I was called in to substitute the music director at a local church this morning. My responsibilities included leading the congregation in the hymns throughout the service, and playing music for the prelude, meditation, offertory, communion, and postlude.
I dug out some beautiful selections that I thought would be appropriate (shout out to my students Taura and Lukas: I included Valse Melancholique and Prelude from Espana) and arrived early enough to get settled, tag the pages in the hymnal, play through the hymns (once each), and circle the spots in the program that I would be playing.
The first service went well.* While playing I thought that this experience would make a great topic to share and demonstrate how many of the skills we develop in lessons are important for situations in which we have limited time to learn new music.
A few reminders:
After the conclusion of the service a member of the congregation came over to speak with me, and we quickly lost track of time. Soon, it was 10:45; time to get ready for the 11:00 service. I grabbed a bulletin from the front of the church and let out a little gasp. The hymns for this service were all different than the first service. I would barely have time to tag them, and absolutely no time to play through them. I began the prelude while concocting a plan. As the pastor led the church in prayer between hymns, I would look at the next selection and create a mental map of the hymn. This exercised another, very important skill for pianists:
The final selection was a hymn in D-flat major (5 flats). Oh joy...
I appreciated all the folks after both services who came over to tell me how much they loved my performance. I resisted the urge to explain what a relief it was that things went well, but instead made an effort to thank them for having me today and wished them a lovely rest of their weekend. :)
*Funny moment: an alarm on my phone (one that I didn't even know that I have!) went off at 8:59am, just as I was finishing the prelude. I finished the piece then dove into my bag to turn it off. I am sure my face turned a nice shade of pink.
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Elizabeth Borowsky is a pianist, teacher, and composer. She is a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music in Piano (Music Teachers National Association).