Sunday 23 November 2014

Sunday 23rd November - Playing the Church Organ.

I was the organist at the early (9am) service today.

File:Flight of the Bumblebee on Pipe Organ Pedals.webm
I'd love to say that this is a picture of me, but our church organ
has just 2 manuals each with about 6 stops,
This picture comes from

This isn't our organ either! We just have two rows of pipes.
There were plans to install another row, but somehow it never happened.

I don't really like playing the organ - it all feels a bit slippery and I miss the tactile feedback and resonsiveness of a piano. And my legs are a bit short to reach the pedals (that's my excuse for not using them). We usually have a couple of hymns on the organ, and a song or two which I prefer to play on the piano.

I've had some fairly un-nerving experiences as an organist.

  • Playing the tune that no-one knows except me
  • Playing a 4-tune for a hymn that has 8-line verses. That means I should have played the tune twice through for each of the three verses, instead of just three times through. There is a special kind of quality to the silence from the congregation when you stop in the wrong place that makes it abundantly clear that Something has gone wrong.
  • Being joined. halfway through a complicated hymn like "O Jesus I have promised" by an escaped toddler who lets rip on the other end of the organ keyboard. It didn't take too long for the church to know that I had company at the keyboard.
  • Playing "O Jesus I have promised". Any version. There was a vicar who loved that hymn so much he chose it most months; none of the five organists at our church were happy about this.
  • Playing four verses instead of five is very nearly as bad as playing five verses instead of four.
  • Starting the hymn in the wrong key and discovering that you transposition skills are not up to continuing to transpose at sight past the first line. I had a total blank about E major and E flat major.
  • Sitting at the piano ready to play a "song", when the vicar announces the next "hymn". That leaves me racing from the piano at the front of the church to the organ at the back, choosing a wild and random selection of stops and hoping for the best.
  • Sitting at the organ ready for the next hymn, and, well, you've guessed it.
  • Probably the worst one - forgetting that it was my Sunday to be the organist and not turning up at all. We are SOOO lucky to have four other organists who are all capable of plunging in at short notice, and it is highly probable that at least one will be at the service!    
Maybe the second worst service was at an Ash Wednesday, where I was finally convinced that I needed glasses. The problem was that I needed to sit so far away to be able to read the music that I couldn't reach the keyboard. There was a lot of guess work that evening.

This morning wasn't too bad, in that none of the above happened. I'm on again next Sunday... 
 Luckily we have a very kind congregation.


  1. I recall there was a time with the church organ where one of the pipes would stick open, leaving this long drawn-out note that continued until some time after the fans were switched off!

    1. All too true - it happened to be a Very Important Service attended by The Bishop