Sunday, February 20, 2011

Church music

click photo to enlarge
Every now and then, when I visit a church, I come upon a glass case containing one or more musical instruments. These are invariably quite old, often of a type now made only by specialists, instruments such as the viol, crumhorn, shawm or serpent. The reason for their display is that they were some of the instruments played by the church's band in the days before the organ made its appearance in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Church organs have been in regular use in English churches since the seventeenth century, but only in the major buildings - the cathedrals, abbeys, minsters and large churches. They became more common in the eighteenth century, and by the second half of the nineteenth were found in virtually every church. Before they were installed the church music was often supplied by a small band of mainly string and wind instruments, sometimes accompanied by percussion players. These typically performed from a west gallery (that faced east), so that the sound could be heard by the eastward facing congregation. I have never heard such a band play in a church, but I'd be interested to do so.

However, I do frequently hear the organist practising during my visits, as I did the other day when I took a break from shopping and popped into the town's medieval church. It was a cold, dull day, and he had wisely kept his coat on as he played the pieces that were to feature in a forthcoming service. The church was one with stained glass in most windows, consequently quite dark, and the organist, illuminated by his lamps, positively glowed at the console. I took my photograph from behind, and had to make quite a few adjustments to secure an image that showed the musical notation on the white paper.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 70mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/60
ISO: 3200
Exposure Compensation: -1.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On