Making music through teamwork

Published 6:11 pm Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I stared at the mark, halfway through the second page of the music.   I had marked it with a pen and then highlighted in yellow to make sure I was aware of the revised beginning point for Sunday’s prelude at the First Presbyterian Church in Donalsonville.   

With Helen Bartoz of Bainbridge on the piano, and me on the organ, we began with great fanfare.  However, before long, I realized we were on different pages.   That might work for a few stanzas on a song with a lot of repeated phrases.  That wasn’t the case on this particular piece of music with numerous key changes.

I knew immediately what had happened.  I had begun at the beginning of the first page, ignoring my own brightly colored note about the revised beginning point.  Once you realize you and your musical partner are not in sync, there really is not much you can do.   I continued playing while Helen stopped and searched for a place of common ground.

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I played for two full pages before Helen knew where I was.  She joined in and we finished as though we had never stumbled.    Indeed, most people did not know what had just happened, assuming that the first part was an organ solo followed up by a piano-organ duet. 

A few people complemented me after the service on the music.  If they only knew.   As is often the case in business, school and life, the person making the mistake gets the credit for doing well.  I apologized profusely to Helen after the service, and she graciously forgave me for the lapse that most were not even aware had occurred.

I have been playing the organ in church for over 30 years.  Helen may have been playing even longer than that.   We both have been around long enough to know that piano and organ duets are about teamwork.  It isn’t the first mistake I have made and will not be the last.  You cover for each other and probably play more confidently when you have been partners as long as we have.

My first major snafu in church was while playing a duet of The Hallelujah Chorus with my longtime musical friend and mentor, Jeanne Jones.   One or the other of us turned two pages at one time in this long and difficult piece.  Like today, we both quickly realized one of us was off.

We played for almost three pages before we found common ground.  Yet we knew enough to keep playing, offering phrases that were out of place but kept the piece moving.  We were roundly complemented by people that had no clue that we were hopelessly lost through half of the piece.  I still consider that to be my most impressive performance.

Music is a gift on so many levels.  Some are born with talent.  Others, like me, practiced enough to be proficient enough to enjoy the music for themselves.   Some can rattle off chord progressions and key changes like they were multiplication tables.   Others read the notes, and feel the music, but have no sense of the theory behind what they are playing.

It matters not.  It is the music that is a blessing through the ear to the heart.   It takes teamwork, from the director, the instruments and the different voices in the choir.  The ultimate goal, in my opinion, is that the audience does not discern any single voice or instrument, but rather hears the blended voices and instruments in harmony together.  Like I said, teamwork.

Music has long been my therapy, consoling at times and lifting up at others.  The blessings through my many years of playing in church and at home have been overwhelmingly mine.  I no longer grimace if I make a mistake.  I just accept that I am part of a team, lifting up music in praise and worship, while receiving much more than I deserve from the sharing of my own meager talents.

Like most sports, the individual often benefits from the others on the team.  Your teammate makes you try harder and often causes others to think you are better than you really are.   

A tip of the hat to teammate, Helen Bartoz, who took one for the team on Sunday because of my mistake.    Thanks, Helen.  Many are blessed because of the generous sharing of your considerable talent.