (La Novia)’ on her order of service, giving Prieto as the composer. What finally emerged on the day was ‘The Wedding’ with ‘La Novia’ as composer. I hoped there were no Spanish-speakers in the congregation.

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.

May 10, 2017

Organist funeral fees (2)

evelyn @ 1:31 pm

A number of readers have consulted an earlier post on this blog looking for advice on funeral fees. I’d like to add a word or two to that, especially for those in Catholic parishes where opinions on what is due to the funeral organist vary widely.

The Scottish Federation of Organists sets out financial guidelines for organists which include a recommended funeral fee (quoted there as ‘Additional Service/Deputy Fee’).  No doubt similar organisations in other countries do the same. It is useful to know this when one is asked to play in a different church. Protestant churches, which pay their organists, are usually aware of the SFO funeral rate, as are undertakers. Many Catholic churches sadly have no idea at all.

At one time, when asked by a priest about my fee for a funeral in his parish, I would quote the SFO rate. Now, I respond by asking him what the parish rate is, and if it’s lower, I’ll probably accept it. If he doesn’t know, I will suggest he consults the undertaker.

I adopted this rather wary procedure following a most unfortunate affair in a distant parish a long time ago. Asked by the priest for my fee, I quoted the SFO recommended rate, giving my source for this figure. He looked quite shocked, and shortly afterwards phoned to say it was too high, and I wouldn’t be required. I hoped he hadn’t spoken of this with the bereaved family, but I feared he had, and I felt really dreadful.

For the next funeral in that parish, the priest had obviously decided to leave the matter of organist and fee to the undertaker. What he didn’t know was that the undertaker in question (a) charged exactly the SFO rate and (b) had me as an employee.

I have never seen anyone so disconcerted as that priest when I turned up. But I felt vindicated.

May 3, 2017

Talk about tasteless …

evelyn @ 2:13 pm

At first I just assumed it was a spoof.

I was catching up on Eccles is Saved, one of my favourite blogs, and I came across this:

And here are the verses:

  1. Jesus said to his disciples ‘Wash those weary toes!
    Do it in a cheerful fashion, never hold your nose!’
  2. People on a dusty journey need a place to rest
    Jesus says, ‘You say you love me, this will be the test!’
  3. We’re his friends, we recognize him in the folk we meet;
    smart or scruffy, we’ll still love him, wash his smelly feet!

The joke hymn had been expertly compiled, or so I thought. The layout had even been made to look like Mayhew’s Liturgical Hymns Old and New. A very cleverly designed parody.

Too cleverly. An awful doubt crossed my mind. Could this abomination actually be REAL?

I looked up no. 657 in Liturgical Hymns Old and New, and for good measure in Hymns Old and New. A different hymn entirely in both cases. Phew! Then I remembered that Mayhew had published an Anglican hymnal, which I didn’t have. I picked up the Catholic Liturgical Hymns Old and New again and this time went to the index. And there it was: no. 848. Exactly as above.

I’m unable to find words to describe my reaction to this monstrosity, or my opinion of its creators and publisher.

And saying that it is aimed at children doesn’t excuse it. If anything, it makes it worse.


April 26, 2017

Windows good and bad

evelyn @ 2:35 pm

Back at last.

It took a further week to recover from Holy Week, which went surprisingly well. And on Sunday I climbed the gallery stairs to find a beautiful stained-glass window in place. Lovely.

My other Windows experience has not been so good. My new computer was delivered over a fortnight ago, but I left it in the box until after Holy Week. Thank goodness I did.

After several happy years working with Windows 7, I have been bullied by Microsoft into their unfriendly Windows 10. Microsoft forces you to use Windows 10 by refusing to make Windows 7 available on a new computer, forces its own browser and email system on you by making it either difficult or impossible to install your previous ones, and does its best to force you to relinquish privacy settings. I haven’t even started trying to install my music type-setting software, but I foresee problems galore there. Why is Microsoft allowed to have this power to mess up everyone’s daily life?

But it is nice when the sun shines and I have multi-coloured lights surrounding me as I play the organ.

March 31, 2017

Overtaken by Lent

evelyn @ 12:38 pm

Let’s just say I’ve given up blog-posting for Lent. Well, that isn’t strictly true. More accurate to say, ‘Lent has caused me to give up blog-posting’ – temporarily, at any rate. It (Lent) is flying by at the speed of Advent, and Holy Week is in sight. Cantors, choir and voluntaries are all needing attention, plus a decision about organ tuning. This time we have some orchestral instruments and the state of the organ is more noticeable …

I’ll be back after Easter, once the dust has settled.

February 27, 2017

Proof of destruction – update

evelyn @ 6:25 pm

Further to my previous post on this subject, the music arrived on Saturday, so no need to beg photocopying permission from the publisher because of their delay, and then later provide them with proof of destruction of the photocopies.

Pity. I would quite like to have taken up a friend’s suggestion of a bonfire. We could have video-ed the choir dancing round and throwing in the photocopies, first presenting them to the camera for identification. It could have been quite a social event …

February 23, 2017

Proof of destruction

evelyn @ 3:44 pm

Publisher’s helpline person:    You must ask our Head Office for permission to copy, and if they give it, you must destroy the copies once your delayed order is received, and provide proof of destruction.

Me:     Provide proof of destruction? How do we do that?

Helpline person:     You send a photograph of the music being shredded.

It’s the old copyright problem rearing its head again. Our choir is spreading its wings a bit, and feels up to tackling a modern piece, if it isn’t too difficult. An organist colleague suggested the Benedictus from Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man (it’s beautiful, listen to it here, or here), and lent me her copy.

I then ordered 15 copies from the publisher, Boosey & Hawkes, but the order has been delayed at their end, and their email gave no indication of when it could be expected. So I phoned and explained that we had planned to sing the piece in Holy Week, and if we couldn’t have the music by next Tuesday’s practice, we wouldn’t be able to get it ready in time. If the music didn’t come by Tuesday’s post, could we photocopy my borrowed copy and destroy the photocopies once the real ones arrived? Their answer was as above, although they helpfully suggested checking again on Friday, and they would try to rush it through.

So I’ve decided to wait until next week before phoning Head Office, and in the meantime have been pondering just what ‘proof of destruction’ means.

A single picture of a person pushing two or three photocopies of pages into a shredder doesn’t prove that every copy has been destroyed. If, for example, there are 10 photocopied pieces, each with 10 pages, then only 100 very clear identifiable photographs (50 if it is double-sided) would be complete proof of destruction. A video might give a better idea, but would be a massive file. And who has the time to watch 10-15 minutes of someone shredding paper?

What if you don’t have a shredder? I suppose you could photograph or video yourself tearing up pages and putting them in the council’s recycling bin.

If the music comes in time, I won’t have to phone Head Office, of course.  But if I do then we’ll see exactly what the proof of destruction requirement is, and I’ll let you know.

I have to say, though, that if someone shows a sense of responsibility by phoning to ask for this permission, in circumstances which are not of their making, then that person should surely be trusted to do the honourable thing afterwards, without any ‘proof’ being needed.

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