Friday and its bitter chill

Today is one of those Pittsburgh days that makes me want to crawl back under the covers as quickly as I had left them. Yesterday was no picnic either- the snow made the evening commute a little more tedious, but at least we all got home safely. Did anyone in blog-land cancel choir rehearsal last night due to the weather?

And so we look towards another weekend. How, as organists and sacred musicians, do you cope with the fact that our weekends are always work days? When the rest of the world has its sabbath day, we are preparing for an early morning of work. Furthermore, we work on almost every national holiday, religious and secular. Kids are waking up with their parents, eager to see what Santa has given them, while organists kiss their sleeping children on the heads as the Christmas morning begins without them. Bleary-eyed and apologetic, we wearily eat our Christmas dinners and promptly fall asleep on the couch that afternoon.
When you think about it from that perspective, being an organist is quite the sacrifice: We essentially have to give up our holiday celebrations for the Church. We don’t get to sit with our spouses on Easter Sunday. We don’t get to sleep in on New Years Day (at least us Catholics don’t). We work fiercely through the Triduum. We cannot experience our holidays like the rest of the world, and most of us don’t get paid overtime to sacrifice our holidays.

This concept has bothered me, personally, for my entire life. It’s one of the things I struggle with as an organist. I don’t want to try and explain to people on Easter Sunday why I can’t keep my eyes open because I just spent the entire week playing services, including the intense Easter Vigil. I have met people who believe that organists merely show up, play a few hymns on the organ, and leave with no preparatory and clean-up work. I have even been asked if I volunteer as Director of Music, or what my “real job” is.

What is that supposed to mean?!
If only that person realized the sacrifices an organist makes…

Anyways, I digress. How do we cope with working on holidays and every weekend? When is our Sabbath?

    Ideas for coping:

1. Sleep in…on Easter Sunday. They’ll figure things out on their own.
2. Tell your boss that you want to hire a sub for Christmas Eve. (I, actually, would like to see his/her reaction to that.)
3. Pick the same hymns for Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. You won’t have to learn any more music that way! Besides, no one would notice, right?!
4. Put a CD in for the holy day’s music. (Gasps ripple through the blogging community, filled with shock- I do believe I saw someone faint through their computer screen- as they read that last line. Rightly so, though- I am not advocating this! Just a little chuckle in the “comedic relief” section of this blog entry.)

And now…
5. Change your ideas of a “holiday”.
Christmas is December 25th. Easter Sunday is…Easter Sunday, whatever date on which it falls. Organists will work on these holidays. It won’t matter if you have kids waiting for you to watch them open their Christmas presents. These things will never change, and there’s nothing we can do about it. However, we can change our parameters as to what we define a holiday to be.

This blogger’s family celebrates Christmas on December 23rd (“Christmas Eve, Eve” as we call it). Tension is not creeping up my neck just yet for Christmas services at this point. We eat dinner together and exchange presents, one by one, from each sibling. We sit, we take our time, we laugh, and we enjoy each other’s company. “Christmas Eve, Eve” is one of my favorite holidays. It’s an alternative to what society tells us, yes, but to an organist, it’s a calming alternative. (It also gives us a day of reprieve before the hectic Christmas celebrations begin!)

What does this mean to you? How can you find time for your holiday? Of course, you will still be exhausted on Christmas Day for your family dinner. That will never change. But what you can do is find time to make your own holiday moments. Maybe that’s flying the coop and going to Florida the day after Christmas. Maybe it’s as simple as planning to not leave your bed all morning on December 26th. Maybe it’s scheduling your own Christmas Eve, Eve celebration with your dogs and committing to watching your favorite movie. (We know it’s difficult to even find time to watch a movie!)

Moments like this can make up for the stress of a holiday. It can’t take away the need for Santa on Christmas morning, but it can offer different ideas for celebration and rest.

6.Change your Sabbath.
Am I being sacrilegious when I suggest this? Sabbath is typically a Sunday, but the organist knows how much work goes into a weekend.
Sleep in on Monday. Or Tuesday. Go to the library and read a book there for a few hours. Do whatever makes you happy.
What if you can’t take a full day off of work?
Then take one hour per week to do what makes you happy. If learning that new Vierne piece you just love so much makes you happy, then do it. Don’t let anyone get in your way. If going out to eat with your significant other makes you happy, then get me that menu immediately!

Basically, the common theme here is make it work. Of course, there are other scenarios where the organist leads an unorthodox life (teaching piano lessons, having so many weddings that you can’t take a full vacation, etc.) but the idea is to remind yourself that, in this bitter chill of society, find time to stop and rest. You’ll be a better organist and person if you do.

And with that, we say “cheers” to the weekend ahead. I hear Saturday is the new Monday in the organists’ calendar….

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