Thursday, July 17, 2008

A short history

I am 67 years old and have attended the same church for the last 29 years. For about the first fifteen of those years, I played the piano and we went through three or four organists. We handled the entire service, from opening prelude and hymns all the way through to altar service and postlude. That was it; no other musical instruments. Gradually a small band took shape that consisted of a couple of trumpets, a flute, a drum set, a violin, even a tambourine. That ensemble gave way to a synthesizer keyboard, acoustic and electric guitars, an electric bass guitar, and the ever-present drums (eventually in a plexiglas cage so the sound guy could have some control of the blend, which, without the plexiglas cage, was non-existent). I was still playing the piano. Preludes and postludes morphed into reprises of praise choruses.

After one Christmas or Easter cantata that required removing the organ from the platform to make room for a revolving stage (I’m not even kidding), the organ completely disappeared from our services. It went off on organ hiatus and never returned. The terrible end of that particular story is that three or four years later it was cut up in pieces with a chain saw in a case of mistaken identity; another, smaller, broken, useless organ in one corner of the rehearsal room was supposed to be thrown out and the disposer thought the director meant the big organ behind the platform. The chain saw was used so that the pieces would fit more nicely into the dumpster. Again, I’m not even kidding. If you’re horrified, good. So was I. Before you have a heart attack, however, just remember that ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And also that, though weeping may last for the night, joy comes in the morning. Most of the people in the church don’t even know about that particular episode; it was kept very quiet. If you’re not horrified, just what kind of person are you, anyway?

We went through several choir directors over the years (Ministers of Music, I mean, even one fellow who was given the title “Director of Celebrative Arts” because he could play an electronic keyboard smashingly but he didn’t know squat about directing a choir). The last two Ministers of Music, covering eleven years, have been incredible pianists--one left us to get a doctorate in music at the University of Kentucky, and one came to us from a college teaching position--so my role changed to that of rehearsal pianist. I still substitute occasionally on Sunday when needed, and the rest of the time I sing baritone in the choir. We have no baritone section; what I mean is sometimes I sing bass and sometimes I sing second tenor. I sit “on the cusp” of the sections so that I can flip-flop like John Kerry and Barack Obama. The other guys never know what I’m going to be singing.

Eight years ago our choir peaked at 57 members. Currently, we have around 25 singers. I still play piano for most of the weddings (I manage a mean “Clair de Lune” and “Liebestraum” if I do say so myself) and most of the funerals at our church. It’s been an interesting journey to date.

I said all that to say something else, but this post is long enough. I'll get to the “something else” next time.


  1. Good grief! Yes. I'm horrified.

    Looking forward to 'something else.'

  2. What a tale of the changing tastes of American Christianity.

    Yes, I'm horrified about the organ. I won't be passing that story on to our organist. He'd weep.

    Looking forward to the next tale.

  3. Thanks for your visit to my Sky Watch today, RWP. Yes, the sky in the photo is sort of an Yves Klein blue; just like the robes of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and the walls in the auditorium where they sing, if I remember your post correctly. 'Abide With Me, 'Tis Eventide' still pops into my head occasionally -- well, frequently.

  4. Pat and Ruth, thanks once again for reading by posts and leaving comments. The "something else" is not anything dire in spite of the build-up.

    And Pat, thanks for remembering not only Yves Klein blue but the beautiful "Abide With Me, 'Tis Eventide." I have returned to that post often in the evenings and listened to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's beautiful rendition and looked at your gorgeous photographs of sunset. It's my own little island of calm at the end of a hectic day.

  5. That organ story is so awful, it just has to be true. Who could even make something like that up!

  6. So you sing either bass or tenor in the choir...I thought DADDY sang BASS and MOMMA sang TENOR!!

  7. Well, anonymous, in our case Daddy sings either bass or tenor, and Momma sings alto. I have known three or four lady tenors over the years, though--true tenors, who sing "prime unison" with the male tenors, not their part an octave higher.