I’m now in Springfield, MA, the last leg of my journey, and I’m checked into the convention hotel designated for the Organ Historical Society. When I turned on CNN to see what news I’ve missed in the last three weeks, there was a clip of President Obama singing “Amazing Grace” as part of his eulogy to the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine who was killed in the Charleston church shooting. Just the first few notes were sung unaccompanied (a cappella), and then the whole assembly joined in, including the organist. I was wondering who gave President Obama the pitch?
A few minutes ago, I got a message from Pastor Angela Freeman-Riley, who sent along this timely article: “Organist said it was his calling to chime in during Obama’s eulogy for Rev. Pinckney.” Written by Abigail Darlington of the Post and Courier, the journalist interviewed Charles Miller, the organist, who jumped in with the pitch right after President Obama started to sing.
Charles Miller Jr. may one day be remembered as the musician who punctuated President Barack Obama’s powerful speech on Friday in a way only a church organist could.
As Obama spoke the lyrics of “Amazing Grace,” and later sang them toward the end of his eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Miller pounded on his Hammond C-3, electrifying the packed TD Arena with chords of the well-known spiritual.
To tell you the truth, after Obama started to sing, I listened very carefully and wondered whether he would be able to keep the pitch — and then the organ and congregation joined in — in the right key, thanks to Charles Miller.
If you read some of the comments, these questions arose:
I was amazed that he could bring in the organ in the same key as the president was singing! . . . It’s a good thing he did, BHO was on the verge of false modulation. . . it’s not hard to hear or find the key of the one who is singing. As professional musician: they’re are only 8 notes [sic] on a piano/organ and within those 8, Pres. Obama had to be in one! Thanks. . .
Actually, there are a lot more notes on the piano/organ (12 notes to an octave, including the white and black keys and all the “cracks” in-between) but apparently Charles Miller must have had a good sense of pitch to join in a key that was close to the key Obama had chosen.
I absolutely loved this comment: He was great. Obama needs to travel with an organist on a regular basis.
Amen! Let’s hear it for organists!
[P.S. By the way, this brings up a nightmare scenario which happened to me a few years ago. It was right before the Sursum Corda, and my finger slipped before I gave the pastor the pitch. I ended up giving the wrong pitch and instantly had to transpose the ensuing congregational accompaniment to another key!]