Over the weekend, I received my April issue of The Diapason, an “international monthly devoted to the organ, the harpsichord, carillon, and church music.” I turned immediately to one of my favorite columns, written by John Bishop, and this month’s topic was “A matter of manners.” Mr. Bishop described a visit to a New York church in which a stack of photocopied sheets in the narthex caught his eye. The papers were titled “Church Etiquette Page,” and had the following advice: Please observe the following courtesies when you are visiting the church.
Silence is the norm while in church. Conversation is to be confined to the narthex or courtyard. Since the acoustics in the church are very fine, any necessary talking needs to be at a whisper.
Proper attire is expected. Since this is relative to taste and fashion, you are expected to use your good judgment.
Food and beverages have no place in a church. However it is permitted in the narthex and courtyard. The use of alcohol and tobacco is prohibited on church premises. This is not the O.K. Corral.
Gum is not to be chewed in church.
Running is inappropriate. Parents or caretakers need to stay close to their children. Adults mustn’t run either, unless they’re chasing after a child.
Reading newspapers, using cell phones, applying cosmetics, changing clothes (yes, it’s happened) and other similar activities do not have a place in church.
Refuse should not be left in the pews or on the floor around you.
Dogs are allowed to enter the church as long as they observe silence and know the difference between a holy water font and a fire hydrant. After all, they can be better behaved than some humans.
Smoking is simply not to occur anywhere on church property.
I wonder how the author of these rules would react if they ever visited the Lutheran Church of Honolulu! He or she would probably be aghast at the number of people who come in shorts, or bring their coffee cups into the nave during the service, or the barefeet of the acolytes. Recently Miguel Felipe had to remind the choir not to be texting during the sermon!
The problem of enforcing silence, though, seems to be universal, especially when you have someone playing an instrument, where words are not sung. I have often been at the opera when someone behind me has talked all through the overture, forgetting that some people (like me) like to listen. There is a whole slew of suggestions on the ChoralNet of the American Choral Directors website on how to quiet people down to listen to the prelude. Someone on the Organ Forum even made the comment “I have never played in a church where people are quiet for the prelude or postlude. . . Sometimes the din is so loud I cannot hear what I am playing.”
With all this in mind, though, today when I played the organ prelude (which was a Siciliano and Voluntary by 18th-century composer, John Stanley) I was absolutely astounded at how quiet the congregation was. I especially appreciated the fact that no one was talking as I played much of the piece with only an 8′ flute accompaniment. You might re-read my post on the function of the organ prelude which I wrote during Lent. Often I feel that my prelude has to compete with people’s conversations and greetings. Today though, everyone was listening!
As I read Bishop’s column further, I was absolutely thrilled that he gave me a shout-out, and referred to one of my blog postings! Here’s what he wrote: One of my Words-With-Friends friends is organist of a church in Hawaii. Last week she shared a YouTube video on the subject of cell phones in church, saying that she used to play for the church in the video. Here’s the link: Cell phones in church. Yes, that video was made at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Burbank, my very first church organist job!
Anyway, thanks everyone, for listening to my prelude today!