SOPP474: I work as a musician playing organ in churches for weddings, services and funerals, mostly funerals
Vidas: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 474 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Tim. And he writes:
Well, I work as a musician playing organ in churches for weddings, services and funerals, mostly funerals. So the challenge for me is always staying on top of the work. Sometimes also arranging music choices so that they can be played on the organ.
Obviously, this is a question for Tim when I asked him how his organ practice is going, and what are some things that are challenging for him. So, he’s a church musician obviously, and probably needs to find more time to practice, is what you understand, right?
A: Yes, and also how to arrange the repertoire, how to choose the repertoire probably.
V: Oh, you mean…
A: I think it’s…
V: Choral pieces or piano pieces.
A: As he says, arranging music choices.
V: What does it mean?
A: Well, don’t you remember, when working a church, you had to select what to play? Was it always easy for you? To arrange music or to, maybe sometimes you would choose not original piece, you would have to adjust it to the organ?
V: Yes, so you mean like piano piece or choral piece.
A: Yes, that’s right.
V: Um, that’s I think, so usual for church musicians today. Sure you can work through your organ repertoire in church, but in most cases, requirements are much wider. And sometimes you have to adapt choral music, piano music, music for other instrumental ensembles, if you find that suitable for your occasion. And that’s an extra skill to learn.
A: True. And it’s interesting that Tim’s playing mostly for funerals. So I guess it must be an old congregation that there are so many funerals.
V: Mm hm.
A: More funerals than weddings.
V: Bach would be glad, right?
A: Yes, because when Bach went to live and to work in Leipzig, he was promised to be paid extra for such activities as playing funerals. But apparently he didn’t have too many of them to play, because he was writing to his friend, to Poland, and complaining in his letter that healthy wind is blowing and nobody is dying. So at least, Tim has more funerals to play than Bach did!
A: I hope he gets paid well for them, as well. But definitely, it’s not the most pleasant thing to do, to play for funerals. I guess you might get used to them after playing for many years, but it’s still not the easiest task.
V: Mm hm. Can you select, maybe ten pieces for your funerals, and rotate them, so that you can be prepared for any occasion?
A: I think that’s what you should do, probably. Because deceased wouldn’t complain probably. Don’t you think so, Vidas?
V: Deceased might not be angry with you, but their relatives might be.
A: True, but still, you know, unless there are like some people who often attend funerals just because they like it, and they might notice that, you know, a few funerals, that you are playing the same music over and over again.
V: You mean like funeral crashers?
V: Uh huh. But I think it’s a good idea for people with less experience, with little experience, to gather ten or twelve pieces in your repertoire, and play a number of them in one funeral, and then select another choices but from the same program in another, and rotate them, and then gradually you start learning something new.
A: And I have seen many collections that are used for weddings, written for wedding music, collect for wedding music, and usually they contain lots of arrangements, but actually, I haven’t seen any for funeral, funeral collections, funeral music. Have you seen?
V: There must be.
A: There must be some. But definitely, if you have a couple collections for funeral and couple collections for wedding, I think it’s more than plenty.
V: We never needed those collections, because we selected our own repertoire, or improvised, like a chorale prelude, which would be played on a soft registration would sound very nice, I would say, for any funeral.
A: True. And plus I think a lot of that funeral music might be used in service to (another) occasion.
V: During communion, you mean?
A: Yes. Or offertory.
V: During funeral, your purpose probably is to play in a manner that wouldn’t distract the family in attendance and mourners. Basically, it should be like background music, meditative music.
A: True, true.
V: So, there is plenty of such meditations written throughout ages. As I said earlier about chorale preludes, communion pieces, in later times. Elevations, also.
V: All right. So, I hope Tim will find something for himself as well. And, arranging for music, of course, is a different, separate skill that he needs to work on. I think writing it down is a good idea for beginners who have never done this before.
A: Probably, yes. When I just started to play in church, when I was in the second grade of Academy of Music, I wrote down many church hymns. Because some of them were not harmonized, it had only one voice, and some were written in very uncomfortable keys, and because it was new, all that liturgy playing, it was quite hard, because you have so many things to absorb and to do. So I would write them down.
V: But now you don’t have to do it anymore, right? We are playing a symphonic poem by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciulionis, Lithuanian romantic composer and painter, and from the beginning of 20th century – it’s called “In the Forest.” And we’re playing from the piano duet performance arrangement, but we’re playing on the organ, as an organ duet. Obviously for piano, this texture works just fine. But for the organ, we need to adjust it in many cases. But I chose not to write it down, and do it on the spot. Would that be accessible for beginner?
A: I don’t think so. I highly doubt it.
V: Mm hm.
A: But that’s what we do, actually, because we realized that, instead of writing it down, we better practice more.
V: Right. At our level, it’s already doable. So, guys, we hope this was useful to you. Please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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