Sunday, 7 December 2008

The carol service

Today was the day of the Christmas carol service. As you may be aware, I was feeling a little apprehensive about it, on account of being unable to play several last verses reliably without a congregation attached, let alone with one. Some of my other pieces were also decidedly dodgy. I was rather worried that I would play a wrong note at some point which would set a domino effect in motion and mean that I was unable to find any more right notes for the remainder of the verse.*

With this in mind, I was quite relaxed when I went to church this morning, except for the tension caused by my being late because I was tired and did not get out of bed on time. Again.** This morning's service seemed to go well - the vicar was a visiting one and she was lovely. She also sang very loudly, which gave the congregation a boost - it's not an overly enthusiastic congregation, singing-wise. My playing was fairly bad in terms of percentage of correct notes (the voluntary on the way out was so bad I gave up trying and made sure that I at least approximated one note out of every six in the last few bars - this did not make me feel hopeful about my playing in the evening), but the vicar said that it sounded good despite the woeful lack of tuning displayed by the organ (which is getting so much worse - the notes in the middle are out of tune now, too, not just the ones at the top of the keyboard). When I become an organ builder, that organ will see some changes. Except that I won't be in the area. But I digress.

After the service I had a quick practice session, and established that the pedal board on my organ is in bad shape, which did not come as a surprise. I have obviously been practising in great luxury on the chapel organ, which does not have wobbly pedals; I have been quite spoiled. The adversity is good for me, though - teach me to thrive in difficult circumstances. Eventually. I only played for about forty minutes to an hour, which went past surprisingly quickly (that is apparently what panic will do to me), as I needed to get lunch and my wrist was hurting.

I then went to Marks & Spencer and got a tasty risotto for lunch, which Heather and I heated up in her two microwaves (I know - such luxury!). It was very satisfactory, and much cheaper than eating out. Having checked my bank balance, I was in the mood for cheap.

After lunch I went to the chapel for the final rehearsal. I actually arrived 30 minutes early, which was very pleasing; I knew that the time of the rehearsal had a 3 in it, and sincerely hoped that it was 3.30 (it was) , but couldn't swear that it wasn't quarter to three. I arrived at 3, and got to hang around aimlessly for a bit.

We also rigged up a special system to hold the pages of my book open. I have no idea how familiar you are with the anatomy of a music stand on an organ, so I shall try to describe it to you. In most cases, the stand itself has a ledge on which one puts one's music, and there are four twirly bits of metal that stick up at the front (or lie down flat when not required) to stop the music books from closing, and also to reduce the probability of them sliding off the front of the music stand. The left middle twirly prong on this organ had been snapped off a while ago; as there was still a bit left in place, a new prong could not be inserted. The system we rigged up was very sophisticated - we tied bits of string round, and the music book could be slid underneath it - the string went from top to bottom, and sat on the outside edges of the left and right sides of the music book, so that they did not obscure any music. Genius! (Mis-spelled that on my first attempt...) When I am an organ builder I would very much like to incorporate a similar design feature (possibly optional) into my organs, as it works so much better than the twiddly knobs - it holds the whole height of the music where is it supposed to be, rather than just the bottom, and doesn't obscure any notes or footing marks. I think that those pieces of string will be staying there for a long time!

The rehearsal went quite well. O come, all ye faithful's last verse was rather a large amount of fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I think that I ought to point out that I really love playing the organ sometimes - the feeling that I get when I am playing something loud and beautiful well is in my top three situations which make me feel good (one of the others is riding a horse in a field in summer when everything is going well...). I feel that I have complained about the organ and my lack of playing prowess rather too much, which may have led people to wonder why I bother.

The service itself did not start well; I did not play the first note at all, but started on the second note. This confused me, but I got the impression that nobody else noticed. Perhaps they are not very observant. There were a few other mistakes int he first carol, but nothing major.

After that I lose track of where it went wrong. There were at least two other introductions that I messed up (which is embarrassing as they are the easy bit - for the first introduction there was only one line, which was all played with my right hand), but people still didn't seem to notice. The last verse I was the most worried about went a bit wrong, but I picked it up and got to the end in style (very much enjoyed the second half of that last verse), and O come, all ye faithful's last verse had its moments (although not as good as in the rehearsal). All in all, my playing was mostly very good, with a liberal sprinkling of dodgy notes. I am glad that my teacher, Dave the Organist, was not there; he would have had many words to say about the quality of my playing, and they would certainly not all have been good. Now he can have the second-hand report, in which many of the dodgy notes never appeared.

Everyone I spoke to seemed to think that it went very well, so I think that I can conclude that I did not embarrass myself, and that none of the mistakes I made actually mattered. You know, it has just occurred to me that I achieved something**** - I successfully prepared a whole load of pieces in under five weeks (mostly in under three weeks), with pedals in many cases, and played them with lots of people to distract me. One piece had pedals throughout. I did lots of organist things, such as changing stops and opening and closing the swell box. Yay! I think that it will have done me a lot of good.

The parents and Anne came to listen - quite a long journey for a service lasting an hour, but I suppose that they don't get the opportunity to listen to me playing the organ very often. Nana wanted to come too, apparently, but Mother didn't think that she would be up to it - she walked to the village and back yesterday. There is not a problem, but back is uphill. I was impressed that she managed that, but slightly less so when I heard that Mother had gone with her - I had got the impression that she had gone to the village, then spontaneously navigated back to the house. Nonetheless that amount of walking is very good and very promising, depending on what one wants to be promised. I shall have to borrow Dave's organ and play for Nana some time over Christmas. Perhaps after a service so it isn't so deathly cold.

So that was it. Next year I shall be much better. And possibly located in a different area of the country altogether. Now I must put my newly improved skills to use and learn some of that music I bought in Oxford last weekend. It is supposed to be relatively simple, so I have high hopes.

*With the exception of the last chord - I have been confident with the last chord for a long time, and can reliably play it to an acceptable standard with acceptable timing, even when I fail to get any other notes right. It's just a talent that I have.

**Is the fact that I do not learn and modify my behaviour evidence that I am a bit thick, or just further evidence to support the theory that I am bone idle and need a kick up the backside?*** It's times like this which make me glad that I do not like my mattress much - imagine the trouble I would have if my bed were particularly comfortable!

***I realise that I did not cover every possibility here - there is not really enough information to allow you to come up with a working hypothesis. As such, there is no need for you to answer this question. Especially as I am not convinced that I want to know the answer. Ooh - another theory - I need more sleep! Then perhaps I would stop writing utter gibberish.

****I think it just occurred to me because I was so fixated on how it was probably all going to go wrong - I didn't even consider it going right as a possibility.


Drake said...

Hey! I am glad to hear it didn't go ALL badly ;D

I think as a musician, one tends to hear your own mistakes very clearly while the audience doesn't always notice, because we know which notes we were supposed to have played and not necissarily that it sounded bad.

Although I couldn't get the theory down, I did learn a lot from piano lessons, including "Muddle on!", meaning that if you make a mistake, carry on with the piece, don't just stop. It's making a mistake sound good that is sometimes the challenge ;D.

I understand what you said about the music stand on the organ and yes, real Genius :D.

I wonder... Maybe we can fly you down to S.A. to give our organ a once over once you are a certified builder ;D It's in dire need of a service. The other day, one of the congregation asked the lady to play an octave lower as the gents could not reach the high notes and even some of the ladies was struggling. She grinned at him and played a note that made the whole church shudder! He grinned back and said it's o.k. we'd rather strain our voices than bring down the church brick by brick :D

Abi said...

Yes - the most important part of playing with people singing (and most of the rest of the time) is to keep going. Generally I am very good at that, having had a lot of practice. I have not had much practice finding the pedals again when it all goes wrong, though. I continue to gain experience, and will one day be able to carry on after all musical disasters not involving music falling off the stand (and some involving that).

Alas, the music stand solution was more genuis than genius. I think that it works better with thicker, more open (i.e. more well-used) books. I used it with a thin new one (which, incidentally, is a pile of crap from what I can tell so far - probably a waste of money) and it did not want to co-operate. Perhaps the idea needs some refinement.

Perhaps when I am an organ builder I can fly around the world on a mercy mission, fixing the world's unhappiest organs... It is very satisfying playing loud deep notes which shake the church. I don't get much opportunity with my organ, but the one I learned on was great for that!

Lisa Moon said...

Oh, I'm sure it went much better than you give yourself credit for!

As Drake said, one tends to hear/see one's own mistakes overly-largely...

I should like to imagine you on that crusade, travelling about the world, fixing sad, dilapidated organs everywhere!

And, like driving an old 'beater' of a car (as we call them here), once you can drive on something sub-par, you can drive on anything - and you appreciate luxury so much more when you find it!

Abi said...

Ha! I think that I get distracted when the organ sounds as it should - I stop paying attention to what I am doing to bask in the glorious (play along, please) sound, and suddenly it becomes somewhat less glorious.

But yes, I really do appreciate organs which work properly - it seems like a crazy, decadent luxury when they are in tune. My organ is dying a bit more enthusiastically today - the notes are taking a while to sound a lot of the time, which cannot be a good sign...