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Irreverent Improvisations


nfortin
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I had one of those naughty moments yesterday morning. The gospel reading included the passage about sorting out the sheep from the goats and I'm afraid to say that the subsequent improvisation drew heavily upon "Baa baa black sheep". I didn't think it was all that subtle but then of course nobody really listens and I don't think anyone noticed at all.

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Must admit to using, years ago, two tunes from Bart's "Oliver" when that film first came out: "You've got to pick a pocket, or two" during the offertory when the hymn was too short, and "Food, glorious food" during the communion. Both on pedals, with 'other stuff' over the top, hopefully, I thought, slightly to disguise the themes. Still, it was noticed, and I was duly hauled over the coals subsequently.

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When school organist, I used to accept bribes to improvise the post-assembly voluntary using themes from The Magic Roundabout. I'm sure the Head and other staff recognised them but nothing was ever said.

 

My take on "I only wanna be with you" (Dusty Springfield) went down well at a wedding of a couple of friends when I played it during the signing of the register. I very much doubt that the Rector would have recognised the tune...

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In a previous thread I made mention of a mediaeval-themed wedding at which I played during my time at Nantwich:

 

High points included:

 

§ Man in suit of armour, who could not sit and had to prop himself up against the font.

 

§ ‘Leper’ in rags with grotesque make-up (at least, I hope it was make-up).

 

§ ‘Jester’ with Blackadderesque comedy cod-piece.

 

§ Our rector realising, far, far too late, that he had made a terrible mistake in allowing the couple and their friends free-reign, and rather embarrassedly announcing, ‘Friends, before we start, please let us all try to be mindful of the fact that this is a serious occasion and not a theatrical event.’

 

§ The ceremony took place in December. A home-produced, inadequately proof-read service sheet included such gems as, ‘…to save us all from Santa’s power’ and ‘…they found him in a manager where oxen feed on hay’, to say nothing of ‘Hornpipe – Handle’.

 

§ The entire choir (adults and children alike) getting the giggles during ‘God rest ye merry, gentlemen’ for fairly obvious reasons, while I tried (with only partial success) to drown them out with large amounts of organ.

 

The guests were treated to a set of variations on the 'Blackadder' theme tune before the service. Although I fully accept the principle that, as liturgical musicians, we are there to serve, I'm afraid that I don't see why one should be expected to take a wedding ceremony more seriously than do the bride and groom themselves.

 

I have also improvised toccatas on 'You'll never walk alone' and the theme from 'Star Trek - Voyager' after the last services of departing curates (both undertaken with the approval of the incumbent, it should be added).

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I like improvising on slightly (and sometimes very) unusual themes, but they are mostly so obscure that only those in the know spot them. These improvisations are more often spotted as being in the style of other composers, eg Langlais. I've improvised on the theme from 'The Simpsons', 'Blackadder', and a combined improv on two Queen songs, Another one bites the dust and Don't stop me now, to name but a few.

 

Jonathan

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At the church I play at the organ is in the west end, in the gallery, console facing east - behind the altar is what is referred to as the retro-chapel, with the congregation facing west. I well remember promising a well known parishioner that I would slip in 'Happy Birthday to you' at some stage in the service for the occasion she would be celebrating on the day. I had, however, not been aware of just how many young nieces and nephews she would have around her on the day, or that she had advised them of my intentions beforehand. When I gently introduced the promised theme in the quietest moment during communion the result was the loudest 'whisper' imaginable from young voices of 'THERE IT IS!'.

 

Tony

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At the church I play at the organ is in the west end, in the gallery, console facing east - behind the altar is what is referred to as the retro-chapel, with the congregation facing west. I well remember promising a well known parishioner that I would slip in 'Happy Birthday to you' at some stage in the service for the occasion she would be celebrating on the day. I had, however, not been aware of just how many young nieces and nephews she would have around her on the day, or that she had advised them of my intentions beforehand. When I gently introduced the promised theme in the quietest moment during communion the result was the loudest 'whisper' imaginable from young voices of 'THERE IT IS!'.

 

Tony

 

The relevance (which I ommitted to mention) of the east-west words was that the family were in the retro chapel, facing me when the word (and more) went up!

 

Tony

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I once played for a wedding that was badly timed to clash with a crucial England match in the World Cup. Inbetween the verses of the final hymn I played a little bridge, which was a line from the "Match of the Day" theme. Needless to say, noone noticed....

 

...though that pales into insignificance if the following story is really true and not simply apocraphyal. Just after Mrs Thatcher had announced her resignation there was a rather large service at a prominent cathedral in central London to which she was invited. During the improvisions before the service, the theme of "Goodby-eee, goodby-eee!" could be heard from time to time, first quietly drowned by the murmurings of the congregation, but getting progressively louder and louder until it appeared in resplendant glory on the Tiba!

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  • 2 weeks later...

I had a session with David Briggs whilst I was still working at Bath Abbey - he taught me a few tricks of his particular trade, using one of the many worship songs in currency at the Abbey at that time which we were asked (i.e. required) to play by the clergy...

 

You'd be surprised how easy it is to transform a sow's ear (by Graham Kendrick) into a silk purse! After just one hour, we'd turned one of his all-too famous ditties into a Cochereau-esque Scherzo, an octatonic ostinato, a fugue and a chorale prelude in the style of Jehan Alain. I often use those techniques to see what can be done with hymn tunes, familiar and otherwise.

 

I did once have a bride who asked if I could improvise on various soap themes for the Signing of the Register. She intended to provide the congregation with sheets listing the themes and pens to mark which ones they thought they'd heard! Fortunately the Chaplain intervened to say that such an activity would really be more appropriate for the reception.

 

Speaking of soap themes, I did once sneak "Coronation Street" and "Eastenders" into a pre-service improv. at Truro, having been dared to do so by members of the Visiting Choir I was accompanying. With that handy pedal-divide control, I was able to get both themes in simultaneously on the pedals ... with the unfortunate side-effect that they weren't noticed.

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I once played for a wedding that was badly timed to clash with a crucial England match in the World Cup. Inbetween the verses of the final hymn I played a little bridge, which was a line from the "Match of the Day" theme. Needless to say, noone noticed....

 

The late Cardinal Basil Hume was a Newcastle fan and at his funeral the organist imporvsed on, with the approval of the officiating clergy, the Match of the Day theme as the coffin was leaving the Cathedral. I think it was James O'Donnell at the console but I am prepared to be corrected....

 

Peter

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My take on "I only wanna be with you" (Dusty Springfield) went down well at a wedding of a couple of friends when I played it during the signing of the register. I very much doubt that the Rector would have recognised the tune...

 

I always thought that variations on "Help me make it through the night" was singularly appropriate for most weddings.............

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I always thought that variations on "Help me make it through the night" was singularly appropriate for most weddings.............

 

Ah, the innocence of youth. I wish that I had thought of that at the time. [i will Oscar, I will...].

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I always thought that variations on "Help me make it through the night" was singularly appropriate for most weddings.............

I very much doubt if there are any weddings where its particularly relevant these days. Still amusing though.

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I very much doubt if there are any weddings where its particularly relevant these days. Still amusing though.

 

 

Neil, the funny thing is that in Ireland (where my wife grew up) the Irish Catholic church hierarcy produced a document BANNING certain tunes and songs which could be used at the signing of the register, and amongst the usual suspects (when I'm 64, One Hand, One Heart, Hey Jude etc) was Help me Make it Through the Night! :blink:

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Guest Echo Gamba

At Mass today I worked in "Prepare ye the way of the Lord" from Godspell.......Several people noticed; can't have been that well hidden!

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