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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

September 13, 2019

The Sound of Silence

evelyn @ 3:07 pm

A friend of mine was asked to deputise for a special occasion in a church where many years ago he had been the organist.  When he got there, he recognised the ‘organ’ as the same aged electronic piano he had played all those years ago – they had never replaced it. Possibly they hadn’t had an organist since then.   ‘Possibly’ became ‘probably’ when the thing kept cutting out and suddenly delivering silence. The rousing final hymn became – well, nothing. Obviously, this was an instrument which should have gone to the tip long ago.

I suppose this is a chicken-and-egg situation.  Why should a church spend money on a new instrument when they have no organist?  Yet they will never get an organist until they replace the instrument.

(Psst!  Tell them it could be dangerous.  If it hasn’t been maintained for years, it probably is.  That should get them moving.)


September 6, 2019

A Gloria on the loose?

evelyn @ 4:37 pm


Me: You’ll intone the Gloria, won’t you?

Priest: Which one is it?

Me: The usual one you intone (I sing the notes). I’ll play the phrase first.

Priest: But there’s hardly anyone here. They won’t sing it.

Me: It’ll be all right. The cantor is there to sing the verses.

Priest (grudgingly): All right, then.

In the afternoon, however, he sent me a nice email saying I had proved right about the Gloria. And sure enough, I too had noticed that even with the numbers down the people had sung not only the refrain but good chunks of the verses as well. It may well be that it is time to let this Gloria loose, that is, try it with only the organ for support. Always a daunting prospect for the organist. Will they sing?

Congregations are so unpredictable when it comes to Mass parts. They have (a) things they know well and will always sing (but are often sick of), (b) new things which they have inexplicably embraced and learned with no bother and (c) new things which they show no signs of wanting to pick up, no matter how often the choir puts them forward. The psychology of (b) and (c) might be worth studying by composers. What makes a setting welcome to a congregation?

In this case, however, it’s just possible that category (a) comes into play. We have only one other Gloria which the people can sing right through without a cantor. Although our priest likes it, there is a lot of muttering among the people that they are totally fed up with it. So maybe this is why they are making the effort to learn this new one.

We shall see.


August 30, 2019

Farewell to Calamus

evelyn @ 3:51 pm

Copyright, as all musicians know, is a minefield, and for many years now Calamus, an offshoot of Decani Music, has guided our steps through it, with understanding and incredible flexibility.

Copyright needs can vary and Calamus was able to adapt its system and offer a price that exactly fitted any particular need. In my case, mainly with diocesan work, it was a question of choral parts to hymns, which could be gathered from a number of different hymn books, with an even greater number of copyright holders. If these were on the Calamus list, Calamus would give us a price and process the entire transaction. They even helped out when we didn’t know how many copies we would need for a particular event – many people would turn up without booking in spite of all our pleas. In these cases, they allowed us to tell them after the event how many copies we had given out, and, unlike some publishers, trusted us to destroy any left over copies. A personal, kindly service.

And now they have gone – taken over by an American company, One License. The first thing I did was contact One License to find out about choral copies, only to be told they didn’t deal in choral music, only in congregational melody line and words. So that was that.

Now my colleagues and I have to do some serious thinking. There is definitely a back-to-square-one feeling about the copyright problem.

Anyway, grateful thanks to Calamus for three decades of smoothing the copyright path. We’ll miss you.




August 23, 2019

Music event – East of Scotland

evelyn @ 5:05 pm

On Saturday 14 September, the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh will be holding a liturgical music event called ‘Living Church Music’, in Gillis Centre, Edinburgh.

Forth in Praise has posted here what details we have, and will add to these if and when we hear anything further. I haven’t been able to find any mention of the day on the Archdiocesan website, but I may have been looking in the wrong place, or maybe they haven’t posted it yet.

The Facebook page of the Archdiocese has a short video about the event, and this may be the best place to look for information updates.

August 16, 2019

Those wicked men again!

evelyn @ 2:45 pm

I’ve blogged before about the demise of the wicked men, and yesterday I mourned them yet again as I played ‘I’ll sing a hymn to Mary’ on the Feast of the Assumption. For sadly, this traditional old hymn, much-loved by my generation and earlier ones (it was my father’s favourite hymn) has been wrecked by the compilers of the Laudate hymnal.

The last two lines of each verse have been changed from:

When wicked men blaspheme thee,
I’ll love and bless thy name.

to the bland and uninspiring:

O may I imitate thee
and magnify God’s name.

The change may have been made in line with some form of political correctness – is ‘blasphemy’ a proscribed word these days? – even though insults to the Blessed Virgin and the Church in general don’t seem to have ceased. Mayhew had altered the phrase to ‘wicked ones’ (yet more political correctness!) but had kept the blaspheming, which wasn’t too major a change, I suppose. But if you take ‘man’ as meaning ‘Mankind’, then the wicked men should really be allowed to stand.

The organ likes the wicked men because it can do a ‘snap’ on ‘wicked’, which makes it sound quite angry. I decided to be a bit wicked myself yesterday and did the snap anyway, even though the words were ‘may I’ and were set to two straight crotchets.

(with snap)

(as in hymn book)

And in verse 1, just at this point, I was sure I heard the word ‘blaspheme’ coming from down below. I listened carefully and at verse 2 there it was again. Yes, a goodly number were singing the old words, bless them. But why?

I worked it out afterwards. First, a weekday Holy Day hasn’t the same formality as a Sunday. There is no newsletter to pick up, and so people often forget to pick up a hymn book. Therefore they sing from memory where they can, and, again because it is a weekday, there are a lot of retired people whose memories are of the wicked men. Added to that, the hymn was sung at Communion. People don’t take their hymn books when they go up to receive Communion, so that makes more people singing from memory.

And the memories could well have been triggered by my organ snap!

Must try it again sometime.




August 9, 2019

Dancing at Mass

evelyn @ 2:03 pm

Recently our Parish Hymn-chooser included a new one on her list, Laudate 889, ‘Jesus Christ is waiting’, tune Noel Nouvelet, words by John Bell. She liked the melody, as did I, but I warned her it wouldn’t be approved once our priest reached verse 3: ‘Jesus Christ is dancing, dancing in the street’. Sure enough, it was rejected and sent to join ‘Lord of the dance’ on the Forbidden Hymns list. It will never be heard in our church unless we are assigned a dancing priest like the one in the Father Ted series.

If singing about dancing is awkward, I find the idea of actually witnessing dancing at Mass positively cringe-making. It isn’t like dancing in the church hall which, whether it be a children’s competition or a general knees-up, is quite a different matter.  But in church … and at Mass … oh no.

Yet it happens. For example, the famous Buenos Aires tango:

And only other day I saw the following online video of a dance performance during the Agnus Dei at what looked to be quite an important Mass in Germany.

Oddly enough, I rather liked the music. But having a dancer prance and pirouette in front of the altar was positively embarrassing (I did think some of the celebrants were trying to keep a straight face).  No matter how talented the dancer was, it was the wrong place and the wrong time. Dancing for an audience is a ‘look-at-me’ thing, quite inappropriate at Mass where attention should surely be focused elsewhere. After the dancer had finally floated to a conclusion, the gear-change crunch as the main celebrant reverted to the normal course of the liturgy was almost audible, and a most welcome relief.


The only way dancing at Mass works is when everyone does it – not looking for admiration, but as an unselfconscious part of the proceedings in a particular culture where dancing is the norm. This of course happens in Africa. My friend Frances, who visits friends in Tanzania, says dancing at Mass there automatically replaces walking – for everyone. They all dance up and back to give their offerings or receive Communion, Frances among them (‘You just can’t help joining in’, she says). She loves it, and I can see why, from this link which she has sent me of Mass in a village she knows:


But please, please, don’t let’s have ballet dancers performing to an audience in middle of Mass. It’s creepy, and makes me want to reach for the sick bag.

August 2, 2019

Wiring the organist brain

evelyn @ 2:49 pm

What happened last Sunday seems a very small thing, but it is significant.  Organists, especially Catholic organists, have to respond automatically to the Liturgy.   Thus, ‘we acclaim’ is the trigger for the Sanctus, ‘the mystery of faith’, the Memorial Acclamation, and so on.  These cues become hard-wired into the organist’s brain (is that the psychologist’s term for it?)

To understand last week’s great achievement, you really have to read my post about my embarrassment when I messed up the Kyrie (in front of the Archbishop, no less). The Kyrie had become wrongly wired because our priest almost always uses one version and I’d completely forgotten that there are three.

Since that dreadful day when I drowned the Archbishop’s solo tenor singing, I’ve been on full red alert whenever he has been to our parish, and rank being rank, in a somewhat lesser state of watchfulness with other visiting clergy.  This summer, our usual substitute priest took over for a fortnight.  On the first Sunday I relaxed when I realised that he was saying the same version of the Kyrie as our own priest, and by the second Sunday – last week, a very hot day – I had, without realising it, switched off the mental alert.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, my subconscious spoke in my ear. ‘Careful’, it said, ‘He’s saying the Confiteor’.  This prayer, of course, introduces one of the alternative Kyrie versions, so for the first time ever, I had been told automatically by my brain not to come in with the Gloria and obliterate the ‘Lord have mercy’, which, not being on the look-out, I could so easily have done,.

I hope this means that the Kyrie mess-up will never occur again, and I’m really rather proud that at my age I can still re-wire my brain to the point of changing an ingrained habit.

This encourages me to think of tackling other habits that could do with changing.  They mainly involve eating …

July 26, 2019

Organist Marthas

evelyn @ 2:28 pm

The Gospel reading on Sunday about Martha and Mary reminded me of our local Organists’ Society back in the 70s when I first joined.  We met in various churches for recitals and talks, followed by a cup of tea.

There were more men than women in the Society, but it was always the lady organists who would locate the hall kitchen and get the tea things set out, together with the biscuits, milk and sugar which we had brought.  During the talk or recital one of us could have to leave the interesting goings-on and retreat quietly to the kitchen to oversee the operation of kettle or urn.  It was infuriating.  Afterwards, there was the washing-up, again done by the ladies, whose cars were always the last to leave.

I was the one who raised the question of sex discrimination at an AGM, and I have to say the men, who had never given the matter a thought, responded whole-heartedly.  In fact, the sight of our gentlemen organists rushing round with kettles, cups and tea-towels was quite something.

Since then, there have been many changes.  Things like urns have improved and don’t need so much tending, and domestic roles in society are not automatically consigned to the females of the company.

Coming back to Martha and Mary, why do we rarely hear what happened next in these Gospel narratives?  Did Martha, on being reproved by Jesus, immediately flop down beside Mary to listen to the message, so that the disciples had to get their own tea?  I’d like to think so.


July 19, 2019

Did Théodore Dubois have four legs?

evelyn @ 3:06 pm

A pianist uses fingers, wrists, arms to play the piano keys, and feet for the damper and una corda pedals. He or she wouldn’t dream of employing any other part of the anatomy, let alone any outside object.

But with the organ, anything goes.

I was put in mind of this by a casual remark from a friend who claimed to have seen an organist turning pages with his feet. It was a passing comment which I really should have followed up, as I can’t imagine such a thing to be physically possible.

But it made me think of other instances. I was looking at a score by one of the French masters – Dubois, possibly? – and remember asking my teacher if the composer had four legs, as the pedal part included four notes played simultaneously. It was gently pointed out to me that you can play two adjacent notes with one foot, and if this occurs with both feet at the same time, you will get the ‘four-legged’ score.

Then there is the object officially called a ‘key weight’. Sometimes a piece will have a passage over a long pedal note. If you don’t have a pedalboard, you can place an object in the bass of one of the manuals which will depress the key concerned for as long as you need it. Composers using this technique should make sure the player has a hand free at suitable moments for the placing and removing of the key weight. Otherwise, a friend is necessary.

And the object itself? It can be anything – pens or pencils, watch, spectacles – anything that does the job. Before the advent of smart phones, I had a mobile that was just the right size and weight. My current favourite is the spare key to my husband’s car. My own very full key-ring tends to flop over on to the next-door notes.

Things can be done with the hands as well. A large hand needn’t be confined to one manual, but can sometimes briefly play a note or two on the other at the same time. Similarly, small hands can be helped by the occasional foot on a pedal note, minus any 16-foot stops.

Perhaps the most imaginative episode of this nature happened with a piece I was studying which finished with a very quiet chord containing a high pedal F sharp coupled to the Great. Not all organs have this high F sharp in the pedal, and mine didn’t. So this essential note somehow had to be played on the Great, though both hands were busy on the Swell, and with my short thumbs there was no chance of reaching down to the Great to add in an F sharp. It looked as if one of the Swell hands would have to be released, with consequent thinning of texture.

Then I had the brainwave. On the very gentle final chord, with both hands on the Swell, I leant forward and played the F sharp on the Great – with my nose!

July 5, 2019

No post this week

evelyn @ 9:46 am

[Owing to a close family bereavement there won’t be a blog post this week or next week.]

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