Basically, you have an organ recital at the beginning and at the end of the mass, so that’s what I do. That’s the bit that I enjoy and that I practise quite hard. I play [Johann] Bach ’cause it’s pretty much religious. He always said everything he wrote was religious. There are a few that I do. I also play some of the cantatas, the most famous being Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. I also like them ’cause there’s a rhythmical swing to the music; his almost-jazz riffs off the melody that he uses for counterpoint. He starts the melody in one hand and moves into all these other voices. That’s one of the big tricks that jazz musicians do — they riff the melody. He does it all on one instrument.
At St Stephen’s it’s a 128-pipe organ, so when you turn up the volume you get a serious alarm throughout the neighbourhood. But by law you’re allowed religious freedom, so I turn up the volume.
I was playing Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. This happened at the end of the mass and people were walking out of the church. I was very happy with my efforts because it’s a very beautiful tune. I was expecting a fantastic reception, something that I would say had moved the hearts of the faithful, especially ’cause some had sung along to the choral bit.
Most of the congregation, they’re generally retired.
This one lady approached me and had her hand on her heart. I was expecting her to say that I’d moved her heart. Instead she said: “It was a wonderful rendition. It actually vibrated my pacemaker.”
I realised it was actually a nice way of saying: “You were playing that way too loud.”
I had to tone it down after that. — Adrian Cornelius (53), the organist at St Stephen’s Anglican Church in Sunninghill, as told to Beauregard Tromp