Wednesday, December 2, 2015

oops! (organ registration survival tips part four)

Before we get on with our primer on organ registration I thought I would make you feel better about any mistakes you may make by admitting a few I have made myself. These always make good stories for later, particularly if you tell them dramatically and with humor. Remember that when you are playing in front of people and something doesn't go as planned. Think of it as an investment in a funny future. It isn't fun now, but wait until later...

If you've been reading this series, you may recall that one of the first things I told beginner organists or pianists turned organists to get familiar with was the crescendo pedal. There is a good reason for that.

I was in my first position as an organist, still in high school. It was a little Methodist church in a suburb near my home. The preacher there asked me to play softly while he gave the pastoral prayer each week. At the time I thought it was for the atmosphere--I later found out that since the church was close to a four-lane highway it was to drown the traffic noises!

It was about seven weeks into my tenure and I was starting to feel confident--which is probably more dangerous than when you are still worried and focused. I selected a soft string stop to use by itself, with a soft flute in the pedals. Only two stops in the entire organ. Unfortunately, I had forgotten about the crescendo pedal, which was still on from the end of the last piece. Remember, it will (on many organs) add stops up to and including the entire organ whether you've deployed them manually or not.

And so, our preacher closed his eyes and earnestly began, "Our heavenly father..."


Fortunately I found the offending pedal and disengaged it mighty fast. Three decades later I can report that the church did not spontaneously combust, no paramedics were called, and most of my hair has even grown back.

And that particular effect was a one-off. I haven't done it since. No way to improve upon something like that, you know.

Then there was the week I forgot the doxology.

I mentioned a while back that there is considerable merit in memorizing the doxology. It is the same every week, it is short, and if you don't need music you won't have to shuffle it up on the music rack after the offertory and then grab the closing hymn by the scruff of the hymnal and toss it up too, all in a few minutes. One less piece of music to worry about, you know...

But one week, also at my first church, I finished the offertory and....uh.....had a little problem.

Fortunately I was in the choir loft. I whispered to the choir director "how does the doxology start?"

She obliged. "Oh yes!" I said after she'd hummed the first couple of measures. And away I went.

It reminded me of the time Bartok was on tour with his own piano concerto, second movement of which begins with piano alone. After the first movement, Bartok was confused, and had to whisper to the conductor. "How does this go?"

He had already been playing this for weeks. And if he could have a brain fart over a piece that he wrote and had played over and over, why can't you?

on to part five (the last one!)
the first three installments in this mostly useful series can be found here:
Organ registration survival tips (part one)  how not to make a scary noise in church
Organ registration survival tips (part two)
  We'll start with what some of those knobs mean

Organ registration survival tips (part three)  
     fear not...I bring you tidings of hope and confidence!
also, don't forget to check out the homepage of for the weekly recording and lots of other useful and quirky articles about music and musicians (updated every Tuesday)

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