So yesterday I was feeling just a tad smug when I read this posting on the Facebook Organists Association page:
So, while having breakfast with my pastor today, he takes out his iPhone and begins playing recordings of me that he has made while standing at the back of church (at masses that he was not the presider). He wanted me to know how wonderful it sounds. Then he played for me recordings of subs and previous organists… And for the first time ever, I found out why, in all the parishes that I have ever worked in, I was the preferred organist… I never understood that, because I have listened to and played with great musicians and always thought that I do not practice hard enough to be “great.” …if you play here as a sub one day and want to make the pastor and the people happy, play a little more up tempo. It should never sound like an endless dirge in a place that celebrates life.
Yesterday I substituted at Holy Nativity Episcopal Church and after playing the first hymn, Hymn 596, “Judge eternal, throned in splendor,” the priest announced to the congregation about my playing — something to the effect, “if you had been sleeping before now, that hymn would wake you up!”
After the service, a chorister spoke to me about my playing. “You seem like such a quiet person, but when you play, you really take charge!” “I’ve never heard our organ sound like that before!” The exchange reminded me of the National Geographic cable show, “The Dog Whisperer.” If you have never seen the show, host Cesar Millan worked with problem dogs — dogs who barked too much, or pulled the leash when being walked, or were too aggressive. I remember over and over Cesar would say to the owners, “You have to be the leader of the pack.”
It’s the same with congregational singing — the organist MUST take charge and be “the leader of the pack.” The organist shows the people at what tempo to sing, where to breathe, and what the mood of the hymn is. I always tell my students that they are the crucifer, the one leading the procession. Otherwise the congregation will tend to lag farther and farther behind.
So, call me “The Organ Whisperer!”
By the way, during the announcement time, I was introduced by Keane Ishii, the choir director, who mentioned that I was the organist there forty-one years ago. The priest asked for a show of hands of people who were at the parish at that time, and a couple of people raised their hands, one of them a former singer in the choir! “You don’t look old enough to have played here forty-one years ago,” the lay assistant told me.
Don’t look too carefully!