July 16, 2002
Vol. II, No. 27
"Here Comes the Organist!"
My Rampages have been a bit too serious lately so I thought I'd tell you about a funny thing that happened to me on the way to a wedding. Well, it wasn't very funny at the time and, to be honest, it's not that funny now but if you're not from here, it's a glimpse into New York City life as an organist.
Anyway, the wedding in question was this past Saturday at 5pm. Having arranged to meet the soloist at 4:30pm, I left my apartment at 4pm. I walked to the train station (subway) to catch an express that would "get me to the church on time." When I arrived at the hot, muggy station, the crowd on the platform showed that there hadn't been an express, or even a local, in quite a while. I waited for something, anything, as the minutes ticked by. Slowly, the platform became more and more crowded and the temperature continued to rise. Just as I was ready to give in and pay for a long, expensive cab ride down to the tip of Manhattan, a local train rolled into the station. Given the time, I probably should have taken a cab but, being the miser-musician I am, I figured I could save the cab money, take the local, and hook up with an express train down the line. Off we go at 4:20pm.
The local moseyed downtown, periodically hitting express stops, but to my dismay no express trains overtook it. As my practice time with the soloist slowly dwindled away, I realized I needed some strategy. The last stop of the local I was on was 3 or 4 stops short of where I needed to be. So I had to decide whether to get off the train and take a cab from one of the express stops or to stay on and take a cab from the last stop. On one hand, if I took a cab from an express stop, it would be faster but I might get stuck in traffic as the cab made its way to the FDR highway or on the FDR itself. On the other hand, if I waited until the last stop, I might simply run out of time. In the end, I decided to "hang in there" to the bitter end on the local.
My train reached its final stop at 4:45pm. I raced upstairs and immediately saw a cab but it was too far off to hail. I start walking which was ridiculous because I couldn't possibly get there in time on foot. But as a New Yorker, when the chips are down, you start walking. But I really needed to find a cab. I missed one because my back was turned. I saw another one at a stoplight but it was off-duty. I considered offering the driver a bunch of money but then the light changed and he took off. Finally, I saw my taxi. Sure it was headed in the wrong direction, but I bounded across four lanes of traffic and headed it off. Obviously, I was desperate.
I hopped in the cab and told the driver to take me to the church across from the Staten Island Ferry. I thought he would "bang a U-ie" but instead he veered to the right and headed off into the maze of streets that is downtown Manhattan. I grew light-headed as I mentally calculated the number of stoplights between where we were and the church. Right before I lost consciousness, a ramp for the FDR highway emerged, he took it, and I was breathing again. At 80 mph and despite some last minute confusion when the driver said he thought I wanted to go all the way to Staten Island in the cab, we pulled up in front of the church at 4:50pm.
I passed the soloist on my way up the organ loft stairs. I introduced myself, "Dan Long, Danger Guy." I said, "How many of 'em are there." He said, "The bride, the maid of honor, and three flower girls." I said, "Cover me, I'm goin' in." I threw on my shoes, hit the power switch, and launched into Pachelbel's Fantasia in D Minor.
Moments later, the soloist returned and said I could vamp, everyone from the bridal party hadn't arrived. Figures, after all I'd been through. "The bride?" I assume. "No, the maid of honor." I said, "Ooh, I bet she hears about that from the bride." After playing through all of my prepared selections, the MOH is still MIA. I started sight-reading pieces from Biggs' "Treasury of Early Organ Music." I haven't played many weddings lately but, you know, it's really like riding a bike. In fact, I played my first wedding over 30 years ago, when I was eight, and made a whole five bucks! I've played so many weddings, I think I could do it in my sleep. Why if I had a nickel for every wedding I've played, er, well, I guess things could be worse.
So finally the maid of honor arrived and it was time for the show. Now, I'd played this organ before and, frankly, I'd never really had the urge to "crank it up." First of all, it's in a very live room. Secondly, it's a Rodg..., er, digital and the speakers are directly behind my ears. Third and lastly, the low F and F# in the pedal tend to drop out unexpectedly and I don't enjoy losing my "bottom" in the middle of a prelude. Still, I looked that monster in the eye and, blame it on the residual adrenaline coursing through my veins, I gave it the gas! Thank goodness General Motors invented the crescendo pedal!
In spite of anything that may have gone wrong up to that point, I always feel a great sense of relief once I get the bride to the altar. There's this moment when the rest of the world falls away and you can just feel everyone in the church focusing on the matrimonial couple. (Sigh.) Of course, from there on in, the ceremony was relatively uneventful There was a bit of excitement during the vows when the horn on the couple's rental limousine blatted out "Here Comes the Bride." I was practicing silently on the keys at the time so I mouthed to the soloist, "I didn't do it!"
I played the exit music on the Tutti piston and I'll tell you, if there was still any dust left on those speakers after the prelude, it was gone now. I banged around for a while, Buxtehude, Pachelbel, Bach, and hit the final chord "right on the money," as the best man showed up with the check. While it's true that there's nothing like surviving a stressful wedding to lift your spirits and boost your self-confidence, boy, the money sure helps!
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