Monday, January 26, 2009

Long Organ Post

This is an entirely too-detailed post about my adventures in organ playing yesterday. Enjoy.

Before I start, you should know that the ward chorister, Fritta (pronounced Freeta) was just released last week. Fritta (name has been changed) was the one who would pick the hymns and text them to me Sunday mornings, which I appreciated. I was able to run through them once or twice before going to church, and if I couldn't run through them, at least I knew what I was up against, which is more helpful than not knowing anything at all, you know? But now I don't know who picks the hymns, and I don't know who the chorister is.

I got to the chapel yesterday afternoon at 12:40, and had to wait until the choir was done rehearsing. Some other ward uses our chapel to rehearse in, which is quite annoying, since it means I don't get any actual practice time on the organ. Once congregants start arriving, which they usually do by 12:45, it's no longer practice, it's prelude. I might stay after Sacrament meeting to practice, but we have people come in to use the chapel then, too, so I can't. Maybe I should just do like my uncle and buy an organ. Hmm.

Anyway, this choir was rehearsing, and they're supposed to be done by 12:45. If they're not done by then, I usually go sit at the organ anyway and fiddle with the stops. That usually gets them out of there pretty quickly.

Thankfully, the choir left on time yesterday, and I started the prelude, still with no clue what the hymns were going to be. One sister used to be in charge of the programs, and she would bring them early and pass them out to whoever was already in the chapel (including me), but she hasn't done that in a while. Thus I had no program.

Eventually the chapel filled and the bishopric showed up on the stand. Nobody had changed the hymn numbers on the wooden hymn plaque thingy (what is that thing called, anyway?), and no one had come up to the stand to be the chorister. But I ignored all that, since I couldn't do anything about it, and focused on playing the organ.

When the bishop got up to start the meeting, there was still no one there to conduct, but even worse, I was in the middle of a hymn. This normally isn't a problem, since I just skip to the end and finish it off. The standard LDS hymn has three main chords, so the resolution sounds just fine from any of them. The hymn I was playing, however, happened to have a modulation into the dominant (where the dominant becomes the tonic), and I happened to be in the middle of that modulation. So when I played the last chord, the real tonic, it sounded like the subdominant, which, as we all know, is not a chord to end on at all. It was horribly unsettled.

But what could I do? I gave up because my mind is not quick enough to figure out the right chord to make it sound resolved, and as I looked out over the congregation I saw Randy staring at me. Randy was a music major and knows these things. I grimaced, and he kind of half-smiled, and I slumped my shoulders and scowled at the organ. When I was done scowling I looked over the shoulder of one of the people giving a talk to try to figure out what the opening hymn was.

Luckily, the opening hymn was easy (#3: Now Let Us Rejoice), and I was able to use the pedals. Unfortunately, when it was time to start the hymn, there was still no conductor. I am opposed to playing without a conductor. I sat for a second, but then, realizing they would probably just stare at me like I was crazy if I tried to tell them what was wrong, I gave in and started the introduction. Fritta, the old chorister, sits in the second row and also realized there was no conductor. She came up and conducted, thankfully. I still don't know who the new chorister is.

The sacrament hymn was #194: There Is A Green Hill Far Away, which is actually not as easy as you would think, as the chords change quickly. The opening hymn was great because it sits on one chord almost the entire time (the tonic), with just a few little cadences and resolutions and such (dominant to tonic); each measure usually is just one chord, though may be spelled different ways. But when the chords progress more quickly, that is more difficult for me. And when the bass line moves each beat as well, that is doubly difficult. There were no pedals for the Sacrament hymn.

After the Sacrament was passed I actually sat in the congregation, which is unusual for me, but the Ward Council was doing the musical number, and I didn't want to look stupid and have to move when they charged the stand.

The closing hymn was #5: High on the Mountain Top, and was moderately challenging. I didn't mess up too bad, but I didn't play it perfectly, either. No pedals. Oh well. And just so you all know, I feel really stupid telling you all the hymns that are hard for me, or that I messed up on. I should be able to play all of them perfectly.

Playing the hymns during Sacrament meeting is sometimes stressful to me, especially when my left hand gives up on me or my feet take over my brain. I like the time during the prelude and postlude better, because I can practice using the pedals. I can look down to make sure my feet are on the right notes before pressing, and I don't have to stay strictly in tempo. I don't really care if I mess up because no one's listening all that hard anyway (and I'm not saying I can just slop through the pieces or anything, but, if I make a little mistake, or push the wrong pedal for a second, it doesn't really stress me out). I always make sure that the last note of the postlude has a huge phatty bass on it. That's the best part of playing the organ.

Yesterday the bishop came up to say hi to me as I was playing the postlude (he does that sometimes, which I think is really nice), and i asked him who I should call or talk to in order to figure out what hymns were chosen, so I wouldn't have to sightread every week. He said something about how some new committee was deciding it and making a list or something for a few months in advance and something rather yadda yadda, which means that someone is working on it, but in the meantime, I'll probably still be sightreading for the next three months.

Remember when I used to go to Sacrament meeting and just be there? I had no idea it could be so much more exciting.



schmath said...

You should come practice on the organ in my garage. Then we can hang out after. I think the organ is ridiculously hard, and it's amazing that you can sightread or use pedals at all. And I think that ward choir should stop stealing your practice time.

Oriana said...

Do you know the person that makes up the program? Maybe they could at least text or email you before Church to let you know what the hymns will be. I do the program for my ward and the music coordinator emails me the hymns on Saturday. I assume she also notifies the organist.

J said...

I know it wasn't fun...but I LOVE reading your organ playing posts!

elegyrl said...

I am very proud of you for being able to do it at all! I still can't even handle a lot of the "Hymns Made Easy" hymns on the piano! In fact I still struggle with just about everything I play! So the fact that you can do any of it amazes me! I admire your courage and strength to get through it even when you are sight-reading! I can't wait until the day I can attempt to do that for even a RS lesson! You are an inspiration for me to continue to practice (which hasn't happened lately)

Betty Edit said...

Schmath, you have an organ? How come I didn't remember this? Then I could see your baby, too!