Sunday, May 16, 2010

Remembering something I'd like to forget

I was inspired by this blog to think about times when I’ve felt like an idiot. I’ve done a lot of embarrassing things, but there's one event that stands out as my personal "Hall of Shame" moment.

When I was a college junior, my older sister asked me to play piano at her wedding. I had taken piano lessons for 10 years and performed at countless recitals in the safe environs of my teacher's living room. But this would be my first time playing at a wedding, and it would be in front of more than a hundred friends, family members, and other guests.

I suspected there might be a problem when I arrived at the church for the Friday night rehearsal: 
  1. the instrument I'd be playing was not a piano, but one of those huge church organs with several rows of keyboards, an array of colored buttons and knobs, giant foot pedals at the base of the console, and a volume pedal that was controlled by my right foot.
  2. instead of safely tucked away in the back of the church or high in the choir loft, the organ was up front, just to the right of the altar, and raised up on a four-foot platform.

So not only was I going to being playing an instrument I'd had never used before, I was going to do it literally "head and shoulders" above the crowd. There was nowhere to hide if things went wrong. (That’s called “foreshadowing”.)

The rehearsal actually went quite smoothly, after I figured out how to turn on the organ. The plan was for me to play for about 30 minutes as people were being seated, then accompany a friend who was singing "The Wedding Song" and "The Rose", and wrap up by playing Mendelssohn's traditional wedding march.

"When I finish my last prayer and say 'Amen', I want you to start the recessional," the pastor called to me at the end of the rehearsal. "We're celebrating a joyous event - your sister will be married - so play
it loud!"

So the next morning, I arrived at the church, dressed in my dark blue tuxedo and shiny rented shoes. As guests were being escorted to their pews, I started playing the list of hymns I had prepared. (No one even noticed that after about 20 minutes, I had run through my entire repertoire and began playing a random series of chords. But on those big church organs, everything kind of sounds like a hymn, so my secret was safe.)

As we approached the end of the ceremony, just like in rehearsal the night before, the pastor started reading his final prayer. My hands were poised over the keyboard and my foot was pressed all the way down on the volume pedal. When I heard the magic word "Amen", I pounced. Never before had the wedding march been played so loudly or rapturously.

About 15 seconds into my performance, I lifted my eyes from the sheet music. To my absolute horror, the pastor was still talking, both hands in the air, and my sister and new brother-in-law were turned toward me with puzzled looks on their faces. I turned my gaze to the pews. Half of the guests were leaning forward, trying desperately to hear what the pastor was saying; the others were just staring at me.

I broke into a full body sweat and my mind raced. “Why is he still talking? Didn’t he say ‘Amen’? Is it OK to stop a recessional? What should I do?”

I glanced back at the altar and the pastor was still talking (I couldn’t be sure because the music was so loud, but his lips were definitely moving.) I continued playing, but slowly eased my foot off the volume pedal. As I did, I heard several people in the church start to laugh.

As I lowered the volume to an almost imperceptible level, the pastor finished talking, looked over to me, and with an exaggerated nod of his head, said “Amen”. I started the wedding march from the top, but this time, with a little less vigor and enthusiasm.

When I finished, I stepped down from the organ platform and went to join the receiving line in the front of the church. As I sheepishly took my place, the pastor stepped out of line and grabbed my arm. “Sorry, I added an extra prayer at the end and forgot to tell you,” he said.

My dad said my blunder added a “human element” to the event and helped break the nervous tension that always surround weddings. I’ve played at other weddings since then, and I’m always certain to check and double-check my cues. And to this day, I can’t hear the wedding march without cringing and sweating just a little bit.


  1. OK, that wasn't really your fault! I can't even imagine how stressful it must have been though...

  2. Hahahaha! That was awesome!

  3. Funny - I was just at a wedding of my good friend and my other friend in the middle of the wedding grabbed the mike and proceeded to do an MC thing - he was a bit intoxicated, but the crowd loved it - and everyone said it added a bit of fun and a pleasant surprise that opened all to say words and speak!

    Great post!



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