“There will now be a short interval of twenty minutes….”
there really won’t be…
there NEVER is!
Firstly, we have to allow for the fact that the audience have been sitting in splendid suspension on cold church pews for a good hour-and-a- bit, possibly inadvertently touching thigh-to-thigh with a complete stranger, many now need a ‘comfort break’ in the one single convenience, which is found outside the church in a purpose-built but still inadequate Portaloo cubicle – hired in for the occasion. Each private ‘performance’ takes a good minute-and-a-half, so with an audience of even 50, you only need to do the maths.
The choir, of course, have their own convenient conveniences in the nearby church hall, but this being even a two-minute walk from the church adds to the optimistic 20-minute estimate.
But that’s not it…
What I find difficult is trying to remain focussed throughout this interminable period, so that the second half is as good, or as least not-as-bad as the first. I take as my inspiration some of our foremost athletes and sportspeople who can focus in even the most extremes of pressure and produce extraordinary feats of achievement in the second half of a match. Through months and years of at times almost obsessive practice and personal sacrifice, they achieve beyond their expected goals.
Watch as they show supreme moments of concentration and focus achieving acts of sporting prowess that remain forever etched on our memories. David Beckham with THAT free kick against Greece, Jonny Wilkinson kicking for ‘World Cup Glory’ (2003) , Andy Murray winning Wimbledon & many, many more. Examples of extraordinary people working tirelessly and obsessively to achieve the very best they can.
For us organists, there really are many similarities. Imagine that you are charged with playing ‘Elijah’ or ‘The Creation’ with a choir in a church, where you alone are the accompaniment. That’s one heck of a lot of notes where you have to beef up the chorus, be sensitive to the soloists’ ever-changing nuances as well as trying to be an orchestra. Try to make the opening of the ‘Sinfonia’ in ‘Elijah’ sound too much like ‘Jaws’ and that’s a good start. Remember that most organists are coping with an instrument they first met that afternoon and were then thrust into a full rehearsal with the choir & soloists.
So, by interval time, your brain is pretty much slightly addled to say the least. If you were in a team sport. you’d probably retire to the changing room, argue about whose fault it was that you’re now losing – maybe have a massage, for your legs if not your ego, a team-talk, and you’re off again for the second half.
In the organ world it is SO different. Occasionally, you may be incredibly lucky, and have your own green room along with little plates of refreshments and drinks exclusively for you. More usual though, is that during the interval, you can either join the choir in their dash for the church hall loo, (“just across the field, over the fence, by the river, or you can join the rest of the audience in their queue for that luxury – the unlit Portaloo-in-a-churchyard.
More often than not, you can spend your interval trying to find a quiet corner in the church where you can collect your sanity, ready for doing battle with those semiquavers in the second half.
How nice to get settled, focused and relaxed, but then you are left stranded in the church, only to be accosted firstly by… the choir treasurer.
“Oh there you are, Adrian. Why are you out here, hiding behind the organ? I’ve been trying to find you – can we discuss your fee?”
“Yes, that’s fine. But I was just trying to get a few moment’s peace before the …”
“…Thank you so much for your playing. You know that the choir are big supporters of tonight’s charity – the ML-HC-BDVS – the Myopic, Left-Handed, Colour-blinded, Dyscalculic, Vegan Society. It’s not a well-known charity but we all support Arnold, who’s a tenor in our choir… actually he’s the only tenor, and he just happens to be myopic, left-handed, colour-blind, dyscalculic and a vegan. The charity is rather locally-based at present, and nobody’s sure of how many members they have, but tonight’s concert could really help to put them on the map. They’re going for a meal together after tonight’s concert, if they can find their way to the restaurant.
However ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE is giving their services totally free today for the charity…
… so what is your fee?”
“err… well. This was rather a lot of work preparing for tonight, requiring a great deal of practice over many weeks. My family are also suffering with malnourishment and I was rather hoping for a hundred and fifty…”
“….pence? Yes that will be fine. One-pound-fifty, excellent. But I’ll have to check with my wife, of course.”
So, beaten down by the treasurer you try to find your place of solace, (behind the organ has not worked – so now you have to sit INSIDE the instrument – on the Great windchest. Time to concentrate and focus on the beginning of the second half’s music ).
“Hello. Hello, Mr. Organist?”
(Heart sinks, face is forced to smile…)
“Hello? Yes? Here I am…”
“What are you doing – hiding in there? Anyone would think you were trying to hide away. Are you alright –?”
“Who, me? Oh Yes, I’m fine – I’m just trying to find a place to get some quiet time, to focus on the tens of thousands of notes that I have to play in the second half, without making too many colossal gaffes”.
“.. I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m Ernest Lee-Devoted, the music critic for the Local Advertiser, and I have to say I noticed you were having a few difficulties on page 237, second system, bar 3 in the left hand – the 3rd semiquaver should have been a F#, but you played a F natural, and a pedal F#, rather than a LH F# and a pedal F natural. I just thought you’d like to know”.
“Thank you so much for pointing that out to me”.
BUT…..have you ever been in charge of a choir of youngsters during an interval?
By this, I include angelic church choristers, school choirs, youth choirs but basically…KIDS!
This is by far the worst time to inflict on the adult who is in charge of their second-half performance!
The first half ends and the youngsters leave the stage.
With the focus and concentration they have shown in the first half of the concert, you are confident that they will maintain this throughout the interval and into the second half.
HOWEVER… the next twenty minutes/ half-an hour you are constantly chasing around the churchyard/play-park/ school-ground/ cemetery, trying to make sure that your angelic choristers are not graffitiing, fighting each other, torching or vandalizing the local area, or as is more often the case, storming the refreshment tables, resulting in each treble gaining a huge plate of locally-baked cakes and home-produced sandwiches.
You try to check each singer off with the choices on their plates against the ‘food intolerance permission form’ list and eventually you give up – as you have to deal with the youngest singer who, according to his form is not intolerant to anything, but has just thrown up all over his music folder!
As stated before on my blog https://stmarysorganist.com/2015/11/27/the-messiah-the-interval/, the interval seems to go on interminably with maybe a raffle (with gloriously naff prizes), a talk or some other waffle, and then YOU’RE IN AGAIN! The Organist usually has to GET STRAIGHT IN, often with an impossible introduction to an aria or chorus. This can come as quite a shock – particularly when the choir treasurer suddenly appears at the organ bench with your measly cheque, which nevertheless requires a signature on the receipt, for tax purposes. As you try to sign the invoice, with his biro, one of your digits hits a wrong note. “Whoops!” the treasurer exclaims with great delight as you restrain your left hand from whopping him round his gills.
So, why on earth do we have this interval?
I’m guessing that it’s largely there for our audience, IF there are decent refreshments and ablution facilities available – but alas, for the performers, there may be a more pressing engagement available on a Saturday evening which may be more worthwhile attending rather than the wasted time of the interval. It could be highlights on TV with ‘Match of the Day’ or ‘Test Match Replay’ or ‘Wimbledon Today’, ( to name but three}.
So, please if you are organising a concert which involves young choristers or perhaps slightly-grumpy organists, maybe consider leaving out the interval, and replacing it with an earlier finish, or no interval raffle?
The concert may less rushed and perhaps more balanced?
At least you may get less organists hitting treasurers and singers throwing up over their music?