OrganRep Now Coming to You from the Flip Side

It’s been a while – with a lot happening in between.  Last year, Mr. OrganRep and I decided it was time to leave the Left Coast.  (Really, who wants a steady diet of daily sunshine, beautiful people, and trendy restaurants?)  With me as an organist, and Mr. OrganRep as a computer programmer, we decided for me to lead the way with the job search, and search we did.

In February, we bid adieu to Cathedral Lite and were welcomed by The Mount.  My job now encompasses children, Christmas pageants, bell choirs, regular choir, starting a boys choir, and the full compass of joys and sorrows found in of a life in church music, and I’m ready to report on it all!

Coming Up: Lecture on Certification for San Francisco Chapter

I am excited to be a speaker for the San Francisco Chapter’s November “Hone Your Skills” event, where I will present my practical perspective about how to prepare for the Associate Certificate from the AGO.  If you are in the Bay Area, it is a great time to visit Berkeley and be encouraged in the practical arts of accompanying, sight-reading, and service playing.

Help Yourself: Filing Templates

I struggle with keeping all my music in order and knowing how to file it.  Should I combine hymn arrangements and free harmonizations?  Should Leo Sowerby’s arrangements go under ‘art music’ or ‘hymn settings’?  If I am not careful, I am going to waste one of my five questions when I get to heaven on something like, “Where should I file an anthology that has some hymn arrangements, some art music, and is mostly Christmas repertoire, but has a few Easter pieces in there as well?”

At any rate, I’ve settled on the following categories for my music filing.  Using this system, I can file and access all of my library with ease.  It takes a while to get things organized, but it streamlines the process of being music librarian.  The following link is a pdf of my labels that can be printed out on a standard mailing label (1″ x 2 5/8′) sheet.  Hope it helps!


Happy Halloween

Every Halloween, my heart always breaks a little bit.  Somehow, the organ has been established as a Halloween instrument, evoking images of gaunt hunchbacks with pasty skin and fanged teeth flinging back a cape to break into the Bach d-minor toccata.  <sigh>  Yet, each year, I hop on the bandwagon and play the organ for the trick-or-treat festivities with the nursery school hosted by CathedralLite.

This year, I tried a few other pieces to avoid getting trapped into a one-hit wonder Halloween.  I had a group of about 15 four-year-olds, and after the obligatory spooky stuff, I tried out some other pieces that evoked costumes.  I played a pirate song and asked if there were pirates in the group (there were).  I played a ballerina song and asked if there was a ballerina in the group (a princess sufficed).  I am full of ideas for next year: the bridal march, Star Wars theme, spiderman theme and fairy sounds (hello zymbelstern) would round out a program for that age group.  Four-year-olds have an attention span of 45 seconds, and I can play any theme from any action movie for just that long.

So, hook them with the d-minor toccata and then switch to show everything else that the instrument can do.  The best kind of bait-and-switch, and take every opportunity to have some show and tell time with the instrument.

Defining the Role of Church Musician: A Statement of Purpose

As a church musician, my role has two parts: church + music. Usually, the music part comes along fine – there is enough detail and needs within the dailyness of my tasks: practice the left-hand, register, proofread bulletin, rehearse the altos on their entrance at measure 37. However, the church part can be nebulous. Are we spiritual leaders who work through music? Or are we musicians who draw a salary from the church?

Like many churches, CathedralLite runs a stewardship campaign, and this week’s theme connected the concepts of stewardship and mission. Many folks from the church presented a moment about their role in the context of the church’s mission. I presented the following text in the service; it was well-received and the process of forming my thoughts reminded me of the deeper meaning that emerges from my daily routine.

When I tell people that I am a musician, I always hear stories – usually they go like this: “I played violin in fourth grade and then stopped playing in high school. I wonder what would have happened if I stuck with it.” However, when I tell people that I am a church musician, I hear better stories.

I hear about people’s favorite hymns and memories from children’s choir. I’ve heard about the bulletin catching on fire at the candlelight service. I’ve heard about the church which brought a live (and smelly) donkey into the sanctuary as part of the choir’s Palm Sunday processional, and I’ve heard from the person who sings Sunday School kid songs when she is nervous while horsebackriding. In my own experience – my story – I once played a memorial service – the family was calm until I played the favorite hymn of their loved one – the whole family started sobbing. All of these experiences – funny, serious, sentimental, and unexpected – have convinced me that music is a vehicle connecting us with our faith.

St. Augustine says: “Those who sing pray twice.” I have no authority in that area. But – when we sing, we remember words more than if we just speak them. My role in worship is not just about ornamenting the service or providing cover music while the choir walks from the steps to the chancel pews. Part of the church’s mission is to equip our congregants with tools to connect with God, and music is one of those tools. So, when I teach the children a song from my childhood, accompany the choir, talk with a bride, or practice for the service, I am not just filling up silence or taking up time, but making a space for those around me to find something deeper – and in my own small way, contributing to the mission of the church.

Help Yourself: Fall Advertisement Postcard

Postcard advertising musical events for the fallI just finished creating the fall flyer for musical events at CathedralLite – not a moment too soon.  One of the hardest things for me is to remember to do publicity, but it is so crucial.  People have internet, email, newspaper(?), bulletins, TV, facebook etc all competing for their attention. So, you have to work hard to communicate past all of the other noise.

I create these with intention: put them in bulletins, yes.  But also, leave them in the narthex, by the main office desk, give them to choir members so they pass the postcards on to friends.  CathedralLite hosts a lot of outside concerts, so I try to put them in the pews for concert goers to peruse.

Remember, done is better than perfect.  Any advertising is better than no advertising.  I could go on, but you get the idea.

I’ve modified this to a generic version for download as a .pdf.  Specific details are taken out (like events and the words “First Methodist”), allowing this to be used by other music programs as well.

Note if you are into graphic design:  I saved it with ‘preserve Illustrator editing capabilities’ checked, so you should have some flexibility if you are comfortable with Illustrator.  The script typeface is “Reliant” (Limited Free Version) which is available at The photograph is by me.

A Prayer for Musicians

One of my choir members sent this prayer to our choir list today. I appreciate that the theologians who penned the Book of Common Prayer took time to include this “Prayer for Church Musicians and Artists”.

O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven: Be ever present with your servants who seek through art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty, and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Help Yourself: Planning Pages

I suppose I’m picky, but I’ve never been able to find the planning resources that I want. They are either too detailed, or too vague, or have too many spots to fill in that I don’t need. At CathedralLite, we use our denomination’s resources. It’s a calendar with scripture on one side; the second side is about 200 suggestions of hymns and anthems and songs and bell resources. And, we never really use it. How could someone sitting at ReligionCo better understand the hymns my congregation likes to sing, and anticipate the anthems at the difficulty and interest levels of my choir? Not to mention, we’re only on liturgy about 50% of the time. Resources put out by publishing companies are even more skewed to emphasize their offerings. I’ve tried doing the online thing that everyone updates, but the problem is that my computer is not always in the same area as my practicing and music storage.

So, I’ve started to make my own, and I offer them to you as well. I find that I need 2 planners. The first planner is a general overview. I take this to meetings and plannings and refer to it any time I need high-level scheduling. The second planner gets the brunt of my week-to-week details. Hope they work for you too.

They’re available below and also posted on my site under the church music page (look under “Music Planning Sheets”).

Download 4-Sundays-per-page planning sheet

Download 1-Sunday per page planning sheet

Wedding Tales: Something New

I wish I had a grand total count of how many brides have walked down an aisle with my accompaniment.  I smugly say that I’ve seen it all – from the dog wheeled down the aisle in a wagon – to the bride who wouldn’t kiss the groom at the end of the ceremony.

But today, I was surprised with something new.  End of the ceremony.  Glowing bride kisses the beaming groom. Bride takes her flowers and the couple are announced as the new Mr & Mrs.  Happiness and clapping ensue.  Cue recessional: Handel’s Queen of Sheba.  Then, as the newlyweds walk down the aisle, the guests start clapping………* in time with the music *.

Just like the fireflies with synchronized flashing, all the guests at CathedralLite went from random clapping to keeping time with the music of Mr. Handel, sending the couple into married life with communal, bouyant allegretto of well-wishes.

Taking an Honest Look

My husband and I are friends with a Methodist pastor.  He’s an incredible guy – always thoughtful and deliberate.  While visiting over Christmas, he described the music situation in his parish, and made the following comment: “This may offend you, but I really don’t care if we have a regular pianist or organist.  After all, worship is the people’s gift to God, and if the people play the accordion and the spoons, then that is what we should use in worship.”

As a professional musician, it is so easy to jump into a defensive mode about my role within the church.  But then it occurred to me: how many organists don’t have the time or willingness to prepare?  How many church musicians merely do the minimum in a week-to-week role?  (Especially in the context of a minister who is laissez-faire about the music.)  How am I to defend the importance of organ music when so many organists are unengaged with their tasks?

So here we are, with a rather odd cycle, which has no good outcome until someone (ahem….like the church musician) re-engages.  It’s why I made my “Being Better” series.

There are some careers where the world will constantly tell you how important your work is (hello, firefighters).  Unfortunately, church organist isn’t always on that list.  And it is up to us to find within our musical souls the push to perfect our offerings to God and the church with renewed creativity, determination, and grace.