Huffpost Weddings
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Mr Pickwick Headshot

Secrets of a Church Organist

Posted: Updated:
Print

I have played the organ for oodles of weddings over many years and felt that with the Huff's new Wedding feature, it is time to lift the lid on the world of the wedding organist.

To begin with, the organ is an unfashionable instrument for the young as almost all are in churches.

And as Tony Blair's PR Guy once declared, "we don't do God," the same is true of many would-be organists, which is why our numbers are so low. There is a sense, also, when I declare that I play the organ that I have confessed to something quaint and vaguely eccentric, like being a keen Morris dancer or a maker of intricate models of famous places using matches.

People need to realise, though, that when you play, for the instance, Widor's Toccata (a famous wedding classic) on the organ, this is pure rock and roll for the organist. It is the equivalent of sitting in a Lamborghini Gallardo on the open road, pressing down the gas and feeling the G-force push you back into your seat, except without the motion sickness.

And when it comes to playing for weddings, all organists like playing for them as there is something wonderfully fairytale about them.

Preparation for a wedding begins with an initial meeting between organist and bride and groom, or bride and bride's mother, which is normally the last time you seem them for a sensible conversation.

When they arrive, they normally (1) have no clue what they want or (2) are living in fantasy land in terms of what they want or (3) have talked to their mum or dad and want what they had.

The "not a clue" set are the easiest to deal with. They can be led through the options and are excited with what they have chosen. The fantasy land set explain earnestly that they have always wanted "For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)" by AC/DC to go out of the church to. I explain that the church does not have a PA system and that it would sound terrible on the organ. This leads them to capitulate to the usual "Here Comes the Bride" to come into and "The Wedding March" to go out to. And the final set are quite safe as the options have been tried and tested at least 20 years previously.

All couples, without exception, forget that unless they are getting married in Westminster Abbey, all they will get on the day is about 1 minute of music, being the length of time it takes from getting from the door to the altar. Thus, "The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba" by Handel, a popular wedding entrance piece (the clue is in the title) becomes a snippet on the day, which when cut off to this extent leaves the congregation thinking that the bridal party is playing a game of musical chairs.

For most couples, the usual hymn choices of "The King of Love my Shepherd is" or "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" will normally suffice, in other words, any hymn with the word "Love" in it. Where couples have strong views, it is normally for hymns which they know everyone will know. Couples want hymns that get people singing irrespective of their relevance to the wedding. Thus, popular anthems (of religious origin) sung by sports crowds are often picked. I have no problem with this for a packed church, bellowing out such hymns gives me my Lamborghini moment as well as allowing me to play the organ at such a volume that I make the congregation's ears bleed.

When the day of the service comes, I arrive 30 minutes before kick off and plonk myself at the organ console. The groom does not recognise me as he is petrified, hungover or punch drunk with saying hello to relatives he has not seen since he was a boy nor is likely to see again. I commence playing the pre-service organ music, which is the prelude for loud talking to commence. The closer we get to kick off, the greater the crescendo of talking and organ music together. By the time the bride arrives, there is a deafening cacophony of the organist playing "Love Is a Rose" by Brahms against the witches chorus of the collected families yattering to each other about outfits, beauty, age, size and what the bride will be wearing.

At the last wedding I played at, it was only the premature arrival of the bride which caused me not to declare to the congregation "Shut up, you noisy rabble, you're in a church, a place of prayer and contemplation -- capiche?" as I could not hear myself think.

And the congregation themselves can become feral, normally the younger age groups. Some years ago, I played for the gay wedding of the ex-manager of a 1970s super group where I had to be restrained from assaulting the children of the guests who were trying to take over the organ. It was a scene reminiscent of The Lord of the Flies.

Weddings, they say, are all about the dresses. From the organ console, the view of the bride and bridesmaids is often so supreme that you have a ringside seat on seeing what all of the fuss is about.

And so, at the recent Royal Wedding, the beauty of the Middleton sisters, the dresses and, more particularly, Pippa bringing up the rear, would have been a pressure on any organist keeping his eyes on the road. In contrast, at the last wedding I played at, when I turned to view the bride and bridesmaids from the rear of the church where I was located, they had each either sat on a small, fluffy white dog before they entered the church or else were adorned with a curious pompom which was more bunnygirl then bridal.

So, remember the organist at weddings. He is watching you. He is making notes. And if that is small dog attached to the back of your dress, you should be ashamed of yourself.