Friday, March 25, 2016


In three days, Easter will be here. If you are an organist, however, you get stuck in a time warp. Easter has already been here. The instant the Holy Thursday service ended in darkness and silence, you ran across the hall and started to rehearse Easter music with the assembled company. And on Good Friday morning, you finally got around to dusting off the Widor Toccata for another year.

If you're me, that is. I don't know what your schedule is like.

Fortunately, the Widor came back pretty fast. A couple of run throughs and it felt ready. One more for good measure. I play most of it from memory so I don't have to have 80 pages crowding the music rack with tiny font. Only the first and last two pages are up--it just makes me feel better to start with the music, for some reason, and the last page is where all the gymnastic hand crossings are. I've been playing the piece every Easter for over a decade to conclude the service, and this is the first year I've been particularly worried about it. But about that later.

We have a tradition at Faith of starting the service in darkness, just where the passion service left off. The choir sings an introit which begins quietly, and as the lights come up, the pastors remove the black sheet and the crown of thorns from the altar; then replace the Bible, add some flowers, put back the white paraments, and as the music swells and the faint glow becomes a blazing light, the choir begins to process from the back of the sanctuary. At the conclusion of the introit, the organist improvises an introduction to the opening hymn, Christ the Lord is Risen Today, in which we usually feature trumpets.

All of that is at the start of the service. Then welcomes and announcements. "Christ is Risen!" shouts the pastor. "He is Risen Indeed!" shout all the people. Except the year that the pastor shouted the second line and the people couldn't figure out what to do. At least he didn't wish everybody a Merry Christmas, like a pastor at my mother's church.

Everybody is excited, and if you aren't touched by the emotions of the moment, your nose is running anyhow from all the flowers. Boy are they pungent!

An anthem from the choir. A reading from the scripture. A sermon. A choral offertory. The choir gets up early on Easter morning and sings at the 8 o'clock service as well as the 10:30. And it is a full service. Full enough that I am not likely to make it on time for the second service, which begins at 9. But after the offertory, and the doxology, in which we bring back the one with all the "alleluias" for the first time in seven weeks (feels good!), it is time for the closing hymn about resurrection, in which I sneak in references to the Widor Toccata, and then, of course, the piece itself, which the choir always stays to hear, and, if the pastor reminds them, most of the congregation as well. Afterward, someone comes up to me with tears in her eyes and thanks me for playing the Widor. Others remember it from their wedding or a loved one's funeral.

It is a real privilege to be an organist on Easter. The choir director wants it to "sound like a cathedral" and of course, it is hard not to just let loose with the torrents of sound and a phalanx of notes, on this most joyous of days, and the climax of the church year. The organ is never louder than the final peroration of the Toccata, a festival shout of Alleluia! The general enthusiasm is quite evident.

Faith has three services on Easter morning. When they are finished their will be Easter dinner (I'm famished, despite meeting my wife in the church kitchen during the 9am sermon for a quick repast of cinnamon rolls and that Easter egg I pilfered on the way out of the house). I started my day at 6am. By 2 I will be horizontal again, as the traditional Easter excitement is followed by the traditional Easter Nap. Later on there is the Traditional Easter Choir Practice by a community choir that doesn't stop rehearsing for anything. On Monday it may seem like I will never rise again. But you organists know how it goes.

Sunday's coming!

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