Monday, July 20, 2009

Trying to be Organ-ized

Having been an organist for various Anglican churches for about twenty-five years now, including an early stint as a Cathedral Organ Scholar back in Ottawa, I don't stress out too much about playing services. So when I was asked to play at Edmonton's Cathedral in the organist's absence this summer during my holidays, I figured we could use the extra money, so a little double dipping would be welcome right now. Plus, it's only once a week, I won't need to practice, and I just have to get to the church by 9:00 AM, and after two services, I'd be done by 12:30. Not bad.

I've come to realize that my laissez-faire approach to playing the organ can be a fault. Generally, I'm pretty organized at the console, I make sure I go though the order of service carefully, highlight all the places I need to be ready to give a note, play a hymn, a response, do liturgical dance and the like. So I did this at around 9 AM, before the start of the 9:15 service. I took both the 9:15 and the 11:00 bulletins and circled anything that I needed to be ready for. Then I opened the hymnal to the first hymn, picked an alternative harmonization for the last verse, laid it all out on the console, behind that was the Gloria, ready to go quickly after the first hymn. Still five minutes to go, and I had everything ready to go.

Timeline of 9:14.00 to 9:15.00:

9:14.00 "I'm a good organist, I don't need to prepare for this or practice - it's like falling off a log - so nice to be so organized!"

9:14.25 looks over at the bulletin, and notice I have the wrong one on the console, this one says 11:00 - but this it the 9:15 service!

9:14.20 switches the hymn to the right one for the 9:15 service. Phew, that was close. I guess that was my close call of the morning.

9:14.30 one last glance at the bulletin. "Hymn 440" (check) "to the tune of Hymn 3"

9:14.35 "Gasp!" Flips to hymn 3. Heart rate increases significantly, I'm unable to blink my eyes.

9:14.37 "What? This hymn has FIVE FLATS - who writes hymns in FIVE FLATS"

9:14.40 "Maybe I could transpose it at sight to two sharps? Are there any accidentals that will throw me off? - Yes - at least two C-flats that would have to be changed to C-naturals, and one F-flat that would have to be switched to F-natural - I could do that"

9:14.45 voice from off the sacristy door - it is the curate saying "GO! - START"

9:14:50 "What am I doing here, I'm a conductor, not an organist? Who gave me the right to be a Cathedral organist again?"

9:14.51 "Do I have the right stops pulled? Am I going to play this in D-flat major or D major? What happens after the hymn?"

9:14.52 "Shit - I have the wrong Gloria open behind this hymn, and it's the one I've never played before."

9:14.53 "Wait a minute - how many verses does this hymn have - I've switched the page to the hymn tune, but I don't have the actual verses in front of me anymore. What was the number of the actual hymn again?"

9:14.54 "OK - I'm going to start - just play it in D-flat as written, stay focused, hopefully the deacon will close her book before the last line of the hymn letting me know it is over"

9:14:55 "GO! NOW!"

9:14:56 "My bench - it feels too far forward - the swell pedal feels too close - I wonder if the reeds are in tune"

9:14.57 "Why am I'm shaking? I really shouldn't drink coffee before church - will all those 16' foot pedal stops balance the swell flutes?"


9:15.00 "push fingers and feet down - hope for the best".
I'm happy to say, I pressed the right keys, for the most part, and everything after that went smoothly, no one was the wiser. I was however on edge for the next three and a half hours convinced that I was going to make some colossal blunder, but never did.

Next week, I think I'll get there just a bit earlier, hide the 11:00 bulletin until 10:45, and toss the 9:15 bulletin right after the 9:15 service.

At the 11:00 service, I played Bach's Prelude and Fugue in e minor ("The Cathedral") as a postlude. A well respected retired professor emeritus from the University's Music Department was there and spoke to me afterward and said "That wasn't a very good piece of music, who wrote that". I said "Oh, some guy named J.S. Bach", she said "No way, must have been W.F Bach". My wife's family and I laughed about it over lunch, at which point we realized I should have said "WTF Bach". My, we've come a long way since PDQ.


daharja said...

WTF Bach....hehehe!

Thanks for sharing. This was rather amusing :-)

Jen said...

This is priceless. It was great to read your thought process during those awful moments.
Reminds me of the time I momentarily lost my place in the middle of a bride's processional. Felt like an eternity while I made my fingers keep moving. The terror actually caused my teeth to hurt! But somehow the congregation never knew there was a crisis.
Thanks for sharing!

Bettsy said...

Thanks for sharing! It reminds me of the time all my scores got mixed up on the music rack during the bridal party processional "Canon in D" with a violinist playing the melodic variations.....thank God for I,V,vi,iii, IV, I, IV, V !!!! Only the violinist, trumpet player, and myself knew what was going on.


Will Breytspraak said...

OMG this is so funny! Thanks for the laughs. My heart rate went up just reading the story. I am not a trained organist, but fill in for small services at my church and this looks like a typical Sunday to me!!