Playing the Piano as Substitute Organist
Written by Donald Moro   
Monday, 27 August 2012 21:36

As a substitute organist I am often called on to play both the organ and the piano for worship services.  I am comfortable playing both, but have found remarkably different opinions on the use of the piano in the services.

I was thinking about this today as I sat in the congregation at St. Edwards Catholic Church in Richmond.  The organist there favors the piano and has a wonderfully gentle touch.  She plays the organ when certain pieces (like today’s “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow”) demand a more pronounced musical leadership.  People just seem to sing louder when accompanied by the organ.

As a recent substitute at a Church of Christ Scientist, I was asked to accompany a soloist who presented me with piano music to play on the organ.  When I asked the chairman of the music committee why there was no piano in the church, she told me that “pianos were for saloons, not churches.”

I also recently substituted a Presbyterian Church in Richmond, where the new organ sits proudly in the choir loft at the rear of the church.  The piano, however, sits on the ground floor in front of the congregation!  It would have to be a very special event for the organist to travel downstairs, slip out a door, and reappear in front of the assembly to play the piano.

Different churches have different musical opinions, different beliefs, and different customs.  As a substitute organist, it’s not my position to judge.  Rather, it’s my job to adapt to the way they do things, and keep my mouth shut!

Organ Playing on National Holidays
Written by Donald Moro   
Tuesday, 21 August 2012 07:00

I am often surprised at how different churches handle music for services being held on national holidays.  Some churches really get into the spirit of the holiday and want me to play as many national songs as possible.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, other churches want very little national music, and prefer to stay the course with standard hymns and psalms.  One church that I substitute at doesn't even have a flag in the sanctuary!

Of course, whatever I am asked to play, I play.  But I think that the church service is for the people attending it, and if they have chosen to attend because they would like to thank God for their country, then we should honor that request by playing nationalistic songs.  I'm not a theologian, just a humble organist, but that just seems to make sense to me.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 August 2012 08:51
Organist Practice Instruments
Written by Donald Moro   
Tuesday, 14 August 2012 19:23

Hammond C3

How many organists have practice instruments in their homes?  I don't and I often regret it.  I once had a nice little Hammd C3 with a full radiating pedal board in my living room.  The sound wasn't much to hear, but I could work out the pedal playing and that helped a lot.  One day a tornado came through and put a large tree branch through my Hammond!  Incredibly, the instrument kept playing, but the pedals were exposed to water and became warped.


I am lucky to live near a church where I substitute often, so I have keys to the place.  The problem is that this church is so busy that my only time to practice is early in the morning (when there isn't a funeral).  Let's face it, if you want to be a good organist, you need convenient access to a practice instrument.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 September 2012 11:08
Avoid the Pregnant Pause
Written by Donald Moro   
Wednesday, 08 August 2012 06:04

Oops (again).  I played at Catholic mass this weekend and learned that a guest priest was performing the mass.  Normally, when that happens I will introduce myself to him as the organist and ask about a few timing moments in the mass.

Well, as this was my fifth mass of the weekend, I decided to get a Starbucks instead and after returning to the church completely forgot to meet the new priest.

During the mass, we reached the gospel acclamation - one of the points I have found where priests and musicians need to be in sync - and there was silence.  I have found that some priests like to stand up before the music starts, which is my cue to play the music.  Other priests like me to play the music first which is their cue to stand up.  Being the cautious type, I decided to wait.  So did he.  There was silence, for longer than normal.

After the pregnant pause, I decided to give it a go on my own and play the music.  The priest seemed relieved to be able to get on with it.

The moral of the story is to always check in with the priest or pastor before the mass or service if for no more reason than to say hello.  More likely you will quickly get into a planning session on the timings of the mass or service.  You'll be glad that you did!

Time to Practice?
Written by Donald Moro   
Tuesday, 31 July 2012 05:51

In preparation for service playing, how much time do you practice? 

I have a full-time job selling software, and have often found it difficult to spend more than a few hours each week practicing the music for the upcoming Sunday service.  This is troubling to me, because I am not the kind of player that can quickly pick up new pieces.  I have to work for it.

Sometimes I have to make a tough choice of switching to "easier" music in order to keep up the quality.  And to me, the quality of playing is far more important than the quantity or degree of difficulty.  I think that the average musical ear can't really tell the difference in difficulty between most pieces, but the ear surely can tell when a mistake is made.

And so life goes on and I continue to struggle to find the time I feel is required to sufficiently practice for weekly services.  My preference would be to practice an hour each day, or 5-6 hours per week.

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