Friday, January 23, 2015

Sunday Morning (part two)

[part one here]

I've just spent the last half hour improvising keyboard parts with a rock band. Now I have only a few seconds to get on my organ shoes and prepare for whatever opening voluntary I've chosen. It might be Bach, or something Ive written, some 19th Century French colossus, or a rare piece I've collected from hours on the internet and in the library; sometimes it is on the piano, though for the past few years I've gotten so interested in the organ--this classically trained pianist--that I play that instrument most of the time.

I've got a few seconds to wait. The folks at this service are awfully friendly, and they like to greet each other. I'll wait for a natural lull and then begin chiming the opening hymn so they will take their seats. Then I grab some stops and away we go.  That they listen to the opening voluntary is as unusual in some churches as it is a privilege in mine; when the concept was introduced a few years ago some were afraid that it would cause the air to become chilly with unfriendliness if persons were not encouraged to talk over everything musical. I have no intention of interfering with fellowship just because we also promote respectful listening, so I make sure they get a solid minute to say hello to each other (even though many of them have been doing it for at least ten minutes already) before I call them to attention and begin to play.

After that it's time for the Call to Worship and the Opening Hymn. I have probably not practiced this. With the book propped open on the stand (assuming I haven't misplaced it) I chose stops, texture, and find new harmonies as the text prompts. If I like what I did here I might do it again at 10:30. The singing is often passable if it's a familiar hymn, but it's a small crowd at 8, so I rarely employ more than a couple of foundation stops. I do reserve the right to blow them out of the building on one verse of one hymn at each service, if it is the climactic point of the whole thing; otherwise, I try to give them a fighting chance. I have found, however, that if you take the whole consideration thing too far that it just makes the singing even weaker. The only solution is to play slightly louder than is good for balance; that way the small congregation doesn't have to feel like they are noticeable. I am the one who gets paid not to be anonymous.

We continue with a Prayer of Confession, which is followed by a few seconds of quiet organ improvisation whilst the people ponder their faults, then they are assured by the liturgist, and our soloist steps forward to begin the Anthem, which we may or may not have practiced once. I do not hold to the philosophy that the early service is mere practice for the late one; I want it to sound just as good as any other, no matter whether only two dozen people show up or not. Notwithstanding, with so many pieces to a Sunday Morning, it is difficult for everyone, volunteers included, to schedule time to practice, and it is really an asset to be able to sound as though you had practiced even when you have not. In a church this may be one of the most important things you can do, in fact.

The anthem concluded, I listen to the scriptures, and morning prayer, and at the conclusion of the Lord's Prayer play a short musical response which varies with the season or service. It may be whatever the choir is singing at 10:30, or a short piece from the back of the hymnal (the "amens'") or something I think related to the sermon, such as a hymn we aren't singing. Then it is time for the sermon, or as the pastor's kid (whom I teach composition) puts it, "Dad's solo."

I slip out the back; it is time to head over to the Worship and Life Center. I take note of the time on my cell phone which lives in the my jacket pocket. If it is 8:24 or less we are making good time. I've timed the sermon at the Saturday Evening Service so I know just how much time I've got to get back to the sanctuary. Next it is time to return to the band and see if they want to go over one or two songs again, or anything that I didn't have time to go over with them during the first half-hour.

They've been rehearsing the whole time I was away, of course. In fact, occasionally they will make changes to the songs while I am not there. This makes life interesting. My favorite episode in this regard came one morning when, near the end of the song, Doug, the electric guitarist walked up behind me and whispered, "we've made some changes......D ......C......G...." and fed me the new chord changes about two beats before I played each of them. It went smoothly, and no one would have known anything nearly went amiss.

One morning something did go amiss. Two of the songs had been reversed without my knowledge and I was the one who started the song. I had just enough time to wonder why the heck the drummer was counting off so fast before it was time to begin. About a measure or two in Doug told the congregation that I hadn't been given the memo and that the song was actually going to be X instead of Y, and I made a transition (I was told it was smooth but I didn't think so) into the new song, which was a half step lower than the one I was playing (ugh. Try that one on short notice some time.) That's the only time I remember than happening, though.

After the last song is finished it is time to head back over to the sanctuary and finish up the first service. I am still watching the clock--downbeat of the service #2 is at 9 o'clock.

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