You would have thought that after more than fifty years of playing the organ that I would know how to lead congregational singing from the organ — especially know the tempo of Christmas carols. Well, this morning, it was 2000 people in the Lower Gym of Iolani School with whom I played “tug of war” when I accompanied the Christmas chapel. It was the second graders, especially, who were sitting in front of me, who wanted to take ALL of the Christmas carols faster than I wanted to go — and I was already playing them FAST. I guess it was because everyone was eager for Christmas vacation to start!
I went back to last year’s post about the Christmas chapel, and every single aspect of the music and singing was exactly the same this year – déjà vu, which means “seen already” — been there, done that! So if you will indulge me, I will repost this.
This morning, I played for All-School Christmas Chapel in the Lower Gym at Iolani School. The nativity story is narrated by the second grade class, which includes a pageant, interspersed with familiar Christmas carols. Because of my recent post in which I bragged that I could probably play any Christmas carol without looking at the printed sheet music, I toyed with the idea of playing from memory, since the service is basically the same from year to year. However, since there are about two thousand people in the gym for this service, I decided to play it safe and bring the book, which contains the narration script for me to follow.
Right off the bat, though, it was me against 2000 people. What happens when the organist (that’s me!) introduces the opening hymn at one tempo, in this case, Angels we have heard on high, and the students want to sing it faster than you think they should take it?! In fact, it was a slight tug-of-war for all the carols, which included O come all ye faithful, Hark the herald angels sing, Silent Night, What Child is This, Joy to the World and We Three Kings. In all cases, the assembly wanted to sing faster than the tempos I chose, but I stood my ground and tried to keep the tempo steady.
That’s not to say that my tempos were at all slow, in fact, they were quite to the contrary. I’d say that the tempos were pretty brisk and probably faster than I’d take in a normal church service.
It was the final hymn, though, Go tell it on the mountain, in which I really had to keep the reins on. On this hymn, clearly a student favorite, everyone starts clapping on the beat during the refrain. They wanted to push me to go faster and I had to stay with them!
Tomorrow night, though, the tempos will be in the hands of John Alexander, chorus director, as I accompany the Iolani Chorus in their annual Christmas concert at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, 7:30 p.m. It’s a free concert, and I’ll be playing two of my favorite carols: “A babe is born” by William Mathias, and “Lo, he comes with clouds descending” (HELMSLEY) in an arrangement by David Willcocks, in addition to two other pieces. It’s my last gig before I fly to California to join my family for Christmas!