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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Church Organist



* * *

God Only Knows
by Dana Gioia

God only knows

if Bach’s greatest work
was just an improvised
accompaniment
between two verses of a hymn,
one that stopped the burghers
squirming in their pews
and made them not only
listen to the organ in the loft
but actually hear the roof
unbend itself
and leave the church wide
open to a terrifying sky
which he had filled with angels
holding ledgers
for a roll call of the damned,
whom they would have named,
had not the congregation
started up the final chorus
and sung

to save their souls.

* * *

Waving this poem in her hand, Mnemosyne transports me back to my youthful days, when I sat in the parish church and listened to the church organist play.

He was a force of nature, he was, a barrel-chested man sporting a tempestuous mane of gray, possessed of a voice meant to be felt, not heard. He veritably boomed and thundered. You see, he was a classically-trained pianist and opera singer. He had been a star in the Lithuanian National Opera, singing in a bass voice so deep, clear and resonant that he made the stage curtains sway. He was a star once, but his trajectory was deflected and deformed by war, and he found himself, in his winter years, an alcoholic laborer...playing the church organ to supplement his meager wages.

I doubt there have been many such as he. His voice was a gift, a miracle, and his fingers flowed gloriously over the organ keys. More often than not, he would enter the choir loft ruddy with cognac, disheveled and confused. No matter. Come the Communion, he would launch himself into a Bach hymn unlike any other. Oh, it would begin in recognizable form, alright, but he was simply warming up. He would throw back his head and sing directly into God’s ear. His voice was a storm, a resonant agony. He poured his heart out to God, every longing, every dream, every tear and sacrifice wrapped in rapturous chords, blessed with grace and grace notes. Like some runaway aural locomotive, he would gather steam as he played and sang. The hymn would morph into some new creation, as he riffed on Bach, fumbled the lyrics and improvised his way into God’s heart. His voice and music soared and tumbled, rolled like the ocean, sparkled like rain.

And I would sit there, humbly, as his voice peeled back the church roof and tore apart the gates of Heaven. Surely, God must have beheld this fallen star, this bedraggled soul, and loved him all the more, for he sang like an angel and humbly offered his gifts and talents, his very soul, in fervent homage every Sunday.

I would sit there and, through him, come to experience...Awe.

* * *

11 Comments:

Blogger anna said...

Thank you for sharing such a lovely memory.

Wed Jan 23, 06:28:00 PM  
Blogger thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

I love this experience -- rare as it may be. Beautifully stated, by the way.

Wed Jan 23, 09:01:00 PM  
Blogger Sunny Delight said...

As most always, you have once again used your amazing ability to transcribe memories into prose that leave me breathless.

Wed Jan 23, 09:33:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Thank you, Dear Hearts, for your mighty fine comments. It feels good inside to know someone feels similar feelings...

I've sat/prayed in quite a few European cathedrals. I heard a Bach concerto played on the impressive pipe organ in the Vilnius Cathedral. The pipe organs found in these magnificent churches are magnificent in and of themselves. I often wished our church organist could have laid his hands on one of these bad boys! He would have cracked the sky.

Thu Jan 24, 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger someGirl said...

"And I would sit there, humbly, as his voice peeled back the church roof and tore apart the gates of Heaven."

Oh Jonas, I loved this.

Fri Jan 25, 01:23:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Don't make me blush now, Somegirl.

Fri Jan 25, 02:40:00 PM  
Blogger someGirl said...

If that made you blush, than imagine my reaction to your previous post...

Fri Jan 25, 04:46:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

I suppose you have a good point there...

Sat Jan 26, 02:43:00 PM  
Blogger soul_rebel said...

In response to your comment:

Me too, Brother.

Sat Feb 02, 08:09:00 PM  
Anonymous shadowlands said...

Jonas
You are the definition for "Wordsmith"...you bring the scene to mind..I can almost hear the organ...it was and is a pleasure to read your blog...

Sat Feb 16, 09:00:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Awwww...Ms. Shadowlands, you brought a tear to my eye. Really.

In truth, I'm just a simple reporter, not a wordsmith. The power, the beauty, the glory reside in what I've seen and experienced. I simply search for the words to do these truths justice.

Sat Feb 16, 09:23:00 PM  

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