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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist



June 7, 2019

Fees: just checking

evelyn @ 2:50 pm

This blog gets a lot of hits from people looking for information about organ fees, so here’s a bit of updating:

IRELAND

The Irish guidance notes mentioned in my post of 28 February 2012 are still as comprehensive and organised as before. Note the support given elsewhere on the website for training. To compare figures, however, you have to be able to work out what the euros mean, which these days can be a bit difficult.

ENGLAND AND WALES

The offerings page on the website of the Liturgy Office for the Church in England and Wales gives links to the Irish fee structure above, and also to the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) and the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM). However, all three links are at present broken. I’ve had a hunt around and found some up-to-date links for RSCM (here) and ISM (here). Note that the RSCM makes its recommended fees available only to members or affiliates.

SCOTLAND

The Catholic Church in Scotland doesn’t seem to offer any fees guidance online, unless I’ve just not been able to find it. My impression is that, with some notable exceptions, parish organists are generally unpaid, except for wedding and funeral fees. However, the inter-church Scottish Federation of Organists publishes its own recommended rates, which are those used by the Church of Scotland.

And finally:

The statement by the Irish Catholic Church which impressed me most when I first found their website is still there:

… it is essential that the value of music in the worship of the Church and the musicians’ training, skill and commitment are realistically recognised in monetary terms.

However,  the Scottish Federation of Organists warns:

‘ … it should also be noted that those who benefit from being paid the recommended scales should be competent to do so‘.

 

 

May 31, 2019

Tales of the organ

evelyn @ 11:09 am

 

It is difficult to realise that it is THIRTY YEARS since our wonderful Hill pipe organ was installed in the church gallery. I remember the circumstances very clearly.

Father James Ferrari, who sadly died not long after his retirement in 2000, had become our parish priest in 1986. He was very interested in church fabric and had seen instantly that the Pugin architecture and first-class acoustic of our church simply demanded a pipe organ (I was playing an unimpressive little electronic at the time). He acquired our present superb Hill from a Church of Scotland parish in Greenock, and for many months, while the money was being raised for the rebuild, I sat at my electronic in the gallery surrounded by heaps of loose organ pipes. It was very distracting, and I missed one or two important cues while dreaming of what was to be. But then gradually, bit by bit, the organ took shape even as I watched.

It was planned that it would be ready for the Confirmation visit of the then Archbishop in 1989. I was going to need a good deal of practice before the big event, but there were delays, and on the morning of Confirmation day the organ-builder was still at work. The electronic organ had already been removed and I was beginning to panic seriously.

By the evening it was finished – just – and the organ-builder pulled the stops for me as I tremblingly played my way through the Confirmation Mass.

Oh, the relief when it was over. The Archbishop’s procession had passed under the gallery and out of the main door. The church emptied as the people swarmed after him and no doubt everyone would be chatting away and taking photographs in the evening sunshine. I sat back, and those of us in the gallery shared congratulations.

Just then a young couple appeared. Their wedding was coming up on the Saturday. Could they hear their music on the new organ?

Of course! With great verve – no trembling now! – I happily bashed out Mendelssohn, until a quick look downward showed me a mitre and crozier moving below. The Archbishop had returned and was walking up the aisle in time to the Wedding March. Oops.

All that was thirty years ago. Hard to believe.

May 24, 2019

Health and safety in the organ loft

evelyn @ 4:00 pm

Organ galleries in older churches can be hazardous, and these days health and safety is taken very seriously indeed. Our present priest has restricted choir numbers, replaced the set of ancient wooden chairs which had been there since well before my time, and banned all children from the area.

Our gallery runs the full width of the church, but a quarter of that has been taken up by the organ since 1988. The stairwell itself takes quite a bit of room on the other side, so perhaps it is fortunate that there are only about a dozen in our choir, with everyone having a seat. Once a visiting choir of 30 or so wanted to stand up there like sardines, but this was vetoed by our priest, and they sang from the side-chapel instead.

Children are forbidden because of the dangers of the spiral staircase, but especially because the spaces in the decorated wooden rail at the front are big enough for a small person to fall through. The door from the porch is kept firmly shut, so that obstreperous toddlers who have been taken out for crying won’t try to climb the gallery stairs.

Forty years ago attitudes to safety were not quite the same. Our organ then was a smallish electronic, and organist and choir consisted entirely of young mothers, or mothers-to-be. We had found a couple of old doors to cover the gaps in the rail and all our infants were up there with us. There was even some discreet breast-feeding and nappy-changing, and the only real problem occurred when one or two of the older children started dropping bits of paper on the heads of people below.

But times keep changing, of course. A few decades earlier, attitudes were even more cavalier. This is a photograph of work going on at Stonehenge in the 1950s. Not a hard hat in sight. And is that someone’s lunch box on the upright stone to the right?

May 17, 2019

Time to relax a bit

evelyn @ 3:25 pm

Received a link to the music below from my long-time friend, Frances. And it’s so true. Our choir has only just gathered again following our Holy Week exhaustion. And yes, definitely the tension goes out of rehearsing as we approach all those Sundays of the Year.

We are more fortunate than the writer of the hymn below. No Confirmation this year, only one wedding and the sun is shining …

 

 

 

 

May 10, 2019

The joys of scrolling

evelyn @ 2:16 pm

 

 

Ancient Roman boss: Mandy, have you got the scrolls?

Secretary: No, I always walk this way.

A bit of a chestnut, but it always got a laugh when we used it in our 1980s religious drama group, and I was reminded of it on Easter Sunday, when I accompanied our soloist in ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’.

I kept thinking that the music I was playing should have come on a spindle, and you can certainly see why the Romans did things in this way.

Arranging music as a panorama avoids:

  • Page-turning by me (with danger of falling on the floor – the music, not me).
  • Page-turning by someone else (never satisfactory, and in this case there was only the soloist).
  • Any technology (bad for my eyes and you still have to touch screen for each turn – I’ve seen it done).

A friend does something similar, but arranges just one easy page turn so music can be bigger. I must try this.

Page-turning has always been a problem. I’ll never forget the occasion when the music did fall on the floor

 

 

 

May 3, 2019

Bring flowers of the rarest – quickly

evelyn @ 11:44 am

 

It’s that time of year again, and the Forth in Praise website is getting hits from people looking for easy music for ‘Bring flowers of the rarest’ (you’ll find three versions to download here).

I once heard a priest say that the tune of ‘Bring flowers of the rarest’ was originally a German drinking song. He said it contemptuously, but it’s an idea I rather like. Drinking song melodies are invariably cheerful and bounce along at a fair pace. ‘Bring flowers’ is a springtime hymn, and I’ve always thought it should be cheerful and bouncy. And if the original tune is German, our congregations are unlikely to make the Biergarten connection.

So although ‘Bring flowers’ usually appears with a 3/4 time-signature in those hymn books which include it, I prefer playing it briskly in a 2-in-the-bar 6/8 rhythm. At this pace, it also lends itself to improvisation, as I discovered on one fateful occasion.

However, surfing Youtube to find just such a con moto version had surprising results. I couldn’t find a single one. All of them were on the slow side of andante, or even adagio. The most popular treatment seems to be a languishing string introduction, a crooning male soloist and this slow, slow tempo. Might this account for the ‘Bring flowers’ widespread unpopularity, to the point of its omission from the Laudate hymnal?

Or is my bright and brisk interpretation a minority one? If so, could I have been offending people at funerals all these years by taking their favourite hymn too fast?
 
 

 

 

April 26, 2019

A very small token of appreciation

evelyn @ 3:14 pm

Church music is for worship, never for acclaim. A choir piece at Communion, no matter how well done, should be greeted with silence. The Mass then proceeds. The singers should know themselves if they have succeeded in enhancing the liturgy, and that knowledge is all their reward.

Likewise, if they mess things up there will be no booing or rotten tomatoes. The most likely result would be a few suggestions afterwards from the priest.

This year we had worked, and worked, and worked at our choir piece for the Vigil – the English version of Mascagni’s Easter Hymn from Cavalleria Rusticana, ‘O rejoice, that the Lord has arisen’.

We should perhaps have realised that this piece might be a little too ambitious for our simple parish choir. True, we had recently acquired a trained soprano soloist. True, we had successfully brought off the Benedictus from the Jenkins Armed Man Mass last year. But the operatic counterpoint of the Easter Hymn was new to us, and more difficult than expected.

Even arranging the score for our limited forces was a massive job – I was exhausted before we even started rehearsing. An ever-increasing number of extra practices were needed, and our choir organiser and conductor were both fast reaching the hair-tearing stage.

Things improved, however, as time went on, and our performance at the Easter Vigil was sincere and heartfelt, even if the right notes were not necessarily always in the right order. But on this occasion we had no idea how successfully we had performed. Had we made an inspiring contribution to the Easter liturgy? Or would the priest be having a word afterwards?

As the final chord died away in our excellent acoustic, a solitary member of the congregation started clapping, then stopped. Embarrassing for that person, no doubt, but oh, how reassuring for the morale of the choir was that tiny spontaneous sound. One person had liked it.

Thank you, whoever you were!

And here’s an excellent performance of the Easter Hymn with all the notes in the right order:

April 19, 2019

All depart in silence

evelyn @ 12:24 pm

 

[No blog post today, as it is Good Friday. Back next week.]

 
 

 
 
 

April 12, 2019

Lorry mirror

evelyn @ 12:09 pm

Me (on the phone): Lorry mirror? Lorry? You mean ‘lorry’ as in truck?

David: Yes, that kind of lorry. It’s just the thing for organs.

I have to say I’d never have thought of it. Any mirrors I’ve seen on organs have been smallish, sometimes free-standing things, and I had wondered how such a mirror could be mounted on our Hill. It seemed impossible. But this was David, our organ-builder extraordinaire and the inventor of the incredible organ backrest. When it comes to lateral thinking, there’s no one like him.

The mirror had been under discussion for some time. With our choir becoming ever more ambitious, I really needed to be able to see the conductor while accompanying. Up to now playing had been by guess with a quick look backwards at significant moments. It just wasn’t good enough, and having had the go-ahead from our priest, I contacted David for advice.

Later that day there is a call from him – can we meet in the church in half an hour? He has been and purchased a lorry mirror. It is huge. He explains that there are new rules for lorries, and mirrors have to be bigger than before. Now he has to go and work things out in among his other commitments.

A few days later, I go for a practice and find that the mirror has appeared. It is perfect, having a sort of wide-angle view that takes in the whole gallery. And its horizontal placing makes its lorry-nature not at all apparent.

The only drawback is that in the foreground, disconcertingly, I have an incredibly good view of – myself! Only a narcissist can be happy with that situation. Our priest, who approves greatly of the whole setup, dismisses the issue. ‘That’s your problem’ he says. So I’ll just have to live with it.

Otherwise, though, it is excellent, and has made an immediate difference to our choir practices for Easter. I still find myself turning round occasionally, quite unnecessarily, but no doubt that will pass.

And speaking of passing, every time my husband overtook a lorry on the motorway yesterday, I had a good look at its mirror. A fascinating subject!

Vroom! Vroom!

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’:

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