Wedding March

Tyres crunched on gravel, and a little later the doorbell rang.

“Good afternoon, Mr Saunders. Sorry we’re late. The blessed car wouldn’t start.” Amy Wishart stood in the porch, beaming, her fiancé Brian a step behind her.

I smiled back. Amy’s apple-pie cheeks glowed, her blonde hair bobbed around her ears and she wore the most fetching yellow scoop-necked dress. I wish more young ladies would wear dresses rather than scruffy jeans.

“No problem. I’m not on a tight schedule today. Come on in.”

Young Brian greeted me as he entered, with a jolly “Ar ya reet, boi?” in his broad Norfolk.

Joan emerged from the kitchen, tea-towel in hand.

“Wow, something smells good, Mrs Saunders,” Amy said.

“Yet more cakes for the Village Hall fundraiser. If we don’t sort out those loos, we’ll have the Health and Safety police closing the whole place down.”

“I hope you give us a chance to quote for the job, Mrs Saunders.” Brian Fletcher spoke slowly. “We need all the work we can get, especially with me and Amy trying to finish building our own place.”

“I’ll put in a word with the committee,” my wife replied. “Now off you go and sort out your music, and I’ll bring in your tea in about ten minutes. The cake needs to cool a little first.”

“Perfect,” I said, and led the way through to the drawing room. I had already placed two dining chairs either side of the piano stool. I sat at my post, Amy took the seat to my left and Brian the chair on the right. “Remind me when the big day is.”

“Saturday the twentieth of June,” Amy replied. “Thank you for agreeing to play for us, Mr Saunders. We are so lucky to have such a talented musician in our midst.”

Had I been fifty years younger I might have blushed at this compliment from such a fair young maid. Instead, I just glowed inside a little. “Almost the longest day,” I mused. “The day before the summer solstice.”

“It’s not unlucky, is that?” Brian asked. “We never thought.”

“Far from it. The solstice is a festival of light and fertility in many religions. And of course the Honey Moon, the first full moon in June, is supposed to be the ideal time to collect honey from the hives. Traditionally, the bride and groom eat honey for the first month after the wedding. They say honey is good for–” I tailed off. “Enough of my spouting.” You never know what young couples have in mind these days. For all I knew, Amy was already pregnant, or they didn’t want children, or they planned to wait a few years.

“Perfect! We hope to have a big family – at least four!” Amy exclaimed.

Brian nodded to my right, a wide grin on his ruddy face.

“To work.” I said, to change the subject. “We must start with a bit of a fanfare. Any idea what you’d like for the entrance? Some Parry, like Kate and Wills? Or the old favourites – Mendelssohn, Wagner, Widor?”

“You lost me already, Mr Saunders,” Brian said.

“But we do know what we like,” Amy said, in the business-like voice she used when she gave you an injection, or puffed up the sleeve of the blood-pressure monitor. She’d arrived in the village barely a year ago, recruited from far-off Spalding to fill the nursing vacancy at the surgery. Brian’s good fortune had been to fall off his ladder and need some stitches during her first week.

“Let’s start with the usual suspects.” I played a few bars of the Bridal March (or to be pedantic, which I am, Bridal Chorus) from Lohengrin.

Brian chuckled. “Here comes the bride, all fat and wide. I don’t think that’s my Amy.”

“I understand. Perhaps the Wagner is a bit stuffy anyway.” I launched into the Handel. After sixteen bars, they hadn’t stopped me.

“I like this one. What is that?” Brian asked eventually.

The Arrival of The Queen of Sheba by Georg Frederic Handel.

Brian clapped his meaty builder’s hands together and rocked forward on his chair. “O’right! I fancy being stood a-waiting for my Queen to arrive.”

“Brian boi, you daft ha’porth,” Amy said in a mock Norfolk accent – and not a bad one either. I glanced to my left. Love shone in those pretty hazel eyes.

I was much in demand for weddings, particularly in the prime nesting seasons of spring and early summer. I’m no Carlo Curley, but I am an Associate of the Royal College of Organists (ARCO), and give the odd recital around the county. I teach organ and piano, and founded the North Norfolk Singers eighteen years ago, so I can say I know my trade.

All of which keeps me going nicely in my (still earlyish!) seventies.

Joan entered with her tea tray. She bustled about, separated the nest of brass glass-topped tables and placed one by each of my guests. “Don’t put your mug on the piano or it’ll be your funeral,” she said with a smile.

The pair took a close interest in the music, as most couples do, though they were woefully ignorant of the classics. The Order of Service started to take shape. Only, they couldn’t agree on the Recessional. They didn’t go for the Widor (either the Toccata or the Finale), he liked the Trumpet Tune but she hated it, neither of them wanted The Wedding March or the Hallelujah Chorus or the Ode to Joy …

Brian glanced at his watch.

“One more idea,” I said, and reached for the album containing the Louis Vierne Finale from his First Organ Symphony. It’s my favourite party piece. “The tune is in the pedals, so I’ll have to sing it. Amy, will you turn the page when I nod?”

I launched in. “Pom pom pom, pom, pom-pom,” I sang in my hearty baritone. “Pom pombitty pom pom pom,” and nodded. Amy reached across to turn over. As she did, I became conscious of her scent. I don’t think it was anything artificial. Just her soap, or shampoo. Or a few stray molecules of some female pheromone, the distilled essence of youth, femininity and fecundity, as of a flower bud about to unfold. Whatever! (As my granddaughter says.) It was enough to quicken the pulse of any functioning male, even a contentedly married old codger.

I played on as far as the development section. They seemed to like the piece, but I sensed my pom-pomming was not doing the mighty tune justice. “Why don’t we meet up again at the church another day, and I’ll play the whole movement, and you can practise walking out?” I suggested.

“Good idea,” Brian said, with evident relief. “I’ve some concrete going off for Mr Fisher’s extension. I must get back and wet that down.”

“And I have evening surgery and stitches to take out,” Amy added. They looked at each other across me, and both laughed.

So we agreed to reconvene the following Tuesday at St Edmund’s at five in the afternoon, and they headed for the front door, calling out their thanks to Joan in her kitchen.

I stood in the doorway and winced at the screech of a faulty starter motor. At the second attempt, the engine of Amy’s elderly Fiesta cranked over and fired up. She turned the wheel, using the laborious driving-instructor technique and not crossing her hands, and with a crunch of tyres they set off.

Back in the drawing room, I moved to collect up the tea things.

“Tut-tut!” In her haste to leave, contrary to the Boss’s instructions, Amy had placed her mug on the piano, to the left of the music-stand. I picked it up. A ring of cold tea had penetrated the mirror-like black lacquer of my Bechstein.

I pulled my hanky from my pocket and rubbed. A faint mark remained. Oh, well. Worse things happen, I thought. I’d get Jenkins the French polisher from Holt around at some stage.

I never did, and the ring remains to this day.

Seated on the organ bench, I consulted my wristwatch. 5.20pm. I’d arrived half an hour early, and taken the opportunity to brush up the tricky middle section of the Vierne (a passage many organists skip by means of a judiciously-placed paperclip).

I was growing a little annoyed. My time is not completely valueless; I had a piano pupil later on in the afternoon, and the normal round of household and garden duties typical of any retiree.

The younger generation (by which I mean those under fifty) do not always regard punctuality as a virtue worthy of cultivation.

I hadn’t brought my mobile phone. I hate the things, to be honest, though they have their uses. So, to be fair, Amy and Brian couldn’t call me to warn of any delay, and nor could Joan.

I decided to give them another ten minutes, and resumed my practice.

The organ at St Edmund’s, King and Martyr, is a 1965 Rushworth and Dreaper, electro-mechanical action of course, but perfectly acceptable. Vicar finds the money to keep the instrument going – no mean achievement, as St Edmund’s is a huge church in a tiny village.

The mixtures were screeching a bit; not unlike Amy’s car starter motor. The smaller reeds tend to go sharp in the summer. I made a mental note to get the tuner in before the twentieth.

I glanced in my mirror, which is large, and angled so I have a clear view of the celebrant, the choir and even a fair portion of the nave. I can’t be doing with those silly, small car rear-view mirrors some organists use.

With a jolt, I spotted Amy seated in an aisle-end pew, half-way down the nave, in her blue nurse’s uniform. She’d obviously come straight from the surgery. I hadn’t heard her arrive. I stopped playing, twisted on the bench and called down from my elevated position, “Glad you made it. Where’s Brian?”

“He’s coming soon. He sent me on ahead.”

No apology.

“Shall I play the Vierne for you from the beginning, while we wait? Do you want to come up into the loft and turn the pages?”

“No thank you, Mr Saunders. I’d rather listen from here.”

Fair enough. Perhaps she thought it compromising to sit next to me on the bench at such an intimate distance, just the two of us in the cool church, with the afternoon sun throwing coloured patterns from the stained glass on to the choir stalls. Young women are brought up to be so wary. Such a shame.

I turned back to Page One, depressed the Great to Pedal piston, selected a few more stops for the full effect, and played. I had to fumble the turns, taking my left hand away from the manual for a moment.

The movement takes about five minutes. The final triumphant D-major chord died away, and I glanced in the mirror for a reaction.

“What a lovely tune,” Amy called up, her voice echoing. “Please play it on the twentieth, on my big day.”

I’d expected to see Brian next to Amy by now. Still no sign of him. “I can’t stay much longer, I have a piano pupil at six,” I called down.

Just then, an ear-splitting screech set up from the pipework above me: a couple of notes from the 4’ trumpet, and a random selection from the Mixture III, with a diapason thrown in for good measure somewhere. The resultant noise formed a ghastly, pulsing, wailing cacophony that I couldn’t stop.

The instrument isn’t prone to ciphers, in fact this was the first in my time. It’s more common with tracker organs; a rod jams or a spring snaps, and the pipe sounds off non-stop, stuck in the open position.

In this instance, an electrical fault seemed more likely to be the cause.

Thank goodness it hadn’t happened during a service! You couldn’t possibly carry on: the noise was deafening.

I flipped up all the stops, to no avail. If anything, the wailing and shrieking increased, with new notes added at random to the discord. The only remedy was to turn off the blower and send for the repairer.

I reached down and pressed the Off button. After a few seconds, as the pressure decreased in the bellows, the wailing sound began to die away, but ever so slowly. The squealing pipes dropped in pitch and cut off one by one, reminding me of a warthog, caught by lions, in its death throes on the African plains. At least fifteen seconds elapsed before blessed silence descended.

My ears rang from the din. I turned my head and called down, “Sorry about the racket. The organ has developed a fault.”

But Amy’s pew was now vacant. I heaved my legs over the bench and leaned on the rail to look down the nave.


“Hello, Amy?” I called.

My voice echoed back at me.

Blow me, she’d upped and gone. Probably to check if Brian had arrived outside. I clattered down the steep, winding stairs from the organ loft into the body of the church and hurried to the door. I pulled the ring handle. Sunshine blinded me for a moment.

No car outside, save my own trusty four-wheeled steed.

Amy had quite simply vanished. Perhaps the cipher from the organ had scared her and she’d run off. Perhaps she thought I’d made the noise to frighten her.

No, all that was ridiculous.

Bewildered by the ways of modern youth, I returned to the organ loft. I reached down the little notebook we use to record faults, wrote in the date and added the entry “Serious cipher, multiple notes and ranks, instrument unplayable,” left the book open on the Great manual, then locked everything up and drove slowly home, ready for a cup of tea and a piece of cake.

I opened the front door.

I could tell by the expression on Joan’s face that something was very wrong.