Friday, February 6, 2015

Sunday morning (part four)

10:05. They call me the thinnest person on the staff. Considering I've just made my seventh jog of the morning across the gathering area (our lobby) from one Worship Space to the other, I do get my exercise. At the other end this time waits the choir. We rehearse the minute I sit at the piano. Considering how I am always playing the angles, I am relieved to think, when I glance at my phone and see how the Fusion service is running long, that the choir has an unaccompanied number for the anthem this morning.

But that's usually not the case, so I high-tail it back to the North Sanctuary the second we're finished. The choir usually rehearses for about 10 minutes, long enough to go over this week's anthem, any prayer responses or tricky hymns, and then I have a few minutes to relax before the 10:30 service begins. We have a choral director, and if the piano is in its usual position across the chancel, I have to follow her conducting from 30 feet away. Often, we move the piano so it is nestled up to the choir for support. The architect must have thought it looked better to have such a symmetrical look to the chancel, but it doesn't help the musicians any. Sometimes the eyes and the ears have different needs.

Oh, did I mention my doughnut? I used to wolf it down while I was waiting for the 10:30 service to start; otherwise I would get very hungry during the sermon (having breakfasted over four hours previously); surely the loudness of my stomach interfered with the listening of the other congregants; I started snagging a doughnut between the second and third services; it was hard to get it eaten before choir practice without getting the keyboard sticky; I started to eat it after choir rehearsal and noticed the sugar rush interfered with my concentration; consequently I pushed it back to during the 9 o'clock sermon. There you have the evolution of a simple matter like eating a doughnut. And yes, they were having a sale on semi-colons. How ever did you know?

A number of other things about my activities on Sunday morning have evolved, always in the direction of greater efficiency, as I try to give the best attention to every group and every detail, of which there are many.

Once the 10:30 service starts, there is only one place to be. It is much like the one at 8, except that there is a choir, and therefore an additional musical selection or two. It is another opportunity to lead the congregation in singing, accompany the choir, improvise quietly, play demanding solo music, and not miss a cue. Also to think fast: you might have to change microphone batteries, try to fix the sound system, or help with some equipment setup on the fly. You never know.

The most difficult issue with this service is my energy level. By the start of the service I've been on the job for nearly three and a half hours with no real break, and much of that has been 'performing'--that is, lots of people are depending on you to keep a solid rhythm, play the right notes, help them find theirs, and give the best you've got in terms of musicality and sheer joy. Often, I find that the 10:30 sermon is about when I start to plummet. It's the first time I've sat and done nothing for an extended period, and my first chance to find out how tired I've gotten--lately I've taken to heading back over to the Worship and Life Center to cover the piano there, since I had to run off when that service ended. It's got that peaceful, beatifically exhausted feeling that sanctuaries seem to have when they are done being the sites of Divine worship. This may help me to keep up my adrenaline, which is often at risk during this time. However, some mornings I've had trouble getting through the first service and am full of energy at the last one. Occasionally it is the middle one that suffers--or a part of it. It seems to depend on my general state of health and sleep deprivation that day. It is, however, very difficult, I've found, to go through the entire morning without experiencing a flagging of the energy at some point. Then concentration cam fall victim and then--watch out!

It is here that technique and habit come to the rescue. If you can play well enough when you are not bringing your A game that there is no discernible difference between your best and your not-best, you are a professional, and you can get through a Sunday morning like mine pretty well no matter what. There are a number of skills I've consciously and painstakingly cultivated over the years which come together to get me through the five hours I spend at church, and which make each Sunday a real challenge, but also a whole lot of fun. There is always the chance that things will not go well if I don't concentrate and give it my best. And it is inevitable that there will be something I wish I could take back. But there is no time to wallow in mistakes. You have to go on, otherwise you will make more. And you have to ignore your exhaustion and push ahead. Particularly if you've just programmed a really tricky offertory for the last service after a long sermon and you have just realized that you are not feeling up to it at the moment: first rule of being a musician: it doesn't matter how it went in practice, you have to give it your best when it is time to do it, which, really, is every single time, practice or otherwise. That habit of always doing your best makes it easier to play well no matter the circumstances.

If those circumstances permit, however, I usually find myself horizontal for a couple of hours in the afternoon, sleeping soundly, saving my energy for a long choir practice to come Sunday night.

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