Unexpected things can happen in the life of a musician. Here are some memorable moments from our MAGO members.
MF: The Monadnock Chorus hired me to play the organ for their Canadian Maritimes tour in 2019. It was a huge honor to think they had faith in me to play sight-unseen organs for concerts with very little time to rehearse. The last stop was in St. John, NB. There was a meeting for everyone after the concert and then we were released to relax around 9:15 pm. We began piling into the ground floor elevators. Someone kept waving passengers in and before you know it, ours was tightly packed in – all fourteen of us and a cello case. The man in front of me pushed the elevator buttons, the doors closed and that was it. The elevator didn’t move. Upon suggestions from many people, he tried every button there was and nothing happened. He finally pressed the Call for Help emergency button and got the hotel desk clerk on the phone. With everyone yelling for help, the man thought it was a prank call. On top of that, the man in front of the speaker had a strong German accent which was difficult to understand. It soon became somewhat funny. The desk clerk said he would put us on hold to call a technician. About ten minutes passed and people were getting hot and steamy. Jokes began to fly. When the clerk called back in, the news was not good. This was a Saturday night and staff were minimal. It would be 45 minutes before a technician could arrive. Passengers did not like this news and said that was not acceptable. One person suggested we sit down. Taking a look around, it was obvious that no one could possibly sit down. Someone suggested we sing to pass the time. Someone shouted NO – it would use up the air! The clerk asked if there was anyone he could contact at the hotel to alert them to the situation. One lady said her husband would be expecting her. Please call his room to tell him where she was. The German man was trying to relay the room details between the lady and the clerk without much success. Finally, it became a shouting conversation from clerk to the lady on the opposite side of the elevator. We listened to the phone call from the desk clerk to her husband. The man didn’t realize his wife was missing! More of us started to laugh. Since it was getting stuffier, I was the only one with music in hand, so I began waving it to create some breeze. One man who felt he had some knowledge about circuitry suggested that sometimes by turning off the equipment, it would reboot the system. Everyone immediately yelled NO! If the system didn’t reboot we would all now be in the dark! There was a minister in the group, so I asked her if she’d like to say a prayer for us. She said, “Yes, I can. Dear God, get us out!” By then many of us were in tears from laughter. When the clerk told us the technician would be delayed, that was the last straw. Someone yelled that this was not acceptable and to call the St. John Fire Department. When we all pitched in with the same sentiment, the desk clerk agreed and made the call. About 20 minutes later we heard the fire truck sirens, heavy footsteps and conversation outside the elevator door. There was banging and prying and a few minutes later they got the door open. Outside the hotel manager was handing out free drinks coupons and apologizing for the trouble. From our perspective, thankfully no harm done and a great story to tell!
MF: It was an anticipated pleasure to see Bob Capron’s prized gladiola sprays grace the Marlborough Church sanctuary each year in the fall. One year there was an extra one which ended up on the organ console. All was fine and lovely until the last hymn when a happy black spider slowly dropped down on its web from one of the flowers – right in front of the music! I am no lover of spiders and my eyes were glued to it as it dangled toward the keys. I prayed to finish the hymn without an incident and thankfully my prayer was answered. It was a very quick slide off the organ bench and an apology to the congregation for not playing the postlude that day.
MF: An out-of-town couple scheduled a wedding with no rehearsal plans the prior evening. On the wedding day an unfortunate incident occurred with plugged plumbing at my house. My husband had the bathroom floor boards torn up and I was helping him insert a snake into the pipes when the phone rang. Yes, it was the minister wondering where I was. I had completely forgotten about the wedding and it was ten minutes to the hour. My husband’s car was blocking mine, so we both jumped into his and quickly backed out of the driveway smack into our neighbor’s stone wall. Luckily there was no major damage to the rear end, so we sped to the church where I threw a choir robe over my dirty clothes, took a deep breath and calmly walked into the sanctuary to play the wedding march.
BS: For many years, one of my older choir members, who was very quiet and unassuming, had this great remark. Every time the minister would announce grandly, "This is the Day the Lord has Made!!!" she would mutter under her breath, "Then who made all the others?" Fortunately, we were way upstairs in the back!
MF: The late Rev. Mary Upton and I showed up for a wedding rehearsal, waited for a long while and then she called the bride’s family to discover the wedding had been cancelled and no one thought to tell us.
DN: I was playing a quiet organ piece at the First Unitarian Society of Middleboro, MA, where the organ is located in the front of the sanctuary. My son, who was three at the time, wandered in, went to the grand piano and began quietly plinking the highest key every three or four seconds. It was all I could do to finish the piece without cracking up! I quickly collected him and returned him to the child care area downstairs. This incident has made me giggle countless times over the past twenty five years!
MF: The evening wedding took place in the Star Island chapel on the Isle of the Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire. A boat had been chartered to carry everyone over. The bride had told me the chapel was going to be open, electricity was available for the organ and the soloist and I would have an opportunity to get in before everyone else did. It all sounded good in theory. In reality the weather was not terrific so the on-board meal and ride were interesting. The walk to the Chapel was slightly drippy and the door was padlocked shut. There was no one in charge to ask about a key, so someone eventually broke the lock to let everyone in. There was no electricity, but lanterns and candles were available which made the atmosphere cozy and nice. Not so for the soloist and me. The only instrument available was an old wheezy pump organ on which I was relinquished to play the bride's request - Kenny Roger’s country western hit “Lady”. It was one of the most horrifying moments in my musical life.
DN: In all seriousness I have suffered three heart events while playing the organ in church. In each the organ was located in the front of the church in plain view of the congregation. What do you do? Get up and walk out in the middle of the service? Unfortunately, to the detriment of my health, I chose to slog through the entire service in two of those instances before seeking medical help. I promised my friends and family that I wouldn't do that again. The third time I did in fact leave suddenly after 20 minutes, waiting until after the choir sang, instead of leaving before the service even though I was already experiencing chest pain. So I got brownie points from my family for doing that but not for jumping in my car and driving myself to the hospital! Think someone is trying to tell me something? Would it have made a difference if I was in the back of the church out of sight? I don't know. Hopefully if it happens again I will make the right choice, and the right choice will be to give up playing the organ!
MF: Our college concert choir performed Faure’s “Requiem” with the Pittsburgh Glee Club. Great pains had been taken to rent the new Allen Digital Organ a week in advance so I could work with my instructor to set up some great registrations on the pistons. The Glee Club was scheduled to arrive in the late afternoon to rehearse for that evening’s concert. Unfortunately we were hit with an April snowstorm, causing a huge delay in their arrival time. We barely had time to do starts and stops in rehearsal before the doors opened to the public. We all left the stage to change and immediately return for the performance. During that brief few minutes of absence the stage crew decided to run power to the organ from a different location. In so doing it erased everything that we had worked so hard to set up that prior week. At the start of the concert I pushed the first piston for the opening entrance and hit the chord. What came out was a horrendous sound of everything possible including four varying vibratos. The director and I shared a shocked moment of disbelief as I scrambled to turn stops off, but I figured it couldn’t happen again. On the next entrance I pushed a different piston and the same thing happened. It was the same thing on the third entance. That was the event which taught me to keep a careful watch on who is working around my instrument. The next year I enrolled in a backstage theater course to find out what happens back there and to bring some perspective from the Music Department.
RW: A memorable Christmas Eve service when a handbell choir member's slip fell down from under her skirt during the piece.
CH: During a Sunday service at the Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church the organ suddenly lost power. Arlene Dart, organist at the time, processed from the balcony down to the front of the church to play the piano and said to the congregation, "The organ may be dead, but the organist IS NOT!"
MF: It was a hectic Palm Sunday with rehearsals galore prior to the church service and I had not found time to use the ladies room until about 15 minutes before the start. On top of that, the church rest rooms were out of order so it was necessary to cross the parking lot to use the parsonage bathroom. Unbeknownst to me, the bathroom door had a tricky lock and others had been forewarned to not use it. Sadly I did not get the message and quickly found myself in a pickle. Everyone was already in the sanctuary, time was marching on and I was alone and across the parking lot with no one to hear my shout for help. There was a small bathroom window under consideration for an exit; however, I had my Sunday dress and stockings on and really hated to try to climb out. People were looking for me in all corners of the church and I was praying hard over the stubborn lock. I was just about ready to climb out the window when something told me to try the lock one more time, and, Behold!, it opened! My lesson learned was to tell someone where you are going if you have to unexpectedly leave the building before the service!
MF: I suppose it’s not kosher to laugh at someone else’s predicament, particularly pulpit supply, however, this lovely gentleman had me in fits during a communion service. I was sitting on the bench with full view of him standing behind the altar. After blessing the elements, he grasped a cloth to wipe his mouth and accidently pulled out the napkin under the bread cubes. Then, as he carefully tried to collect some of them into a pile, his sleeve wiped several onto the floor where his shoes crushed them into the carpet. It was like watching a disaster in slow motion. I wondered how he was going to fix the napkin under some of the bread left on the plate along with adding the pile collected on the altar. Somehow he calmly talked his way through it all, invited the ushers to collect the plates and no one else knew what happened.
Editor: Organists get requests for some strange selections. Here are a few requests for funerals: Take Me Out to the Ball Game; The 2001 Space Odyssey; The Hallelujah Chorus.