The purpose of this blog is to help organists learn and grow so they can better fulfill their calling and magnify their opportunity to play for worship services. As such, when my personal experiences bring suggestions to mind, I like to share them here, so that we can all learn from each other.
I had the opportunity to attend the funeral service for my uncle this morning. It was an emotional occasion, but one that brought a lot of my extended family together for a treasured reunion.
The funeral was held in a beautiful, old mortuary. The chapel was quite narrow, but very long. I ended up sitting near the back with my brother, a couple of my aunts and their husbands. As we took our seats, just prior to the beginning of the funeral, I mentioned that I couldn't hear the organ prelude music from our seats. My aunt commented that she couldn't even hear the organ as we entered, near the front of the chapel. I considered letting the organist (a stranger to me) know, but there wasn't time before the family entered.
Lesson #1 from today: While a subdued organ prelude is very appropriate for a funeral, make sure your organ playing can be heard! If you are playing in an unfamiliar space, it is a very good idea to ask someone to be your ears, and let you know how the organ sounds from the rear portion of the space.
When the introduction began for the opening hymn, I was a bit concerned, as the organ was again very underpowered from where I was sitting. This concern was well founded, as the rear of the chapel finished the hymn a good six to eight beats behind the front of the chapel--and the organist twisted in her seat to watch us finish singing the first verse.
Lesson #2 from today: If the people in the rear of the chapel are singing significantly behind those in the front, it probably means they can't hear the organ adequately. If this happens to you, try increasing the volume by opening the expression pedals or adding stops for the next verse. Remember: Even congregational hymns for funerals need to be supported with adequate organ volume, especially if you do not have a music director. Fortunately, we did, so we had to rely on our eyes instead of our ears for the remaining verses and hymn (the closing hymn was equally soft).
It was a wonderful funeral, and while the lack of organ volume didn't detract from the service, it did inspire me to share this experience with my readers.
Organ volume is very, very difficult, if not impossible, to determine from the console. If your electronic organ has both console and external speakers, turning the console speakers off (there is usually a stop tab that does this) can help you get a better feel for the volume in the room. However, nothing works better than another set of ears providing feedback. And remember--the volume in an empty chapel will be louder than in a chapel full of people, who absorb the sound.
The buddy system isn't just for field trips--give it a try!
Thanks for reading.