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Peter Clark

Gaffes In Publc

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What do you do when you make such an obvious (as opposed to slight) mistake in a public performance that even the most organ-illiterate listener will know you have made a spheroid ascension?

 

I was playing - rehearsing - the Bach Fantasia in G and, having negotiated the tres vif section, I steeled myself for the 5-part Grave and struck not a pedal G but the A. Taking my cue from Liszt, who once ended a piano piece in a concert on a major seventh instead of the octave and then improvised a cadenza based on the major seventh, I played a very slow ascending pedal passage A-B-C-D (held for at least a semibreve) and then went back to the G to continue the movement. Trouble is, I'm not sure I'd have the nerve to do this in public! I'd probably clam up and crawl away!

 

Are there any stories out there - I am sure there must be a few - of others people to face such a situation in public? (Perhaps Chruchmouse might find a place for these in her book!)

 

Peter

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I once went to a concert where the (then well known) player began with the Bach D Major P & F - the initial pedal scale shot off at a complete tangent - much pew gripping all round at that point!!

I once played a piece using photocopies that turned out to be in the wrong order. Luckily I managed to work out how it should go and as the piece was also fairly modern and astringent tonally my playing sounded (mostly) as if it were correct. It was also a piece that no one in the audience would have known.

 

AJJ

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I got my comeuppance, I suppose, only last Saturday at a very noisy wedding. At the end of a voluntary before the bride arrived I decided to do my normal thing which I do at the noisiest weddings which is to build up to full organ, play a big sustained dominant seventh chord - by which time the congregation are shouting their heads off to be heard above the organ - and then suddenly drop down to Swell strings with the box shut. This generally makes its point.

 

Well, it made its point on Saturday, and they fell instantly silent. I was so pleased with myself that it had worked that, when I was playing on the Swell strings, I gave a little smile in the direction of the now silent congregation and then played a note on the pedal, not realizing that I had stupidly forgotten to reduce neither the Great nor the Pedal. So we had Swell strings (box shut) suddenly accompanied by the full Pedal organ (including 32' reed!) coupled to full Great. Try making that sound as if you had intended it! :blink::)

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I was playing - rehearsing - the Bach Fantasia in G and, having negotiated the tres vif section, I steeled myself for the 5-part Grave and struck not a pedal G but the A. ...

 

I heard Lionel Rogg play this at the Royal festival Hall nearly half a century ago. The final section is marked "lentement" although the right-hand in demisemiquaver sextuplets suggests quite a lot of movement. Rogg started this section at less than half the speed that many players use, and about half of what he used in other recordings. I don't know whether this was a deliberate choice or whether he had misjudged it, but he stuck with it all the way to the end - which seemed to take a VERY long time.

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A well known American organist told me of the time one of his English Colleagues struck a C instead of a D as the first pedal note in 565! Oh and it was a live broadcast!!! He thought it was hilarious, and I have to admit I agree. :)

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Guest Hector5

My worst ever gaffe - playing at Bristol Cathedral for evensong.

 

My then girlfriend, her father I and went to the pub for a long, long lunch. We toddled back down the hill and I had a nagging feeling that there was something really important I should have remembered. Much as I tried, I simply couldn't recall the important nugget. I floated up to the organ my confidence boosted by a few pints of the pub's finest bitter. I wurbled away, played the choir in, listened to the responses - then the psalm was announced. I held a db major chord ready for the choir, and at that split second remembered that our conductor had asked for the chant to be transposed into to d - which I duly did................... leaving the choir and organ locked into some Charles Ivesian harmonic battle while the choir recovered themselves.

 

Morale - even if the choir think that a day trip to Bristol is a western booze-cruise, avoid the drink until afterwards!!!!!!

 

 

Second & thirds gaffes - Gloucester

 

No long after the organ was restored - I thought I'd take full advantage of the many tonal resources, and got carried away improvising with the Vox Humana tremblant et al before the service. The clock on the organ showed that we were running seriously late - almost 7 minutes. Eventually the choir arrived and the service proceeded. It was only afterwards when I spoke to the DOM to discover that the clergy were helpless with laughter (so were the choir) at the sounds coming from the organ that they had to wait until everyone had composed themselves!

 

In the Nunc in the same service, I prepared the stepper (?!?!) and stabbed away at the right moment. Sadly at the wrong moment I overshot, and instead of Celestes, Subs and slushy stuff, there was an appalling explosion on FULL organ.

 

Morale - stay away from the bells and whistles!!!!!!

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What do you do when you make such an obvious (as opposed to slight) mistake in a public performance that even the most organ-illiterate listener will know you have made a spheroid ascension?

 

I was playing - rehearsing - the Bach Fantasia in G and, having negotiated the tres vif section, I steeled myself for the 5-part Grave and struck not a pedal G but the A. Taking my cue from Liszt, who once ended a piano piece in a concert on a major seventh instead of the octave and then improvised a cadenza based on the major seventh, I played a very slow ascending pedal passage A-B-C-D (held for at least a semibreve) and then went back to the G to continue the movement. Trouble is, I'm not sure I'd have the nerve to do this in public! I'd probably clam up and crawl away!

 

Are there any stories out there - I am sure there must be a few - of others people to face such a situation in public? (Perhaps Chruchmouse might find a place for these in her book!)

 

Peter

 

 

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

 

 

Gaffes did you say?

 

I call it creativity on the hoof. Gaffes are to music what Gesualdo was to harmony!

 

I have so many wonderful emmories of gaffes by the great and the good, the not so great and good and mine own (to quote Marcel Dupre).

 

Francis Jackson was a master of the unintended creative interlude; such as the time he hit bottom C instead of D at the end of ther D major P&F by Bach. I feel sure he practised this possibility, because he went around in a dramatic pedal circle of fifths and triumphantly turned it into an impromptu cadenza.......wonderful presence of mind.

 

He played the Gigout Scherzo, quite brilliantly, but hit D# on the pedal at the end; thus turning the last pedal note into an unexpected decoration. His comment afterwards was just as amusing, "Well....I'm sure that pedal is in a different place to the one at York." (Both had RCO consoles!)

 

Philip Tordoff took creativity to new heights, when he played a Tromba fanfare during "Stand up, stand up for Jesus!"

 

It was the bit about "the trumpet call obey," and should have included more or less notes taken from the G major chord. One of the pipes had not just gone out of tune, it had almost gone AWOL; playing a very off-key super-octave G#, at which point everyone exploded into laughter. So with characteristic humour, Philip slunk away, and eventually returned to play his first performance of "The Clarion call," which he composed in G major, and which includes the offending G#. (Quite a fun piece, it has to be said)

 

There is the famous story of Noel Rawsthorne performing in Russia. He pulled out the stops for the opening item of his programme at a public hall somewhere, dropped his hands on the keys, and absolutely nothing happened. After gesticulating to the audience, he sloped off stage to find the organ curator, who was eventually discovered in the basement; having consumed three-quarters of a bottle of strong vodka. He had forgotten to turn on the blower mains switch.

 

A recently memorable gaffe of "mine own," was trying to cope with that sudden reduction in volume during the hymn "Dear Lord and Father of mankind," when the last verse goes from loud to soft, with the "still small voice of calm." I dont normally adjust volume mid-verse, but with this I make an exception, for obvious reasons.

 

Devoid of playing aids, and with stops which come straight out rather than being angled, it is sometimes quite awkward. The usual technique is to mentally prepare the faculties, swing the body right, position the claws of the left hand correctly, and then whack the stops in as appropriate. With entirely mechanical action, it usually goes well, but it is always a scary moment, which requires a a very rapid action with the left hand and fingers. Anyway, the "still small voice of clam" was shattered by the banchee wail of half-closed 4rks Mixture and 2rk Sesquialtera, which even the French would have recognised as slightly out of tune.

 

It's when you dare to look around, that you see people wiping their eyes with handkerchiefs, or enjoying sudden coughing fits. :)

 

Still, I think the finest gaffe of all really belongs to a clergyman at a quite important church in North Lincolnshire. Wired for sound, due to a rather restricted chancel and a huge nave, the vicar folowed the curate towards the altar as the communion rites began after the readings and prayers; forgetting that they had just started using radio michrophones clipped to their chests. On the way eastwards, the unfortunate curate tripped over his own cassock as he negotiated the first chancel step, and cursed, saying, "Oh bugger me!"

 

The vicar (who had been a navy chaplain) replied, "Not at the moment dear.....I've got a migraine!"

 

It took them quite a while to live that one down, I can tell you!

 

In my eraly days, I recall a Service of 9 Lessons and Carols, when I gave the TONIC note for the opening solo "Once in Royal".

 

This was quite normal practice, and usually, the choir could take their bearings from that when singing anthems and things (remember those?)

 

Unfortunately, the head chorister had been suddenly taken ill, and at the last moment, the boy's aunt (who had delivered the bad news) agreed to sing the first verse as a solo from the back of the church. She often sang in local choirs and oratorios, as a mezzo-soprano, and I was confident that she would sing beautifully.

 

G major it was, and G she got as the service commenced.

 

I just never thought to tell her, and so the bloody solo started with G, making the whole thing a fourth higher in C major.

 

Well, it would have been no problem for her nephew, but her "top A" took mezzo singing to new heights; made veen worse by the fact that the second verse simply HAD to be sung in G major.

 

If looks could have killed!

 

MM

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No long after the organ was restored - I thought I'd take full advantage of the many tonal resources, and got carried away improvising with the Vox Humana tremblant et al before the service.

 

It was only afterwards when I spoke to the DOM to discover that the clergy were helpless with laughter (so were the choir) at the sounds coming from the organ

 

 

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

 

 

This reminds me of that wonderful moment in the autobiography of the piano accompanist Gerald Moore, entitled "Am I too loud?"

 

In his early days, he played a cinema-organ at a local flea-pit, and in the book describes it thus:-

 

(I'm relying purely on memory for this)

 

The most useful stop on this whole sordid box of tricks was the Vox Humana; which combined with the Tremulant, produced a sound like the bleatings of a flock of sheep. I never tired of this sound and used it 'ad nauseum.' I found that you couldn't go wrong with the Tremulant and the Vox Humana.

 

MM

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I remember hearing something about Osborn Peasgood, Sub-Organist at Westminster Abbey who played Purcell's Trumpet Tune in D at Princess Margaret's Wedding. He began as custom dictates in D major but not with top A on the solo stop, but a G! Aaaaaaaaaaargh! Folk will know that Novello published a collection of Purcell arrangements in which the G is given as a grace note. Not a very effective cover-up!

 

In the late sixties, Bishop Robert Stopford's daughter was married in St Paul's. Christopher Dearnley was playing and for the entrance of the bride or as one of the pre-service voluntaries, he played the Jeremiah Clarke trumpet tune. When it came to the second section that begins with the solo stop on F sharp and then a trill on G sharp and A, he played a G natural instead of the G sharp- yikes! I remember the ripple now that shot round the choir stalls. He did the only thing he could and played the G natural again in the repeat. Years later, when he played for Princess Diana and Basil Ramsay published some of Dearnley's arrangements of pre-service pieces, he included the Clarke, but the G sharp was safely in place. Incidentally, the other most memorable aspect of this wedding was that the choristers were invited to the reception where we had the pleasure of meeting Noel Mander.

 

 

Martin

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Gaffes in WHAT?

 

Hector5’s reference to the hitting of a piston which he thought was the right one and instead producing a “shout that tore hell’s concave” reminds me that about 20 years ago in the mid to late 80s I was accompanying son-in-law Adrian’s singers (Wymondman Choir) for evensong at Ely Cathedral. The setting was Stainer in B flat, definitely one of the best laughs in the repertoire. Never a dry seat . . .

 

We had arrived peacefully and without mishap at the bottom of page 5. Deciding that I needed full swell with the box closed for the start of the next section, I prepared the swell pedal appropriately and pressed purposefully on what I thought was Swell 8; it turned out be General 8. I don’t know about the effect it had on the choir; they were all too shocked to be able to speak for several days afterwards. Somehow I managed to get back on an even keel and after the service left a note for the visiting organist after me: “Do please note that the foot pistons on the left of the swell pedals are general and not swell pistons. I didn’t and the plaster is still falling from the ceiling.” Obviously I should have found it out beforehand but time is often so limited, is it not? It had all gone so well at rehearsal; but then that is the punch line to one of my very favourite jokes and wild horses wouldn’t persuade me to repeat it here.

 

Thing is, I’m due at Ely again this coming weekend: and the setting for Sunday evensong is Stainer in B flat. Hmm.

 

David Harrison

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That reminds me of an occasion many moons ago when I was playing Vierne's Toccata in B flat minor after an Evensong at St Paul's Cathedral. I'd had a run through beforehand and worked it all out very nicely to ensure that after the quieter middle section I got a nice, smooth crescendo through the Great pistons back up to full organ on Great 8 for the recapitulation. Came the time and all was going well. I had got to the middle section and was glancing around the console when, just as I was about to begin the crescendo, I noticed a stop labelled "Full Organ" that somehow I'd not noticed before. I thought, "Ooh, look, that's nice. I think I'll pull that when I get to the recap." So I did. Oh my giddy aunt! All I can say is, don't ever, under any circumstances, pull the Full Organ stop at St Paul's. It does exactly what it says on the tin - you get the whole flipping lot, including all the dome section which is at least twice as loud as the rest of the organ. The word cataclysmic isn't nearly adequate. I really thought the building was falling down. Christopher Dearnley was ever so nice about it afterwards, but it's probably as well that I didn't hear what he must have said in private.

 

Then there was the time I spent a week with a visiting choir at Winchester Cathedral. Before one service - I think it was a nave service - I finished my voluntary with time to spare so I began improvising a sort of hybrid between the adagio of BWV 564 and the slow movement of Rheinberger 11 - and, just for once, not too incoherently either. Regular glances in the mirror confirmed no sign of the choir. All of a sudden I was brought up short by the sound of two resounding thuds as the verger struck the floor with his verge. I looked in the mirror to see everyone already in their stalls. Afterwards I asked the choir how long they had been waiting. "Oh, a couple of minutes," they said. Strange; I could have sworn I'd only been playing for about 30 seconds.

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... All I can say is, don't ever, under any circumstances, pull the Full Organ stop at St Paul's. It does exactly what it says on the tin - you get the whole flipping lot, including all the dome section which is at least twice as loud as the rest of the organ. The word cataclysmic isn't nearly adequate. ...

 

Look on the bright side, Vox - at least anyone standing at the west end would have been safe. The chamade trumpets are only activated for big recitals and services. Otherwise they are isolated by switch.

 

Not much of a consolation, I know; but still....

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Then there was the time I spent a week with a visiting choir at Winchester Cathedral. Before one service - I think it was a nave service - I finished my voluntary with time to spare so I began improvising a sort of hybrid between the adagio of BWV 564 and the slow movement of Rheinberger 11 - and, just for once, not too incoherently either. Regular glances in the mirror confirmed no sign of the choir. All of a sudden I was brought up short by the sound of two resounding thuds as the verger struck the floor with his verge. I looked in the mirror to see everyone already in their stalls. Afterwards I asked the choir how long they had been waiting. "Oh, a couple of minutes," they said. Strange; I could have sworn I'd only been playing for about 30 seconds.

 

Its easily done - I was playing the organ for our school's 125th anniversary service in Lichfield Cathedral and the same happened to me...the precentor was due to arrive at the nave altar to welcome everyone (whole school, parents other people), but decided to go to the pulpit instead. I just kept playing until the verger actually arrived by my side to tell me that the precentor was waiting!) (those of you who know how tall the loft is at Lichfield can probably see the funny side now)

The one consoling feature was that the fanfare and procession was due AFTER the welcome (phew!)

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That reminds me of an occasion many moons ago...after an Evensong at St Paul's Cathedral.

 

Would that be 3 Jan 1981, when there was an incident with Howells Gloucester and a rather portly page-turner.....?

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On Easter Sunday I was seated at the console ready to play the first hymn, "Jesus Christ is Risen Today".

 

Vicar announced first hymn.

Congregation stood.

I pressed the first chord.

Nothing happened.

 

I pressed the blower switch again.

Still nothing happened.

 

I ran round to the back of the organ to see if the isolation switch was on.

 

I looked sheepishly at the vicar.

He looked sheepishly back at me.

 

"Oh, we had to disconnect something earlier in the week, because the new building work we're doing outside the church meant they had to demolish an outhouse with some sort of big metal fan. Do you think that has anything to do with the organ?"

 

Absolutely true story. They're now using my toaster...

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What do you do when you make such an obvious (as opposed to slight) mistake in a public performance that even the most organ-illiterate listener will know you have made a spheroid ascension?

 

Sometime back in the early 70's I attended a harpsichord recital given by George Malcolm where he played the Goldberg Variations.

 

Overall the performance was magnificent but, about half way through, things went slightly awry with one of the variations. He played it to the end and then stopped, turned to the audience and said "I'm sorry, that wasn't very good - I'll play that one again" - and he did, and then continued with the remaining variations.

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I recently read Stephen Fry's autobiography, Moab is my Washpot. In this, he describes how he discovered how to change all the piston settings on the 3-manual organ in the school chapel. He gives a wonderful description of how the master playing for Sunday chapel service struggles with all sorts of unexpected noises and reactions as well as a view in the organist's mirror of the master desperatley trying to reset the settings during the sermon! I recommend reading this book, if only for this wonderful tale.

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I recently read Stephen Fry's autobiography, Moab is my Washpot. In this, he describes how he discovered how to change all the piston settings on the 3-manual organ in the school chapel. He gives a wonderful description of how the master playing for Sunday chapel service struggles with all sorts of unexpected noises and reactions as well as a view in the organist's mirror of the master desperatley trying to reset the settings during the sermon! I recommend reading this book, if only for this wonderful tale.

I know someone who sellotaped the fronts of adjacent white notes together on the piano used for the assembly hymn at the East Midlands grammar school he attended. That sounded good. As in Stephen Fry's tale there was an, in this case audible, attempt at diagnosis and subsequent rectification of the problem during the following item.

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I know someone who sellotaped the fronts of adjacent white notes together on the piano used for the assembly hymn at the East Midlands grammar school he attended. That sounded good. As in Stephen Fry's tale there was an, in this case audible, attempt at diagnosis and subsequent rectification of the problem during the following item.

One April 1st at my school the grand piano made an interesting noise, but it sounded better after the broken chair legs and board dusters had been lifted off the strings.

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I remember on at least two occasions when as a 12 year old, I had to play for the school assembly, only to find the piano had been filled up with hymn books.

 

The Head went absolutely berserk!

 

Sotto voce it certainly was!

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I once played a piece using photocopies that turned out to be in the wrong order. Luckily I managed to work out how it should go and as the piece was also fairly modern and astringent tonally my playing sounded (mostly) as if it were correct. It was also a piece that no one in the audience would have known.

 

AJJ

 

Alastair I've been meaning to ask you: what was the name of the piece?

 

Peter

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Alastair I've been meaning to ask you: what was the name of the piece?

 

Peter

 

Toccata by Timothy Miller - Pub. Cantando (who are based somewhere Nordic I think)

 

A

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Guest Echo Gamba
========================

 

 

A recently memorable gaffe of "mine own," was trying to cope with that sudden reduction in volume during the hymn "Dear Lord and Father of mankind," when the last verse goes from loud to soft, with the "still small voice of calm." I dont normally adjust volume mid-verse, but with this I make an exception, for obvious reasons.

 

Devoid of playing aids, and with stops which come straight out rather than being angled, it is sometimes quite awkward. The usual technique is to mentally prepare the faculties, swing the body right, position the claws of the left hand correctly, and then whack the stops in as appropriate. With entirely mechanical action, it usually goes well, but it is always a scary moment, which requires a a very rapid action with the left hand and fingers. Anyway, the "still small voice of clam" was shattered by the banchee wail of half-closed 4rks Mixture and 2rk Sesquialtera, which even the French would have recognised as slightly out of tune.

 

It's when you dare to look around, that you see people wiping their eyes with handkerchiefs, or enjoying sudden coughing fits. :o

 

 

MM

 

I was accompanying "O praise ye the Lord" to "Laudate Dominum" some years ago, on a 2 man tracker, with 2 composition pedals to each manual. I added Full Swell with the appropriate comp pedal for the words "Loud organs........" , planning to knock the reed off by hand and transfer to swell to mixture, sans pedal, for "And sweet harp....." Unfortunately, I had totally forgotten that my predecessor had had the "full swell" comp pedal "minimalized" to give just 2', Mixture, and reed. I ended up squeaking away on the swell 2' and mixture..... :angry:

 

It wasn't my day; I was accompanying in Canterbury Cathedral that evening, and the cctv link had been put out by a lightning strike, and I couldn't see the conductor; all went well in rehearsal but at the service I forgot, playing "blind", that the conductor wanted to end Stanford in C Mag & Nunc "senza rall"....... :)

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