Wednesday, March 19, 2014

JS Bach, my mom and me.

My mom was a church organist for almost 30 years at our large Episcopal church in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  She took lessons from a prominent classical organist and worked harder at her avocation than most anyone I have ever known. She loved routine and a schedule, and her routine as I grew up, and even after I became a young adult, was to spend the morning at the church practicing for Sunday, or for a major holiday.
It must have been fate that I ended up married to a  person of the clergy, because I grew up with the weekend ending on Saturday night after dinner. My mom would carefully iron her cotta ( the white vestment musicians in classical settings wear over another vestment) and then carefully  lay out all the music for the next day. It had already been recorded on a piece of what was called then, "shirt cardboard" because it was the size of shirts that had been sent out to be laundered. At the top of each page, she wrote "Sol Deo Gloria" which is Latin for, "To the glory of God" It was her gift of herself every week.
Every Christmas Eve, our church had an extremely Anglican service at 11 pm. But the service, complete with every brass instrument and incense and choir available, was preceded by my mother's organ concert.
Being my mother, she would work tirelessly on this concert the entire year, picking out music usually as soon as the current holiday season was over. But always, there was one constant. She always ended it by performing JS Bach's Tocatta and Fugue in D minor. It is the" ski-jump"  piece of an organist's career; the music being filled with many challenging passages where one's feet and hands are all performing in alternate directions.
As a child growing up, I usually just wanted to get the whole church thing done so we could get the party started...presents you know. Here is another poignant she left for church at 8:00 or so, to get in the organ zone,  my father and I would traditionally roast chestnuts in our huge fireplace. I think that must have been after my siblings were grown, because it was strictly my dad and me, which  was a rare thing .
My job in this concert, was to be the page turner. If you grew up with me, you are smiling right now. Yep that was me up there. I learned to read music at an early age, and apparently I was the person who wouldn't make my mom nervous as her appendages were flying in different directions. It took concentration of following usually one line, so that I  would know just when to turn the 11x14 pages of the music. Usually, she gave me a signal as well, such as "ok" or "now". After a few years, her fingers knew the music so well, she could anticipate what was coming before the page was turned.
I wish I had known then what I know now. What a privilege that was.
So tonight, as I continue to keep the vigil, I played it for her. Not at the volume I wished, others live there too, but when I got it my car tonight to come home for a bit, I blasted it.
Full on. I can't believe how well I still know the music. I could conduct it and know exactly what run or musical pattern was coming next.
Memories of music.
On the journey.