The value of 6 years off

I’ve mentioned several times before that I took several years off from organisting. I played very little from summer 2003 until late 2009, owing to college, work, and a desire to, for at least a little while, have an identity that didn’t include being an organist, because I feared this set me apart from others in a bad way. Even though I rarely played Masses, it has ended up being a formative period in my organist career, one that I wouldn’t trade. Here’s why:

Time as a person in the pew

For a while, I attended Mass on, basically, my own schedule. I would go at the time I wanted, instead of whatever time I was assigned. If there was a college football game I wanted to watch or a day out of town I wanted to take, I pretty much could just do it.

Absorbing different styles

When I went to college in Milwaukee, the chief organist at the parish I went to had done some composing for some post-Vatican II music but also held a good sense of the traditional. When I lived in Chicago, the parish I attended had very diverse music, with a High Mass with Latin Mass parts sung by the choir and a Sunday afternoon Mass with a much more contemporary flair. The music director there often did a bit more improvising while still keeping the music singable — something that I find myself doing quite a bit, especially when the accompaniment in front of me stinks or doesn’t contain the melody.

You learn what you do and don’t like, liturgically

I learned I didn’t like songs with African rhythms. At a parish in Milwaukee, I learned I hated people using ridiculously gender-neutral language (“Creator” in place of “Father,” for example). But I grew more appreciative of more traditional hymns, of thoughtful homilies, of congregations that sang joyfully.

Not having to be a really, really public representative of the Church

I mean, we all are. But as an organist, I really am. I am a minister, even if not ordained. Many more people know me than I know them. Whatever faith struggles I had back then, thus, didn’t have potential to be pseudo-public news.

Mind you, I’m very glad to be back at the organ bench. But it’s funny to think that without those few years off, who knows where my skills would be right now?


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