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Forth in Praise

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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

January 16, 2018

January blues

evelyn @ 3:29 pm

The January bugs have been going around. Cantor rota is all over the place – it’s a question of finding out who is still capable of singing. Not so bad for organists. They don’t have to sing, and can snort, snuffle and cough in the gallery while playing.  At least, I hope so, as I now have picked up something myself.

Weather is miserable.

My son is here for a few days from Australia, where temperatures are around 40 degrees. He must feel he has stepped into a fridge …

January 2, 2018

All over bar the shouting

evelyn @ 2:33 pm

Actually, there’s been no shouting – just an exhausted silence.

Carol service and Christmas Mass seemed to go really well. Even our new anthem, which we had agonised over and which had a stinker of a pianistic accompaniment, simply labelled ‘Keyboard’, was without major incident. Choir and instrumentalists were all smiling and exchanging Christmas cards at the end.

The church was the fullest I have seen for a long time. Congregation sang lustily, especially when it came to ‘O Holy Night’. When it was over singers and musicians all went home, no doubt for a well-deserved drink.

Since then, there’s been no news. I haven’t seen any of the church people to find out how things were received. Everyone is celebrating at home, and the weather has been lousy – ice, snow and then a deluge of rain.

Sunday 31st came sneaking along. No special music, just me in the gallery. I asked our priest if he had had any feedback from Christmas Eve. ‘Oh it was very good.’ he said vaguely, adding ‘It always is’. Obviously his thoughts were on the days ahead, and with ice, snow and a funeral coming up, this was understandable.

The cantor, when she came up for the quick run-through before Mass, was more forthcoming. Two of her relatives had been in the congregation. ‘They were still crying when I got downstairs’, she said. I felt myself go pale. Had it been that bad? But no, it turned out that they were just feeling emotional, carried away by the occasion. Phew! I thought. Maybe it was really quite good, if it had had that effect.

‘Oh, those two are always emotional’, continued the cantor, ‘Anything at all will set them off’.

Oh well.

Happy New Year, everyone!

December 18, 2017

O Holy Night (again!)

evelyn @ 5:53 pm

I’ve noticed that a number of bloggers simply upload a Christmas carol or two at this busy time of year.  A lovely idea.

I’ve decided to follow suit, and for the third year running will give readers my favourite version of ‘O Holy Night’.  (If video doesn’t work, go here and scroll down).  I promise I will not feature it next year!

Our choir leader hates ‘O Holy Night’ even more than I do, but it is now an institution in the parish and there would be a riot if we missed it out. We have to pacify her by letting her have her own way elsewhere.


December 16, 2017

While we’re on the subject …

evelyn @ 4:25 pm


… of the Scottish Federation of Organists, their freely-downloadable booklet Church Organs is absolutely excellent. Contains advice on purchase, maintenance and general suitability of both pipe and electronic organs.

To access it, go to the SFO website, click on Organ Advice, then click on Church Organs.

December 9, 2017

Pipe organs in winter

evelyn @ 4:30 pm

While playing at a wedding yesterday, I suddenly heard the organ humidifier kick in. It was to be expected in this dry and icy weather (bride was elegantly muffled up in what looked like a polar bear stole!).

What was interesting was that since our priest changed the heating system from a forced-air outlet to more organ-friendly radiators, the humidifier has come into action much less frequently.  But it is reassuring to know that it is still on the alert.

So I’ve decided this is as good a time as any to repeat an earlier post on the subject:

Winter is the danger season for pipe organs!

Church heating during a dry, cold spell (and we seem to be getting a lot more of these in recent years) can seriously and often permanently damage the wooden pipes and other wooden parts of a pipe organ by drying them out. Heating systems which force hot air into the church are the worst offenders. There are some lovely pipe organs in our churches, and if you are lucky enough to play one, you will want to keep an eye on its welfare.

Some ways to do this:

1 Keep a hygrometer (a little instrument registering moisture in the atmosphere which can be bought cheaply in garden centres) at the organ and check how often and for how long it dips below normal humidity range. From this you should be able to tell how bad the danger is.

2 Have the organ tuned regularly (twice a year is usual) by a professional organ-builder, who will be able to spot internal signs of damage and hopefully deal with them before they become worse.

3 Call in the tuner if you have a cipher (a note won’t stop playing – you would want to call him in for this anyway!) or a part of the organ goes badly out of tune when it shouldn’t, especially the wooden pipes, such as the flutes.

4 Take advice from your tuner on ways to make the atmosphere in the organ area more humid. Sometimes a strategically-placed tray of water will help; keep it topped up and try to stop a skin of dust forming on it. An old blanket draped somewhere near the organ with one end in the water can be useful (steer clear of electrical fittings!).

5 See if the church heating can be adjusted a bit downwards. With the present cost of fuel the parish may well be prepared to take this on board.

6 Ask the parish to consider installing an organ humidifier, a mechanical device for moistening the air. Your tuner can tell you more about these, and whether one would be suitable for your instrument.

7 Make use of the advice available from the Scottish Federation of Organists. An independent expert will assess the condition of the organ and make recommendations. For more details, go to the SFO website, click on ‘Site Directory’ then ‘Organ Advice’.

Original post (with a comment) can be found here.

November 17, 2017

A month with a difference

evelyn @ 2:45 pm

Well, apologies for yet another long interval between posts, this time due to a most unusual month.

It started in October when my husband went off to Australia to help out our son and daughter-in-law. The birth of their next child was imminent, and husband had offered to look after their older boy while everything happened. I didn’t travel with him, as with my mobility problems I would have been of no use at all in Melbourne. Also, he’d had quite a hard time looking after me in the weeks following my injury, so I thought he should have a break by looking after someone else instead! Grandad and grandson soon became great buddies as they toured Melbourne playparks and investigated the trams.



Meanwhile, I decided to do a bit of socialising myself. My friend of longest standing (she refuses to be called ‘my oldest friend’) came for a few days and introduced me to the delights of Italian antipasto, and another friend whisked me off to spend a week in her home in Kilmacolm. In between those visits our daughter and son-in-law had invited me to spend some time in their house in Barrow-upon-Soar in Leicestershire, and I had a lovely time playing with our other two delightful little grandsons.

I saw two organs on my travels, but was only able to try out one. The Kilmacolm organ was a nice two-decker by Hill, Norman and Beard. I got to try its many sounds and wish I had taken a photograph of it.

The organ in the church in Barrow-upon-Soar looked most interesting, but sadly, I couldn’t get near the console. The minister had kindly unlocked the door to the spiral staircase, and I even took a few steps upwards. But then I decided it was much too risky in my present state, and gingerly came back down again. My daughter took some pics of the pipes, and of the full interior of the church (yes, that’s me, clutching my stick in the corner). I do like Anglican churches.

My husband returned a few days ago, looking fit and well, and we both felt that this lengthy separation, the first in 46 years of marriage, had been quite unexpectedly beneficial.

Oh, and it’s another boy. Well over 8lb at birth and doing splendidly. That makes four grandsons.

September 29, 2017

The Incredible Organ Bench Backrest!

evelyn @ 5:52 pm

‘Get an organ bench with a back rest!’, ordered our priest, on the realisation that my back injury meant I couldn’t play. So I tried to do just that. A search of the Internet didn’t produce much, while an appeal to other organists brought answers saying much the same thing: you need a joiner to make a bespoke bench.

Then David, our organ builder, stepped in and came up with a really excellent device.

He got a padded seat from somewhere and attached it to a wooden frame spanning the pedalboard. The seat has a lever which allows it to swivel, so I can get on and off without stepping on the pedals. Two wooden steps on the right allow me to climb easily into the seat.

And the whole thing is quickly removed – you just pull it backwards – so that other organists can use the real bench. Our priest was delighted and even produced a cushion of suitable thickness to give more support at the back of the seat.

I have now played at two Sunday Masses and at a funeral, thus giving the whole invention a good workout.

Congratulations to our imaginative organ builder. Take a bow, David!

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.

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