Sunday, 15 March 2015

Organs and Suzy Qs

I worked for a large percentage of the day after allowing myself a rather glorious lie-in. I've started staggering my way through the new draft of Brass for a second time, focussing today on the opening sequence, which is entirely different to how it was in Leeds last summer.

I applied for three jobs in the late afternoon before heading off to Crouch End to pick Julian up from his Misses' vicarage. Our task today was to record the organ for the CD version of Oranges and Lemons and we were doing so at the Swiss Church in Covent Garden.

Heaven knows how I managed to park on Endell Street, literally outside the church, at one minute past the time when it became legal to do so. Maybe there is a God after all, because it meant we could unload all Julian's recording equipment without any hassle. As we unloaded, a poor bloke tried to park in the space behind me. I felt for him. I genuinely did, because, like me, he wasn't the best parker in the world. What surely wasn't helping his confidence, however, was the group of twenty lads standing outside the pub opposite, who were jeering and cheering every time he reversed the car to have another crack at getting into the space. I imagined myself in that position and decided I'd have given up long since and found a spot which wasn't being so brutally scrutinised!

The Swiss Church is a stunning eighteenth century barn of a building with a tall, arched atrium roof and the most serene four-second echo.

The organ itself is Swiss built (of course) and brand new, which means it's perfectly in tune. To make matters even more perfect, our organist, Peter, is a very fine player. I sat in the organ loft whilst he played. In fact we shared a stool, I turned his pages, and on one occasion got to pull out one of the stops, which gave me almost as much joy as rubber stamping my husband's hospital letter on Thursday afternoon with the words "hard of hearing."

Peter changed shoes before starting to play, curiously into a pair of black brogues which looked almost identical to the ones he'd taken off. They looked a little like tap shoes from a distance, so I was half hoping for a quick Suzy Q before we got going!

Of course I know nothing about organs (pfnah pfnah) and was actually quite embarrassed when I saw the subtle modulations Peter was having to make to the music I'd given him. I've never had the opportunity to study a church organ before, and ask questions about the two keyboards and the octaves one is expected to write in. I learned much.

The only thing I couldn't apologise for was the ludicrous keys that Oranges and Lemons finds itself drifting through. That's the fault of the church bells themselves. Here's a fact for you... All church bells, depending on their size, ring in different keys. The biggest (and therefore lowest) bells I recorded whilst working on Oranges and Lemons were hanging in the tower at Mary le Bow church. This particular set of bells ring in C major. In fact, the bell you hear ringing on at the end of the composition is the iconic Great Bell of Bow; a fruity bottom C. The bells in other churches were in keys ranging from C sharp major and every semi-tone up to E major; so I had to be incredibly inventive when it came to key changes, to ensure that every bell we recorded was featured in the piece. And that meant regular visits to somewhat ghastly keys! The organist maintained he'd never played a B sharp before!

I was hugely excited and proud to walk into the church and hear the enormous beauty of an organ playing music which I had written. I haven't had a kick like that since hearing the carillon at York Minster playing the opening of the Adagio from A Symphony for Yorkshire.

The session went incredibly smoothly and quickly, and we were done by 9pm. We de-rigged and I drove Julian back to Crouch End, before hot-footing it to Canary Wharf where Brother Edward, Nathan and Sascha were eating lasagne and watching the final of the Melodiefest, which is the annual mega-competition which the Swedes use to chose their song for Europe. I'd like to point out that Sweden has placed in the top five at Eurovision for as long as I can remember, largely because they take their selection process so seriously.

British Eurovision fans are up in arms about the apparent under-hand nature of our "selection" process. We don't know who judges the entries, nor do we know the criteria they use for judging the songs. None of the entrants are given feedback.   To relegate the unveiling of the song to something which happens on the red button when the Melodiefest is one of the biggest shows on television demonstrates quite how complacent the BBC have become. And frankly it's insulting to the hoards of British Eurovision fans who are sick of doing badly every year.

I'm told the trick is to hit the BBC with a carefully-worded freedom of information request in the hope of shedding some light on their apparent shady processes. The tragedy with freedom of information requests is that the BBC can actually refuse to answer certain questions, which, of course makes a mockery of the notion of freedom of information. That said, the more questions they refuse to answer on the subject, the more of a stitch-up their process seems and the more we can demand more transparency in the future.

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