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.

2 responses to “Organist brain: You can’t turn it off

  1. Discerning a ‘vocation’ takes time and prayer. It’s also incredibly helpful to speak with others in a particular calling, whether it’s church musician, priest, husband, religious, etc. Find someone who’s been doing it for many years, and ask them to share insights, but also the high’s and low’s. Then you can make an informed decision on responding to a call.

    The Church always needs good music! Not just pretty hymns, but works that give Glory to God Almighty.



    Craig, what’s the worst part of being a Church Musician?

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