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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

July 27, 2020

Back again! At last!

evelyn @ 12:42 pm

I was back at the organ at long last yesterday morning. But how different it all is. No singing allowed, so no hymns or Mass parts. Just background organ music at beginning and end.

The music to be played at the beginning had caused a bit of discussion. Our priest wanted something loud. He seemed to be thinking in terms of a processional, but of course there would be no procession. He would simply come out of the sacristy and walk over to the altar. A bell would signal this, and the people would stand up. I was concerned that any loud music on my part might drown out the bell.

I suggested we should, at least on this occasion, try to follow the custom of the Protestant churches thus: organ plays quietly, bell goes, people rise, organ keeps playing until priest has moved to the altar and is ready to start Mass, organ then winds up. Priest agreed to this when I added that I would explore ways of making things louder for future occasions. In fact, I’ve thought of a few already.

The end of Mass was very strange, and rather sad. After receiving Communion, people didn’t return to their seats but instead turned into the side chapel, then out through the opened emergency door and into the car park. It was over very quickly, and my background music just died away.

Then, as I watched from the gallery, the ushers moved in with mops and disinfectant. They looked quite alarming and police-like in their high visibility jackets and their masks. I could hardly recognise the friendly churchgoers I knew so well.

Will things ever get back to normal?

But it was good to be back.



May 16, 2020

How ‘live’ do you have to be?

evelyn @ 4:04 pm

A friend and I had an argument over the validity of including recordings in a live-streamed Mass. Her view was that such a Mass was not fully ‘live’ – happening at that moment. I think she thought that if you record one bit you might as well record the lot, and she’s probably right about that.

My point was that viewing a Mass online doesn’t mean you are attending Mass. The only people who really attend a ‘live’ Mass are the physically present operators of the streaming equipment. So why not include a bit of recording of parish readers and singers, to give a sense of community in lockdown?

I suppose that in the end it depends on what any particular parish priest wants to do, and in these unprecedented times, priestly reactions vary widely. For example, our priest actually requested the reader and choir recordings, but I also know of a priest or two with sonorous voices who do all their own singing live, hymns as well as Mass parts. The latter certainly fulfils my friend’s demands, as does the routine of another church I’ve viewed, where a live-streaming operator comes forward and does the readings. And I’ve heard of one where readers and a cantor are actually present, though no doubt socially-distanced.

There are lots more variations, all over the world. In fact, never have there been so many opportunities of ‘experiencing’ (can’t say ‘attending’) different Masses in different places.

My priest thinks the demand for live-streaming will still be there after the pandemic is over. That might not be a bad thing, so long as choir and organ are back in business and all this sound-mixing is finished. On the other hand, it could be a bit embarrassing for the choir if things go wrong in real time! At present we can always adjust a not-too-good recording …


May 8, 2020

Virtual virtuosity?

evelyn @ 1:06 pm

Since the last blog entry, I have been working non-stop. Far from being a failure, that first virtual Mass was surprisingly well-received by our congregation, and spurred us on to greater efforts. Holy Week hit us in a way it never had before (and I hope never will again!) but we did our best to rise to the occasion. Our virtual Vigil had all its psalms plus a bit of class with a Handel violin and piano movement by a husband-and-wife team. These were the only two people working together in the same household. Everyone else was on his or her own, receiving backing tracks, putting the headphones on and singing into a mobile phone. All the vocal tracks were then emailed to the two sound mixers (I’m one of them) who put them all together and sent the resulting ‘choral’ music files to the technicians who actually ran the streaming.

Since then, we’ve kept going, refining all the time. I found the sound mixing very difficult at first, but am improving all the time, to the point where I think of re-opened churches with an unexpected twinge of disappointment. However, I will be pleased when I can stop wearing my eyes out looking at wavy lines.

All this is nothing new, of course. Virtual choirs are streaming all over the world, and ours is a very amateur effort. But the importance here is that we are the regular singers and musicians of our parish, still doing our job although all locked down separately. I think this is appreciated by the viewing congregation. Or might they be grumbling that even with the church closed, they can’t get rid of us?

PS If you want a sample, try this (Mass starts about 6-and-a-quarter minutes in):

Mass 03rd May 2020 – 4th Sunday of Easter

4th Sunday of Easter

???????????? St Michael's Roman Catholic Church, Linlithgow ??????, 3 ?????? 2020 ?.

March 28, 2020

Music from Lockdown

evelyn @ 6:14 pm

I’m really getting worried about our live-streamed Mass tomorrow.  Last week’s was very good.  It had no music but that was, I thought, absolutely fitting in the circumstances.  This week, however, the people setting it up have asked me to provide music – music that we have in our own church.

Our choir has never done any recording, nor have any of the cantors – of church music, anyway.  So no chance of streaming anything with words.  It was decided that if I could provide an organ verse of a hymn for the beginning and another for the end, that would do.

Even that was a problem, with the beautiful church organ now out of bounds.  All I could use was the instrument I have in my living-room for practice.  It has two manuals and full pedalboard, but is electronic, and pretty old.  I put the reverb up to full, but it still sounded like an ancient electronic.  I managed to hitch it up to the speakers of our hi-fi, but it didn’t improve it much.

There was also the problem of recording.  All I had was the Voice Memos app on my iPhone.  The final result sounded very much like an ancient electronic with reverb up full, hitched to an amplifier and recorded as a voice memo.   Also I only now realise that I have unwittingly over the years used the wonderful acoustic of our church to conceal flaws in my playing.  These now stand out pretty obviously, or so I think.

The people organising the streaming seem to think the music is OK, even after receiving the files.  They say that when it’s been through all their mixing and filtering processes, it will be fine, and that I’m being too purist.

Well, we’ll know tomorrow.  I was going to add the link at the end of this post, but can’t face it.  But I just might do an update, depending.



March 20, 2020

A Sad Pavan for these Distracted Times

evelyn @ 1:41 pm

Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656) was the last of the Elizabethan school of keyboard composers known as the virginalists. He lived well into Stuart times and could only watch as the English Civil War made havoc of his ordered world. A Sad Pavan for these Distracted Times has the date February 14, 1649, a fortnight and two days after the execution of King Charles I. Tomkins had probably only just heard this almost unbelievable news.

The elderly composer’s sense of bewilderment at what is happening around him comes through very strongly in this piece.

I think we are all feeling a bit like that just now.



March 6, 2020

Thanks and Lenten Acclamations

evelyn @ 2:13 pm

Very many thanks to those readers who have kindly said, by comment and email, that they still check this blog. And also to those others who continue to appear regularly in the stats. I don’t know who you are, of course, but thanks anyway.

Things are still very much up in the air, and with Holy Week and Easter looming the blog will continue to wobble a little longer.

For the moment, however, here’s a reminder that Brian Gill has given Forth in Praise his settings of ALL the Lenten Gospel acclamations, for ALL the weeks of Lent, in ALL three liturgical years. You can download them here.

And finally, apropos of nothing in particular, I received this from a friend yesterday:



February 21, 2020

What did we do?

evelyn @ 3:24 pm

When you become elderly, your early memories are supposed to become sharper.  Mine haven’t.  I’ve been trying my hardest to remember what we sang in church pre-Vatican II, that is, in the 1950s and early 60s.  A good friend who was at school with me says there was no congregational singing at all, which is why I don’t remember any.

However, certain plainchant melodies, such as ‘Salve Regina’ or the Gloria from the Missa de Angelis, will still be sung heartily today by the older members of the congregation, given the chance.  The same goes for popular Marian hymns, such as ‘Hail, Queen of heaven’, or Communion hymns like ‘Soul of my Saviour’.  Even without personal recollection, everything points to these old favourites having been sung in the remote pre-Vatican II past.

And I do have a few flash-backs, memories of Marian hymns other than those we hear nowadays.  Hymns like ‘O purest of creatures’ or ‘The bells of the Angelus’.  These were sung in church as well as in school, I am sure, though not necessarily at Mass.  And I clearly remember learning some bits of Gregorian Mass chant in secondary school, and singing them as part of a choir in the local parish church on some special occasion or other.

Then there is a much, much earlier post-war memory (late 1940s?) of music in a London church during my brief attendance at a rather horrible Catholic school there. This memory stands out because I was caned afterwards for turning round to look at the choir.  But I can’t remember what was sung.

In conversation recently I complained that the Vatican II insistence on congregational singing of Mass parts had consigned to the concert hall all the beautiful and famous Mass music of the last thousand years.  Someone retorted, with a considerable degree of truth, that the concert hall is where this music has always been, as the average parish choir never at any period could have coped with, say, the Bach B Minor Mass or Mozart’s Requiem.

However, one shouldn’t forget  cathedral choirs.  As a student in the early 60s, I worked for two summers in London, and attended sung Mass at Westminster Cathedral whenever I could.  I particularly remember Benjamin Britten’s Missa Brevis in D (below), which was quite new then.  No question of the people joining in, of course, but how lovely to listen to this in sacred surroundings, and in context.  Would they sing it now, I wonder?

So it looks as though it was either everything (in cathedrals and major city churches) or nothing (in the average parish).  Well, almost nothing, as I do believe in my flash-backs.

This blog gets few comments, although quite a number of emails come in. Probably comments will be even fewer just now because of the recent hiatus.  Still, it would be nice to know from older readers what memories they have of church music before the Big Bang of Vatican II?  Please comment if you can, or email me here.

Did we sing?  If so, what did we sing?



February 7, 2020

Yes, we are still here

evelyn @ 2:53 pm

Well, that has been a long break.  It wasn’t really a break.  In fact, it was a very busy time.  I just couldn’t get to the website, and have been feeling guilty and a bit depressed about it.

There are probably no readers of this blog left, but to any idle surfer who might stumble upon us, let me wish a very belated Happy New Year.  Christmas at the organ was quite an experience – it might be worth writing about sometime – but now, with Ash Wednesday looming on the horizon, I must somehow bring the blog back to the present.

There are plans for a revival of Forth in Praise downloads and publications, especially for Lent and Easter, but plans don’t always work out (sigh!).  However, the blog will try to put in an appearance a little more regularly, and the ‘revision’ of the website, which has been going on for far too long, must get itself sorted out.  There are one or two experts I can call on for this; maybe things won’t be so difficult after all.

I feel more cheerful already.



December 10, 2019

Es ist ein Ros entsprungen

evelyn @ 2:00 pm

Christmas, Christmas is taking over everything, and now the choir is into the annual dispute over one particular carol.  Last year it was ‘In dulci jubilo’ and the year before we had the fuss about ‘O holy night’.  This year it is the German Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, which compares the Virgin Mary to a rose and goes by several English titles.  In our hymn book, Laudate, it is entitled ‘A noble flower of Juda’ (no. 126).

I just love the tune.  The choir were unfamiliar with it, but once they had got used to the syncopated bits, they liked it, too.

However, one of our American members complained about the words in our hymn book, saying that they caused the syncopation to give emphasis to unimportant words like ‘to’ and ‘the’.  She offered to provide a better set.  Sure enough, the Laudate version is a bit clumsy and would probably silence the congregation.  We have space on the congregational hand-out, so the new set of words, entitled ‘Lo, how a rose e’er blooming’, will go in. Problem solved.

And we have managed to avoid the famous title with the translation ‘Behold, a blooming rose’!


November 27, 2019

Christmas is a-comin’

evelyn @ 3:09 pm

It’s that time of year again, we’re working at Christmas music, and I regret blog-posts will be a bit erratic until the dust settles in January.  And when it comes to the Christmas Mass music there is the usual rock-and-a-hard-place problem:

How can we have a special festive Mass setting for Christmas


(a) according to the Vatican II rules, the people have GOT to sing the Mass,


(b)  there is no chance to practise with the people in Advent?

People will not hang around for practices in the run-up to Christmas, and there’s no Gloria anyway.

We’ve explored several possible solutions over the years:

  • decorating existing Mass parts, giving them a festive makeover. The work for this falls mainly on the organist and demands a bit of imagination.
  • using plainsong. The Missa de Angelis Gloria might work but the ICEL 2010 recommendations for the Sanctus and Agnus Dei are taken from the old Requiem Mass.  They are very nice, but hardly suitable for Christmas.

There is of course the option of just using the same old Mass music that we sing during the rest of the year …



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