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Playing for your first service


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Hello all

 

I was thinking the other day about the first service I played at and it was a total nightmare. I was asked to play for a first holy communion service and the church I played at did not have an Organ. Instead it had one of these Viscount Cantorum keyboard electric jobs ( you may know where this is going). The keys were similar to those you would find on a child's Keyboard and were very unresponsive. It was an absolute nightmare my fingers were slipping everywhere, it felt like I applied copius amounts of butter to my hands before I set off playing, eventually I just had to stop as I could not take anymore of this instrument ( if you can call it one). The most awkward thing about it was that I was positioned slap bang right at the side of the altar in front of the entire congregation! Yes public humiliation at its finest, naturally people thought it was my playing which of course it was not. A craftsman never blames his tools.......unless you play one of those!

 

I was wondering if anyone else had any similar musical nightmares. Or is it just me?

 

 

Liam

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c.1967 when i was 11:The organist was not feeling well in the morning - I went to see her in the afternoon and volunteered to play for Evensong. By the end, I had discovered how the beast worked and it's been downhill all the way from there......

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Hello all

 

I was thinking the other day about the first service I played at and it was a total nightmare. I was asked to play for a first holy communion service and the church I played at did not have an Organ. Instead it had one of these Viscount Cantorum keyboard electric jobs ( you may know where this is going). The keys were similar to those you would find on a child's Keyboard and were very unresponsive. It was an absolute nightmare my fingers were slipping everywhere, it felt like I applied copius amounts of butter to my hands before I set off playing, eventually I just had to stop as I could not take anymore of this instrument ( if you can call it one). The most awkward thing about it was that I was positioned slap bang right at the side of the altar in front of the entire congregation! Yes public humiliation at its finest, naturally people thought it was my playing which of course it was not. A craftsman never blames his tools.......unless you play one of those!

 

I was wondering if anyone else had any similar musical nightmares. Or is it just me?

 

 

Liam

 

 

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

 

 

I find that I am able to respond to Liam's latest post with a hint of relish, because he opened up an almost forgotten memory. I was 14 and the organ was about 84 years of age, never having been touched. (The organ that is!)

 

Bearing in mind that I was, at this point, a self-taught beginner, the fact that I was hurriedly called in to replace an elderly organist who had suddenly died, meant that I was thrown in at the deep-end. To make matters worse, this particular service was a confirmation, at which a number of local choirs were to sing. So not only was I faced with a big service, a strange organ and massed choirs, I somehow had to provide voluntaries. Remembering this, I find myself smiling, because I do recall playing Handel's "War march of the priests" as an entrance. (The Bishop of Bradford commented about it afterwards).

 

The organ was a nightmare, having been built by Hughes of Bradford. It had very powerful reeds, with every possible sub and octave couplers, but using too many at the same time resulted in the whoie organ vibrating violently and sounding out of tune. I've never quite come across a similar phenomenon, and it took a little time to adjust to what did and didn't work properly.

 

Fortunately, the hymns went well and the anthem, being unaccompanied, didn't present a problem. Imagine my delight when I was given £10, at a time when a packet of fags cost 2s 6p. (About 13p in to-day's money).

 

On the strength of this triumph, I was appointed Organist & Choirmaster by the Church Council in the absence of a vicar during the interegnum. My next ordeal was to play for the induction of the new vicar, who turned out to be a bit odd-ball; he being the "Witchfinder General" for the Diocese of York prior to his induction, and who was known for having an interesting line in exorcisms. His wife was an ARCO, and it served the new vicar's purposes handsomely that almost his first task was to sack me and install his wife at the console; immediately doubling an already generous stipend.

 

In some ways, he did me a favour, for within a very short time, I was appointed as O & C at the senior parish church in the local deanery, with a fine, recently re-built organ and an awful lot of weddings to play for. I must have been the wealthiest kid in school at that time, with an average of 3 to 4 weddings every Saturday in Spring/Summer. (That's like a 15 year old earning £180 per week to-day, plus the usual church stipend).

 

When the "Witchfinder General" suddenly died of a heart-attack, I rather churlishly declined the invitation to play the organ for his funeral. If I'd been capable of playing Lemare's transcription of "Danse Macabre" I would certainly have re-considered my position.

 

If nothing else, my earliest memories as an organist served to warn me of church politics and double-dealing.

 

MM

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

 

 

I find that I am able to respond to Liam's latest post with a hint of relish, because he opened up an almost forgotten memory. I was 14 and the organ was about 84 years of age, never having been touched. (The organ that is!)

 

Bearing in mind that I was, at this point, a self-taught beginner, the fact that I was hurriedly called in to replace an elderly organist who had suddenly died, meant that I was thrown in at the deep-end. To make matters worse, this particular service was a confirmation, at which a number of local choirs were to sing. So not only was I faced with a big service, a strange organ and massed choirs, I somehow had to provide voluntaries. Remembering this, I find myself smiling, because I do recall playing Handel's "War march of the priests" as an entrance. (The Bishop of Bradford commented about it afterwards).

 

 

MM

 

I thought Mendelssohn wrote 'War March of the Priests' or have I missed something!

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I recall an urgent phone call to play for a funeral. Vicar says 'Just the usual 2 hymns - The Day thou Gavest and Psalm 23'.

(... I suspect you can see where this is going...)

Now small funeral congregartions aren't renowned for singing loudly but even so I was thinking that Crimond normally goes better than this when the vicars head appeared round the side of the organ.

Yes - wrong psalm 23 - they wanted 'The King of love my shepherd is'.

 

I still think it was his fault but ever since then I have double checked with the printed service sheet before we start.

This is also useful for finding out what random number of verses the undertakers have decided to print...

 

Steve

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Yes - always check the service sheet a funerals. Also check which hymn books, if any, are being used, I've had many a close shave

I recall an urgent phone call to play for a funeral. Vicar says 'Just the usual 2 hymns - The Day thou Gavest and Psalm 23'.

(... I suspect you can see where this is going...)

Now small funeral congregartions aren't renowned for singing loudly but even so I was thinking that Crimond normally goes better than this when the vicars head appeared round the side of the organ.

Yes - wrong psalm 23 - they wanted 'The King of love my shepherd is'.

 

I still think it was his fault but ever since then I have double checked with the printed service sheet before we start.

This is also useful for finding out what random number of verses the undertakers have decided to print...

 

Steve

 

Too true. I never know which is worse - playing one verse too many or one too few.

 

JS

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I had to accompany a Communion Service in Welsh once. One hymn had 6 verses and I just lost count and couldn't work out what was being sung. Fortunately I had noticed in earlier hymns that someone in the congregation snapped their hymn book shut well before the end of the last verse! Saved by the snap!!

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I was lucky in that none of my "firsts" were terribly big occasions and as such I cant really remember them in great detail. What I can remember is the first time I played publicly. I was about 13/14 and played 1 hymn (Ye choirs of new Jerusalem) at a Sunday evening service during the summer when there was no choir. It was a not so illustrious start to a not so illustrious career on the bench. Of course I was too young to be nervous - nerves appeared in my late teens and didn't really last too long.

Of course over the years I have had made all the cock ups - extra verse missed over the page, playing the wrong hymn, playing the gradual hymn when its supposed to be the psalm, and most memorably playing a hymn in the wrong key (I was either a flat over or under - cant remember now), it was excruciatingly embarrassing at the time!!

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Hi

 

The singing stopping usually gives the game away!

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

 

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

 

 

Oh come on!

 

It's just a question of being observant; words or no words.

 

If people are about to sing another verse, their shoulders rise, their mouths assume a figure 'O' (like this :o ) as they suck in breath, they look at the words, they hold their books at reading length/height and stand still by and large.

 

If they are about to finish, the converse occurs. Their shoulders fall, their mouths assume a closed position (like this :mellow: ), they stop looking at the words, they start gazing around, they close the hymn book and they start to fidget.

 

A word of warning however.

 

People watching in church is fine, but avoid staring at:-

 

a) the very wealthy

 

b ) young nubile ladies

 

c) boy choristers

 

d) the clergy (they have a habit of miming or being inattentive during hymns)

 

e) handsome servers

 

f) anyone carrying a white stick or with a labrador by their feet

 

g) very old people, who may be about to cough or spit-out a humbug

 

 

Restrict all gazes to no more than three seconds, and never gaze at the same person twice, even if your intentions are honourable.

 

If you do find yourself introducing a phantom verse, press piston eight as you conclude with a full-cadence, shouting, "Praise the lord!"

 

They will understand.

 

MM

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I was lucky in that none of my "firsts" were terribly big occasions and as such I cant really remember them in great detail. What I can remember is the first time I played publicly. I was about 13/14 and played 1 hymn (Ye choirs of new Jerusalem) at a Sunday evening service during the summer when there was no choir. It was a not so illustrious start to a not so illustrious career on the bench. Of course I was too young to be nervous - nerves appeared in my late teens and didn't really last too long.

Of course over the years I have had made all the cock ups - extra verse missed over the page, playing the wrong hymn, playing the gradual hymn when its supposed to be the psalm, and most memorably playing a hymn in the wrong key (I was either a flat over or under - cant remember now), it was excruciatingly embarrassing at the time!!

 

 

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

 

 

At one church, I trained the choir to take their lead from a tonic note when singing unaccompanied.

 

OK....I admit.....it was not a good idea to give a 'g' for the opening hymn at the service of nine, lessons and carols.

 

How that boy got through that first verse of "Once in Royal", I will never know.

 

How the choir anticipated G major for the second-verse, I cannot begin to imagine.

 

MM

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

 

 

At one church, I trained the choir to take their lead from a tonic note when singing unaccompanied.

 

OK....I admit.....it was not a good idea to give a 'g' for the opening hymn at the service of nine, lessons and carols.

 

How that boy got through that first verse of "Once in Royal", I will never know.

 

How the choir anticipated G major for the second-verse, I cannot begin to imagine.

 

MM

 

That happened to me with a couple of Belfast Cathedral choristers live on Radio Ulster - it was 'Away in a manger', but the same effect. Sounded quite nice, though.....

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That is if there is any clue at all that it really was an extra verse!
Hi

 

The singing stopping usually gives the game away!

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

Not when I was a choirboy it didn't! Our organ was manned by a dear old chap who had been born in 1879 and was already nearly 80 when I joined the choir. I'll hand it to him: despite his age I don't think I ever heard him play a wrong note in all the time I was there. True, he didn't play much other than Caleb Simper, the easier bits from the Cloister Albums and The Village Organist and, when he felt in a really modern mood, the odd bit of Eric Thiman, but that's not the point. What he did, he did accurately and I remain suitably impressed to this day. However, age had made him a bit absent minded and in the hymns it was not unusual for him to lose count of the number of verses he had played. Everyone was quite used to this and, whenever it happened, we just went back to verse one and started again. Usually it was just the one verse, but I think there was one occasion when we got as far as verse three.

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

 

 

Oh come on!

 

It's just a question of being observant; words or no words.

 

If people are about to sing another verse, their shoulders rise, their mouths assume a figure 'O' (like this :o ) as they suck in breath, they look at the words, they hold their books at reading length/height and stand still by and large.

 

If they are about to finish, the converse occurs. Their shoulders fall, their mouths assume a closed position (like this :mellow: ), they stop looking at the words, they start gazing around, they close the hymn book and they start to fidget.

 

A word of warning however.

 

People watching in church is fine, but avoid staring at:-

 

a) the very wealthy

 

b ) young nubile ladies

 

c) boy choristers

 

d) the clergy (they have a habit of miming or being inattentive during hymns)

 

e) handsome servers

 

f) anyone carrying a white stick or with a labrador by their feet

 

g) very old people, who may be about to cough or spit-out a humbug

 

 

Restrict all gazes to no more than three seconds, and never gaze at the same person twice, even if your intentions are honourable.

 

If you do find yourself introducing a phantom verse, press piston eight as you conclude with a full-cadence, shouting, "Praise the lord!"

 

They will understand.

 

MM

 

 

That works well with the regular congregation, who usually sing lustily.

 

However, the technique does not work well at weddings or funerals, where the congregation is inaudible. (From the console, they are invisible, too.)

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

 

 

 

If they are about to finish, the converse occurs. Their shoulders fall, their mouths assume a closed position (like this :mellow: ), they stop looking at the words, they start gazing around, they close the hymn book and they start to fidget.

 

 

 

This is most encouraging - I thought I was the only one who occasionally relied on this.

That and an obliging and helpful throat-slitting 'stop' gesture from a choir lady if I throw a desperate questioning glance in her direction when I've lost track of the verses.

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

 

OK....I admit.....it was not a good idea to give a 'g' for the opening hymn at the service of nine, lessons and carols.

 

How that boy got through that first verse of "Once in Royal", I will never know.

 

How the choir anticipated G major for the second-verse, I cannot begin to imagine.

 

MM

 

Simples! Just give him an A flat and come in on G for verse 3. Been there, done that, still alive!

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I imagine that all of us can recall some embarrassing moments when we first started out as church organists. It wasn’t my first service but I was only 10 or 11 and organist of a village church near Salisbury; I had been in post a little while and I should, by then, have been accustomed to the problems of Roman numerals (the dreaded Black Psalter) but somehow I misread the number of the Psalm; it should have been LXV but I had got the wrong one. Harvest Festival, packed church, no choir and the congregation in disarray trying to work out what pointing I was offering them. It was then that I realised that I was about to encounter my “ne plus ultra” of sublimest moments. With the Rector’s brow becoming more and more knitted as gobbledegook verses went by I did the only possible thing and yelled “Gloria” which is, I suppose, the nearest an organist can get to “Geronimo”.

 

Much as it pains me to introduce anything approaching a serious note at this point, MM raises an intriguing idea in his note about the treble hearing G for the opening of “Irby” and the choir coming with the right notes for verse 2. My own experience is that even amateur choirs have an innate sense, not perhaps of pitch itself, but of where” in the voice” they usually should be, particularly in well known music. Maybe someone who has had similar experiences of this sort of thing might care to expand the notion in a separate topic.

 

I can, mirabile dictu, end with a nice little story about the “Irby” that wasn’t. It took place during one of those Christmas concerts so ubiquitous at the Festive Season. The student lady chorister deputed to sing the opening verse of “Once in Royal” became a touch distracted with the awesomeness of the occasion and started off with the tune of “Hark the Herald”. It fitted beautifully for a while but gradually she became aware that trouble loomed upon the horizon and nemesis was about to strike. Realising that, to quote the great Victor Borge, soon she would shoot one short of a line or so of words she carried on without batting an eyelid with a confidently brayed la-la-la. My correspondent didn’t tell me how this was received by the audience but it surely should come under the heading of “Great Moments of Carol Singing”.

 

David Harrison

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Too true. I never know which is worse - playing one verse too many or one too few.

 

JS

1

I managed to do both at my Grandmother's funeral. I played the last verse on the page as if it was the last but then became aware that the congregation hadn't sat down. I turned the page, realised my error and set off on the last verse just as the congregation had decided that I'd forgotten and sat down. I was mortified and hoped the ground would open up. Luckily several members of the family reassured me that my gran went to meet her maker with a smile on her face.

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  • 3 weeks later...

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

 

When the "Witchfinder General" suddenly died of a heart-attack, I rather churlishly declined the invitation to play the organ for his funeral. If I'd been capable of playing Lemare's transcription of "Danse Macabre" I would certainly have re-considered my position.

 

:D

 

Dave

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