Monthly Archives: January 2013

Organist brain: You can’t turn it off

So I played zero Masses last weekend, out of town to visit a friend. That meant that for the first time in months, I was a mere person in the pews when I attended Mass.

It was so weird. But I sat back as the Mass, which had a choir, went on. They did a hymn specifically written for that church by one of the relatively well-known composers, though I didn’t care for the hymn, and neither did the congregation, who wasn’t singing it. They did a very pretty meditation piece after Communion. I didn’t, as it happened, know any of the hymns, though one I could fake because it used a common hymntune. The Mass parts, though, I knew well, as I’ve done them at another parish.

Except, of course, I really shouldn’t be analyzing all that during Mass. I should be a person in the pews! Intent on what was happening at Mass. Praying the prayers. Not doing the things I normally do.

But it’s tough. When you have a calling to church music, it’s incredibly hard to turn off organist brain. I have hymns we could sing stuck in the back of my head all the time. I’ve sat up in bed before and had a thought about doing something one way. And I often trawl through all our hymnals and choral books, looking for something new that I could do.

And every once in a while, I get rewarded, as later that Sunday, I stumbled into the music of Luke Mayernik via the OCP catalog. I loved his Holy Thursday polyphony:

And I’m going to use his “Lisbon Carol” next Christmas, because I’ve listened to it some 20-odd times already in about two days and still love it.

This is how you discern a calling from a job, I suppose. I like my day job, but I think it would be a stretch to really consider copy editing a calling for me, even though I’m good at it. But in my church work, the bad stuff, whenever it pops up, doesn’t matter as much. I keep thinking of new ways to do hymns and look for new pieces to play on the organ. And I relish the challenges and rewards of organisting and, now especially, can’t imagine my life without it.

If that doesn’t define a calling, nothing does.


7 quick takes: Eh, take the weekend off

— 1 —

A lot of you reading this will be doing so after I’ve exited for a weekend’s vacation. I’m playing zero Masses this weekend after playing five last weekend, and it’s my first weekend entirely off since I was on vacation in August, so I’m hoping to enjoy it as much as I can. I’ll be driving to and from Indianapolis, so I would appreciate your prayers for a safe trip each way.

— 2 —

Now, I’m gone this weekend, and the other guy at my main parish is out of the hospital (he had a mini-stroke last week) but unable to play. We are the only two musicians at our parish, forcing a scramble to get some fill-ins from around the area for this weekend. Luckily and to my relief, the parish found them. So I can skip town this weekend with no problem.

— 3 —

The NHL is back! Is all forgiven? No. But I do love the Blackhawks, so it won’t be too long before I forgive and forget.

— 4 —

A million praises to Lino Rulli, the Catholic Guy, who told an absolutely riveting, tragic story on the air (though I don’t have satellite radio, I do listen to his best-of podcast) about a friend and his sad end. With no backup or producer in the office because of the MLK holiday, he began a monologue that rivaled what I hear on “This American Life,” minus the maudlin overthinking and liberal guilt. It takes a lot to tell a story like that so completely, especially with no safety net in case he lost it on the air. That story goes in your next book, sir. Well done.

— 5 —

I have no idea anymore what to think about Manti Te’o.

— 6 —

On the awful anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Lifesite dug up this gem on why abortion is wrong from Mother Teresa. I think this is one of the best pro-life arguments out there, because it makes clear the negative repercussions beyond the simple taking of a life. When people ask “how does abortion affect me,” here’s a good answer.

But wait? There’s more. Jennifer Fulwiler, 7QT chief herself, has a barnburner of a column that addresses her pro-life conversion. She had to evaluate abortion on a visceral level and a philosophical level, and eventually reaches this key epiphany: “I realized in that moment that perfectly good, well-meaning people — people like me — can support gravely evil things through the power of lies.”

But wait again! There’s even more, and from an archbishop, no less! Archbishop Samuel Aquila did something I’ve never heard of from a successor of the apostles: he discussed his experience, long before he was a priest or bishop and even before he was relatively religious, with abortion. He knew, from experience, how awful abortion is, and it inspired his pro-life views. It’s a quite powerful message.

— 7 —

There was a thing floating around this week that made sheet music of the way overpaid, overdramatic singers do the National Anthem. But I prefer the “Simpsons” take, all the way back from the very early seasons of the show. Their embedding code is incompetent, so just click here and enjoy.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

A season of emergencies

The caller was upset, flustered.

“My husband is in the hospital. He has had a mini-stroke and will be in the hospital overnight.”

I spent a few minutes seeing whether I could keep her calm. Of course, I’m not trained in this. I’m not a member of the clergy. I’m just a dude. On  the other hand, as it turned out, I was the first person at my church who had answered her phone call, as the priest was hearing confessions and so had his phone on silent. (And checking your phone while you’re hearing confessions, it seems, is not a good idea.) So I talked to her for a little while and tried to reassure her everything would be fine.

Then I realized, as I hung up the phone, that I needed to take action quick. For that call was from the wife of the Sunday musician at my main parish, it was Saturday afternoon, the musician was in no shape to play the next day, and the only way I, the only backup, could fill in on emergency notice was to rearrange my schedule, fast, because I was assigned elsewhere that day.

“Urgent, urgent … emergency…”

This sort of emergency substitutioning has been happening a lot lately, and I don’t like it one bit. For a couple weeks ago, I filled in on emergency notice at another parish because another organist was seriously ill. Last week, same thing for the same organist at yet another parish, with about two days’ notice. (She’s better now, thankfully.) I had to seek an emergency substitute last week when I got so dreadfully ill. And now the other guy at my main parish, a wonderful man (who is, however, in his 80s) taking ill. (Please pray for him, as he’s still in the hospital as of this writing and his prognosis is uncertain.) That’s at least three occurrences, and according to the rules of journalism under which I was trained, that’s a trend and thus, worth a blog post.

Obviously, this sort of thing will happen from time to time. People get sick. Their relatives die. The car won’t start. There’s some sort of family emergency. They strained their wrists from too much air hockey and foosball. Or, as the music director at the parish I had to cancel for reminded me, “John Lennon said, ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.'” (That’s from “Beautiful Boy”; this may be the only time you ever see a John Lennon lyric on this blog, so enjoy it while it lasts.) It happens. It’s just a matter of dealing with it as best you can.

So for this weekend, I switched my schedule around to cover those two Masses, though it meant I had to drive directly from one parish to my main parish, and I got there with about four minutes to spare. (They knew that and were cool with it.)But  I will be out of town next weekend and the other guy is still hospitalized and unlikely to return soon, so my main parish has one week to get all four Masses covered. If I can help, I will. And then I will pray this season of illnesses, emergencies and seemingly everything else under the sun gets finished quickly.

7 quick takes: Plague edition

— 1 —

I’ve been sick all week. Unable to work on Tuesday or Wednesday, working from home on Thursday, and working from home today. And I’m not a good patient. I always feel like I should be doing something, because I’m always doing something. I’m used to powering through when I have a cold, but this is one of the worst colds I’ve ever had.  (I’m in the coughing stage now.) I had to bail out of playing a confirmation on Tuesday, which I hated and apologized profusely to the music director for. I had to cancel a practice, which I never want to do. So the sooner this illness is ova, the happier I’ll be. In the meantime, I had to remind myself about trying to be patient and allowing others to step in when I can’t carry out my duties.

Incidentally, the last time I had a cold (one that was not nearly as serious), I wrote a post on how being sick affects my organisting, which you can read here.

— 2 —

On the bright side, my Kindle Fire came in:

Hellooooooooooooo, baaaaaaaaaaaaaaabeh.

Hellooooooooooooo, baaaaaaaaaaaaaaabeh.

I got a bunch of my magazine subscriptions on there, not to mention one of the pope’s books. And I’m going to read “Moneyball,” which I’ve long meant to read but never have. This will be very useful for those long train rides.

— 3 —

I’ve also spent a lot of this week rewatching the legendary British comedy “Keeping Up Appearances” on Netflix. The show concerns a woman, Hyacinth Bucket (who insists it’s pronounced “bouquet”) who grew up in lower-class settings, married middle-class, and is doing her darnedest to become upper-class, mostly by name-dropping and irritating her neighbors, relatives, and people she was hoping to impress — in the end revealing the downmarket roots she goes to great lengths to hide. There are only about 45 episodes, but it’s a hilarious gem.

“The Bouqueeeeeeeeeeet residence, the lady of the house speaking.”

— 4 —

I’ve had a few good comforts this week to try to help me get through this sickness. I ordered new slippers online, and they got here just before I got sick. And I’ve been happily shuffling around in them all week. There was leftover chicken soup to scarf down, plus some chicken casserole, which I happily call “chicken goop.” My new bed is very comfortable, especially with its heated mattress pad. And Dayquil and Nyquil make the days a little more loopy.

— 5 —

Before I took ill, my friends and their baby came to help me with my secret project (which will appear in less than a month’s time). It is organist-related. In fact, here’s a screenshot of what they took:

youtube screenshot

The full thing will be revealed next month. I’m so excited about it.

— 6 —

Shame on Fr. Z, who has apparently turned birther. Ask yourself: Why is a Catholic priest, especially one who considers himself orthodox, digging into this cesspool? This isn’t the first time something like this has happened, either (in that instance, he was accepting as truth something written by a known sleazeball). At least his combox was politely correcting him, but they need to be firmer. Fr. Z’s dislike of the president (which is understandable) has badly affected his judgment, and that has an effect on the ministry he wants to have. He should apologize to his readers. And conservative Catholics need to be careful that they’re limiting their criticism of the president to things he’s actually done, not things for which there is no evidence.

— 7 —

One last note about my illness: my coworkers have been pretty good about it. They’ve been ever better about warning people I was sick — which is why, my coworker said, someone who had borrowed my chair basically sprang out of it with the hastiest of retreats after she informed him I had the flu. I still don’t have the flu, but doesn’t it sound more dramatic that way?

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

For the first time, too sick to play

I am very, very mad at my body right now.

I have played the organ for more than 14 years. In that time, I have never canceled out on an organ assignment. And I mean never. I once played a Mass with a 102-degree fever because I couldn’t get a substitute on emergency notice. And I’ve toughed out a lot of other assignments.

But I’m so miserably ill today that I had to cancel out on the confirmation I was supposed to play tonight and ask the music director for an emergency substitute. It’s my first cancellation ever, but I didn’t have a choice.

I didn’t sleep much last night (and still can’t, which is part of why I have time to write a blog post). I’m sneezing and stuffed up and headachy and exhausted. I called in sick to the day job, and I don’t have enough in me to adequately play tonight.

I hate this, you see. I pride myself on my professionalism at organisting. I’m always at church well ahead of Mass. I dress professionally and don’t half-do anything. I don’t no-show. I get paranoid over whether I’ve inadvertently missed something because of misreading a schedule. So you can imagine how profusely I was apologizing to the music director, and you can imagine how angry I am right now with my immune system.

But there’s nothing I can do right now, except for try to get some sleep and recover as soon as I can. With any luck, I’ll wake up tomorrow closer to 100%.

“The love I lost…”

A deep, but true, thought from a coworker whose dog died on Friday, posted to Facebook:

“No matter how many years you get with a family dog, when it’s time to say goodbye it never feels like you’ve had enough.”

Not her dog. This is the dog from “Shiloh.”

And, of course, you can sub almost any loved one in for “family dog,” and it’s just as true, isn’t it?

7 quick takes: That’s the question

— 1 —

A lot going on this week, for once. For example, the other night I took the “Jeopardy!” qualifying test online. I’ve been on the contestant pool for the show three times before (once as adult, once for college tourney, once for teens) but never got on. But I know former coworkers who were on, and a friend actually went to California this week to tape his episode(s), which will air in May. So I know it can happen for me, and I sure hope it does. If not, there’s always “Wheel of Fortune,” I suppose.

Want to be on.

— 2 —

I also bought a bed. Got the frame from my mom’s friends who are moving out of town, then broke down and paid $$$ for the mattress set. Adulthood stinks, but since the set was delivered the other day, at least I’m sleeping well.

— 3 —

To give you an idea of how much I hate big purchases, let me tell you this: I was still sleeping on my futon from college, and I graduated 5.5 years ago. I suspect (er, hope) this is common for folks like me who went through a job loss. I’ve saved up money and such; I just don’t like spending money when something can go wrong. Then again, I also bought a Kindle Fire this week. Then again again, I paid for that almost entirely with gift cards.

— 4 —

I have a super-secret project planned that a couple friends and their 6-month-old (whom I’ve written about here) will be helping on. Spoiler alert: the baby will be manning the camera, with his drool serving as a camera filter. Will post results in a little more than a month.

— 5 —

I’m playing a confirmation soon, joined by … piano, guitar, violin and drums? Drummer is a nice guy. Still will be writing a post arguing against drums at Mass at some point. (Don’t get me started on the tambourine.)

— 6 —

As some of you know, I live on Illinois, which has a gay marriage bill in the works that will likely eventually pass. I think Catholic teachings on sex are correct, mind you. And thus, gay marriage is wrong. But though my head gets it, my heart hates it, and the whole thing tears me into a million pieces. From smug liberals like Neil Steinberg calling Cardinal George a bigot (without any understanding of why the Church teaches what it does), to my loved ones who are gay and lesbian, to my workplace that doesn’t give a second thought about gay rights, to the Catholic programming that treats gay marriage as something apocalyptic. It makes the whole shebang terribly difficult to stomach. (I don’t dismiss the religious liberty angle, by the way. A lot of nonreligious people basically want the Church and its adherents punished for following Church teaching, and that’s incredibly wrong.) But no matter how the bill turns out, my heart will be heavy.

— 7 —

It’s been a long week. Let’s just close with one of my favorite “Simpsons” gags:

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!