Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tales of a Substitute Organist - Part 1

I returned to one of my former parishes today as a substitute funeral organist. What I encountered there nearly made me cry. Twelve years ago, when I was the assistant music director, we constructed a small choir area in the nave of the church. Many pews were removed, a small riser was installed, and a new Rodgers organ was purchased. Playing that organ was pure joy! There was also a very old pipe organ which was in poor condition, but I made a point of going into the loft a few times a month and playing the old organ in a vain attempt to prevent further damage from disuse.

The church has since been wreck renovated and the new organ is in horrendous condition. The choir riser was removed so the movable chairs are now on the tile floor. There is now nothing to keep the choir members from moving their chairs into the side aisle (where I found a few when I arrived). In addition, the choir area was an absolute mess. Books and papers were everywhere. Also, the amplifiers, instruments, and microphones for the "youth band" were strewn everywhere. The organ looked more like a glorified book rack as it was covered with hymnals, Christmas cards, photos, and business cards from various "music ministers".

I am not known for keeping a neat choir loft, but I have that luxury because I have a LOFT! My mess is not visible. Whenever I have worked in a parish with a visible choir area I have made a point to keep it as neat and clean as possible. The last thing the congregation needs is the distraction of looking at a mess.

Now to the organ! The music director at this parish only begrudgingly plays the organ. He makes it very clear that he is a pianist, not an organist. First, he changed the presets to some of the strangest I have ever seen. Then, the volume of the organ was set so loud it probably blew out the ears of the congregations. I left with a headache and I was very far away from the speakers. Therefore, it only makes sense that the expression pedal was non-functioning. Also, the crescendo pedal was useless, since there were only about two stops attached to it.

Oh the beautiful music that used to come out of that organ! With some difficulty I was able to make it sound decent, but with the volume set at the decible level of a Guns N' Roses concert it was difficult.

My one victory: To the dismay of the parish secretary, I successfuly nixed Wind Beneath My Wings from the request list. Unfortunately, it was replaced by On Eagles Wings. What's the fascination with wings? The secretary even asked if I would play a CD with Wind Beneath My Wings. NO!

I didn't make it to the choir loft, but I expect that the pipe organ is no longer there - another victim to the renovations. One thing that did fall victim was the old confessionals, where I used to store my sheet music and microphone stands. There are gone, all in the name of progress. One bright spot: the reredos and old altar still remain. I guess there is still hope, and the changes to the organ aren't permanent. Still sad though.


Brian Michael Page said...

I wonder if this is the church I think it is. The one with the Adams tracker upstairs?

Domini Sumus said...

Right neighborhood, wrong church. This is the one with a miniature Hook & Hastings. It is literally the smallest organ pipe I have ever played.