Tag Archives: st. luke’s

Merry Christmas from Saranac Lake!

I’ll catch up with you later in the week, friends.

It’s Christmas week and I’m super busy!

This morning was the Christmas Pageant at St. Luke’s in Saranac Lake, and it was absolutely awesome. In addition to the really beautiful work done by Barb and the pageant crew, I had the honor of playing the entire service as a piano & pipe organ duet with our former organist and good friend, Curtis Mercier. It was absolutely wonderful. I wish everyone could have heard the music filling the church and ringing through those historic rafters this morning. It humbles me to know that Dr. Trudeau and generations of Saranac Lakers have been seated in the very same pews, listening to and singing the very same traditional melodies for many, many, many years.

If you’re in the area, up in the morning this week, or you’d like to stop by on your way to work this week – Monday through Thursday mornings, I’ll be playing quiet chants and music of the season on St. Luke’s beautiful pipe organ, from 8 to 8:30 am.

Please feel free to stop by if you’d like to sit quietly, escape the hustle -and-bustle for a few minutes, meditate, or simply enjoy a few tunes. No need to stay the whole time, and you’re invited to come on in whenever you’d like.

The candles will be lit, the red front doors will be open, the accessible ramp and side door from the driveway side will be open, and as always, all are welcome.

*   *   *

A special Merry Christmas this week to Irish45 – a fellow Saranac Lake lover, a fellow student of local history, and someone who is always super kind to this humble correspondent. Thank you so much for the lovely email. Wish you were here, but in lieu of a long trip, here are a few photos – the one of the church in the snow is from earlier this week.



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Coming and Going

I’m wandering around in a bit of a cloud, but as the Sondheim song goes, “I’m still here.”

Lot of disorienting stuff all in the same week. Nothing too shaky, just one of those weeks where there’s so much going on, you frequently have to stop to think about whether you’re coming or going.

There’s a chill in the air. It’s dark early. Halloween is big and busy at our place. The weather changed and we’ve been getting snow. I have a cold. I had my new group start singing this week. I have a lot of work planning for Christmas to get done. We had a service Saturday as well as Sunday this week. I have orchestra rehearsal for two different concerts a few nights a week. I left (resigned from?) a little side job I had. I still have Winter’s-Comin’ chores to get done around here. As I say, nothing too terrible, and some of the busy-makers are downright awesome. It’s just a lot.

Hey, look! Halloween! I didn’t get any great photos, but I took a few. Less kids than last year – it was sleeting – but we had a great time, and a few neighbors came over at different points in the evening to hang out with us and have hot cider in the cabin, with a fire going. Here’s a few shots of the graveyard. Boo!

My new choir group sang for the first time in church today, and I was super proud. This group sings more contemporary music, lighter pieces. For this first time, we warmed up with a unison piece. Lots of dynamics and tempo changes though. Went off without a hitch! The group’s ability to follow is uncanny.

As I said above, I left/quit/resigned from a side-job that I’d had. Another church meets at St. Luke’s after we finish up, so I was playing for that congregation too. In the best way, it was a few more bucks and I liked being available for them. In the worst way, it was preventing me from going to St. Luke’s meetings, attending coffee hour, and really getting to know the St. Luke’s congregation at close range. As St. Luke’s is my I-chose-it-and-it-chose-me church, and because I am a salaried employee, I felt like my attention was being taken away, to some degree. So – although I don’t like to use the Q-word –  I quit the other church. I felt bad for doing it, but I felt deep down, it needed to be done.

What I didn’t mention above? My quit smoking date is tomorrow. Actually it was tomorrow, but I ran out, so it’s technically now. I had a visit with my doc, have my box of patches ready, and I’m motivated. I suppose that’s about all there is to say about that, other than wish me luck. I’m not looking forward to it, but at the same time, I’m looking forward to it. I’m considering keeping my eyes open for a treadmill for the tiny cabin. Celebrating the Winter with health.

So many changes.

As the cold season comes upon us, I start to cook. Fried zucchini yesterday. Snickerdoodles today. I have a really interesting Fried Pasta recipe ready for this week. (You heard me correctly – Fried Pasta.) I’m also obsessed with Cornish Pasties lately. So, needless to say, I see some English meat pies in our near future.

Speaking of meat pies, that brings us full circle. Since we started with a Sondheim lyric, let’s close with one.

Well, ladies and gentlemen
That aroma enriching the breeze,
Is like something compared to its succulent source,
As the gourmets among you will tell you, of course.
Ladies and gentlemen you can’t imagine the rapture in store,
Just inside of this door.



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Beast Blessings

The Episcopal Church welcomes you, and Fido too!

This is pretty awesome. I’m playing for this service tomorrow, at gool ol’ St. Luke’s.

The corner of Church and Main Streets in Saranac Lake will be alive with woofs, meows, and perhaps even clucks when church and community members bring their wagging, squirming, wriggling, fluttering beloved creatures (two-legged, four-legged, no-legged, winged and finned) to St. Luke’s for a special service. (I have it on good authority – a snake and his human are attending, my dog Rufus will be there, a few cats I have the pleasure of knowing, and I’m told, a bunny.)

In honor of the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, The Church of St. Luke in Saranac Lake will be holding a Blessing of the Animals service on Saturday, October 2nd at 5pm. Cats, dogs, snakes, elephants, parakeets, alligators, emus, lizards, chickens, plush toys, and animals of all stripe and color are welcome at a special service of music, a blessing, and prayers especially for them.

The service will be held outdoors on the church’s front lawn and large porch, weather permitting. Guests are welcome to bring blankets and/or lawn chairs. If the weather becomes a problem, the service will be held inside the church. A reception (with treats for animals and their humans) will follow the service. The Rector respectfully requests animals be on a leash, contained, or in a carrier.

(pictured – Rufus, the official photo)

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Beauty is Pain

A post in which our hero prepares for the coming season.

I am here, Friends, on a folding chair next to the organ bench. I’m on a folding chair because my back hurts. My back hurts because it’s Fall. Not following me? It’s a keyboardist thing – sitting on a piano and organ bench most of each day for a week … you get the idea.

The Fall season kickoff is upon us. The choir I accompany is starting up again, and I have two new groups to choose, organize, and direct music for. (Handbells! Ding-dong.) Besides, I want to have some really special organ solos for a few of the special days coming up. Yesterday alone, I went over and over two pieces from Bach, and repeated several others multiple times from a Bach son, Beethoven, Haydn, Elgar, Mozart, Rutter, some guy I can’t remember the name of, and several hymnodists.

To give you an idea of the volume of music coming up, I counted. (I know, childish.) I currently have 27 pieces of music on deck, many of them lengthy pieces by old masters. It’s a lot. But, do let’s be completely honest. I love playing and learning new music. I even usually enjoy practicing. And sure, when you’re into the music, all ills fade away. Even during rehearsal.

And you learn the tricks. You pace yourself. You save bookwork/writing/arranging for later in the week because you know your back will bother you and you’ll want to sit in a chair instead of on the bench. I have a few favorite places I like to sit outside on the church campus to take a break (pictured). In my previous vocation (musical theatre), I tried to always remember that to me, the biggest part of the job is providing people with something beautiful. I think of my job here at the church the same way. Art and beauty are important, and often, we don’t get quite enough of it nowadays.

But, I have to tell you … I’m leaving at noon today, taking two days to relax, and I’m not sitting in a chair that doesn’t have back support until Sunday morning!

You have a great day too!


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The Bells

Hear the sledges with the bells
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!

-Edgar Allan Poe, The Bells

I never miss an opportunity to throw in a Poe quote, do I? Go on with your creepy self, Edgar. Beautiful words. At any rate, I’m thinking a lot about bells this week, and Poe’s masterpiece came to mind.

We’re headed for Fall and I’m thinking about handbells. I love handbells. I really do. Ha! Let the Handbell Dork jokes fly! I have a sense of humor about it. I figure everybody is somebody else’s weirdo.

Our church has a magnificent set of handbells (truly), and I’m hard at work sorting far-flung boxes and boxes (and boxes and boxes) of music, finding the bell tables and stands, choosing music, putting books/folders together, and even writing and arranging music for the Handbell Ensemble at St. Luke’s.

Rather than doing a wall-of-people-at-tables-out-front performance sort of thing, my preferred approach to the handbells is a bit different. I see those crystalline tones as an organic part of a whole. Perhaps the bells chime the hour or play a prelude from the organ loft. Perhaps they support a hymn along with the pipe organ. Perhaps a simple, quiet solo or duet serves as special music. Small. Simple. Organic. I’m aiming for a quartet, or an octet at most.

Is it too weird to be dreaming of Christmas music in August? Ding dong.

You have a great day too!


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Tales from the Organ Loft #2

Have you ever seen the guts of a pipe organ?

It’s awesome. I wanted to get a feel for what needs done when we call the organ technician, so I went up in the organ loft last thursday. Other than a tuning and a slightly leaky bellows leather, we’re in good shape. And something needs tweaked in the wiring for the chimes, but that’s no big. The organ at St. Luke’s is really a marvel. It was brought to the church by an amazing gentleman named Ranny Duncan. This is the second pipe organ installed at St. Luke’s. The first was installed in 1901, and the current organ was installed in 1973. (I think. I’m hoping I have that date right.)

A pipe organ is made up of thousands of pipes, relays, cables, switches, racks, the control console, huge bellows. A pipe organ is truly built into a place, a part of the building. Some of the pipes are smaller than a pencil, some are as big as … well, I don’t know. But they’re big. I can hardly believe that Ranny disassembled this thing and brought it to Saranac Lake; then reconfigured, tweaked, and reassembled it! Amazing achievement by an amazing guy.

Why don’t I tell you a little bit about it? I know just enough to be dangerous.

Here’s a good shot of some wooden pipes. Wooden pipes are particularly good for producing strong fundamental tones – the meat and potatoes. The main bass-producing pipes in most organs are made from wood.

The straight up-and-down metal cylindrical pipes are called flue pipes. This is where you get your flute and principal organ sounds. They’re made of a metal alloy. The wider the diameter of the pipe, the more mellow and flute-like the sound, and the more tin there is in the alloy, the brighter the sound. Flue pipes have a mouth on the side, and kind of look (and act) like a giant whistle. Air from the bellows enters the pipe through the foot, passes the mouth, and a tone is produced.

These are reed pipes. Reed pipes are slightly conical. The tone is made by the vibration of a metal reed located in the base (or “boot”) of the pipe. The boot also contains a shallot, which is like a woodwind mouthpiece. It focuses the air, and with the reed, produces the pitch.

Now, for the question I get asked most. “Which pipes make that big Phantom of the Opera or Toccata and Fugue sound?” Tricky answer. It’s not really one set of pipes. It’s that the control console on a pipe organ is capable of coupling many pipes together. For instance, if I wanted that sound, I could couple the 16-foot principal (flue) pipes with the 8′ principals, plus the 2′ principals. And add the reeds. Add some overtones (or “harmonics”). Plus the big bass sound of the pedals. So, you see, that sound is not found in one type of pipe as much as it is found in the combination of pipes. What you’re hearing is the fact that most of the pipes on the organ are being used – that is, the organist has “pulled out all the stops.”

On this particular organ, when I want some variant of that big glorious sound, I use just about everything, except maybe the crumhorns and regals, which sort of sound like bagpipes. And sometimes, I even use those.

At any rate. Ours a fabulous instrument, us at St. Luke’s, and I am privileged to play it, sweet little flutes to that big pipe organ roar. Thank you, Ranny, and don’t you worry. We’re going to keep her in great shape.


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Tales from the Organ Loft #1

Sunday, as most readers know, I can be found on the organ bench at the most awesome church ever, St. Luke’s in Saranac Lake. You should visit. It’s Episcopal, which I think is awesome. (Especially being someone who has seen every episode of The Vicar of Dibley and Clatterford.) And our Rector, Mother Ann is awesome. Seriously historic, gorgeous church. Awesome. And we have a pipe organ, which is also awesome.


It had been a busy week, and I managed to catch a cold besides. So I went in feeling a little wonky to begin with. For this particular Sunday service, I was switching off between the organ and piano. I had half of my music stacked on the piano, half on the organ. Somehow, I got the music to two of the hymns reversed. (You totally see what’s coming, don’t you?)

At the piano, I play the intro verse to the first hymn. Nicely, I might add. The congregation stands up two lines in, just like clockwork. Bless ’em – half of them must have already known I was making a mistake. I play a beautiful build up into the final into line, and we grandly cadence out of the intro verse. The procession is waiting at the back of the church.

And no one sings. No one walks down the aisle. I stop playing, stand up, look directly at the church full of people, and say, “I’m playing the wrong song, aren’t I?” The congregation, potentially the sweetest group of people I’ve ever met, a group that would never want to embarrass anyone or call attention to a mistake, doesn’t make a sound. Instead, they silently nod their heads, “Uh-huh.”

St. Luke’s is often so sweetly English, it out-Englishes England.


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