1. Lit. to commit murder and not get punished for it. Don’t kill me! You can’t get away with murder!
2. Fig. to do something very bad and not get punished for it. That guy always gets away with murder—just because he’s cute. You will spoil your son if you let him get away with murder. You should punish him for his back-talk.
(McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.)
I have been practicing all week on the Aeolian-Skinner organ at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in preparation for two Sunday services there tomorrow, and I used this expression yesterday to tell a student about the experience. I told her that “you can get away with murder when you play that organ,” and she asked me what it meant.
Obviously I didn’t kill anyone! But because of the reverberant acoustics and because the organ pipes are stuffed into a big box in the clerestory, it is not so obvious when you make a mistake. The sound does not travel directly to the listener’s ear — it bounces off the wall across the front of the building before traveling down the length of the nave. Passages which are not played perfectly somehow “mush” together and sound just fine. Even playing the wrong notes don’t jump out at you.
The other night when we took Baltimore organist Daniel Aune to see the Beckerath organ at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu, I played several of the pieces from Bach’s Great Eighteen that I will be playing Sunday as well as on my August concerts. I had played them all week at the Cathedral and they seemed really easy to play. Yet when I sat down to play them at LCH I heard lots of flaws. You see, since the pipes speak directly into the room, and the way they are voiced make for a very transparent sound. I have always said that playing the LCH organ is like being buck naked! Every flaw can be heard clearly.
After tomorrow’s services I’m going to have to do a lot of practice to get my fingers — and my ears — back in shape!