I play on more ebonies than ivories... That's what we organists do! If you aren't an organist, you may want to skip the next paragraph, because it's going to be BOORRRing.
I am employed by the local Methodist church to accompany and perform on their organ and piano. The piano is a mediocre Baldwin, but the organ is a wonderful Casavant built in 1984. The Casavant builder is in Sainte Hiacynthe, Quebec, and I think they did a wonderful job of putting together a great sound. Full organ is perfect for a church FULL of singers on Easter morning or Christmas Eve. Otherwise, I get complaints about it being too loud (and without using Full Organ). I know that I've interrupted some conversations, and caused some hearing aids to malfunction! What FUN!
What is it like to be relied upon to lead and keep the service going? I try not to think about it. From June through September I was without leadership, relying on lay people to sing hymns, which was interesting every Sunday! Now I have a fine leader who really leads... I have to watch! (Imagine that!)
December is probably the most stressful time of year:
1. Everyone wants to sing carols. Well known carols that they only get to sing once or twice a year. With organ, and everyone else singing away, and candles... You know the ones EVERYONE knows. Unfortunately, there are a few minor places in these carols that written differently than many people "know" them, but you know, the organ is louder so it doesn't matter. What DOES matter is the pipe organ when it's cranked up (and not necessarily loud) is an unforgiving beast. How many times have I stopped playing but came a little too close to the keyboard below, where I've ever so slightly touched a key to hear a gigantic sound announced for all? Or a slip in the head when I've forgotten to push cancel and my foot has touched a pedal issuing forth a nasty blatt! It doesn't happen often but it certainly is memorable! (Last Sunday was one of those.)
2. Organists usually don't play these popular carols more than once or twice a year. So an untimely blatt is nothing compared to stumbling on a chord in a carol! Dang... I hate that when it happens.
3. Cantatas! Yes, every church has the "special program" where who is the star of the show? The director and choir, of course! And who could bring the mood down to a grinding halt? The accompanist, of course! I try not to think about how much is riding on it. In the past few years, I've been playing with other musicians who take on much of that burden, and can cover up a multitude of uncertain notes in my part. But this year, it's just me!
How do I do it? How does one prepare? I'll be writing about that in a few weeks, but I have to warn you... I'm not a pretty picture the day of the performance.