“Seated one day at the organ, I was weary and ill at ease …”
So begins Adelaine Anne Procter’s poem, “The Lost Chord” of 1858, popularised by Arthur Sullivan’s song of the same name.
The lines came to mind this morning. With informality key, our congregation sits and chats merrily before morning worship. Quiet reflection? Best do that at home before you set out! The choir does not process in, and neither does the minister: instead, the Bible is brought to the front of the sanctuary with due dignity during the first hymn. However, this presents a problem. How, when the organ is being played quietly and reflectively, and there’s no other signal to the congregation that the service is about to start, do you notify the congregation that things are about to start.
Today, before the welcome or the first hymn, we began with a prayer. As the first word was uttered, “Lord”, I almost wondered if it would be followed by, “Lord, how can we get Your people here to settle down and stop talking?!” Fortunately, it wasn’t!
Now, the organist has several choices in the twenty minutes before worship commences:-
- Play quietly and reflectively. If you can’t hear yourself play, make sure it’s simple enough that you won’t play mistakes for the acute of hearing to pick up on later!
- Start the way you mean to go on. Loudly, but leaving the very loudest stops for a crescendo in case of emergency. Trouble is, the congregation invariably crescendos with you.
- Start quietly and get incrementally louder. Has the same effect as 2.
- A development of 2 and 3. Once you’re playing quite loud indeed, cut it back to pianissimo. Embarrassment hushes all but the most hardened chatterboxes.
- Think pink, and adopt a beauty-parlour style of music. (No, not the swishy, watery rain-forest soundtrack!) Slow, fairly quiet, S-L-O-W, s–l–o–w–e–r. This isn’t as stupid as it seems. Slow, thoughtful music is definitely calming. The longer the gap between chord changes, the more calming the effect. So long as people can hear the slow thoughtfulness that you’re sharing with them!
- Stop playing. A non-starter. (If you take your bat away, no-one will ask you to play.)
- There is one last tactic, combining 4 and 5. Play fairly loud, but the VERY INSTANT someone rises to come forward and begin the service, cut back to a few bars of something quiet and slow. You have about eight seconds in which to achieve this, including the closing cadence before the speaker begins. “Lord, …” Maybe I should compose a series of pieces, eight seconds long, specifically for congregation-calming? We need a new title for such micro-compositions – I suggest, “Reverences”. Watch out for future developments. There could be original Reverences, and arranged ones. Imagine solemnly playing the closing strains of, “Scots, wha hae” – you might even get people wishing they’d been quieter so they could have heard the rest of the piece!