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The mischievous art of your church organist

by Michael Ford last modified 16 Feb, 2022 04:34 PM

The opening bars of ‘Praise my soul the king of heaven…’ may ring out around Westpoint, Exeter later this month but there’s no guarantee the organist won’t slip into ‘High on a hill was a lonely goatherd…’ from the Sound of Music.

Professional musician Richard Copeland, formerly organist at St Andrew's Church, Moretonhampstead, on the edge of Dartmoor, will demonstrate the attributes of a range of organs at the Christian Resources Exhibition (Feb 23-24, Westpoint, Exeter). He will also pay homage to hundreds of fellow organists who are known to pull out all the stops on Sundays – sending veiled messages to clergy and congregations.  

"I was playing at a wedding where the bride, in her late 60s, was marrying a lad 40 years her junior,’ recalled Copeland. ‘A member of the choir persuaded me to slide in a potted version of "Twenty-one today, twenty-one today, she's got the key of the door…” to much sniggering in the pews."

Organists behaving irreverently is a growing phenomenon. Leading Christian web magazine relates how one disenchanted organist in Glasgow played 'Send in the Clowns’ as the minister and choir processed in for the service. Another played a heavily-disguised version of ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ during censing at Saint John's Church, Passaic, New Jersey.  

A slowed-down version of Abba’s ‘Money, Money, Money’ is a popular choice during the offertory and one reader, Tony Potter, recalled hearing the Dambusters theme during Remembrance Sunday! ‘If there was such a book as the Basil Fawlty Guide to Political Correctness, this would be the opening chapter,' he said. 

"Whilst modern worship practices abound, the organ is still an intrinsic part of English church worship and no other instrument can stir the soul like it," said Copeland, who will be on the Viscount Organs Wales stand at CRE. 

"Whether it is being used solemnly or playfully, the organ is still the main instrument for many churches," said Viscount’s Tony Packer. "State-of-the-art digital versions are becoming more affordable and we will introduce a range of options to visitors." 

New resources from more than 110 exhibitors will be available at CRE, often dubbed the ‘ideal church show’. Areas covered include new technology, financial management, fund-raising, safeguarding, cyber security, mission, youth and children’s work – all helping churches recover from and build beyond the pandemic. Expert advice will be on hand in 40 seminars with several speakers from the region including the Bishop of Crediton, Rt Rev Jackie Searle; the Archdeacon of Exeter, Venerable Andrew Deane; Canon Sarah Yardley of Creation Fest, Paul Friend of South-West Youth Ministries and Tim Moyler of Agapé UK. The exhibition will be opened by former Blue Peter and Sky Sports presenter Simon Thomas. 

A short introductory video to CRE SW can be viewed here.  

CRE South West 2022 at Westpoint, Exeter. Opening hours: Wed 23 Feb, 10am-5pm and Thu 24 Feb, 10am-4.30pm. Visit for more information. Free tickets here.

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