While I have been delinquent/busy/overwhelmed and a few other adjectives lately, I have mostly been skipping out on Stream of Consciousness Saturday, which I once did diligently, but when I saw that this week’s prompt was “organ,” I knew I had to write.
In my younger years, I played the organ. After several years of childhood piano lessons, the priest in our tiny Catholic church asked me if I would learn to play the organ so that I could take over when our current high-school-aged organist went away to college in three years.
So, I learned.
I was lucky that my first organ teacher was very good, so I developed good technique. It was also good that he played in a larger church in North Adams which had a pipe organ, so I got to learn on a decent instrument, even though I was practicing on a not-great electronic at my own church.
I played at my church, first substituting and then becoming our organist my sophomore year in high school. I earned $5 for playing two masses every weekend and $3 when I played for weeknight masses a couple of times a week. I played a few weddings and funerals, too. I admit that playing funerals as a teen was really hard.
My original organ teacher had moved away and I was back to studying piano as I was looking for a college to attend, but my teacher used her connections to get a list of nearby colleges that had good organ/music programs. Smith was on the list and I fell in love with it on a campus visit, applied early decision, and was accepted. I wound up being the only organist in my year and played often at Catholic mass and played preludes and postludes for ecumenical services and at some college events. I used to joke that I had the biggest practice rooms on campus, as I played the three-manual Aeolian-Skinner organ at the chapel and the four-manual Austin in the 2,000-seat John M. Greene Hall.
After college, I spent a couple of years in an assistantship at an Episcopal church and after my daughters were old enough, I went back to playing, mostly on a volunteer basis.
Unfortunately, there was a problem. Even as a teen, I had pain in my right arm. It would come and go, but I sometimes had longer bouts of pain, especially if I played the piano a lot. (I will spare you the discussion of how piano and organ technique differ.) As time went on, I had more and more problems which led to doctor visits, physical therapy, various diagnoses including what is usually called “golfer’s elbow” and eventual surgery. We had hoped that would finally solve the problem, but I developed calcifications which have made the problems permanent.
I have shifted some things that I would ordinarily do right-handed to my left hand to help protect my right hand from over-use and pain. Obviously, this strategy does not work with playing the organ which takes both hand and both feet. If I had been one of those people who was a fantastic sight-reader and improviser, I might have been able to continue playing because I wouldn’t need very much practice time; alas, I am someone who needs lots of practice to play well.
For a few years, I was able to continue some accompanying with the youth choirs at our church, swapping over to conducting as needed to protect my arm. When that parish fractured and we had to leave, I no longer had a reason to continue playing or access to an organ and I stopped playing totally.
Sometimes, it’s still hard. Sometimes, it seems like another lifetime. Most times, I don’t think about it – and then, something happens to remind me, like hearing organ played on public radio or getting ready for Christmas or a prompt from Linda, and I miss it…
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “organ.” Join us! Find out how here: https://lindaghill.com/2018/07/20/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-july-21-18/