Thursday, May 3, 2012

What Does An Organist Do All Week Long?

Recently someone made a rather odd comment to Gary, our organist at Wekiva Presbyterian Church, that left him scratching his head.  Me, too, when he told me about it.  Since the gist of the comment was that organists only work for an hour or two of a Sunday morning!  Well, yes, I know that is what some unenlightened people think about ministers, as well.  But really, even the most famous musicians on the planet will tell you it takes practice.

Yes, I am reminded of the wonderful story about Arthur Rubinstein, who, when strolling in New York City was asked by a tourist who had no idea to whom he was speaking, how to get to Carnegie Hall.  His answer: "Practice, practice, practice!"  !!!

If you are at Wekiva Presbyterian Church at the right time on several afternoons during the work week, you will be treated to an impromptu concert as Gary practices.  In addition to playing the music he has selected for the Sunday worship (prelude, introit, anthems, service music, postlude), Gary is also listening to how it sounds in the room.  Without getting too technical, all of those round buttons and flat tabs around and above the several keyboards (be sure to look down, there is also a keyboard at his feet!) allow him to make the organ sound like anything from a harp or harpsichord to a calliope, as well as emphasizing many 'voices' of how one expects an organ to sound.  Depending on the composers' suggestions, and his own training Gary (and all organists) choose from a wide variety of possibilities, in order to make the music sound just right.  Every organ has its own personality and every sanctuary presents its own set of acoustical challenges.  So practice, practice, practice, goes way beyond mastering the music itself.

I suppose you could call it "Getting Organized..."  And now you have had your bad pun of the day.

As I say, we who work at Wekiva are the beneficiaries of all of Gary's good practice and planning as we get to hear what he is playing.  I think it is a perk of the pastorate to be able to read and muse upon scripture, plan and write sermons, meet with church members, prepare for many many many meetings, answer phone calls, respond to emails, and so much more, to the background of music that we will all enjoy in a few more days.  Talk about "preparation for worship".

We who worship at Wekiva are blessed by all of Gary's gifts, including the gift of practice and preparation.  What looks effortless of a Sunday morning does so because many hours have gone into the getting ready for it.  That is the plan behind the picture that you see every Lord's Day. 

Down through the decades, I have enjoyed, admired and deeply appreciated all of the fine organists with whom I have had the joy of working on an ongoing basis: in South Bend, Charlie Hoke; in Pittsburgh, Larry Marietta, Hildur Satre Breese, and Don Wilkins, and here in Longwood, Bob Joyner and Gary Galloway.  I also would give a shout out to Bill Rhoads, Helen Buss, Gail Henry and Wilberta Pickett whose organ virtuosity I have also greatly enjoyed, though we were not on the same church staffs together, and to Wm. Glenn Osborne, Joe Lewis, John Dixon, George Tutwiler, Frank McConnell, Dave Eicher...  Friends on earth and friends above...  Organists are rare and wonderful people who have an entire orchestra at their finger and toe tips, a love of music that is inspiring and contagious, and a dedication to God and God's people that is exemplary.  All of you know how very much I love you, each and every one. 

I think it worth mentioning that you can have a sense of the kind of work Gary does beforehand, if you watch the videos made by Rob Charles, an organist from Swansea, in Wales.  He is a charming fellow and plays a very fine organ and has taken the time to make videos of his practice sessions (probably what we would call the dress rehearsals, as they are very polished renditions of hymn tunes and other selections for the organ).  You can hear some of them here, and then if you want to hear more, you just click on his name as the poster of the video and there are lots more to hear: 

Rob Charles on The Conker Organ at All Saints Church in Oystermouth.

I hope there are organs in heaven and that I have a seat where I can watch and hear the organists play. 


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