And Gutenberg Lived Here: On The Eerie Stillness of Choristers, Kir Royale, And Talented Organists On Their Day Off.

This is the time of year when the choristers

of the state supported churches here in Gutenberg Land-

Catholic and Lutheran,

go through a sort of mental checklist-

have we got enough books?

do we have a budget?

if we ask to practice before the church festival,

will they make us clean and paint the church again?

is anyone still around, or are they all on vacation?

and, perhaps foremost,

for the purists in this year of Luther,

can we get by with singing the Beatles this year-

maybe even Elinor Rigby with its tag to church windows,

or do we have to sing Sister Act and the Blues brothers again

because it is,

in some way no one really understands,

linked to Christian worship?

Actually almost anything bright and cheerful is fine with me,

(since we start practicing for the day of the dead in September,)

including a wonderful “summer song”

that apparently no one in the church here knows is actually a drinking song,

or the Scandinavian song “Lord, your love is like grass on the river bank”,

which is so amazingly and unanimously disliked by church musicians,

probably just because there can be no “summer service”


or any other formal event

without it.

Often done as a round,

with handed around wooden sticks to bang together,

or taped up light bulbs with pebbles inside to shake,

and/or with a large conglomeration of youth groups with guitars accompaning-

The result is,

that after their first year of service in the church,

the church musicians start to call it

“Lord, your goat is eating the grass on the river bank”.


But sometimes too much is just too much.

And then there are the Taize meditation pieces-

folk songs meant to be sung again and again,

and again,

and again,

until the entire congregation either falls asleep,

or goes home saying “wasn’t that a wonderful service.”

Except for the grinches who play the organ,

and wait, digging their fingers into the palms of their hands,

for the moment when those two absolutely wrong wrong wrong

chord changes come around,

for the 217th time.

(We actually have a bet on over here, friends and I-

the first one that ends up in the loony bin from Taize

gets the collection of buttons

and ten penny pieces,

dropped into the “for the organist” box

after each wedding.)

Oh, and then there is the stillness of the choristers.

Working with choristers is a bit like working with children at Sunday school –

when they are still,

they are up to something-

like the to remain nameless

(the name appears in the Pentecost story)

choir I had which mixed up a batch of Kir Royale-

a year later it was planter’s punch-

and the star tenor,

who was interning in a hotel at the time,

did the mixing.

With the result that a very heated round of politics-

when alcohol comes out, all Germans discuss politics-

was followed by a polonaise through the altar room,

the head of the finance committee leading the way.

And the fact that we got new books the next year

instead of gowns,

had absolutely nothing,

I swear,

to do with the fact that pictures were taken.

Oh, and since we are talking about the eerieness of choirs,

and kir royale,

there is also a small matter of organists-

especially the talented ones I work with

who, while I am busy doing my singing and conducting bit,

I can admire

usually from a distance,

doing their pedal-pushing,

testing out who has the fastest correctly played finger work,

and laughing,

as they fill the air with marvelous inventive improvisations

on a theme,

usually a psalm,

set by the pastor,

who is apparently unaware

of the soon to come out fantastic hidden references,

like the theme to batman,

the day of our novelty cricket game with the Catholics,

(novelty, since cricket is not usually played over here)

or the 27 unnoticed boy scout songs

in the pedal work of an improvisation

about serving the Lord.

Like I said, the brightest and the best.

And where do they vacation?

If you happen to have the privilege to camp next to one-

home organ on the back of his truck,

or go into a church in a foreign country,

and see a group of five,

all in biking clothes,

special organ shoes in a bag in the bike basket,

pull out huge rings of keys….

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