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Coping with mistakes/failures


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#1 Andrew Butler

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Posted 07 February 2017 - 07:44 PM

I had a feeling there had been a similar topic in the past, but can't actually find it... Apologies in advance is this is a duplication!

 

We all make mistakes from time to time, and suffer problems caused by others.  In over 40 years of playing in church, at the end of last year I had the worst "disaster" I have ever suffered.  To cut a long story short, at a very big service which was supposed to proceed unannounced, the priest for some reason announced everything - sometimes at unexpected points.  I was caught on the hop with an announcement of a choir piece (Warlock:  Where riches is everlastingly)  Owing to colds / fatigue amongst choir members it had been decided to perform it in C Minor rather than D Minor. Being caught "off guard"  I totally forgot, and played it as writ in d; not having "perfect pitch" I thought nothing of it, until I realized the choir just could not "pitch" it.  The performance collapsed - with much sniggering from the congregation.  I apologized to the choir afterwards - they were surprisingly unbothered by it.  I apologized to the priest, and asked if my apology could be printed in the following week's news sheet, but he said it wasn't necessary, although I pointed out that the choir, who were blameless, seemed to have been at fault to the ears of the congregation. 

 

I was - and still am - totally devastated by what happened.  My (admittedly rather silly) immediate "knee-jerk" reaction at the time was to resign from every professional body, unsubscribe from Facebook organists' groups, and "unfriend" on Facebook all my musical contacts as I felt totally unworthy to remain in contact! 

 

I just wondered how others cope with such things?



#2 John Robinson

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Posted 07 February 2017 - 10:36 PM

I had a feeling there had been a similar topic in the past, but can't actually find it... Apologies in advance is this is a duplication!

 

We all make mistakes from time to time, and suffer problems caused by others.  In over 40 years of playing in church, at the end of last year I had the worst "disaster" I have ever suffered.  To cut a long story short, at a very big service which was supposed to proceed unannounced, the priest for some reason announced everything - sometimes at unexpected points.  I was caught on the hop with an announcement of a choir piece (Warlock:  Where riches is everlastingly)  Owing to colds / fatigue amongst choir members it had been decided to perform it in C Minor rather than D Minor. Being caught "off guard"  I totally forgot, and played it as writ in d; not having "perfect pitch" I thought nothing of it, until I realized the choir just could not "pitch" it.  The performance collapsed - with much sniggering from the congregation.  I apologized to the choir afterwards - they were surprisingly unbothered by it.  I apologized to the priest, and asked if my apology could be printed in the following week's news sheet, but he said it wasn't necessary, although I pointed out that the choir, who were blameless, seemed to have been at fault to the ears of the congregation. 

 

I was - and still am - totally devastated by what happened.  My (admittedly rather silly) immediate "knee-jerk" reaction at the time was to resign from every professional body, unsubscribe from Facebook organists' groups, and "unfriend" on Facebook all my musical contacts as I felt totally unworthy to remain in contact! 

 

I just wondered how others cope with such things?

I should say that you were not entirely to blame for what happened.  Perhaps the priest could apologise for not sticking to the script!



#3 SL

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Posted 08 February 2017 - 07:41 AM

I suspect that all of us, at some point, have found ourselves in a disastrous situation that was not of our making and that we couldn't control. I'm not being flippant when I say that, if it took you 40 years to get to that situation dealing with amateur singers then you have done pretty well!

 

I think the way to move forward is to cope with it and learn from it. 'These things happen' is a phrase oft used - and there is an element of truth about it - especially when dealing with amateur singers. I learnt, the hard way, when one Sunday morning my, very able, choir sang the simple Tye anthem Give almes of thy goods. It was my fault - it fell apart by the time the top-line entry came in - and I started it again. It did the same thing again and, again, I started again. Third time lucky and we made it, rather well, to the end. There was tension on the sanctuary - you could cut it with a knife! The choir procession made it's way out of church to the choir room and I growled to my wife who was sitting by the organ "you play something!" I made it to the choir room before they had a chance to escape, I apologised to the choir and told them that, if we didn't sing it again now, we would always have a problem with it!  We sang the opening again - perfectly - and the matter was forgotten!! It became the stuff of legend - it proved 'thunderguts' was human - and I made sure it never happened again!

 

You can blame the Priest but it isn't worth the argument. You can blame the choir - or yourself - the acoustics - the weather - but 'these things happen'!!!


SL (late of Kings College, Cambridge)


#4 Colin Pykett

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Posted 08 February 2017 - 08:28 AM

I've made various very public b*llsups in several walks of life, not just while playing the organ.  I can generally draw some solace from the old adage that "those who say they don't make mistakes don't really make anything".

 

At one Christmas midnight carol service many years ago, packed to the rafters, we were to sing 'O little town of Bethlehem'.  We had had many rehearsals of every last thing, including some in my home to save the choir from having to traipse to a freezing church each time.  Unexceptionally, the (usual?) tune 'Forest Green' had been decided upon.  Yet - on the night I gave out the alternative tune 'Christmas Carol' for some inexplicable reason ...

 

When I played the first chord to bring them all in, nothing happened.  The choir had all turned round and were glaring at me.  The bemused congregation just looked, well, bemused.  You could have heard a pin drop.  So I then I just had to shrug, and just started the whole shooting match again by giving out 'Forest Green'.

 

Then there were the several times I've started up with the Bridal Chorus before the poor girl had even entered the churchyard let alone the church.  Everybody stood up of course ...  (On each occasion I had misinterpreted signals from some functionary or other).

 

Then was the time I was in the choir rather than at the organ.  We were doing some anthem which started with the trebles only, yet at the previous practice the DoM had limbered us up by getting us all to sing the thing in unison.  Of course, I was the only bass daft enough to accompany the lads that Sunday wasn't I ...

 

And so it goes on.  Write it down to experience and try to have a laugh about it if you can!  But the one thing I refuse to accept is too much criticism about such things.  Like most of us I imagine, I've been at many concerts, not just organ recitals, where the eminent professional performer(s) made the most appalling gaffs.  It happens all the time at live music events, but no names, no pack drill.  Maybe the most memorable was once at the RFH when a percussionist turned up late and clambered onto the platform after the conductor had raised his baton.  He made his way to the timps after knocking over a cymbal ...

 

At least I don't expect people to pay good money to see me making an exhibition of myself.

 

CEP


"You can never know everything about something. But you can always know something about everything" - Amit Kumar

 

www.pykett.org.uk


#5 steveg

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Posted 08 February 2017 - 08:56 AM

I agree totally with Colin. I too have had about 30 years of playing at my local church and have had my fair share of c--k-ups - although probably no more than those caused by clergy, servers, sidesmen and all the rest.

We're not a cathedral, we're a group of amateurs in a small parish church. We always do our best but, as you say, mistakes happen. Most congregations are understanding and accepting.

Steve



#6 Vox Humana

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Posted 08 February 2017 - 07:05 PM

I have been pretty lucky on the whole, but that's probably because I have rarely held regular church jobs. I think my worst experience was in my late twenties when I was bawled out (literally) during a service by a newly arrived priest for playing what he considered was the "wrong" tune to some hymn. I very nearly shut up the organ and walked out there and then. It was probably my own fault for not anticipating that this might happen and checking in advance with the priest, but I had been used to his predecessor who had been that remarkable and rare phenomenon, a priest who believed that the Organist and Choirmaster was wholly responsible for all the music and left him to it.

There was an occasion during my organ scholar years when I managed to avoid a disaster by the skin of my teeth. The Sub-Organist had recently got himself another job elsewhere, the boss was ill and I had been left holding the baby. The choir were singing Matins in the nave and the canticles were Richard Farrant's Short Service, which I had to conduct.  I blew a note on my pitch pipe for the tenor soloist to sing the intonation of the Te Deum. The choir was quite used to pitch pipes so it shouldn't have been a problem, but the soloist had a mental block and got it wrong. The intonation trailed away in uncertainty. He gather himself together and tried again, but the same thing happened. "We praise thee" was all over the place and "O God" just deteriorated into a muttered oath. Meanwhile I was trying to suppress a mounting feeling of panic. There was no keyboard downstairs and I could hardly hold up proceedings while I clambered up to the organ loft and played it for him. Although I'm no singer, there was nothing for it but to sing it myself. The trebles thought this highly amusing, but at least it got the train started. As the saying goes, these things happen. 



#7 handsoff

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Posted 09 February 2017 - 08:31 AM

"I think my worst experience was in my late twenties when I was bawled out (literally) during a service by a newly arrived priest for playing what he considered was the "wrong" tune to some hymn".

 

Gosh, that brought back a memory. I was in my mid-teens and in my first organist's post other than at school. We too had a new rector who was considered to be and probably was a bit radical for a small country church and he announced that we would sing "O Jesus I have promised" to, "that fine tune Hatherop Castle". It was reported, although I have no memory of the exact words used, that I announced, "You bl**dy can, I'm playing Thornbury".


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#8 MikeK

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Posted 09 February 2017 - 12:29 PM

After over 60 years of playing the organ I have probably made more than my fair share of c****ps, but two in partcular stand out!

 

 I was playing for the annual civic service in a large south coast church with an equally large organ, complete down to 32' reed. The console was equipped with a general crescendo pedal & a 'blind' tuttii piston, both showing only a small light when on, no stop knobs actually moved After finishing my processional voluntary with the gen cresc. fully open, followed by the tutti piston which added tuba, octave couplers & kitchen sink, I closed the gen.cresc. pedal, pressed the gen. cancel piston but forgot to reverse the tuttii piston,- for some strange reason this was not cancelled when the gen. cancel piston was used;- you've guessed it,- playing over the first hymn on full organ was not appreciated by his Worship the Mayor, & the Chief Constable reached for his whistle!!  I've only done it the once!

 

The second was really not my fault, your Honour!  After a successful rehearsal for evensong in a well known Cathedral in this part of the world, I started to play the choir in for the start of the service when I realised all the piston settings had lost their memory, & any piston seemed to randomly bring out any stop.  What was meant to be a quiet ethereal sound, using swell celeste etc. turned out to be a hurricane on full swell! By nature I am a lazy player & rely more than I should on console aids,- playing for a full choral service  with only hand registration put me out of my comfort zone!  It turned out that the 'memory ' bank was kept live via the aid of a car battery when the organ was 'off' & someone had disconnected the supply to the charger in order to use the socket. (This was in the very early days of memory chips) It was just my luck to be the person playing when the battery gave up it's last volt!



#9 undamaris

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Posted 09 February 2017 - 03:02 PM

I remember many years ago my school's founder's day service in a large town centre parish church with a very fine Father Willis organ. The final hymn ended on a very thrilling note, full organ including a thundering pedal ophicleide. The organist who played the final hymn before the headmaster gave his final address left the bench didn't cancel his registration unbeknown to the organist who was playing the concluding voluntary. The final organist needed to adjust the organ bench as it was too far from the console, which he did by standing on the pedal board & pulling the bench closer. The fact that the resulting thunder clap over rode the headmaster's final address resulted in VERY stern looks from the said headmaster in the mirror on the console

#10 firstrees

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Posted 09 February 2017 - 03:30 PM

There was the time as a chorister when the two boys (fortunately not me) responsible for laying out the music got it badly wrong. I can’t recall the precise details, but Decani had, say, Tomkins and Cantoris, the Byrd Preces and Responses.

 

The Precentor's intonation was fine, of course, and presaged nothing of what was about to occur. The first choral chord produced looks of astonishment and bewilderment all around. The vocal amalgam sounded like Stravinsky. (I only knew this later.)

 

The so-usually-unflappable Organist was nonplussed and waved his hands in a ‘change over’ movement. Pages were hurriedly turned.

‘The Good Lord was most definitely slow to help us’, once more, as the same happened with slowly unfolding “haste”.

 

The Organist then said, out loud and quite clearly, whichever composer it was supposed to be and we carried on . . . nervously, but much more traditionally.



#11 firstrees

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Posted 09 February 2017 - 03:52 PM

The same edifice witnessed my accompanying of an annual service for the Girl Guides and Brownies; the building was crammed with very high frequencies.

 

I built up the last verse of one of the hymns (its identity has been, mercifully, erased from my memory) in the middle of the proceedings, to close the last line with the striking Tuba and growling 32’ Contra Trombone. All was well.

 

Then, with my left hand, I reached nonchalantly for the special edition A&M of Brobdingnagian proportions. Horror struck ! I dropped it awkwardly. It slipped down the manuals: starting with the Solo (where the Tuba flashed, as I hadn’t cancelled), on through Full Swell, most things coupled to Great, bounced off the Positive and landed on the Pedals. Rumble, rumble; grumble, grumble.

 

The Verger clambered up and around the stairs to the loft, a look on his face as if he was going to find dead bodies scattered on the floor.

 

Somehow, I regained enough composure to proceed with the remainder of the service without repetition, deviation or hesitation. Rarely has a ‘voluntary’ been so involuntary.  

 



#12 Andrew Butler

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Posted 10 February 2017 - 08:24 AM

I almost had a bad accident at Canterbury Cathedral some years ago when playing for a visiting choir. I had a brief practice a couple of days previously and had decided, as time was too short to set up my own, to use the then Assistant's piston settings. Presumably for a psalm with trumpets and shawms mentioned, he had in the meantime changed Swell 1 from the Celestes to 8 & 4 Reeds. Luckily, I spotted it in time!



#13 Andrew Butler

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Posted 10 February 2017 - 08:28 AM

Talking of Canterbury, the first time I played there was for a local deanery choirs evensong with David Flood conducting.  Unfortunately, a lightning strike the previous night had knocked out the CCTV link so I couldn't see him conducting. We agreed on tempi beforehand, and it went fine until I forgot in the Stanford in C Mag Gloria David didn't want any sort of rall at the end....!






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