October 4th was the start of my 11th year as organist of Faith church. How did I celebrate? Some bombastic organ voluntary?
Actually I didn't play anything. At the 10:30 service, since it was World Communion Sunday, the choir director programmed a lively choral opening piece. When she asked about doing it at the start of the service, I said that I had had a failure of imagination this year and hadn't found anything I particularly wanted to play for that Sunday anyway, and it would be interesting to open the service by way of the choir instead of an organ piece for a change. So I got to sit on my hands and listen.
The choir anthem also happened to be unaccompanied, so aside from the hymns I had a pretty light week. As for anniversaries, I've got another one coming up soon anyhow.
That brings us up to last week. Our new pastors have given us a sheet with sermon information--topics and scripture lessons--for the entire semester. Jealous? This, however, does not mean it isn't subject to change.
On Monday, in fact, the lead pastor sent out an email to that effect. Since I am in the middle of preparation for an organ recital, I was rather proud of the fact that I had not only found suitable pieces for the voluntary and offertory, but had managed to record them for my internet audience on Friday. I was well ahead of the game. I felt a little bit like the guy in the parable of Jesus who build bigger barns to store all of his grain and congratulates himself on his success, which is ironic, considering that is the scripture being used at the end of the revised series a few weeks from now. Woe unto him!
The scripture that I had used as a reference for the week's musical selections, however, was now gone completely--not simply moved to another week--so now I have a nicely pre-recorded set of pieces for use some day in another context.
Monday morning, then, consisted of a few minutes of grumbling, several more minutes of scrambling, a sudden moment of inspiration, when I realized that a piece I had practiced and recorded this summer for the topic of prayer (which I had then assumed might be of use some time in January) would furnish a nice opening voluntary. Then I remembered another musical 'prayer' by Cesar Franck and found a Youtube video with such a piece. Within a half hour I had found it on IMSLP and downloaded and printed it; even practiced it once at home on the piano. It is from a collection called L'organist, which contains many short and simple pieces, of which this is one, and required next to no practice. There is another Franck piece called "Prayer" which I had been thinking of, his opus 20, longer and not extremely difficult, but far less simple, but again, I've got a recital to think about, and I did not want to spend very much time on music for church this week until I feel comfortable with the recital program, only three weeks away.
This is life in the church. It is often a scramble, and requires quick preparation. That unfortunately can mean loss of quality, since quantity and quality are often enemies (I still love Arthur Loesser's phrase about one piano composer having "all the fecundity of a low-grade organism"). I have never allowed the weekly need for new music, for topical music, or the working rhythms of collegues to force only music requiring little or no effort (and let's hear it for pastors who put out the week's liturgy and service information no later than Monday, not to mention a blueprint of the entire semester in advance!). There are various ways to keep standards high and survive the inevitable twists and turns and rapid adjustments necessary to serve in a church. It also helps when you've got flexible and communicative colleagues, willing to do what it takes to have an effective service. This week we managed a last minute inclusion of a very effective benediction response by calling an "audible"--there were several quick "team meetings" with everyone concerned and we figured out how and where to put the new piece right before the service began. Those occasions often turn out to be my favorite memories of worship at Faith, how we all came together and unselfishly made something happen that made the worship better. Those are times I can be proud, not of my own efforts, but of everyone around me.