Perhaps I had ambitions to be an MP - or an undertaker!

Friday, May 15, 2009


This week’s quote:-

Old age is an excellent time for outrage. My goal is to say or do at least one outrageous thing every week. (Louis Kronenberger)


DID YOU KNOW that church organists are not supposed to make any mistakes?

You can be a first-class player and carry on for two or three years without hitting a wrong note, but, if you do slip up, some know-all will come up to you after the service with “What happened in the last verse of the Old Hundredth?” Over the years I don’t think I made many mistakes - at least I can’t recall any specific occasion.

The commonest error for organists must surely be going on to play another verse after the hymn has finished. I remember being in the congregation one Sunday when this happened. The organist started again, stopped when she realised her mistake, - and the congregation all laughed!!! What a shame!

I always said that, if I found myself in that position, I would continue playing for a few bars and build up to a triumphant finish, just as if that was how the hymn was supposed to end. The secret of course is to follow the words as they are sung. This is not so easy if there is no choir, for it’s usually impossible to make out what the congregation are singing.

Any time I had to play in other churches, I always made sure I was given the opportunity to try out the organ beforehand. No two instruments are the same, and an 8ft flute on one can sound quite different from an 8ft flute on another.

I heard about a well-known Glasgow organist who was giving a recital on a newly installed instrument. On this organ the tremulant effect - sometimes very suitable for soft passages - was controlled by a little pedal, and so, when he came to the lovely quieter part of his first piece, he pressed - the wrong pedal, and brought on FULL ORGAN.

Here’s a short extract form a well-known piece played by trumpet and organ. This always reminds me of a wedding at which I played. See below.

Playing at weddings in a different church was always a strain. The most important thing was to keep looking for the signal that the bride was ready to process down the aisle.

I remember one occasion when I was playing an organ in a little gallery, and I had to keep looking down below for the sign. When it was given I struck up what the bride had chosen - Purcell’s Trumpet Tune. I played it through once, no sign of the bride, I played it again, still no bride. I then began to improvise making up tunes of my own, getting louder as I went on. I’m sure the music was sounding more desperate by the minute. What a relief when she appeared!

I often dream I’m playing a church organ. The worst nightmare is when the minister announces the hymn number, and I open the hymn book to find that the hymns are not in numerical order. I wake up in a cold sweat!!!


A few weeks ago I showed a painting by Frederick Edwin Church (1826-1900) and this is another of his - “Mount Katahdin from Millinocket Camp”


Peter Sharp was a Kirkintilloch man who, like so many others, began his working life as a weaver. He later became a travelling book-seller, and gained quite a reputation as a poet. He died in 1886.

This is part of a poem which won him a prize of one guinea from a Glasgow newspaper.


Aye haud on, and thankfu’ be,
Though little be your store;
And labour on wi’ eydent haun’
To mak’ that little more.

Discontent will break the heart,
And tak’ the strength awa’,
But cheerfulness sustains us aye,
And mak’s our labour sma’.

[Aye Haud On = keep persevering, lit. always hold on,
wi’ eydent haun’ = with a diligent hand, mak’ = make,
tak’ = take, awa’ = away, sma’ = small]


WHEN WAR WAS DECLARED in September 1939, the National Gallery in London shut down and all its works of art were removed to safer localities. Cinemas and theatres closed.

Myra Hess the concert pianist suggested that lunchtime concerts could be held in the National Gallery to help boost morale. The idea was approved by the government, and so began a series of concerts which continued right through till April 1946. Artistes gave their services free, admission was one shilling (5p) and there was no charge for members of the armed services.

Many of the concerts were heard on the wireless, and it was during one of those broadcasts that Myra Hess played her own arrangement of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”. The piece became an instant success, but out of all the hundreds of versions now available, none can compare with Myra’s.

And here it is.


This is a photo of me, trying to compose something for my HAIKU HOMESTEAD site.

a blank page waiting
for my next brilliant effort -
the perfect haiku

this verse has three lines
and seventeen syllables -
is it a haiku?

searching in vain for
seventeen syllables in
three lines - haijin’s block

A haijin is a writer of haiku, and I sympathise with John Cooper Clarke the punk poet from Salford who produced the following -

writing a poem
in seventeen syllables
is very diffic

And here’s what the Sunday Times correspondent A.A. Gill said when asked what he thought of haiku poetry, “Haiku? Aren’t they just limericks that don’t make you laugh?”


To finish this week’s blog, here’s Glenn Miller’s 1940 version of “Stardust”. Hoagy Carmichael wrote the music and Mitchell Parish the words of this 1929 evergreen.



Trinity said...

I admire that you dabble in many fiels and with such beautiful hobbies, I think your mind must be very enriched. Indeed, Zen is hard to understand. If you want to know more about that, you can refer to some books about oriental spiritual practice which is linked to Zen.
Here are two famous Zen poems in the Chinese history, created by the great Huineng, Sixth Zen Patriarch in China, 638-713, and his fellow Zen monk , Shenxiu

The body is the tree of enlightenment,
The mind like a clear mirror stand;
Time and gain wipe it diligently,
Don't let it gather dust.

Enlightenment is basically not a tree,
And the clear mirror is not a stand.
Fundamentally there is not a single thing -
Where can dust collect.

Originally, the head of the temple wanted to appoint Shenxiu
as his successor, but after Huineng
created the above poem, their master could tell that Huineng's enlightment level was much higher. Afterwards, Huineng became one of the greatest Zen masters ever in Chinese history.

The following is a great piano piece

John said...

Yes, Huineng was certainly a great man, especially when one realises that he had been an illiterate seller of firewood! It's interesting to read other translations and the following are the work of Stephen Hodge author of "The World of Zen."

The body is like a bodhi tree
and the mind a bright mirror.
Carefully polish it clean every day,
And let no dust alight.

From the start, there is no bodhi tree
Nor stand of a bright mirror.
Buddha-nature is ever pure;
Where can the dust alight?

I was familiar with the name Keith Jarrett but hadn't heard any of his music. I enjoyed the clip. Thanks.