THE secret, says Jeffrey Makinson, sub-organist of Manchester
Cathedral, is to clothe the theme in a different harmony, tempo, or
rhythmic metre. Even then, there is a risk that your mischief
will make at least a few ears prick up.
Half of churchgoers have heard of an organist slipping
unexpected tunes into a service, suggests a new survey from
Christian Research, which has been published to coincide with the
Christian Resources Exhibition International next week.
From sneaking Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a prayer" into a sung
eucharist to playing "Money, money, money" during the collection,
instrumentalists appear to be combining the topical with the
irreverent. One of the 2250 respondents recalled hearing "Roll out
the barrel" during the funeral of an alcoholic.
Organists are not above using their instrument to exact revenge.
Stephen Goddard, who carried out the research, told the BBC
Sunday programme last week that one organist, when asked
to play at a former boyfriend's wedding, segued into "Can't help
loving dat man", as the couple processed back down the aisle. At
one church in Glasgow, an organist bearing a grudge against the
choirmaster opted for "Send in the clowns", as the choir took their
This week, readers of the Church Times, provided their
own examples, responding to a request on Twitter. One organist
reported mixing the tunes of "Raindrops keep falling on my head"
with "Make me a channel of your peace" before church one Sunday -
the former music also having been played during a wet wedding, to
The theme tune to Roobarb & Custard, the children's
TV show of the 1970s, was described as an "excellent voluntary" by
one musician, while a chorister recalled "fighting tears of
laughter", while processing out of Salisbury Cathedral to
"Goodbye", as sung by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.
The Bishop of Dudley, the Rt Revd David Walker, revealed that,
to avoid his future wife's hearing the bridal march that his
friend, an organist, had composed for their wedding, he had told
him to "riff on 'Yes, we have no bananas'" during the
Among the most inventive contributions were a postlude imitating
circus music, played after a sermon "on being a fool for Christ",
and a rendition of "We've only just begun" by the Carpenters to
mark the signing of an ecumenical covenant.
The responses suggest that a claim from one organist in the
survey - that "Nobody notices, I do it all the time!" - may be