The venue that gives a musician the most experience and the most inconvenience; the most encouragement, and the most anguish; and the most opportunities to mess up a whole service.
The church pianist and organist (in a traditional worship service at least) hold the power to turn a serious, worshipful service into a laughable circus act. I have seen it done before, and I have unfortunately contributed to it myself, too.
For example, have you ever stood up with your hymnbook ready to sing out a strong “I Sing The Mighty Power of God,” only to have the organist come in at a different key than the piano? The single notes in that beginning phrase is a nightmare to start out in different keys. At least other hymns have chords that blend in the wrong notes…
One time I used the offering prayer to put my big, bulky offertory notebook up on the piano rack. Unfortunately, as I was pulling the heavy thing up from the floor, I accidentally bumped it too hard on the music rack and the entire rack crashed down onto the soundboard. In the quietness of the prayer, the crash seemed to just echo through the entire building. More than one jumped at the noise, including the usher praying. From a startling crash to an usher’s voice cracking…there wasn’t much recovering from that. 😉
Another time I managed to sit (yes–SIT.) on the piano keys as I was heading back to my seat in the audience. It’s another whole blog post to explain how that happened…but just know that a lot more notes are played when you sit on the keys, than when you accidentally bump the keys with your fingers.
There was the time I forgot my choir music and the whole church waited five minutes while I ran back to the choir room to grab an extra copy. There was another time when I brought the wrong choir music and began the introduction, only to stop when the director stopped directing to stare at me in confusion. Five minutes later, I was back with the right music. 😀
Oh, and did I mention the time I forgot to come back to play for the choir all together? We have two morning services, and I play for both. I sit through the whole first morning service, then leave for my Sunday School Class after the choir sings in the second service. Except for that one Sunday–I just went to Sunday School right away and completely forgot about playing in the second service. Halfway through Sunday School I had a heart attack and grabbed Abe’s arm with a death grip. I whispered in a panic, “I FORGOT TO GO BACK TO THE SECOND SERVICE AND PLAY FOR CHOIR!” His eyes got big for a minute and then he laughed and laughed. Ohh welll…. The pink slip’s coming! 😉
My final and most mortifying mistake regarding church music took place one summer at my grandparents’ church in Marcus Hook. The majority of members in their church are elderly, and the pianist had some type of health problem making her unable to play for a while. I was home on break from college, and my Mommom asked if I could come a couple Sundays to help out with the piano playing. Everything went great for the most part. Then one Sunday they had a special speaker—-an older, white-haired, distinguished-looking preacher. I played the hymns and offertory then sat with my grandparents. Then.. the preaching started. Maybe it was how late I stayed up the night before, or maybe it was the mono-syllable flow of his voice and lack of main points. (I have to admit…I am used to hand-outs with lots of fill-ins, exciting illustrations, and PowerPoint presentations that display the main points of a sermon…) Anyway, whatever the reason, I found myself slightly day-dreaming and spacey…my mind was everywhere except the service. I could tell it was going to be a long morning as the message seemed to go on and on. I was ready for him to say a final “Let’s Pray” so I could go play the invitation song softly in the background while he invited sinners to be saved. Then my job would be done and I could go get lunch. Finally, I heard those relieving words: “Let’s Pray.” I glanced at my phone and was shocked to see that only twenty minutes had passed. Wow! We lucked out today–a short message! I quickly headed up to the piano and began playing “Just As I Am” as beautifully and emotionally as I could.
Suddenly, I heard the special speaker ending his prayer without an invitation. I started playing even quieter than before, suspicion forming in my mind that maybe I missed something… I glanced at the schedule of the service on my right…Yes, this is the right song. There’s no special announcements at the end, so I think this is right… Maybe I should have went to bed earlier last night, why does my brain feel like it’s in such a fog? Then, the speaker said “Amen,” and turned to stare directly at me. I continued playing softer and then just awkwardly faded out and stopped playing. Why my brain could not grasp the situation, I do not know, but I was still sitting there confused when the preacher smiled and said, “Young lady, that sounded beautiful, but that was just my opening prayer after my introduction. I’ve still got a whole sermon to go before we sing that song.” Twitters of laughter spread throughout the congregation as my dreams of a short sermon and lunch receded and my utter mortification increased. I managed to make it back to my seat and somehow made it through another forty-minute sermon. By the time we made it to lunch I was able to enjoy a good long laugh with my parents and grandparents about it. But I will ALWAYS remember that humiliating moment of realization, that I-can’t-believe-I-just-did-that feeling, that deep wish to go back and erase that decision from history. But alas, since that is not possible, I will continue to always have a most-embarrassing moment to share without even having to stop and think about it. 🙂
Do you have a humorous church music story to share? I’ve heard many from my musician friends, and could probably make LOTS of posts out of the stories I’ve collected. From showing up to direct the choir wearing only a slip for a skirt, to accidentally pressing the demo button on the electric keyboard. I’d love to hear yours, too!
I have to add that there are plenty of inspiring and rewarding moments involved in being a church musician, too. I love playing for my church, even with all the possibilities for mixing up the order of the service. 😉
Within the next few weeks I’m hoping to post some more church music helps–PDF’s of hymn arrangements I’ve made, as well as hymn-playing tips. Stay tuned!