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Interrupted Voluntary


PBJ

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I was about 30 seconds into the final voluntary this morning when a member of the congregation came to the console as asked if I would stop playing whilst she gave out a notice. On similar previous occasions I have stopped playing, then resumed after the notice. This morning I did not resume playing, I switched off the blower and closed the console. In the vestry I made it very plain that should it happen again I would be prepared to stand up in the service and ask that I be allowed to play a voluntary. At least my point of view was acknowledged, together with an apology. I wonder what others on the forum would have done or have done in the past.

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Something very similar once happened to me, almost ten years ago now. Charles MacDonald (former organ scholar of York Minster and organist of Sussex University, raconteur, wit, superb musician, music retailer, good friend to many, described to me on one occasion by John Scott Whitely as the best accompanist he had ever heard, humble and sincere Christian with a deep knowledge of his own weakness and sinfulness) was sitting there listening to the voluntary. It was the last time he ever went to church or heard an organ; very shortly after that he died of the cancer which he knew was killing him. I was asked by a server to stop playing because the people having refreshments at the back of the church wanted to sing "Happy birthday" to a small child. Underneath, in the crypt, was a state of the art cafe, empty and shut where they could have had their refreshments and sung "Happy Birthday".

 

I just felt sorry for poor Charles. They knew not what they did.

 

Malcolm

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I would have ignored them. If they want to do this they can either arrange with me where to do it beforehand, or understand there's a perfectly good pew sheet which notices can be put on

 

 

This happend to me ONCE and once only. At the church of the Holy Mother where I was organist for a looooooooong time, (too bloddy long!) the choir Harmonic Tromba at 16,8 + 4 was coupled to the Great, along with the Pedal Ophicleide when the person started talking and that was that - I won; I made my point, and it never happened again.

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Something very similar once happened to me, almost ten years ago now. Charles MacDonald (former organ scholar of York Minster and organist of Sussex University, raconteur, wit, superb musician, music retailer, good friend to many, ...

If you play Stephen Montague's "Behold a Pale Horse" as Charles once did (with or without the extra trombone parts) then no one will be able to interrupt you, and you will be so busy with the chord clusters and glissandi that no one will dare to try to attract your attention. The piece is marked "Savagely", begins at ff and ends fff, with rather persistent use of the tritone in between.

 

Charles used to bring multiple copies of the music from his shop and hand them round before the performance, "So that you can all check that I am playing the right notes."

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It happened to me once at the last service to be taken by a priest who had been helping us out during an interregnum. I launched into Widor as I knew it was one of his favourites. A server came rushing up to say that I had to stop as there was going to be a presentation to him. I said, "Sorry, I'm not going to stop, they'll have to wait."

 

They did and the priest enjoyed the Widor (he thought it was quite funny.)

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I was about 30 seconds into the final voluntary this morning when a member of the congregation came to the console as asked if I would stop playing whilst she gave out a notice. On similar previous occasions I have stopped playing, then resumed after the notice. This morning I did not resume playing, I switched off the blower and closed the console. In the vestry I made it very plain that should it happen again I would be prepared to stand up in the service and ask that I be allowed to play a voluntary. At least my point of view was acknowledged, together with an apology. I wonder what others on the forum would have done or have done in the past.

 

Come October you will be able to do many of the excellence suggestions made here so far, in the meantime I suggest that next week you get up in the middle of the Eucharist prayer and announce something to do with the organ fund! It has happened to me, I resigned, possibly not the best course of action, revenge is sweeter!!

 

Jonathan

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I was about 30 seconds into the final voluntary this morning when a member of the congregation came to the console as asked if I would stop playing whilst she gave out a notice. On similar previous occasions I have stopped playing, then resumed after the notice. This morning I did not resume playing, I switched off the blower and closed the console. In the vestry I made it very plain that should it happen again I would be prepared to stand up in the service and ask that I be allowed to play a voluntary. At least my point of view was acknowledged, together with an apology. I wonder what others on the forum would have done or have done in the past.

 

I would advise not overreacting to an annoyance like this. Those concerned acted through ignorance not malice (at least I assume so). By all means make it clear, politely but firmly, that it is an ill-mannered and unacceptable procedure, but not in the heat of the moment. (I would not expect it to happen twice.)

 

(Having said that, I'm afraid I would have said to the lady that I was sorry but she was too late and would have to wait until I'd finished.)

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Whilst I second the point about the wisdom of avoiding over reaction, I too agree with the general tenor of replies so far. Apart from announcements which fall into the categories of "The Church is on fire and everyone should leave now" / "There is an escaped lion wandering about the churchyard and everyone should stay in the building" it is difficult to imagine anything likely to arise during the course of the service of such urgency that it requires an announcement to be made there and then : it is,of course, quite easy to imagine numerous instances where people wish to retrieve a situation caused by their own forgetfulness or inefficiency.

 

In any event after 30 seconds of playing a sizeable proportion of the target audience are quite likely to have left the building, to be in the process of doing so, or to have become engaged in other tasks which will absorb their attention to the exclusion of anything happening at the front (unless the PA system is painfully loud or the speaker has the tones and volume of a Regimental Sergeant Major) so it is not a terribly efficient method of communicating important information !! Or even unimportant information.

 

Brian Childs

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Guest Hector5
I was about 30 seconds into the final voluntary this morning when a member of the congregation came to the console as asked if I would stop playing whilst she gave out a notice. On similar previous occasions I have stopped playing, then resumed after the notice. This morning I did not resume playing, I switched off the blower and closed the console. In the vestry I made it very plain that should it happen again I would be prepared to stand up in the service and ask that I be allowed to play a voluntary. At least my point of view was acknowledged, together with an apology. I wonder what others on the forum would have done or have done in the past.

 

This has happened to me more than once, and, as I am of a somewhat prickly temperament and tend to overreact, I pretty much do the same - glare at the person concerned, turn off the blower and wait for the notice. The person generally turns round to say *you can continue now*, and at that point I quietly gather up my music and make a dignified exit, often to the clairion call of *there's no need to overreact!* What these people fail to realise that the moment is gone. The voluntary is part of the service and shouldn't be inerrupted. Ignoring these crass idiots often ruins the voluntary, as the focus is probably on the various kinds of unpleasant things you would like to do to the person trying to kill the voluntary!

 

Malcolm - thanks for reminding me about Charles Macdonald. He was a lovely man, who would often sell you a piece from his own personal organ music collection if he didn't have it in stock, almost for the delight in seeing the sheer pleasure of having managed to obtain the unobtainable for a customer. This is how I managed to get the entire organ works of Rene Vierne, and many others. I really miss my marathon trips to his shop and the wonderful company, together with bouts of deep serious conversation, searching questions and moments of real hilarity - a great man. Does anyone have the recording he did of the organs of York?

 

Hector

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The voluntary is part of the service and shouldn't be inerrupted.

 

To be serious for a bit, this is the key to it, and I know we have gone into this on other threads before. The voluntary at the end, as much as the voluntary before are part of worship, and part of our worship in particular. Our gifts are as organists, and we offer these gifts (whether paid or not) as part of worship, and as a gift to God. For someone to then get up and destroy that gift is at the best insensitive and rude and at the worst an offence to God himself. As a people we are here to worship God, and this includes the voluntary!

 

As an aside, the people who make these announcements tend to be the same people that complain when a baby cries in the service that it is interfering with 'their' worship'

 

Jonathan

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To be serious for a bit, this is the key to it, and I know we have gone into this on other threads before. The voluntary at the end, as much as the voluntary before are part of worship, and part of our worship in particular. Our gifts are as organists, and we offer these gifts (whether paid or not) as part of worship, and as a gift to God. For someone to then get up and destroy that gift is at the best insensitive and rude and at the worst an offence to God himself. As a people we are here to worship God, and this includes the voluntary!

 

As an aside, the people who make these announcements tend to be the same people that complain when a baby cries in the service that it is interfering with 'their' worship'

 

Jonathan

 

 

I look forward to attending morning service next Sunday at a large Lutheran church in South Germany with a magnificent new 4m Goll organ. There, you can be sure, the Orgelvorspiel will be heard in respectful silence and, at the end, neither clergy nor congregation will move until the final voluntary is over. Andere Länder, andere Sitten ..... (Other lands, other ways).

 

JS

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Guest Stanley Monkhouse

As an ex-organist and now a vicar, I don’t quite know how to react to these comments. As not infrequently happens, the general tenor is verging towards ‘you’re at fault if you don’t like organ music.’ Here are some thoughts. How many organists go off to do something else during the sermon? How many choir members are seen fiddling with their books during the lessons, or sermon, or liturgy? How often do we witness whispered conversations during the liturgy? I have been guilty of all this. Like (all of?) you, I deplore announcements during the voluntary, but the general level of conversation is usually so high, and the organ so tucked-away or gentle that it has a job to be heard at the best of times, and people can be forgiven for not realising that there is something worth listening to that has been practised—IF there is and it has.

 

If all churches had quality organists on quality organs in quality acoustics, in a culture that valued quality and standards, we might begin to hope that organ music would be valued more in our churches. People might then wish to wait until the volly was over. When I first started this vicaring lark, I thought I would miss decent music more than I do, but now I am content with hymns well played (I’m generally happy to let the organist choose them), and music that is well within the competencies of the musicians. Other things seem more important. It’s no good criticising me for a poacher-turned-gamekeeper attitude, because this is the way it is for me at the moment. Do I want to have to deal with the ‘prickliness’ of some organists and church choirs? On the whole, I think not.

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To be serious for a bit, this is the key to it, and I know we have gone into this on other threads before. The voluntary at the end, as much as the voluntary before are part of worship, and part of our worship in particular. Our gifts are as organists, and we offer these gifts (whether paid or not) as part of worship, and as a gift to God. For someone to then get up and destroy that gift is at the best insensitive and rude and at the worst an offence to God himself. As a people we are here to worship God, and this includes the voluntary!

 

Jonathan

I think it's very easy for us organists to get a bit "up ourselves" about the voluntary. The congregation may (or may not) appreciate a suitable piece setting the mood at the beginning but it's patently not true that the outgoing voluntary is "part of the service" for the vast majority of the congregation or even, more often than not, for organists who are not actually playing it. (I am talking about this country - I am aware that organ music is better appreciated in other countries.) In any case, surely after the words "Let us go forth in peace" the service is over and that the voluntary is only incidental music - which, indeed, may send people out with joy and which may be listened to appreciatively by those with the taste to appreciate good and carefully-prepared playing. The voluntary (I'm being a bit of a devil's advocate here) is a chance for the organist to show off/have fun/indulge his ego.

 

Let's stop deluding ourselves that the voluntary, after the Eucharist anyway, is part of the worship. I must say, I get a bit niggled when I read about organists cleverly working various tunes into improvisations as a joke - anyone who does this cannot (I think anyway) regard those as offerings of "gifts as part of worship".

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Guest Patrick Coleman

Well said, Stanley!

 

We're all trying to do the best we can to the glory of God. Second-rate performance, liturgy, preaching - or attitude - all endanger this. Yes, there are better ways of getting to make announcements (including at the proper time during the service), and these ways require a little thought beforehand. A good voluntary requires more than a little practice beforehand. But walking away (by either side) or having a queeny fit is no way to get anyone to see the need for careful preparation and thought (even thoughtfulness).

 

A breakdown in communication always has to do with what has, or has not, happened beforehand. Organists who are prepared to get to know parishioners are far more likely to be respected and valued by the same parishioners.

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I must say, I get a bit niggled when I read about organists cleverly working various tunes into improvisations as a joke - anyone who does this cannot (I think anyway) regard those as offerings of "gifts as part of worship".

 

I presume you think the same about a preacher who cleverly works a joke into his sermon.

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I’ve been interrupted on two occasions.

 

The first was by a helpful member of the congregation who switched the organ off mid voluntary. I resisted the temptation to send him to casualty –just.

 

The second occasion was mid way through L’Apparition de L’Église eternelle, when a congregation member had a heart attack – this time he went to casualty, though not as a result of my intervention. He recovered, I’m pleased to report

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Many hundreds of years ago, in my early teens, when I first became heavily involved (as teenaged boys tend to do) with religion and church of the kind where I feel most comfortable, I was primarily a server and at one stage I was serving virtually every day - frequently at 7 am. It was only after that when I gradually drifted into being a church director of music.

 

If I am totally honest I have always found being a member of the church as a Christian in a worshipping, sacramental context difficult to reconcile with my life as a musician cosntantly striving for high standards. I also have the problem of always being able to see both sides of an argument although I have not always found it prudent to reveal this. When, at the beginning of June, I am no longer a church director of music I suspect - and indeed hope - that I shall be able to enjoy, gain benefit from myself and give more benefit to others, from both because they will no longer be in any sense in conflict with each other. I get the distinct impression that there are others on this Board who feel likewise.

 

Malcolm

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I think it's very easy for us organists to get a bit "up ourselves" about the voluntary.

 

I don't for one second think its anything to get 'up ourselves' about, and I strongly believe that the voluntary IS part of the worship, and having been a Christian for most of my life, my playing IS and always IS done as an act of worship. Because I get paid for it does not make it any less. Do you say to clergy they are not worshipping God because they are paid, but just doing a job. If you make an argument that this isn't so after the Eucharist, because the liturgy finishes at 'Go in peace', then you have to make the argument that even the anthem at Evensong isn't part of the liturgy. The service of Evening Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer liturgically finishes at the Collect for Peace, therefore the anthem is also fair game for announcements!

 

Jonathan

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If I am totally honest I have always found being a member of the church as a Christian in a worshipping, sacramental context difficult to reconcile with my life as a musician cosntantly striving for high standards.

 

Why? God wants us to strive for our highest standards in worship of Him, but that doesn't mean he won't accept whatever people offer Him in praise. I am sure what none of us want is something that is carried out in an offhand 'I don't care' manner, whether it is the musical offerings, the sermon, the prayers, the liturgy, or dare I say it the Notices!

 

Jonathan

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I look forward to attending morning service next Sunday at a large Lutheran church in South Germany with a magnificent new 4m Goll organ. There, you can be sure, the Orgelvorspiel will be heard in respectful silence and, at the end, neither clergy nor congregation will move until the final voluntary is over. Andere Länder, andere Sitten ..... (Other lands, other ways).

 

JS

 

I am envious (although I shouldn't be, as that is a very un-Christian trait). I would love to be there too!

 

Jonathan

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I've had similar experiences: most notably, in a certain boarding school (which shall remain nameless) in which members of staff used to yell at me to stop because they intended to address a small group of pupils they'd asked to stay behind regarding some maths conference or other, and in which houses would occasionally try to sing "Happy Birthday" to one of their number whilst the voluntary was being played, and in which pupils would occasionally applaud loudly in an attempt to shut me up. (As if to say, "yeah, well done sir, now shut up and let us do our thing.")

 

At a lecture I attended by John Bell (Iona community) some years ago, he said that the operative word in the phrase "organ voluntary" was "voluntary" - i.e. an organist need not feel obliged to play anything at all. Mindful of this, I have on occasion left complete silence before and/or after services, sometimes because I had been irritated by talkers like those described by others on this board and wanted to see if they would even care if no music happened. (Some of them did wonder why there had been no music!)

 

I'm with Robert Leach / Barry Williams on how to solve the problem: their book advocates telling the offending person(s) how to behave in future, as others have said here. Another solution I've tried has been to choose short and sharp pieces as voluntaries - ideally enough to get the Choir and Clergy into the Vestry but not enough that there is any danger of congregation beginning to talk over it. Last week (Palm Sunday) I played the Monnikendam "Toccata" which lasts barely a minute and a half, perfect timing for the above sequence of events; on other occasions, I improvised or used little bits of Pachelbel / Clerambault / Blow / Gibbons / Tomkins etc. - saving the big pieces for big occasions like Easter Day.

 

Of course, the underlying root of the problem is communication, or lack thereof. It's easy enough to lose one's temper, or hold one's ground over the right to play organ music unmolested and uninterrupted, because we are organists and that is what we are all about. However, we're also cogs in a much larger machine, and we do sometimes need to take stock of what the other parts of the machine are like and how they function - or expect to function... Sometimes, yielding to the other parties -- letting them drink their after-service coffee or make last-minute announcements without being blasted to pieces by Widor -- can give you ground to seek leeway from them in future -- asking them if you could play Widor for a big occasion that demands it, and pointing out that they usually get to enjoy their refreshments in peace or could always make their announcements before the service, through the Minister who will be announcing things at that point anyway....

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As an ex-organist and now a vicar, I don’t quite know how to react to these comments. As not infrequently happens, the general tenor is verging towards ‘you’re at fault if you don’t like organ music.’ Here are some thoughts. How many organists go off to do something else during the sermon? How many choir members are seen fiddling with their books during the lessons, or sermon, or liturgy? How often do we witness whispered conversations during the liturgy? I have been guilty of all this. Like (all of?) you, I deplore announcements during the voluntary, but the general level of conversation is usually so high, and the organ so tucked-away or gentle that it has a job to be heard at the best of times, and people can be forgiven for not realising that there is something worth listening to that has been practised—IF there is and it has.

 

If all churches had quality organists on quality organs in quality acoustics, in a culture that valued quality and standards, we might begin to hope that organ music would be valued more in our churches. People might then wish to wait until the volly was over. When I first started this vicaring lark, I thought I would miss decent music more than I do, but now I am content with hymns well played (I’m generally happy to let the organist choose them), and music that is well within the competencies of the musicians. Other things seem more important. It’s no good criticising me for a poacher-turned-gamekeeper attitude, because this is the way it is for me at the moment. Do I want to have to deal with the ‘prickliness’ of some organists and church choirs? On the whole, I think not.

 

I feel I have to take issue with this! Due to the poor status organists and organs are now being given in the present "happy clappy" way of worship, it's a very sorry state of affairs for an ex-organist now priest to have a go at the people who supply the backing for worship every Sunday. These people are there doing what they love every Sunday, without any financial gain, unlike the clergy, who unlike the rest of us don't have to pay council tax! All well and good complaining about choir members not paying attention to the sermons, but perhaps if the preacher was an interesting one then there would be less "fiddling" in the stalls, cantoris or decani, never mind the empty nave in front that the churches are complaining about these days.

Church musicians are never accorded the status they're due half the time anyway - just look at the majority of church websites - very rarely is there mention of the organ, and if they even mention the organist or choir master, then they appear after the flower arrangers if at all! (Many apologies to all flower arrangers! You do a valuable job!)

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I presume you think the same about a preacher who cleverly works a joke into his sermon.

 

No - don't see that as an analogy. However I wouldn't like the Eucharistic Prayer to be interrupted by jokes.

 

As far as I am concerned, the organ voluntary is either a serious offering to God and his worship OR a chance to have a bit of fun, but it can't be both.

 

Actually I haven't heard all that many jokes cleverly worked into any sermon and I could well do without all attempts at humour by preachers - but that's my problem!

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I don't for one second think its anything to get 'up ourselves' about, and I strongly believe that the voluntary IS part of the worship, and having been a Christian for most of my life, my playing IS and always IS done as an act of worship. Because I get paid for it does not make it any less. Do you say to clergy they are not worshipping God because they are paid, but just doing a job. If you make an argument that this isn't so after the Eucharist, because the liturgy finishes at 'Go in peace', then you have to make the argument that even the anthem at Evensong isn't part of the liturgy. The service of Evening Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer liturgically finishes at the Collect for Peace, therefore the anthem is also fair game for announcements!

 

Jonathan

 

The Collect for Peace does not end with the instruction to go, so there is no parallel here. Like it or not, in the minds of the vast majority of the congregation, the voluntary comes at the end of the service. Why does the cathedral choir go out during the final voluntary if it's part of the service? How many organists ALWAYS listen SILENTLY to the voluntary when they're not playing it? If they don't, how can they justify their behaviour if they believe the service is still in progress? Come off it! The voluntary comes at the end, AFTER the service.

 

I try hard to play suitable voluntaries to fit the day's theme and I try hard to play them well and I am delighted when people listen and comment. As a matter of fact, where I play in the evenings they do stay. However I don't think that they should feel in any way obliged to do so. I expect in a cathedral that the playing of the voluntaries will be of as high a standard as the rest of the service - that's a matter of professional standards.

 

To be honest, I'm a bit horrified by the priorities that seem to be in evidence in this topic. Confrontation and tantrums (I know I'm exaggerating here) have no place in the Christian family that is a church. Disagreements, yes, but they should be talked over in a spirit of harmony. We are all there to worship God and maintain a Christian community that can spread the Gospel. We are not there to have our egos massaged.

 

If a voluntary is interrupted, get a bit cross, get over it and then talk to all concerned and resolve the issue amicably. If this sort of discussion were not possible, I personally would feel that I had failed badly and would move (after discussing it with the Vicar, of course).

 

I think, by the way, that the clergy on the forum are very placatory and softly spoken in relation to our inflated sense of self-importance - I'm sure that all organists are guilty of that at least some of the time. "I know I am" (To quote Alan Bennet's sermon from "Beyond the Fringe".)

 

Sorry if this sounds very priggish: I was brought up in a Vicarage and well remember my father's problems with organists - and a more appreciative and supportive incumbent you couldn't have found.

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