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Saturday, October 17, 2015

Musings from the Organ Bench

I have been playing the organ at our church (formerly South Bend Christian Reformed Church, now Church of the Savior) for about 23 years.  Before that we belonged to a very large Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina with a full-time worship director but I always said that if needed I would dust off my organ shoes and play again. 

Even after all these years, when I am driving to church on Sunday morning, I wonder how I have the nerve to sit down at that organ.  I know it is not a performance; it is leading in worship.  And
mistakes are forgiven or not even noticed--unless they are egregious in which case they do disturb a sense of worship!  Sometimes the mistakes are not mine if the power point words do not change in time for the next stanza or someone skips a part of the liturgy.  I have to be ready to adjust and I always need to be alert.  

Last week I played a chorale prelude by Bach to begin the service and a partita by Bach to end it.  As I played Bach, I tried to remember that he put "Soli Deo Gloria" on each piece he composed and that needed to be the goal of my playing as well.  To my surprise the usual noise of fellowship during the postlude became softer and softer and I wondered if there were more folks stopping to listen.  Our worship director asked me if I looked in the rear view mirrors at the organ to check.  It never occurred to me to do so and it was good that I didn't.  I might have lost my place in my color-coded manuscript!  One visitor asked her daughter why everyone was facing the back of church and her daughter said, "Mom, it's J.S. Bach!" 

Well, this week it won't be Bach.  But I love the music I have chosen.  The prelude will be "Rhosydmere" by Ralph Vaughan Williams--still a dead white male but of the 20th century.  The offertory might be based on "New Britain" (aka "Amazing Grace") composed by Elizabeth Krouse, a woman about my age. And the postlude will be "Rondeau" by Carson Cooman, an organist and composer at Harvard who is young enough to be my son.   It's a bit dissonant but not enough to be disconcerting, I think.

Some of our hymns this Sunday are familiar hymn tunes but with contemporary words.  For example, we will be singing the tune "New Britain" to words  from Psalm  40, "I waited patiently for God." Sometimes that bothers me because I know the words from my youth that go with those tunes by heart.

 However, yesterday I was thinking about the cross so I went to the hymnal and sang some of the old familiar hymns.  I have to say that I stumbled on words like "there a precious fountain, free to all a healing stream flows from Calvary's mountain" or "I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face." They did not  increase my devotional spirit.  Sometimes words are of a certain era and not for all times. 

Music is very important to me in worship.  My doubts disappear when I sing "In Christ alone, my  hope is found" and "here in the love of Christ I stand" or "from life's first cry to final breath."

So I pray for our worship tomorrow morning--for those who lead in liturgy and preaching but also for my part and those who will join me in  music. 


  1. Thank you Mary for this post. I admire that you live your faith every day, you are a model for many people.


  2. Wish I would have read this BEFORE I heard you play this morning...I may have tuned in more. Still, as always, I appreciated your gift to us. Thank you! (And did I hear one of those little bloopers? Not to worry...all is forgiven, and we need a chuckle now and then!)