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Organists: Second-class Citizens?


gazman

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RANT ALERT!

 

I've just returned home after playing for a carol concert for a certain organization who have an annual concert/service (I'm not sure which it was!) at one of my churches.

 

I was asked to play for this event a couple of months ago, but was unable at that stage to play for it due to another booking and arranged for my assistant to play. However, a few days later they asked me if I could get a choir together as they were unable to find a choir to sing at the event. I said that I would arrange a choir for that evening taken from members of three of my choirs and rearrange my other booking in order to be available to play for this service. This was received with gratitude.

 

A couple of weeks ago I had a message on my answerphone telling me that they had now found a "proper" choir, so there was no need for me to provide a choir! I was a bit miffed as you can imagine. It was a choir that I'd never heard of. I asked if they would send me the scores of what they were singing.

 

Well, yesterday evening I found an envelope on my doorstep. Inside it was a pile of badly photocopied sheets of various carols (some single-sided, some double-sided, some short carols, others sprawling over a number of sheets, all loose) with illegible instructions written all over them, repeats crossed out and others drawn in, arrows drawn to different sections, and many of the scores greatly reduced in size to get two pages to fit on an A4 page, changes to notation, scribbled bits of manuscript inserted, loads of notes in red pen and crossings out &c with the result that a lot of it was barely readable. Due to a rehearsal last night, and a busy day today, I only had about ten minutes after dinner this evening to try and sort out what went where.

 

I met the choir's conductor (a woman with no obvious self-doubt) shortly before the service/concert this evening. She had come armed with additional photocopied sheets and instructions for me. She seemed to take offence at me gently pointing out that, had I received the scores earlier, I'd have had a chance to learn the accompaniments rather than sight reading! I went through the scores with her, and we found that some of her instructions were wrong!

 

Now, as for the choir, don't get me started on that one....! Suffice to say that all the items which are normally unaccompanied (including easy things like CFC arrangement of Silent Night) she asked me to play along with them to keep them together. I spent the whole evening trying to find what sheet we were on next, playing the organ with one hand and pedals whilst trying with my other hand variously to stop the loose sheets falling off the console, trying to turn the loose pages, or to find where the Dickens the next page was. It was an absolute nightmare and really rather nerve-wracking. Had anything gone awry, the organist would have looked as if he was to blame! I had to rescue the choir repeatedly. Had I provided a choir as originally agreed, everything would have gone smoothly.

 

Just before the last carol, the president of the organization got up to thank various people. Of course, he lavished excessive and vomit-worthy praise on the choir, and there was a huge amount of applause for them. Why? Don't people use their ears? I don't normally swear in church, but heard myself spontaneously come out with a naughty word. Well, I had to either curse or vomit. He then went on to thank everybody and anybody who had contributed (and, it seemed, anybody who hadn't) at great length. And guess who he forgot (or couldn't be bothered) to thank? I don't normally like to have accolades for just doing my job, but I'd had a nerve-wracking 70 minutes and things had gone without a hitch purely because of my hard work and, dare I say, expertise.

 

Well, I was so miffed that I made a silly little slip in the play-over to the last carol, which didn't help my mood at all!

 

At the end of the event there was no mention of a fee, and no fee was forthcoming. I wondered why I had bothered. I went home via the off-licence, and am soothing myself with a glass of malt!

 

Folks, are we organists and musicians regarded as second-class citizens or just items of church furniture?

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RANT ALERT!

 

Continued below by another sufferer!

 

 

Dear Gareth,

 

I am sure there will be so many of us taken for granted this season and throughout the year. Our Carol Service is coming up and I have asked a friend of mine to play before the service, having informed the clergy well in advance.

 

I have now been told that one of the clergy has arranged for the local hand bell ringers to perform before said service. I protested having told him he well knew that I had arranged for some special seasonal organ music to be played and have now been told that the handbell ringers will be told to stop 6 minutes before the service to allow for the organ music.

 

Further protests were without avail except that it was suggested that my friend might care to entertain the congregation afterwards while have our glass of wine and mince pies.

 

They know me very well at our Off Licence and you can see why! Join the club.

 

FF

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Although I am not an organist, this makes me very angry!

 

My first thought was that you were just unlucky.

 

My second thought was that this is probably not that unusual. The impression I get is that organists (at least in this country) are largely ignored and certainly not appreciated.

 

Of course, this is nothing new. I'm sure everyone recalls the anecdote of the famous Best (at Liverpool) who, when it was announced that "the organ will now play", remained resolutely in his seat and responded, "damn the organ, let it play."

 

If this were me, I think my reaction would be to emigrate - it seems that many other countries DO value their organists.

 

Hang on! How many well-known figures in the organ world have done just that? I wonder if it was for that reason (or, perhaps, for the money!)

 

John

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Guest Barry Williams

Sadly, these accounts are all too common nowadays.

 

Churches that treat their musicians properly invariably attract good congregations. The feature is always a strong and well-educated cleric at the helm.

 

There is no shortage of organists, only a shortage of organists who are willing to play the music expected of them and to put up with the type of nonsense that Gareth has so sadly reported.

 

Barry Williams

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It's not just organists. My wife has 22 violin pupils at a primary school in a village on the edge of Dartmoor (probably a quantifiable proportion of the school). The other night they had an evening of carols round the Christmas tree at which all the little darlings played. At the end of the evening the headmaster thanked them all and especially the teacher who has been nominally lumbered with responsibility for the school's music (although not really a musician herself). And my wife? Not a mention; totally ignored! Such is the lot of peripatetics.

 

As for fees, Gareth, I really do think you should have agreed a fee at the outset. It's a curious thing that the more people have to pay for something the more seriously they will value it (within reason). I suppose it's the "easy come, easy go" philosophy.

 

You could always get you own back by reporting them for breach of copyright. Don't tell me all that stuff was public domain.

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Gareth, about this time last year I posted a topic called "The Invisible Organist" (still available for consultation) in which I recounted an almost identical experience. I think most, though by no means all, non-players imagine we can just see a piece of music and play it immediately. I, and I suspect most here, have had pieces of music shoved in front of us five minutes before a funeral or wedding with the expectation that we render it perfectly. I too have heard egregious choirs and soloists applauded for five minutes while my stunning contributions remain unacknowledged.

 

But at least we keep the off licences in business!

 

Peter

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Sadly, this came as no surprise to me whatsoever. I expect we have all been there.

 

So often it is assumed that -

 

1 The organist is some sort of machine capable of producing the most complicated music, perfectly, at sight, in a new key, without any preparation or consideration from anyone else.

 

2 Despite this unbelievable skill, it is inappropriate to show any gratitude or thoughtfulness for his being there or producing said music.

 

3 Payment - forget it. Isn't it obvious that the organist does it 'for the love' ? (This reminds me of the client who came to see me with my solicitor's hat on. When I explained how my fee structure worked, she was aghast. 'But you are a solicitor' she said, 'you are meant to help people').

 

4 What the organist might want is either irrelevant, or nothing more than a selfish, nerdy indulgence.

 

5 It is quite inconceivable to consider that this unbelievable skill may have required years of dedication to achieve, and a great deal of time and money to perfect, and that during this pilgrimage, the organist might have picked up some ideas on music that could be of advantage to anyone else.

 

I am really sorry to say this, but reading this story just reminds me of the many reasons why I had no regrets at giving up my position as a church organist after 20 years to 'spend more time with my family', and devote myself to concert playing. This is something, regrettably, I feel especially at Christmas with the endless demands made on church musicians at this time.

 

A very sorry story indeed.

 

M

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I think of this as the Curse of the Conscientious. It's because we care deeply about doing the best job we can "despite", that we end up in these situations where we feel we have been taken for a ride. Of course, it's not to say that weren't a few people in the congregation/audience who did not appreciate the skill of the organist. It's just that not many of them would make the effort to come and tell you so after the performance.

 

Over the last year I have become a little more battle-hardened in this respect, and if I sense the potential for such a situation arising I have politely declined to participate due to "prior commitments".

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ps. to my last post

 

I am sure I have told the story elsewhere of the American princess who spent 6 hours in consultation with me trying to choose music, changed her mind on the day, and a singer strolled up to me during the signing of the register and asked me to accompany her - completely news to me. For all this, I was paid £30. The flowers in the church off Sloane Square were flown in, with a floral designer, from Florence and cost about £15,000.

 

What amused / annoyed me perhaps more was a performance of the Faure Requiem at my old church, directed by the then director of music in the scaled down John Rutter orchestration. I played the organ. My name was not listed on the programme, I was not invited to the front to share the curtain call taken by, for example, soprano and cello soloist.

 

It was not worth getting upset about, but it did strike me as a telling example of how we are regarded.

 

Obviously, organists are never important, particularly when they are doing that piddling continuo stuff that is such an irrelevant part of the performance.

 

M

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Yes, the organist is often regarded as a kind of musical 'jukebox'. Often, as said, completely disregarded; "the organ will play ...". (I always feel that I;d like to hear what it can do on its own. This famously happened with an orchestra, primed not to play when a notorious maestro started - "We wanted to hear what you sounded like maestro", said the leader.)

 

Barry's comment w.r.t 'the shortage of organists' is so very true.

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Similar from another non organist.

Interesting observation. My better half helps out at one parish where there is a DoM who, although he doesn’t play himself, has been immersed in church music from choirboy on, and is immensely appreciative of his musicians. It also has a strong incumbent of the 'traditional' variety. Here, the organist is encouraged to produce a high quality piece at the end of the service, which is actually listened to and appreciated. Even some of the congregation will occasionally say afterwards "Enjoyed the Bach today....."

 

Another parish, a different style of management, and the difference really shows. A lovely two manual, ever so slightly sparse in the power perhaps, but more than making up for it in the quality, and sometimes you can’t hear it for the babble, and the rattle of teacups!

Yes, we recognise that scenario too. While our children were at primary, my wife helped every week as volunteer piano player, watching non musical teachers ‘train’ a school group. Come the recording session for the radio competition, and another parent, who was a music teacher but did nothing at the school at all, was drafted in. Similarly for the annual musical production; after weeks of practice, she was told that the music teacher from the ‘big’ school would play on the night!

 

The difference? Well, as was more or less pointed out to her, more than once, by a particular teacher, my wife is not a qualified teacher you see. She is, after all, only a church organist, and that only since she was old enough to reach the pedals!

 

When our youngest child left, that same teacher expressed the hope that “Our association may continue, and you will still be able to play for us.” Needless to say, it didn’t, and she doesn’t. She now plays at another school, where at least she gets paid.

 

Yes, I had a similar experience at a church, where I played for all the rehearsals for a carol service, only to be told that Mr Muppett would play on the night; 'he always does it' - and he got paid for it too. That really p****d me right off! But it only happened once. As squinius says, you can learn to sense the potential for these situations.

 

R.

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I have read the rant alerts with interest and I can't help wondering that if y'all dislike playing for carol services and the likes so much then...

 

ermmm.... why do you do it?

 

The organist in our church just says that he's not available on that day/evening etc, and that's an end of it. Perhaps there's a lot to be said for letting said organisations get on with their annual events and bringing in their own player (good, bad or ugly). I've seen some horrors at the console of our organ, but it doesn't half make us appreciate our organist when he's back on the bench! :rolleyes:

 

After all, life's too short to be doing things that you don't like doing - especially at Christmas....

 

Having said that, I'm just off to a carol service - no organist, but an organ-playing vicar...

 

Q ;)

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I have read the rant alerts with interest and I can't help wondering that if y'all dislike playing for carol services and the likes so much then...

 

ermmm.... why do you do it?

 

 

I think most of us love playing, it's just we don't like being taken for granted. If I had a Cimbalstern, I could do a concert performance of "Jingle Bells".

 

Happy Christmas,

 

FF

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If I had a Cimbalstern, I could do a concert performance of "Jingle Bells".

In the absence of a Zimbelstern (sp.?), I'm planning on making do with a chorister and hand-held jingle bells by way of intro for Sleigh Ride. A bit naff maybe, but should do nicely for a conclusion to the Christingle service.

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In the absence of a Zimbelstern (sp.?), I'm planning on making do with a chorister and hand-held jingle bells by way of intro for Sleigh Ride. A bit naff maybe, but should do nicely for a conclusion to the Christingle service.

 

 

I remember on one occasion when an orchestral bird whistle was used in "In a Monastry Garden" the elderly churchwarden nearly went bananas thinking a real bird had got into his church.

 

FF

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Obviously, organists are never important, particularly when they are doing that piddling continuo stuff that is such an irrelevant part of the performance.

 

M

 

hmmm...piddling continuo stuff... that's playing by numbers, isn't it ?

 

H

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Obviously, organists are never important, particularly when they are doing that piddling continuo stuff that is such an irrelevant part of the performance.

Actually in my experience this is the one role where you do stand a chance of being acknowledged. A couple of weeks ago I was playing in a Messiah and the conductor did invite the cellist and me to rise (after the soloists and trumpeter) - but he is a professional musician well versed in the correct protocols. It all depends on who's out front.

 

Turning the tables, I wonder how many of us who have been lucky enough to play concertos have forgotten to shake the hand of the leader of the orchestra. I'm afraid I have!

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Actually in my experience this is the one role where you do stand a chance of being acknowledged. A couple of weeks ago I was playing in a Messiah and the conductor did invite the cellist and me to rise (after the soloists and trumpeter) - but he is a professional musician well versed in the correct protocols. It all depends on who's out front.

 

Ditto at the RNCM - that wasn't you, was it?

 

John

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RANT ALERT!

 

At the end of the event there was no mention of a fee, and no fee was forthcoming. I wondered why I had bothered. I went home via the off-licence, and am soothing myself with a glass of malt!

 

Folks, are we organists and musicians regarded as second-class citizens or just items of church furniture?

 

 

 

 

Not good. Perhaps one lesson to be learned here is to go about things in a business like manner and negotiate the fee before undertaking the work?

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RANT ALERT!

 

I've just returned home after playing for a carol concert for a certain organization who have an annual concert/service (I'm not sure which it was!) at one of my churches.

 

(snip)

 

Folks, are we organists and musicians regarded as second-class citizens or just items of church furniture?

 

 

=========================================

 

 

I usually try to restrain my inner desire to feed Christians to lions around Christmas time, when they all get very excited.

 

It always seems to happen when primary school teachers get involved, or worse still, guitar strumming youth counsellors at the senior school.

 

They usually arrive telling you what THEY are going to do, without notice, without a batting order, without proper music and carrying illegal photocopies of things, which usually spill across five and a half loose pages, on which the final bars are missing on each line, because no-one thought to reduce the image.

 

I've heard marvellous lines such as, "I think you're out of tune Mr Organist"

 

I always invent an appropriate response on the hoof, and they are seldom complimentary, but it usually starts with. "Could you, by any unlikely chance, give me an A?"

 

Then there are the children, who shuffle in like Dickensian workhouse children; cowed and miserable: staring at their feet and quite afraid of a big space with an acoustic. The lady (second-study) music-teacher clenches her fist (why do they do this when they conduct?) and some of the smaller children burst into tears.

 

This year, we have a cast of 60 in the Nativity Play; so presumably most of them will be sheep, and the whole thing will look like an auction market. Jesus will presumably be attended by his extended family this year, and most of the youth membership of the local Farmer's Union.

 

Of course, scholl Nativity Plays......oooops....that should be school, but as they wear sandals! I'll start again.......

 

The school Nativity Plays are a wonderful source of the unpredictable, making the "Star of Bethlehem" seem like a minor navigational inconvenience. There is always a stuffed donkey which falls over dead; already in the late stages of rigor mortis. Jesus has been seen break-dancing down the chancel steps, and went completely missing one year, until he was discovered in a bucket, much to the alarm of the Pro Life lobby. The shepherds always seem to wear last year's IKEA curtain designs, and there's usually one show-off Sikh boy who wears an immaculate BLUE turban and delivers his lines in perfect English.

 

Last year, the Canadian-born youth counsellor arrived with her guitar for the Christmas Mass of the Nativity.

 

She strums away and the yuff praise their shoes;clearly not very happy to be there at all. The travesty soon over, as most pop hymns usually are due to the lack of attention-span, she then strides across to the organ and announces, as I am playing over the next carol, "We'll do that again."

 

"Go away!" I hiss, and the next thing you know, you're a follower of Satan and she's blubbing her eyes out.

 

And another thing: the face-saving exercise!

 

The kids stand there as if they're about to receive a vaccination, and on hearing their efforts, you step forward and offer a little advice.

 

"Stand up straight; shoulders relaxed. Hold the copies up; take a deep breath and try it again!"

 

Suddenly St Trinian's becomes St.John's Cambridge; a total transformation.

 

The teacher smiles and says to them, "That sounded almost as good as last Tuesday."

 

Of course, certain things are intolerable; like the teacher who arrives with a little portable CD player for the accompaniment, and I forbid it.

 

"But they've practised with it!" She protests.

 

So you let them have a go at the Zither Carol with tin-pan-alley CD player, and the kids mumble away; straining to hear the so-called accompaniment.

 

"Let's try this!" I say, and make the organ dance a bit, with suitable mutations.

 

Suddenly, they're in Prague and Wenceslas Square; having the musical time of their lives around the Christmas Tree.

 

The worst thing that ever happened to me?

 

Well, there was the time when we used to have the full monte.....9 Lessons with Carols....anything from Benjamin Britten to Warlock and Harold Darke. There we were, at the boys practice; twenty-four of them singing their hearts out, and what happens?

 

The curate of the Anglican Church where I was, strolls in at the back of the church with his makeshift carol-singers, who are due to go out collecting for charity the next day, Saturday. Mid "Balulalow" and we are suddenly treated to the sound of "We three Kings" from the back of the church; like a modern-day version of Peter Cornelius' "Three Kings from Persian lands afar" but without much harmonic concorde.

 

Not often do I lose it, but I went berserk like Jesus in the temple; ranting and raving like a mad thing, and scattering them abroad like farmyard hens.

 

That was the Christmas they fed ME to the lions, and the point at which I left the Anglican Communion.

 

And you know, the awful thing is, everyone will know and understand EXACTLY what I am writing about, because we're all, let's face it, second-class citizens.

 

 

:rolleyes:

 

MM

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Do I sleep, do I dream, do I wonder and doubt? Are things what they seem, or is visions about? :rolleyes:

 

This evening I've just played for my umpteenth carol service thus far, this time for the Sea Scouts. Before the last carol, the Scoutmaster awarded the usual prizes and then turned in the direction of the organ console and said "And I'd like to say a special Thank You to the organist, Mr. Gareth Perkins, who has played the organ so beautifully for our service this evening"! Well, I could almost have fallen off the organ stool! I almost wondered whether he was a lurker on this forum!!!

 

No cheque was forthcoming though, but, as the Vicar booked me to play for the service, I'll chase him up about that...

 

:)

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Do I sleep, do I dream, do I wonder and doubt? Are things what they seem, or is visions about? :rolleyes:

 

This evening I've just played for my umpteenth carol service thus far, this time for the Sea Scouts. Before the last carol, the Scoutmaster awarded the usual prizes and then turned in the direction of the organ console and said "And I'd like to say a special Thank You to the organist, Mr. Gareth Perkins, who has played the organ so beautifully for our service this evening"! Well, I could almost have fallen off the organ stool! I almost wondered whether he was a lurker on this forum!!!

 

No cheque was forthcoming, though, but, as the Vicar booked me to play for the service, I'll chase him up about that...

 

:)

 

Out in the country on Sunday night, carol service with local choir, usual fee arrived without asking, what more could I want?? Guess I just got lucky!

 

R.

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