KOTA KINABALU: The pandemic crisis does not put a damper on the interest towards the “king of instruments”, the organ, among the Sabahan scholars.
The scholars from St Simon Catholic Church Likas joined the webinars hosted by Dr Evelyn Lim from the Methodist School of Music (Singapore) on May 23 and June 6.
Dr Evelyn, a teacher at the academy, said the webinars were organised by her school and supported by the Singapore Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
“The webinars on May 16 and 23 introduced the history and development of the pipe organ, and its role in Western Christian worship for nearly two centuries,” Dr Evelyn said through an email interview.
“The webinar on June 6 was an Introduction to the Liturgical Year through music: the seasons of the church and the attitudes and moods associated with them.”
She said the objective of the webinars was to address serious shortcomings in many church musicians.
“They choose what style they like to play, without much regard to the text or season. I would like to think it is because they are not aware, rather than that they do not care.
“A second shortcoming is that many musicians are comfortable with playing (or singing) the same types of music repeatedly, without much variety or attempt to bring fresh elements into what they do.
“Again, I would like to think that they are indeed trying very hard, but they don’t know where the resource is,” she said on June 8.
Dr Evelyn said as “music ministers”, church musicians actually have a very important role to play.
“We do not play music simply to fill the silence, to show off our skills, or to entertain. Our music must fit parts of the liturgy and encourage and support worship.
“God has given us these gifts so that we may bless the people around us, so we should invest some energy to hone and develop these abilities.
“So I hoped that my webinars helped to open the door for people to be aware of the wealth of church music from the past and present, and how to go about accessing it.”
On the “Introduction to the Liturgical Year” content, Dr Evelyn said instead of an academic presentation, she opted for a “show-and-tell” format, which would be more interesting.
“Using resources readily available via YouTube and various websites, we went on a musical survey of the mainline denominations, highlighting major aspects of certain prominent seasons and the music and hymns that best conveyed those moods.
“I was pleased to find that the attendees were from the mainline denominations—Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, comprising musicians, choir members as well as music directors, mostly from Singapore and a number from Sabah and Sibu.
“This wonderful mix led to lively discussions and sharing of ideas and experiences via the Zoom chat page. I could not have hoped for a better atmosphere of positive and open interaction! Hopefully the attendees also found the sessions enriching and can beginning exploring new ideas.”
As for her thoughts on the musicians at St Simon Catholic Church Likas and beyond, she said it’s OK if some of the material in the webinars may not seem to apply to their specific tradition.
“Personal taste is not as important as knowing where the resource is. All you have to do is to explore some of the links to the new music and you may find something that you do like, and can use.
“Just establish a starting point, and the doors will open. You may encounter some challenges, but ultimately the experience will be gratifying and enriching! I would like to encourage all who are new at playing the organ or who are contemplating starting out as a church musician—whatever level you are at, there’s always room to grow and learn.
“Remember the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-29 – God expects us to be faithful stewards of His gifts. We are only accountable for what we have, no more and no less,” she said.
Meanwhile, Melissa Angus, one of the scholars from St Simon Catholic Church Likas, expressed her gratitude for being invited to join the “very fruitful lessons”.
“The webinars were short but informative,” Melissa said, adding that she took a particular interest in the history of the pipe organ and how it evolved. “The instrument was not only used in churches but also during the war, among others.”
On the lesson on liturgical music, she said it opened her eyes how the different seasons in the church can be differentiated through “colour codes”.
Another scholar, Fay Fiona Limbai, said the lesson on the history of the pipe organ broadened her view as she got to know more about the instrument.
“As for the June 6 webinar, I learned more about how and which songs are suitable to play during the Mass according to the liturgical seasons.
“As a musician, especially one who is just starting to play in pipe organ style, it was a very fruitful experience joining both webinars. Looking forward to more of such content in the near future!” – Audrey J Ansibin