Contortions 

Yesterday was a masterclass in flexibility.

The winding river of my day was looking more and more like channel country or a delta as the day progressed. To spare you the convolutions of the entire story, I’ll stick to just one tributary.

I’ve been sick for a fortnight or so. It’s been a time of mildly blocked sinuses and sore throats through to great phlegmy boulders and asthma. I received a phone call on Monday booking me to play the organ and sing at a funeral yesterday (Friday). It was a bit of a gamble that I’d be well enough to sing but I took the gig anyway. Money is money and I’m not flush enough to turn it down without good reason.

The job was a little different to my usual funeral playing jobs. Most of the funerals I play for are in my own parish and 99% of them are in one or the other of our two parish churches. Yesterday’s funeral was a 30 minute drive away in another parish. I have no problem with that. However, I’d never even been to this church let alone seen what their sound system and organ or keyboard setup was like.

There were a few other ways that this job differed from the typical funerals I do. None of these things were big or overwhelming in any way. I guess I’m just trying to paint a picture that I was ever so slightly edging further and further away from my comfort zone with this funeral. (Unknown priest, accompanying bereaved daughters in a tribute, unknown acoustics, one unfamiliar hymn, etc)

So, this morning I wake tired and sluggish but slightly improved on the lung front…and slightly worse on the sinus front. Given the choice between singing with bad sinuses or bad lungs I’d choose bad sinuses. You need the lungs for projection and dodgy sinuses could even help with creating a more interesting sound anyway. (Think sexy jazz singer here.)

Leaving things to the last minute as usual, I go and check my music and find that the recessional hymn is not in my funeral folder so I go to add it and realise that it’s been a while since I’ve played it. I’d better have a quick run through. Hmmm…I’m pretty average. I’m hitting wrong notes and I can barely remember the lyrics. Then I recalled I haven’t sung or played this since I did so at my own father’s funeral back in 2001. So, no pressure. No emotional connection. !!!

I race through getting ready, which includes putting my own keyboard and stand in my car just in case the organ or keyboard at the church is either not working or too steep of a learning curve to master in the few minutes I might have before people start to arrive. I finally leave the house a good half hour after I would have liked.

The traffic report comes on the radio as I’m pulling out of the driveway. They run through a laundry list of suburbs and streets affected by a very nasty accident which had happened earlier in the morning. They are all suburbs and routes I might have taken if I had been in a different mood or had the wind been blowing a different way. (More than one way to skin a cat…or to get from A to B.) In the back of my mind I’m thinking “Not today! Please! I’m already late. I hope nobody uses my route as a rat-run to avoid that traffic snarl.”

I was lucky. I arrived in pretty good time – admittedly a good 15 minutes after I wanted to be there but still my standard 30 minutes prior to kick off. The singing daughters see me and ask if I’m the organist. “Yes. Sorry I’m late.” We head in to the church to have a run through their tribute piece.

The organ is a Conn! Oh, happy day! My first church organ that I ever played was a Conn. It’s been maybe 15 years since I’d played one but it would be just like coming home. Hmmm…it’s locked. I spot the Clavinova sitting behind it. Not really my cup of tea. I’ll get my keyboard from the car. I come back lugging all 12kg of security blanket along with my stand to see the Conn’s key had been found and the top rolled back for me to begin. I set my keyboard down and slide along the organ bench to comments from the helpful parish staff, “Oh it hasn’t been played in years.” I lay a finger on a key and press. <CKZKKZCRKCKXXK!!> Oh no! The poor Conn!

Nevermind, I have my keyboard. I position the stand, unzip the case and place the keyboard on it. Now to plug in the power adaptor. Uh oh! A snafu after the last time I used my keyboard saw the keyboard and its power source parting ways for a time. Unfortunately, an endless run of house inspections had me tidying things away in strange but expeditious locations. The keyboard power adaptor was a casualty of the war on clutter.

I have no choice but to play the Clavinova. By now the church was filling up and I just had to go with whatever sound came out. The assistant priest came over to hook up the microphones and get the sound system in order. At this point it was clear I would not know the volume balance between my voice and the Clavinova until I sang the first word of the entrance hymn by which point it would be too late to do anything about it.

I got through it. I knew I would. I’ve never not got through a Mass or a funeral or a wedding or anything else I’ve been asked to play or sing for. I’ve been doing this sort of thing for most of my life. The nerves still prick up a little but not so much. I was more upset that the collection of circumstances affected by ability to be the smooth operator I try to be when I play or sing at funerals. I’d like to think I bring a fair amount of professionalism to my work but yesterdayI looked like a blundering oaf.

Getting through it what it’s all about. Be flexible enough to cope with whatever the day will throw at you. Have contingencies in place and fall-back positions and all kinds of safety nets. And if all else fails, just do your best with the Clavinova.

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