I've previously mentioned that I've been playing organ a bit at St Andrew's Anglican Church, Magomeni Usalama on the Morogoro Road. Well, my reputation seems to have travelled a bit, and last Sunday was in Bagamoyo, the church visited by David Livingstone. No pictures on this occasion, but did want to tell you a bit about what it's like being an occasional organist here.
Of course, learning to play the church organ takes considerable time and effort, with a large number of different aspects, including pedal technique and registration (ie. use of stops) to master. However, in much the same way that a driver can, within a few minutes, be driving any car, so the basic layout of organs, big or small, is much the same.
However, the churches I've played at so far don't have pipe organs or electronic organs simultating a pipe organ, they have Yamaha Electones. I have mixed feelings about this. On the upside, people who are not fully trained organists can get some good effects pretty quickly - so in a country where this is a very unusual skill, that would seem to make sense. However, if you are a trained church organist, then this is immensely frustrating, you get a small number of generic organ sounds which are difficult to control, a small pedal board, and a crescendo pedal with a switch by the side which, if hit accidentally, does all kinds of weird and wonderful things.
Of course, everything is in Swahili. For hymns, what this means is that familiar tunes have extra notes and pauses added which is a bit of a hazard. The main hymn book used, 'Nyimbo za Dini', does not, as far as I can make out, have a music version printed, I have seen a tonic sol-fa version but never having spent any time mastering this form of musical notation that isn't much help to me. I have tried to persuade people I've been dealing with that hymn tunes have names - so, for example, 'The Lord's my shepherd' is normally sung to 'Crimond' and 'All people that on earth do dwell' has the hymn tune 'Old hundredth' - but this idea really doesn't seem to connect, so a potentially very useful way to identify what is needed and look up tunes on the Internet isn't utilised. Lists I'm given in advance of services never seem to correspond to what actually happens, and there is a lot of sung liturgy, somebody just starts singing and you're supposed to join in as soon as possible....
Just as well I'm such a laidback, go with the flow kind of chap really....
Have to say, there have been many, many occasions in my life, not least recently, when I've been grateful that I first got going as a church musician in a setting where anybody might start singing any song in any key, and I tried to join in as soon as possible. I've not worshipped in such settings for many years now, but I really can't think of a better grounding in providing flexible, seamless (as far as possible) support to the sung worship going on.
Anyway, last week was in Bagamoyo, with several churches joined together. They had a fantastic children's choir, can't quite decide whether it's actions or dancing they do but I certainly liked it! I was invited to introduce myself so used the time to teach the song, 'Allelu, allelu, allelu, allelu, Praise ye the Lord', where you split the group in two, one sings 'Allelu' the other 'Praise ye the Lord', stand up when you sing otherwise sit down, and then do the whole thing faster and faster. Somewhat old but it always seems to go down well! Just the sheer vibrancy of the worship more than makes up for lack of understanding of the language.
So, great to be involved, starting to talk with other organists, clearly I'm not going to be here for ever, and if I can do something to help others who play, great. But, I do have to remind myself that it is entirely normal for me to work long hours Monday to Friday and then up to lunch time and beyond on Saturday also. It can often be the case that events don't start on time and then carry on for considerable lengths of time, it's not just the language issue which makes it difficult to work out how long things go on for. In practice it can be a pretty fine line between an event being a fun thing to do on a day off and becoming an extension of my already full working week. The fact that I used to be a paid church organist doesn't help here. So, I pray for wisdom in making good use of time off, which is both honouring to our Lord God and also gives a suitable break.
One final thing: I've mentioned being stopped by the police whilst driving before. Well, on the way to Bagamoyo last week, fair enough, I was speeding, and the police were so nice about it that I felt moved to give them a bottle of water each as they wrote out a ticket for Tsh 30 000 (UKP12), no points on licences here.
But there was another recent occasion, I'm pretty sure my actions would have landed me in the cells overnight at least in some other African countries, but here in Tanzania, I got waved on my way - not before attracting the attention of people across the street. Not happy to give details on a public blog, you'll have to contact me privately to find out what happened on that occasion...