A New Opportunity

Funny how things happen.

I had no real intention of becoming a church organist. I had not even thought about it. The closest I came to even thinking about it was during a conversation I had with Scott Auchinleck; music director of both Clen Cairn United Church and the Kanata Choral Society. Scott did a music degree at Bishops University where he became an accomplished organist and one thing that stuck with me during our conversation was, “One great thing about being an organist, you’re always going to find work. It might not pay very well…”

Quite frankly, how many musicians can say that they have an easily employable job skill? I guess all and none. One can always find places to play and then open the guitar case but to actually have a guaranteed weekly salary is pretty rare.

Fast forward to last week when I attended a wedding with some friends from my wife’s office. It was mentioned that once again, Trinity St Andrews Church in Renfrew was looking for an accompanist. They had been able to fill in the position for nearly a year with a very talented young woman who was trying to decide where and what to take in university. She’s a lovely player and singer as well, (also plays the drums!) but the church knew that it would only be temporary but were willing to deal with it. However, she is starting a new program this month and the position was open again.

So I will sidetrack here to give a brief overview of my keyboard skills. I have grade 3 piano from lessons taken as a kid. That’s about it. I can read musical notation, I know the basics of hand position and what the keys do and the pedals on a piano but that’s about it formally. However, I have played all my life. I have a pretty good ear and can pick up pop songs pretty quickly. From playing this way and from playing a lot of guitar I have a pretty good knowledge of chords and basic harmonic patterns so can kind of fake my way through many genres on both keyboard and guitar. However, being presented with a page of unknown music, I will struggle to make it musical right away. Though if given a melody line and the chord pattern I can invent an accompaniment that will sound passable.

In recent years I have tried to improve my reading by playing some different types of pieces. My personal favourite piano musics are pretty much anything by Bach especially Fugues and I have always loved Scott Joplin. I was fortunate to finally get a copy of the score of his piece “Solace” which I believe features at the end of the movie “The Sting”. It’s a really beautiful piece. This type of playing really taxes my limited reading skills as the left hand bounces around but is critical to the rhythm of the tune.

So after the wedding conversation I began to wonder whether this could work out. After all, the Arrogant Worms still get some work and it is generally on weekends so I would miss the Sunday service. Plus, I have no knowledge at all about how to play the organ. Plus, I don’t read music very well. Sounds like I’m walking back to the dugout after three mighty cuts. However, what I do have going in a positive sense is that I can read music a bit, I have a basic familiarity with hymns from my youth, and I am very comfortable with accompanying singers of all levels. I’m usually pretty sensitive to where the vocalists want to go and can try to lead them. As well, I do play a variety of other instruments and am not intimidated by an audience.

So after a chat with the minister and an interview and audition with the committee and the music director I was offered the job. I start in 90 minutes. The first service I will perform is a communion which has twice the amount of playing as a regular service. I think I’m comfortable with about two thirds of the stuff. The rest, well, we shall see.

So I though this might be an interesting method to track my journey. I fully intend to learn to play the organ and to do the best I can with the position. I suspect there will be some bumps along the way. The challenge for today is really to make it seem like I know what I’m doing, even if I make some musical mistakes. I’ll let you know.


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