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Totally unplanned improvisations that went well or not...

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    Totally unplanned improvisations that went well or not...

    Sometimes it's just about impossible to know precisely what will happen in a given service, or to be fully prepared. Take last night, Maundy Thursday service. The pastor kept it simple -- a prayer and greeting, a responsive reading, a hymn ("Let Us Break Bread Together"). Then communion, for which I played "In Remembrance of Me", which is one of my favorite contemporary (1970's) songs, relating so directly and beautifully to the supper.

    Next, she read John 13:3-17, and the phrase in vs 8 jumped out at me: "Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." And Peter's response: "Then, Lord, not just my feet, but my hands and my head as well!"

    Immediately, the old Gospel tune "Whiter Than Snow" leapt to my mind. We never even sing that hymn, as it isn't in the Chalice Hymnal, but it's in the supplementary hymnal in the pews. Lyrics include: "Lord Jesus, I long to be perfectly whole ..... Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow."

    In the moments between the Gospel reading and the beginning of the foot-washing ritual, I thought to myself, "You should play that." So I did, without any music in front of me. I quickly drew the Krummhorn on the great, the celestes on the swell, and a soft pedal, and played the melody against the easily recalled basic chords. Second time through I mashed up the chords a bit, took some liberties with the melody, changed the solo stop to first the flute, then the principal, played phrases on the strings alone, melody alone, etc. The ritual was taking longer, so I switched to a couple other hymns that seemed appropriate -- "O Master, Let Me Walk With Thee" and "Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated," coming back at the end to a final verse of "Whiter Than Snow."

    I don't know if anyone else got the association, or found it inspiring, but it was a good experience for me. Nice to be totally free of the printed page for a while, and to let the spirit guide me, let my mind and my memories serve me well.

    I'm sure there are other improvs that folks have done off the cuff that worked out well. There may be others that didn't come off so well. But it's an interesting sideline of our work as church organists.
    John
    ----------
    Church: Allen MDS-45 with Allen MIDI-DIVISION-II expander
    Home: Allen Renaissance R-230 with expanded four-channel audio and MIDI-DIVISION-II
    Shop: Bunch of organs in varying conditions, some good, some not...
    Half of an incredible two-man organ service team -- servicing all the major digitals in Arkansas churches
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

    #2
    A number of years ago I visited an Episcopal priest friend in Providence, Rhode Island. While we were having breakfast, he got a call from the organist who had become ill. He asked me if I would be willing to play for the service. I had no music with me, but I agreed.

    I do not remember anything that I played for that service, except what I played for communion. This was the era when many Episcopalians were influenced by the pentecostal movement. and I knew that there were a number of those folks who attended this parish. As communion began, I played "His Name Is Wonderful" and people started to sing. While I was not expecting this, it was a beautiful moment.
    Bill

    My home organ: Content M5800

    Comment


    • jbird604
      jbird604 commented
      Editing a comment
      Wow! That was a wonderful choice and so appropriate. For me, it's always the highest compliment when people start to sing along with my communion or offertory music. If they are singing, I know they are listening and actually enjoying the music, that I have truly connected with them!

    #3
    I lead a "contemporary" service every week in addition to the Sunday morning "traditional" service at my campus ministry, although both crossover at times. It's very easy to go between the modern songs somewhat spontaneously, and we do a good job limiting the total amount of material we use each semester so that I'm not often singing a song the room doesn't know. I've managed to start going between songs during our traditional service as well, particularly during communion. A recent mashup included "Seek Ye First" and the Taize piece "Come and Fill Our Hearts" (both in the key of D in our hymnals), and "The Gift of Love" in G, all in the context of a sending off/celebration service for our previous minister. We had so many in attendance above our regular numbers that I ended up going through all three songs before circling around and ending up back where I started!
    '52 Hammond C2 w/ JR-20, Leslie 251 (home rig)
    '58 Hammond M3 w/ Leslie 21H converted to 147 (gig rig)
    '63 L-102, '62 M3, '65 E-182 (repaired / re-homed)

    Comment


    • jbird604
      jbird604 commented
      Editing a comment
      Being able to move smoothly from one song to another is a great asset in playing contemporary worship songs, and it doesn't hurt a bit to do a mashup now and then with a couple of hymns, provided the service allows for that. I used to "tag" a chorus to a hymn pretty often when I was a Baptist, and have done a few of those even in our more formal service. Example: "Holy, Holy, Holy" (in key of D, modulate to E-flat for last verse) then move directly into the chorus of "Holy Ground" in E-flat. Interesting thematic continuity between the two, despite the vast difference in style.
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