Last Friday I was supposed to try out the organ in the Mystic Rose Oratory at Chaminade University in advance of a rehearsal there on Saturday. You see I will be accompanying the Hawaii Vocal Arts Ensemble in their annual Masterworks Festival in June. Many of the choristers, in addition to others on the mainland and Europe, will join forces to tour Ireland in the first week of July. And yes, I’ll be going along as their organist! We’ll be visiting Cork, Waterford and Dublin and will perform the Gabriel Fauré Requiem with the Dublin Symphony!
When I arrived at the chapel on Friday, I found the organ locked, but was told by Tim Carney, the director, that a key would be found in an adjacent locked closet. I was supposed to call security, and they would open up the closet for me. I did just that and we got the closet opened but guess what, no key of any kind.
I decided to look in the organ bench, usually a hiding place. No key! About half an hour of looking all over the closet and the sacristy, I gave up and went home. “I will just have to wing it at the rehearsal,” I told the security guard.
Did you know where the expression “to wing it” came from? It actually is a theatrical term which “refers to impromptu performances that given by actors who had hurriedly learned their lines while waiting in the wings and then received prompts from there.” The phrase dates from the 19th century where it was defined by Stage magazine in 1885:
“‘To wing’… indicates the capacity to play a rôle without knowing the text, and the word itself came into use from the fact that the artiste frequently received the assistance of a special prompter, who… stood… screened by a piece of the scenery or a wing.”
According to Better@English, “to wing it” is an idiom that means to improvise, to something without proper preparation or time to rehearse. “People often talk about winging it when they have to do something difficult that they didn’t have time to prepare — like a make speech or give a presentation. They might say something like “Sorry if I seem a bit disorganized, I’m totally winging it.” You tell people that you’re winging it, that you’re improvising, so that they won’t expect too much from you, or so that they will be more forgiving if you make a mistake.”
Well, the Saturday rehearsal went just fine, even though I didn’t get to try out the organ beforehand. Tim found out from the sacristan where the key is hidden, so I arrived only about 5 minutes before I had to start playing, and opened the organ without incident. It’s an ancient Allen electronic organ, “over fifty years old,” according to Tim, and in pretty bad shape with some dead notes but overall, quite soft even with the volume pedal all the way down. (How is it that organs that are not worth much get locked up, and others which are much more valuable are kept open? Hmmm….)