Monday, May 9, 2011

The Pipe Organ: Didn't Realize How Much I Missed Playing

Monday greetings to you all.

Back at the "home office" here in Franklin Park, and so grateful for a wonderful week in Bavaria.

The pipe organ is my first instrument. I studied jazz organ as a child (yes, you can just picture me, the nine-year-old playing the organ at the front of the organ store at the suburban mall; playing songs like "Sonny" and "Midnight Cowbow" and "Tico Tico" to the delight of the hundreds of mall shoppers).

When I was in fifth grade, I played the organ at Mass for the very first time; I played "We Gather Together" at the school's Thanksgiving Mass; played an old and wonderful Hook and Hastings tracker organ in my home parish, Saint Charles, in Woburn Massachusetts, the interior of which is pictured here:

Also in the fifth grade I began to learn Bach and from then until my senior year in high school I kept up with the jazz and pop stuff, as well as the classical literature. During my first few years in the seminary, I would get on the trains and buses in Boston and make my way over to Sait Paul's choir school in Cambridge, for my 7:30 A.M. Thursday morning organ lesson. This is where I learned how to hone my skills at accompanying hymns and chant. The last two years of seminary college, I was a piano performance student at Boston College. All during this time, I continue to play the organ at the seminary and Archdiocesan Masses in Boston.

After fifteen years in parishes with fine pipe organs, I began my work here at WLP in 1999. Not having a full- or part-time "gig" anymore has meant that I have slowly veered away from organ playing. Most parishes where I substitute, or most conferences and other venues where I provide the music have pianos, which I love to play as well. But, I have really missed playing the organ. This is why last week was such a thrill for me. Strapping on the old organ shoes and taking out the Bach and discovering that, for me, organ playing is like riding a bicycle, was so satisfying. There were only about 23 priests on the retreat, yet their voices were strong and filled the chapel at the abbey. And I discovered once again that the foundational support for the congregational singing provided by the pipe organ is really unequalled. It was such a great re-discovery for me. Not quite ready to go out and get a part-time organ playing position somwhere, but I was tempted.

This publishing house continues to be a haven of activity as we prepare resources for the upcoming implementation of the new translation. I have returned with renewed energy for our mission to serve the needs of the singing, praying, and initiating Church.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Scott Pluff said...

I have also found that the quality of the instrument inspires (or fails to inspire) the quality of the playing. My parish has a serviceable but bland Allen organ from the early 1980s. I spent considerable time this winter and spring learning the Lemmens Fanfare to play as a postlude on Easter. But the organ lacks much power or presence in the room, so hardly anyone noticed that I was playing something new over the din of 300 people saying their hellos. I told myself several times that I was learning this piece for God and myself--if anyone else heard it that would be icing on the cake. Unfortunately, it is discouraging to think that I could have just banged out any old thing and few would have known the difference.

Chironomo said...

Hi Jerry;

I too began my organ carreer on a Hook and Hastings in MA... Holliston MA to be exact! It had been moved from a small church in NH by our then Organist/ Choir Director and my first teacher, Leo Abott. I remember as a Seventh Grader seeing all of the parts laid out on the floor of the Church basement as they began the process of re-assembling it up in the loft upstairs. It was really something to see!

Sure, electronic organs are great and all, but every organ student should have the opportunity to spend their Saturday mornings helping their teacher tweak the tuning of a 100+ year old organ...

David Bonofiglio said...

If you like TIco TIco, get hip to this: