Sunday, November 9, 2014


I'm taking the weekend off.

Don't be alarmed, members of the Chorale, or staff members at church. I'll still be there, doing everything I'm supposed to do. This is one of those "Michael only" vacations--rest that only exists in my mind.

After a September that featured the newly refurbished organ which we welcomed with might and main during several church services, and in which I learned new and challenging music weekly with little lead time (since there was no instrument to practice on during the summer), followed by an October in which I prepared an organ concert in three weeks, an October whose last two weekends featured said concert, followed a week later by my first Marathon--

I need a little time off.

And as luck would have it, it's a light weekend. All I have are the usual four worship services and two choir rehearsals. Also a dress rehearsal and concert. And at the concert I'm not playing any solo literature. I'm filling in for the U.S. Airforce Band doublehandedly at the piano, and the only real challenge there is to fill in the parts that are marked in the choral parts only as long rests with the actual music the orchestra plays, which I accomplished by listening to a DVD from this summer's choral festival in Washington, D.C.

Maybe the definition of "vacation' needs to be explained a little.

I'm a bit tired, there's no getting around that. Mostly from the pressure of learning and playing all that new music over the last several weeks and also the physical training and running of a very long race. And the schedule itself is the schedule--particularly the weekends. It isn't going to let up for a couple of weeks, and when it does it is still the usual four worship services and two choir rehearsals. That's the bare minimum around here. It's enough to require extra sleep, when I can get it. But it doesn't necessarily feature the same kind of responsibility. Most of it is familiar, and fairly easy. And it doesn't come with the stress of a performance, or of having everything on your shoulders.

And that's the margin. Each week I have music to play, places to be, downbeats to make, and thousands of musical decisions to make within a split second. But each week I also submit to the extra challenge of trying to play difficult music on short notice as well as I can. It's that extra work that makes the difference, keeps me from boredom, makes me sharper and better as a musician, gives my congregation and audience the best I can give them rather than just some musical stuff I've got lying around. If, one week, I decided to get by on the bare minimum, it feels like a vacation. 

This week, for the first time in months, I looked at Sunday's deadline to prepare music for church and yawned. I decided not to. So I'm going to improvise the service music. This is a skill I've cultivated for years. A while ago, I read a blog extolling the virtues of improvisation which held out to organists the prospect of really impressing their congregation. I tend to look at it more as a survival skill (besides, I don't tell anybody what I'm doing, usually). It saves practice time, and if you only use it sparingly on Sundays, it feels like you suddenly didn't have to work half as hard during the week as you do normally, and you really get a break.

So that's my secret. Work harder than you have to on a regular basis. Besides honing your skills, which makes things betters for everyone around you, you will find you have more control over when to take a rest. And nobody will know when you are on vacation!

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