Sunday, June 22, 2008

A short story about a church organist

drawing by Gerald Hoffnung.

from w
If you don't like the story, then just blame my irreverence on the Winter Solstice, though I did write this a while ago. It is fiction of course though I have met a few church organists in my time and know the sometimes awkward moments in the power struggle between music-makers and clergy!

In a Minor Key

In St Hilda's church in Geelong there is a Heritage listed pipe organ with two manuals and a pedal board, and seventy-six voiced stops. The current organist is Mr Ebenezer (Ben) D'Buhl who is seventy-two years, lean, with a fine head of white hair, and he resembles Einstein. When he plays, his hair flops and moves with the music. He is a musician par excellence, some of the parishioners say.

When Rev Jeremy Honey, a young, stylish minister arrives, there is a stirring, a puzzling shift, because Jeremy decides to use guitars and a drum set, and, heaven forbid, there is a computer and powerpoint presentation each Sunday!

The members of the congregation have a cuppa out in the garden after Sunday worship each week where there are tables - an urn, coffee, tea, plain biscuits. Ben usually joins in, though he is really a private sort of man.

Over the morning tea, Jeremy, who calls a spade a spade, says, 'Ben, I have some good news for you. The pipe organ can have a rest for six weeks and you can take a holiday.'

Ben sneezes into his Irish Breakfast and Harriet Aspidistra has to lend him her handkerchief.

Three days later, Ben writes a letter amid huffs and shouts to the air, 'Never have I been told to take a break!' He hands two letters with a flourish to Rev Jeremy, one for the Council, the other cc. to Rev. Jeremy Honey. Ben turns on his heel, and walks elegantly towards his car.

Jeremy starts reading.

I have been the organist in this church for thirty years. Over that time I have seen seven ministers come and go, some co-operative and musically inclined, others who have given me full reign, but others, including this present incumbent, do not appreciate the majesty and possibilities of this excellent instrument..

Jeremy notices that Ben has spelt 'reign' wrongly, a Freudian slip.

Ben's first meeting with the new minister had been over instant coffee in the manse. Ben had told Julian that he once studied at the Melbourne Conservatorium, then for two years in Paris, in fact with the organist at The Madeleine Chapel where Saint Saens and Faure were once organists.

Jeremy soon realised that the organist had strong views about 'those novices who are really pianists' and 'have a go at the organ, only using the foot pedal-board for the last verse of a hymn!' It seems that Ben shuns organists who play jazzy or folk style Christian songs on the pipe-organ, calling that 'sacrilegious’ on the God given musical instrument!

At first Ben and Claire, the newly appointed choir director, had got along, but the friendliness diminished, perhaps when Claire made a ridiculous remark. Ben was playing a recessional, a Toccato by Widor, quite a flight of music, exhilarating, a kind of ripple effect with numerous notes as his small feet danced on the pedal board. Claire had said, in his hearing, 'Hot stuff! I think Mr D'Buhl is having an….. er... sexual episode!' Ben nearly freaked out. He's never been married and… well, he's a lonely man. 'What a mischievous thing to say! How dare you!' He had rolled his eyes and swept away muttering, 'It is not earthly music. It is heaven orientated. You have misunderstood the music of the great Charles Marie Widor!'

Jeremy reads the letter.

I am writing this letter to the Parish Council because I am dismayed at what is occurring in our Sunday worship and at the Wednesday so-called ‘Holy Intimacy’ hour. I have been pushed aside by the Rev. Jeremy Honey and his consort, Ms Claire 'somebody'. Both are using all kinds of secular rock and roll music to lead our parishioners and visitors up a strange path indeed! There is no decorum, no order, no tradition which has served us well.

I was astonished when the Reverend Honey requested that I take leave for six weeks so that other musicians can play - some students at the TAFE college and Deakin. So I am writing to you, the esteemed members of the Council, to overturn the request that I take leave. I have only missed seven Sunday’s worship in the past five years, due to bronchitis I might add, and I am certainly not a sick man at present.

A second point to consider: My remuneration has been at the rate of $70 per service and I would like that increased to $80 as the purchase of music is quite expensive these days.

A third point: There is a need for the organ to be serviced in the next two months as the Diapason stop on the Swell is irregular.

Yours in musical service to the parish,

Ebenezer D'Buhl
A MusA B Mus. M Mus. Collegiate of Magdalen Chapel, Paris.

Rev Jeremy Honey pockets his copy, and pops the second letter in the church box in the narthex for someone in the Council to find. There is no hurry.

Three weeks later, an unfortunate street accident lands Ben in hospital and he dies prematurely. Three of his musical acquaintances all demand the honour of playing the pipe organ for his funeral at St Hildas: Miss Priscilla Manang, Dr Arthur Dox, Mr Jonathon Diappe. However, Jeremy Honey can't find the key because it's somewhere in Ben's house. The duplicate, which should have been in the organ stool is missing.
So Rev Honey organises a guitar and drum kit to accompany the final farewell to the tune When the Saints go marching in. As the music is playing, the curtain on the back wall suddenly slides across causing brilliant sunshine to fill the church with radiance.

'It's a sign!' calls out Mrs Alison Tupperwere, who tends to be charismatic.

Two months later, Ben's sister, who has cleaned out the shelves of her departed brother' kitchen in his immaculate Boom style house in West Geelong, is spreading honey on her morning toast, when she finds metallic objects in the honey pot. The major and minor keys to the pipe organ are found at last.

Labels: ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi. That the organ is God's given instrument is a load of foohey. The human voicebox is such. Look up Lewis Salms on Youtube. That is Scottish psalm singing. People go to church to hear God's Word ; not to be entertained.

12:12 AM  
Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

The Scottish psalm singing from Lewis is very unusual - call and response, unique I thought to Scotland but there are churches in USA where there is a similar kind of singing. Originally probably for people who didn't have hymn books. One line is sung by a leader and the congregation respond by elaborating on that line of song. Some examples are on youtube.

5:28 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home