“Good has come out of all this:” One music director’s reflection on music ministry in COVID-19

by Erick Kroll (pictured above), music director and organist for Zion Episcopal Church in Rome, NY and Trinity Episcopal Church in Canastota, NY.

When diocesan churches suspended in-person worship, we entered a new phase of trying to provide parishioners an online worship service as close to the “real thing” as possible. I am the music director and organist at Zion Episcopal in Rome and Trinity Episcopal in Canastota. Due to computer hardware restrictions, the only way that I could think of to include music for the hymns was to set up a YouTube channel and have our priest (who serves both parishes aforementioned) play my recordings during his Facebook service broadcasts each Sunday. It has grown into quite a novel outreach ministry.

It started this past Easter Sunday. After a lot of teaching myself how to set up a YouTube channel; posting videos; typing in descriptions; how to use a cell phone to share videos (my laptop has very low resolution); how to insert tags (a friend of mine had to show me how to do that); where to put the microphone for the best sound possible; lots and lots of retakes because anybody in the world can potentially watch my videos and they have to be as perfect as I can make them and having to operate the camera myself since I have no camera operator. Whew! A lot of logistics involved.

It has been intimidating recording myself, but the intimidation is slowly wearing off. Every musician who listens to a recording of him or herself will—at least in my case—discover some things in his or her performance that could use some correction and polish. In the case of organs, figuring out the best combination of pipes to use for a music piece or hymn is a major consideration in addition to all the other logistics in recording. But some good has come out of all this for me. After listening to myself and noting the flaws in my playing, I have grown as an organist and musician.

The organ at Zion in Rome is a Neo-Baroque mechanical instrument unique to our area, and I have been able—after listening to myself play on it—to make adjustments in my hymn-playing technique to better facilitate hymn singing. The three biggest adjustments have been allowing the sound to end between phrases, allowing the sound to end before changing organ registration, and incorporating a true ritard at the end of the hymn. Some of this is still a work in progress as you can’t teach an old dog new tricks overnight.

If this story has piqued your interest, and if you miss hearing your church’s organ on Sunday, flip over to my YouTube channel. You can listen to over two dozen recordings, mistakes and all (due to the intimidation of recording myself) including some clips of last year’s Zion’s Messiah Sing! held every 4th Sunday of Advent. There are two hymns for every Sunday from Easter Day going forward and 99 percent of the time are in accordance to either the Old or New Testament lesson and the Gospel lesson for that particular Sunday. There are also some unique hymn introductions here and there. If the hymns seem short, it is due to memory restrictions. When the diocese returns to in-person worship, it will not be the end of my YouTube channel. I will still continue to post the hymns for each Sunday; and if I can find someone to operate the camera, I’ll be able to post more challenging pieces in the months to come.

Note: Zion is believed to be the only parish in the Diocese of Central New York that has a Neo-Baroque mechanical action pipe organ.  It was installed in 1975 by Noack in Boston, MA Opus 79.

Email the author, Erick Kroll.

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