POPPA HOWARD’ S HUMOROUS MEMORIES AS AN ORGANIST
Ref: “ORGANIST MEMOIRS for Website.doc”
Someone once asked me if I recall any amusing or interesting experiences as an Organist. Amongst other things I was Organist and Choir Master at the Kensington Methodist Church for 30 years. I can quite honestly say that there are far too many of these to mention, but I will try and recall just a few.
1: At my very first Choir Practice as Organist, I was introduced to the Choir by Rev: Stan Russell. Previous to
this, the Choir had gone through rather a rough patch with a lady Organist who was a very staunch Baptist. When introduced, Stan announced that I had also come from a Baptist Church. There was whispered mutterings amongst the Choir Members. They told me long afterwards, when they had got to know me a lot better, they had said “Oh NO! Not ANOTHER ONE!!!”
2: I am often asked “Have I ever forgotten a Wedding?” Yes, I have, indeed! , , , , In Rev: Howard Mee’s time the phone rings at 2,55 p.m. while I am gardening in gardening togs and muck up to the eye brows “Is Howard there ?” asks the latter gentleman. Jean replies “Hang on, he’s right here”. The other Howard shouts in panic down the phone “Well please tell him THAT HE SHOULD BE RIGHT HERE!!” Clean trousers and shirt are thrown hastily over the dirt, a quick wash of hands and face, a brush of the hair and a dash to the Church breaking all traffic laws. I get there at 3,15pm, the anxious Bride having been driven around the block numerous times, and I am hustled into the “Organ Cockpit” by a VERY flustered Minister !!
3: Talking of Howard Mee and Howard Davies, Mrs. Mee used to cause much confusion at meetings when arranging special services and plays etc: for which she was well renowned, by saying “Oh, Howard can do that”. Such a statement would be met by a loud ‘DUET’ from both of us , , ,.”WHICH ONE ??!”!
4: I was introduced to the latter “New Minister” (again at a Choir Practice), and someone said ..and this is our Organist”, he put out his hand and said “HOWARD MEE”. I couldn’t resist replying:- “ME HOWARD!!”
5: Again in Howard Mee’s time, at a wedding, he discovered just before the service that, although the groom was of age when subtracting his year of birth from the current year, he was actually 8 weeks short of the lawful requirements. In cases like this, permission must be obtained from the Minister of the Interior. Rev: Mee therefore announced that there would be a short delay while a “Technical Difficulty” was being overcome. In the meantime, our organist would provide some music. Apparently the required gentleman was playing golf and could not be reached, nor could any of his Deputies. The result was that I was still playing (at no extra pay!) nearly an hour later! A very red faced Minister then had to advise those present (a big wedding incidentally with a soloist and other fancy trimmings!) that “THE WEDDING IS OFF!”. The sequel to this incidentally, was that it took over 8 weeks to get the necessary permission, by which time the groom was legally old enough anyway
6: At another wedding, the happy couple had left the church with the intention of emigrating to Rhodesia (as it then was) the next day, and there residing on the vestry table in all its glory was the Marriage Certificate. Fortunately the cameraman (usually rather a curse!) had delayed things, and when I got to the outside of the Church, there was a very frantic Minister hammering on the car windows as the car was actually drawing away from the curb!!
7: At another wedding (why do most funny things happen at weddings?!) the bride sank to the ground in a dead faint. She was gently “laid out in state” along the front pew while I played suitable soothing music (at no extra fee!) until she revived. Stick around, the story has only just begun! The service then continued with the bride seated in a throne-like chair, the groom standing stiffly at her side with one hand on the back of the said chair. A few minutes later however, the Minister (I think it was Rev: Eric Jurgenson) was horrified to see that the groom was toppling over towards him, also in a dead faint and he just managed to catch him and lower him gently to the floor! More background music (with no extra pay!). The service finally concluded with two chairs side by side, there being nothing in the scriptures to prevent such an arrangement.
8: My worst blunder at a wedding was when I heard the bride being “Bag-Piped” into the Church on her arrival. During the signing of the register therefore, I used my initiative and rammed Scottish music down the throats of all those present (e g: Loch Lomond, Road to the Isles, Over the sea to Skye and so on). After the service, the Rev: Herbert Lee couldn’t get to me quick enough, killing himself laughing, “Well done!” he said “That was the band of the IRISH GUARDS you heard., , , , ,This wedding was as Irish as Irish as it could be, you’ll be lucky if you don’t get lynched!!
9: Then there was the completely ruined wedding !!!! A new Alarm System had just been installed a day or so before the wedding and nobody had been instructed how to use it. The ceremony had just started when there was a continuous ear-piecing SCREECH !!!! whereby you couldn’t even hear yourself think. Frantic efforts were made to try and switch the blooming thing off, the Mothers and the Bride were in tears, others in bad tempers were trying to shout above the terrible noise. After about 5 minutes it switched off of its own accord only to start up again a little later. In desperation handfuls of wiring were yanked from the equipment which seemed to have the effect of silencing it permanently. However, Murphy had not finished with us yet, as the Register was being signed and I was playing quiet Organ Music, the doors burst open and in stormed Security Guards with guns at the ready. This of course was in response to the Alarm having been activated !! (I never heard if the Church was ever sued!!!!)
10: Getting away from weddings, I was once playing for an evening service, when suddenly, in the middle of a hymn, all the lights went out. The electricity mains had tripped (due to too many electric urns being switched on in the Kitchen ready for the usual ‘Tea and Cake’ after the service). Being a person “in the know”, I groped my way in the pitch dark along the back of the Choir Stalls, and into the hall. In the meantime, the Rev: Howard Mee gets the congregation singing from memory “Guide me O Thou Great Jehovah” (how appropriate if only he could have seen me!!). I restored the electricity and when the lights came on Rev: Mee announced that we would continue with the hymn that we had started as it supported his message. There was of course no introductory music and he announced this again in a louder voice but this time looking at the Organ Console. My disappearance stopped him in mid-stream and I am told that the look of surprise on his face was something to behold! Just at that moment, however, I was passing just behind him (now, in bright lights, in full view of the congregation) and I could not resist tapping him on the shoulder and saying “Hi! Here I am!!” He nearly jumped out of his skin!
11: Occasionally miracles do come to the aid of Organists believe it or not! During the actual performance of an “Easter Cantata” the Choir had just started to sing “All Creatures of our God and King” which they proceeded to do with great gusto. Unfortunately I had the music of the next hymn ready in front of me which was “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty” AND I PLAYED THIS INSTEAD OF “ALL CREATURES, , ,” This continued for the whole of the first line of the verse, and guess what, , , , , , , IT ALL FITTED TOGETHER LIKE A BACH FUGUE!! (Incidentally I still have this “On Tape” as proof!!)
12: There are times when the Organist and the Minister are both involved in some escapades, like the time when Rev: Ron Gory and Yours Truly turn up at the Malvern Methodist Church for a Funeral only to find the building locked and barred and a crowd outside, which included the Hearse and the Undertakers! The Caretaker had forgotten to open up AND WAS NOT TO BE FOUND when Rev’ Ron went to his house! However a key was eventually located and all proceeded according to plan, with about 20 minutes delay. Fortunately I could not be asked “to play a little something” (at no extra fee) this time
13: What about Organist’s bloomers?….EXCEEDINGLY LOUD noises can be produced at the lightest accidental touch of the keyboard at the worst possible moments. For example, I once stopped Rev: Stanley Pitts in mid-sentence in the middle of the Induction Service of a new Ministers. He looked at me, then at the congregation, then back at me again and said in his loudest and deepest Sergeant-Major voice: “That was QUITE UNREHEARSED !!”
14: I can also tell of the many times of omitting to play the last verse of a hymn. That is not too bad, as the Choir and Congregation start without me anyway. Far worse of course is when Yours Truly starts up with gusto for an extra verse that is not there! Then of course EVERYBODY knows I’ve boobed (and the nearest Choir Member (usually my wife) leans across and hisses “SHUSH!!!”…
15: I can also tell of times of having a fit of sneezing and/or a streaming nose when BOTH hands are fully occupied for the next three minutes or so while I am playing a voluntary for the collection. If my wife spots this, she sneaks along from the Choir Stalls and wipes my nose with her handkerchief (Bless her Cotton Socks !!!).
16: An ongoing difficulty that happened far too often would be when, on a Sunday, the Soloist for the Anthem did not turn up (Car would not start etc: ) and the Choir and Yours Truly would then have to perform something without any previous practice.
17: Oh Yes, and the Rev: Herbert Lee had a mighty fine singing voice and even sang solo’s now and again. It used to amuse us all that when, announcing the Anthem he would say “The Choir will now sing the Anthem JUST AS SOON AS I CAN NIP ALONG TO THE TENOR SECTION !!”
18: I take my hat off to my Son in Law’s quick wit (The Rev: Jannie Hofmeyr). At a Chapel Service at my Retirement Village, Elphin Lodge, on one occasion he was the Preacher (I am the regular Organist) and he announced the next hymn. At that very moment, my Cell Phone blazed out “Happy Birthday to You” to signify an incoming call. Without missing a beat, Jannie said “I THINK THAT IS THE WRONG TUNE DAD !!”.
19: I simply must tell you about the GINORMOUS Wedding in Boksburg Methodist Church when the Best Man did not turn up!!! The P.A.C.T. singers were involved and we spent a lot of time the previous week practicing with the Organ. (Professionals can be a bit of a pain in the neck sometimes. Everything has to be 200% perfect!!). Anyway 3 p.m. arrives and the Best Man is missing. At about 3.02 p.m. he jogs down the aisle in Running Shorts and Shoes. There is a whispered conversation with the Minister and the Family and he jogs out again!!. The Minister then announces that the P.A.C. T. Singers will now perform before the Ceremony instead of in the middle of it. So off we go. (A great success actually), , , , Eventually the Best Man appears, suitably attired and that was that.
The explanation?? A very simple one actually!! Apparently he was waiting for the Photographer on one corner, but due to a misunderstanding the Photographer was waiting on another one. Eventually it was all sorted out by Cell Phones, but when the Best Man got back to the house, everyone had left for the Church and he had no key!! , , , You know all the rest!!
20: What about “REAL Nightmares” ? Here is one I will never forget! Try and imagine the scene, it is a very big Wedding and I am told that there is to be a visiting Choir and my services will, therefore, not be required. Imagine my surprise when two full rows of NUNS filed into the Choir Stalls!! The service began. After a short while, the nearest ‘Penguin’ leant across and whispers “WILL YOU PLAY FOR US?” Without waiting for a reply, a grubby bit of paper was plonked in front of me. To my horror I saw that this is only the words with a single line of melody, very amateurishly written above them. No bars or timing to show how many beats in a bar (it could be Waltz-time, March-time or even Tea-time!) and no key-signature to say what key it is in (just sharps and flats inserted as needed all over the place!). Suddenly the Minister announced my fate: “The Choir will now sing to us”. I played a chord for them to stand up (that bit was easy!) and I played the first few notes singly, like a Flute. (also easy!). . Now the fun began. I let them sing a few notes unaccompanied while I tried to figure out what the composer originally had in mind, then, “playing by ear”, I tried to piece it all together! ALL THIS DURING THE ACTUAL PERFORMANCE REMEMBER ! By the third and last verse I was just about starting to get the hang of it!! I would NOT like to live through another experience like that again Thank You Very Much !!!!!!!!!
21: Another nightmare of gigantic proportions was not at the Kensington Methodist Church, but at the Johannesburg City Hall when (in my “Prime”!) I used to play the City Hall Organ for lunch-hour Organ Recitals and background Christmas Carols for Municipal Departments’ Christmas Parties. On one fatal occasion there was a Soloist whom I had to accompany. Now right across the Hall in front of the Organ Pipes was an ENORMOUS Banner with a Christmas scene painted on it and I had to climb amongst all the supporting scaffolding behind it to reach the Organ Console. Far worse was that I had to play TERRIBLY LOUD for the sound to penetrate through this huge Banner. I could not therefore hear the Soloist AT ALL. The organizers, not to be outdone however, made a brilliant plan whereby I played with headphones on from a “Walkie-Talkie” whilst my ‘Assistant’ at the back of the hall counted into a microphone the speed of the soloist “1,2,3,4, 1,2,3,4, ” etc; and also said “Louder” and “Softer” so I could get the volume and speed exactly right. All went off absolutely fantastically but only up to about half way THEN DISASTER STRUCK, , , IN CAPITAL LETTERS!! , , , Some STUPID IDIOT started telling my Assistant to “HUSH, Have you no manners, can’t you hear that a soloist is trying to sing!” An argument ensued and I was left high and dry without ANY guidance WHATSOEVER ! I had a rough idea of the timing and volume by this time, but did not allow for the soloist slowing down or quickening up or the length of pauses between the remaining 0verses. The end result was that I finished miles ahead of him!! Afterwards a remark found its way back to me to the effect that “The Soloist was very nice but wasn’t the Organist TERRIBLE !!
All the foregoing are, of course, just a few of the “Occupational Hazards”. with which Organists are blessed. , , , O BOY!! WHO IN HIS RIGHT MIND WOULD EVER WANT TO BE AN ORGANIST!!, , , , , , Apparently I WOULD !!!!!_
22: P.S. An Organist friend of mine, Les Peckham, tells a story about a Church Service that was Broadcast on the Radio. They had no sooner started than there was a POWER CUT. !! The Rev: Paddy Glover carried on by Torch Light and Candles were lit and spaced around the Church. Then half a dozen big strong chaps sneaked out and carried a Piano from the Church Hall, quite some distance away and silently lowered it down in the Church. The rest of the Service then went off well.
As Paddy pronounced the final Benediction all the lights came on again! !!
23: PPS. Les also tells a storey about a Wedding when, in the middle of it, the Bride had to go to the Toilet. Unfortunately she wore a very tight close fitting Wedding Dress from head to toe that made her look like a Tree-Trunk, , , , so poor old Les was left playing the Organ until his fingers were nearly worn away right up to his elbows !!!