Thursday, April 4, 2013

Stake Choir Organist

I was asked to accompany the stake choir for stake conference, and I said yes. Perhaps that was my first mistake. Honestly though, while I love playing the piano/organ, I am not an accompanist. I feel like I'm masquerading at the keyboard, like I should be telling people, "Hey, I'm just the ward organist."

It is really stinking hard to be a choir accompanist. We are singing 3 pieces, two of which have organ accompaniment. Organ pieces take me about 3 times longer to learn than piano pieces, because I can't just fudge my way through them; I have to actually get the pedals right and make the hands work at the same time and make it all sound good. Then there are stop changes if you want to get adventurous. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

I am not a spectacular pianist or organist. In fact, I wouldn't even say I'm very good. I am adequate. I can do it if I have enough time. I can play something that sounds sort of like what it's supposed to sound like.

I was given the music last Thursday. We are singing the music next Sunday. That is a total of 16 days in which to practice. Sixteen.

One of the pieces we sang last year, but here's the thing: last year I didn't use the pedals. I played on the manuals only, and used the bass coupler. It sounded adequate, but now I'm feeling more confident with my foot technique, and I can mostly hit the notes without looking at them, so this year I'm playing this piece using the pedals. Interestingly, one part that was very hard before (because I was jumping from a sustained bass note to a moving line, then back to the bass note) is now incredibly easy; another part that was super easy before is now the hardest part (because it uses high pedals and I don't usually use pedals that high).

A choir accompanist has to play all the choir parts perfectly during rehearsal. Our choir accompanist in high school did this. She was amazing. I was super impressed with how well she could play. Whatever our choir director asked for, she did:
  • Let's hear just the women.
  • Let's hear just the men.
  • Let's hear the bass, tenor, and alto, no soprano.
  • Tenor and alto only.
  • Play all the parts together.
  • Just second tenor and second alto, please.
  • Baritone and soprano.
  • Oh, and all these parts are on separate lines, and the tenor part is written in tenor clef, which you read like treble clef, but down an octave.
  • Play accompaniment at the beginning, then when the parts split, play the parts.
  • Play accompaniment in the left hand and the women's parts in the right hand.
  • Can you play the soprano line upside-down and backwards? It's supposed to sound like a Pink Floyd song.
Ok, just kidding about that last one. But seriously, any and all vocal combinations must be ready to go at a moment's notice. (Gratefully, all 3 of our choir pieces have the vocal parts written in one staff, like piano music--it's a little blessing.)

In my case, it gets more complicated because of the organ. We rehearse on the piano, since it's easier to play and easier to hear the notes. Then when we just run through the piece during rehearsal, with me playing parts (and accompaniment when the choir is resting), I remain at the piano, but when I come to the accompaniment, I am stuck. Do I try to play all the notes written, and thus teach my left hand incorrect notes that will probably encourage it to mess up when I'm playing for real on the organ? Or do I just play the piano as if I'm on the organ, but with no pedal, and therefore no bass note to solidify the choir? It's a lose-lose-lose situation.

I've been practicing a lot this week--a couple hours every day (yes, that's a lot for me). Thank heavens for my access to an organ. Even so, I'm nowhere near where I need to be by next week. These pieces go at 90 bpm, 105 bpm, 80 bpm... These are fast tempos for what I'm doing. I spent 30 minutes one day on 4 measures of music. I started at 50 bpm and worked my way up to 110 bpm, playing the 4 measures multiple times at each increment of 5 (55, 60, 65, etc.). Yes, I finally got it. But when I played those 4 measures today, they were just as difficult as ever, like I hadn't spent a half hour going over them again and again and again. And that's only 4 measures, in one piece. I don't have time for this.

So what am I going to do? Fudge it, as usual. Whip out the pencil (or, if I'm feeling fancy, the white-out and the pen--but I don't think I'll have time for that this time around) and write my own part, then hope I can at least learn that well enough to sound decent.

There's no fudging on choir parts--I have to play the exact right notes and rhythms because if I mess up, they mess up--but at least on the accompaniment I have one week to test and practice and figure out what I can do to make it through these pieces.

If anyone needs me, I'll be in the chapel.

* * *

P.S. I have to play congregational hymns too. Hopefully those aren't too difficult (I haven't bothered looking at them, but one of them is "How Firm a Foundation," so thank heavens for that).
P.P.S. I just bought organ shoes after reading some forum comments online about how great they are (more to this story, but that's a separate post). The post office shipped the shoes from Greenfield, Massachusetts, to Nashua, New Hampshire. In case you need to pull out a map, that is roughly a north-east direction. Utah is southwest of both those states. At this rate, I may receive my shoes by Christmas.
P.P.S. If anyone knows any good organists for hire in Salt Lake, please let me know.

1 comment:

Schmath said...

I feel your pain! Sometimes, it's just too much. I always end up faking it when that happens. I'm not afraid to tell the director that I can't play all the parts together and ask which one I should leave out. Or I ask her to just have the men or women sing. They don't really need all 4 parts played together while learning it. They can learn two parts at a time and then go strait to accompaniment, in my opinion.