Church music bloopers! What's your worst?
  • I had a little one today, reminiscent of a Victor Borge routine. I'd just finished the benediction response and the enlarged accompaniment version of the hymnal wouldn't close. It's basically a giant binder and rather clunky. I was trying to close it and switch to my postlude, but I lost my grip on the hymnal and it fell into my lap, forcing the keyboard lid to slam shut with a great crashing sound on its way down. At that point I threw the hymnal under the piano and moved on to the postlude. After the service the pastor asked why there was a delay between the benediction and postlude, apparently he had missed the whole scene LOL.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • As a younger chorister, many-a-time would my music fall out of my folder during Mass and onto the floor, where another (older) choir member would pick it all up for me... I still have the bad habit of keeping too much music in my folder...
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,597
    Some of my choristers hold on to so much of their music, it's like a rushing mighty wind with them flapping pages trying to find the right piece to sing. They are packrats and those music folders are layered like an architectural site.
    Thanked by 1FidemInFidebus
  • @CharlesW: oh boy, so are mine. I wanted to pull the folders out and re-file everything but I've decided to have them put their music in piles on a table when they return in September. Last thing I need is people getting their panties in a bunch because I rifled through those sacred folders lol
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,597
    Hahaha. I tried cleaning up folders once, then they started taking them home so I couldn't get to them.
  • I went dutifully to the church one Easter morning many years ago. The choir filed into the choir gallery, the brass consort and tympanist were there, and we began going through all the festive music in a gladsome celebration of the Queen of Feasts. About half way through someone noticed that no people had showed up and that, but for us, the church was empty. After realising that we had all come on the wrong day I woke up in my bed at about four AM.

    As for those choir folders - I have always absolutely refused to have services and choir rehearsals interrupted, delayed, sabotaged, etc., by people with untidy folders full of stuff that doesn't belong in them or should have been turned in weeks (sometimes a year) ago. My choristers are forbidden to have anything in their folders except a pencil and the music in rehearsal, and, maybe, a kleenex. When necessary I require them to be left for me to 'service', or have regular (monthly) folder 'clean ups'. At the beginning of every rehearsal all anthems are put are put in the order in which they will be rehearsed, plus the approaching Sunday's music will be put on the left side and all other music on the right side. My choristers know that a tidy folder is part of a good chorister's moral formation.

    More about those tidy folders -
    I suppose every choir (it seems that this is required by heavenly [or diabolical] decree) has at least one of those obnoxious altos, manipulating sopranos, air-headed tenors, or dysfunctional basses who takes at least five minutes to fumble disturbingly through his or her folder to find whatever one has announced will be the next item in rehearsal, is shameless in calling attention to him- or herself and taking up precious time whilst creating a preposterous distraction from the business at hand. This is but one reason for my tidy folder insistence.
    Thanked by 2FidemInFidebus Viola
  • Bobby Bolin
    Posts: 391
    There have been a couple times where I went to play the Amen without any stops. One time the cantor seamlessly sung it a capella and another time I got a couple looks because of the long delay.
  • ajplafond
    Posts: 25
    I was playing the Widor Toccata No 5 for a postlude after Mass one Sunday. I had thought I was so smart dividing the music in half and taping each page of the halves together. (Four pages to each half.) It even coincided with a convenient break in the music. When I got to the point where I needed to change the pages, I reached up with my left hand and whipped the four pages off the top like I'd rehearsed. Only problem was, the rest came too. As the lofty heights of the song came crashing down, I managed to pull it together and improvise from what I could remember of the ending. Went on for about a minute. After the piece was over I was complimented on the shortening of the song I had done....took the compliment and ran away. Now I tape the last pages to the rack.
  • NihilNominisNihilNominis
    Posts: 564
    1) Lenten Sunday, so no prelude. Forgot to turn the blower on before Mass (indicator light had long since died). Cantor announced the opening hymn, I depressed the keys, and ... nothing.

    This one had compound interest, because I did not wait long enough after turning the blower on to try again. So, as the pressure increased, the chord bent up to the appropriate pitch.

    2) My usual --- mixing up which manual I've set solo and which accompaniment. I've played more than two lovely flute solos accompanied by clarinets and oboes (or krummhorns).

    3) Not really my blooper, but apparently had a sub once get confused and play "All Creatures of Our God and King" while the assembly, reading off of printouts, attempted to sing, "All People that on Earth Do Dwell."
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • How many times can a cantor miss the same interval? (Didn't happen to, me, but in my presence. )
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,633
    Occasionally I will forget which level of pre-set memory I am on. One Christmas, after playing Willcock's 'O Come all ye Faithful', I forgot to change levels; a bit later I played Brahm's 'Es ist Ein Ros' on the tuba. Luckily, this was just a Christmas weekday (we have sung Masses every day except Monday) and not actually on the day itself, so it spared some humiliation.

    The other thing that happens is the brain turning off, and suddenly I can't remember how a piece goes -- even though I've played it a million times I feel like I'm sight reading. And this can occur during anything from a big Bach Prelude and Fugue, to an accompaniment for Agnus XVIII.

    And lately I've also been attempting to play without stops on, too. I am glad to see others here with the same problem: It gives me some hope that I'm not completely losing it.
  • @NihilNominis: #3 would've been GREAT to experience in person LOL (and totally something I would do)

    @M. Jackson Osborn: You and I think alike...I am way too OCD to allow a mess. I NEED (for reasons of mental health and anxiety) to know where everything is at all times, how many parts we have of each piece, I'm also planning on building a spreadsheet to keep track of everything once the library is completely organized. It's about 75% done right now. They all say "oh this is wonderful it needed to be done!" But I also think they know I'm a little high strung haha

    @Salieri: It's actually amazing I haven't had more serious fumbles. My brain is a total fog sometimes in the mornings. I had a lovely stumble with presets once...I hit one that I didn't even know existed on the organ and had to play the doxology in what could only be described as a "heavy gospel style", awful combination of tremolo, strings, and some honking sounds.
  • Settefrati93
    Posts: 175
    Attempting to play with no stops, "flute solo accompanied by reeds," accidentally turned on "percussion" instead of "celeste tuning" on the allen electronic from the 80s... yeah... oops...

    The Allen also has a great habit of hitting a piston and not actually bringing up the correct memory until you hit it again. (I could hit General 7 and it will bring up some of the stops and not all of them, sometimes some of the stops it turns on are not even in the memory. Then you hit it again and it's right.) That's always really great when switching in between hymn verses (or worse - phrases).
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 876
    I just realized that I responded to multiple threads in a single post. Whoops!

    Here's my 2 cents on the folders + my blooper (as seen in the Communion thread??):

    I keep my music. Not because I'm forgetful or anything. It isn't out of order, as I have a 2-or-so" binder with A-Z dividers, and I keep my propers in the front. I just don't like having to move music around multiple times per week, when I could simply turn to exactly where I know each motet is located..


    This past Midnight Mass for Christmas I was playing an oboe solo, with the organ, of Jesu Bambino. Just as I had finished the 2nd full phrase, the music stand went crashing down and my music went flying everywhere. If I hadn't been so shocked, I probably would have played on from memory. Since the plan had been to skip the 2nd verse, I got it all back together in time to come in at the last "Venite Adoremus" and to finish the piece.
    My mother (who was sitting with my kids) mentioned that she thought I played less than normal (but hey, the last time she'd heard it was a year or so before), but that it all still made musical sense, and that she hadn't heard the crash.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,102
    "the music stand went crashing down and my music went flying everywhere."

    You could have improvised and switched to Tenebrae...
    Thanked by 1Casavant Organist
  • For all my recitals I make reduced copies of all my music so that I can arrange the pages in a row and not need to turn pages, and to save wear and tear on my nice books and not need a page turner.

    At one of my recitals some years ago I began with Buxtehude's great g-minor praeludium. After playing through four or so pages I realised that I had the next pages out of order and began playing from memory - until my memory ran out and fumbling the pages around while playing did not succeed in getting them in the correct order. The only course of action was to stop and begin the recital over again.
  • JL
    Posts: 170
    I once had a terrible case of hiccups during the organ prelude for a Tenebrae service. Also, the Tenebrae service had an organ prelude, but that wasn't my fault. (Technically, I guess the hiccups weren't either.)
  • Funny you should mention hiccups, I had a horrible case of hiccups during a TV taping, of all things. Of course the take with my hiccups was deleted, since the camera crew recorded the audio and forgot the video!
  • Oh man having pages out of order makes me panic, ultimately making the situation much, much worse! I can't imagine losing my place in Buxtehude. Yeah definitely a do-over LOL!
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,597
    I was playing the Franck Chorale No. 3 in a senior college recital. A page slipped off the rack, but my page turner didn't miss a beat. He grabbed it, put it back on the rack, and pointed to where I should be on the page. Love that guy to this day.
    Thanked by 1CCooze
  • henry
    Posts: 217
    Subbing as a wedding organist, was given the key to the loft and went to practice. Afterwards I had time to go outside for awhile, so I left the loft, closed the door, and went out. When I returned I found that the door had locked when it closed and the key was on the organ console inside. The church had no other key. A locksmith from the corner shop came and was unable to open it. "This is the Cadillac of locks" he said. The time for the wedding was approaching, so the locksmith propped a ladder on the marble floor up to the choir loft and sent his chubby son up the ladder to open the door from the inside. The poor kid was petrified, kept looking down as he went up, and I was very embarrassed. Was able to get back into the loft just in time for the wedding.
  • MarkS
    Posts: 248
    I was a nervous young organist substituting at an Episcopal church for the first time. It was summer, so no choir members nearby to help, but I thought I was all set. I had studied the 'bulletin' and the BCP for all the music cues. We went through the service—processional hymn, Gloria, hymn sandwich around the Gospel reading, Offertory voluntary, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, communion hymn and voluntary, and then after the post communion prayer, not noticing something had been missing earlier in the service, I launched into the recessional hymn. The verger (yes, they had one) managed to get my attention, and I stopped, at which point the Rector explained, 'This is where we have the sermon!' Of course it said so in the bulletin, but not expecting it there I had managed to ignore it. (At this church, the kids stayed in church through Communion, and then left for SS during the sermon, which was apparently always rather long.) Afterwards, some members of the congregation laughed and told me they wished I had kept going!
  • narfie13
    Posts: 18
    Father Frank sang in Latin for our Saturday evening vigil Missa Cantata with linguistic and musical sensitivity and accuracy. For example, cognisant of the length of the introit, he would always finsh the incensing of the altar 10 seconds before the introit finished , and have his hands folded ready to start after the dulcet tones died away. But week after week, he added to the drama that is in the Roman Canon. Due to a page turn, he intoned "spem" 4 seconds after "beatam", leading us truly to wait in expectation and blessed hope. All foibles can carry a blessing if we love each other sufficiently.
  • Rehearsal: Insisting the psalmist wait for a silent downbeat only to look over and notice she's singing from a lyrics-only sheet.
    Liturgical: I always tell myself bloopers don't escape a 6-foot radius during liturgy.
    Post-liturgical: Accidentally starting the music before St. Michael's prayer, which got the new pastor yelled at by an irate parishioner.
  • wingletwinglet
    Posts: 40
    I try so hard to not miss cues...the result is that I start pieces solo sometimes at rehearsal.

    How to deal with bloopers? Once a fellow soprano and I visited a Benedictine convent, and when the sisters there make a mistake they kneel down and bow profoundly. (My pastor told me that for major mistakes they might go up to the center of the choir to bow.) Upon returning to our choir we decided to try that for ourselves, but it didn't last long. Some of us do strike the breast when we err.

    Our soprano section must make a lot of bloopers, because there is a hole in the church's ceiling right above us, and every now and then some crumbs will fall during Mass.
  • ViolaViola
    Posts: 358
    Once, playing from memory, I played the introduction to one hymn tune but inexplicably followed it with a completely different tune. I wondered why nobody sang..
    Re folder-fumblers; there is one woman in our choir who is forever flapping about with pieces of paper. For one practice I attempted to forestall this and stapled all her music together in the correct order: first thing she did was painstakingly unstaple it and rearrange it into its usual chaos.
    And finally; once at the Easter Vigil a cantor sang 'The hand of the Lord has NOT triumphed'
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,597
    Then there are the high priest's names the reader bumbles every year, anus and Caiaphas. The choir and half the congregation get the giggles.
  • A few times one of the lay readers at my home church has somehow turned to the wrong scripture reading. She will read almost all the way through, stop, then apologize and turn to the correct reading of the day.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,597
    I always say that the little yellow bus comes from the home and dumps all the residents out in front of our building every Sunday morning. I can't find any other explanation for the crazy things that happen. LOL.
  • Drake
    Posts: 112
    Started singing the Sanctus a second time instead of the Agnus Dei. Caught it a few notes in and corrected it ... but very awkward.
  • mahrt
    Posts: 512
    The first time I conducted a polyphonic mass with my choir, I was concerned to get to the organ to play the intonation of the Gloria for the priest. We completed the Kyrie and I rushed to the organ, played the intonation, rushed back to my music stand and turned the page of the Mass: there was the Christe.
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,456
    I played weddings when I was a high school student. There was a binder in the office which I would check to see if I was the organist for the wedding. One wedding was left blank. I never met with anyone, so I assumed I was not the organist. I was in the neighbourhood of the church, so I stopped in to see who the organist was. Well, it was me. I had no music except the Catholic Book of Worship II. I had no idea what they wanted. I was hardly dressed for the part. I was grateful to be in the loft.

    My first wedding was a call from the priest at the time the wedding was to begin. I think I was fourteen. They were lucky my dad was there to drive me over. It looked like I was late AND had no idea what I was doing. Bad.
    Thanked by 1KARU27
  • KyleM18
    Posts: 150
    As a cantor, announcing completely different songs (The songs the director wanted) than what the organist played (he's nearly deaf, bless his soul).
    Also, as a cantor, announcing the song and then waiting 30 seconds or more before the organist realized he was supposed to play, by which time I had started singing the hymn a capella. He then entered in on the wrong part, and we sang about 3 measures apart, until the end of the verse.
    Thanked by 1KARU27
  • jefe
    Posts: 197
    When conducting the Moravian Church Choir some decades ago, I would always leave the anthem title on the director's stand at the end of the Thursday rehearsal for the church secretary to pick up on her way to the office on Friday morning. Once I had no title so I left a note stating, "I'll call you in the morning". There was some mix up with no call received so I arrived for the service on Sunday morning and picked up a leaflet. Sure enough, the anthem title was, "I'll call you in the morning."
    The Romans and Anglicans don't make it simple. There are so many historically compounded liturgical moving and immovable parts to the Mass and so many minions involved in their small way; all moving on a fixed time continuum, that the chance for foul up is great. Our Priest is what I call, "fast on his feet" and can camouflage any error or omission with grace and elan. That is a very good trait in our business. My old tuba colleague in the L.A. Phil, Roger Bobo, had a term for this: swindlesmanship. Even the term is a swindle. He was talking about covering over any technical difficulties by making you believe he knew what he was doing. That's swindlesmanship.
    In 2010, an historic snow storm swept through our little town on the West Slope of the Sierra Nevada. Very early on a Sunday morning a huge oak tree across the lane from the 1854 church decided to let go and take out a 300K volt power line in front of the church and finally rest right on the sidewalk as you enter the church, knocking out power to most of the town of 3K. Our Priest and entourage simply opened the front doors and left them open with the storm raging and continued on with the 3 services as usual sans organ, power, heat, or many parishioners. It looked like the little ice age revisited.
  • ConradyConrady
    Posts: 3
    Playing the Widor for the conclusion of Midnight Mass a few years ago. At that time, I had two young but excellent organ students. On occasion, I would invite them to turn pages or pull stops for me at the console. This time I invited one of them to operate the "forward" piston which advanced the generals through the sequencer on my cue. This went seamlessly at earlier rehearsals and masses. However, on this occasion, he reached up to the wrong keyboard and advanced the *level* rather than the general. Nothing happened. That would have been fine, but he realized his mistake and frantically mashed the "forward" general piston after he just changed the level to some other registration scheme.

    Mid-phrase, we careened from full organ with roaring 32's to a single gurgling Gedeckt. I continued to play for a few measures while frantic pushes of the "forward" piston by my young assistant brought on a tierce combination, a pair of 8' strings. and finally a warbling Vox Humana with a full-tilt tremulant. At this point, my assistant abandoned his post and ran away to disappear into a sea of faces in the awestruck choir.

    What was to be done? The overflow congregation turned around and gazed in incredulity at the gallery to catch a view of the errant organist, while father stopped his exit at the foot of the altar and turned his head slightly askew at the strange noises coming from the gallery. The baffled, bemused look on his face said it all. I stopped playing. The silence was deafening. I smiled at the choir, shrugged my shoulders, reset my combination and started over again. The toccata roared to a mighty conclusion as the congregation broke into a spontaneous ovation. Everyone was most appreciative and good-natured afterwards. I never mentioned my assistant's foible to people who inquired afterwards- just said there was a problem with the organ.
  • Poor fellow, your assistant - he probably wished himself invisible!
    What spice to the annals of church music are tales such as those shared above.
    Thanked by 1Conrady
  • Conrady,

    What part of the southern United States do you call home? I've only ever heard "mash" as a substitute for "press" when I used to live on the South Carolina/North Carolina border.

    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • @Conrady: Oh I can HEAR it all LOL! What a great memory! :-D
  • I was accompanying a school Mass once in the crypt of the National Basilica in DC. At communion time, the song chosen was Finest Wheat--I never turned down an opportunity to play the magnificent organ in this space, so I acquiesced. After a brief intro, the cantor warbled in to sing the refrain. I then looped back to the beginning of the refrain, this time on fuller stops to bring in the congregation.

    Alas, it was not to be.

    The cantor charged into the verse as I rumbled through the refrain. The effect was strangely ethereal; the walls are several feet thick and plated in solid marble, so the dissonant wailing of soprano against organ bounces back and forth in a way I am sure Ives would have found compelling.

    In the shock of the moment, or perhaps weird hypnosis of the spontaneous atonalism, I kept playing, assuming that no solo singer would ever try to hold his own against an organ plenum. She kept singing.

    When I finished the refrain, both the cantor and I had held our own for the entirety of the first verse, the congregation staring in disbelief. We both then decided to capitulate at the same time. Since she had been singing the verse, I assumed she would sing the refrain next. She thought I would proceed to the verse, since I had played the refrain. So I launched into the refrain again, and she into the verse, and by this time I was using my remaining mental faculties to think about when I could get to confession for blaspheming a sacred space.

    We went through a whole second round of this cacophany, the soprano screeching to be heard because I had coupled the swell plenum to insure the cantor's compliance.

    Finally, we reached the end of the second verse, and I gave a good three second pause in the playing as we both tried to divine what the other was thinking that the other was going to play or sing. Murphy's law, of course, we came crashing in on the wrong chord AGAIN. Not having it this time, there was a supremely awkward oscillation back and forth between the verse and refrain as we both tried to figure out what the other was doing. This was more difficult than it sounds in this space, because the cantor's mic blares out over the congregation, sails back a good 100 feet, and then bounces off the back wall and back 100 feet to the front again before the organist can hear it.

    Finally the music resolved back into blessed consonance, though not before this organist's soul had curled up into fetal position.
    Thanked by 2MarkS KARU27