“My Ash Wednesday Penance”

a Short Story by Henry Doktorski


The two manuals of the 1989 Schlicker organ at House of Prayer Lutheran, Escondido, California.

I was thrilled when Pastor Dr. Daren Erisman agreed with me when I told him (immediately following our noon 2017 Ash Wednesday service) that the House of Prayer Lutheran 1989 two-manual and pedal Schlicker organ in Escondido, California, needed better lighting on the manuals.

First, I must point out that the manuals, and the console, are gorgeous; the wood is just as beautiful visually as the pipes are aurally. For instance, the “white” keys appear to be made from ebony and the “black” keys from rosewood (or maybe a dark walnut). They are extremely beautiful to look at, but there is not a great deal of contrast between black and dark brown. In addition, the part of the sanctuary where the console sits is not well lighted. Perhaps a regular black and white keyboard might work on a console in that location, but the contrast between the ebony and rosewood is not pronounced. Therefore, it is hard to clearly see the two manuals in the dim lighting, and this could be a problem while performing.

Pastor Erisman, who seems to love an engineering challenge (I heard he has several degrees in engineering), got right on it and that same afternoon purchased a LED strip which fit beautifully under the console’s music rack. And the light produced was glorious! Finally I could see the manuals clearly.


An LED lighting strip.

However, we wanted to first test out our new lighting arrangement during our 7 pm Ash Wednesday service before permanently affixing the LED strip to the underside of the music rack with adhesive tape. So I telephoned HOP Music Director Carol Gross and asked her to bring a few clothespins (spring-loaded variety) when she came for the choir rehearsal preceding the evening service so I could use them as clips to temporarily secure the LED strip under the ledge of the music rack.

It was a good idea in theory, but not in practice. In order to get the clothespins to open wide enough to grip both the music rack ledge and the LED strip, I had to force them open a considerably larger distance than they were designed to handle. This put A LOT of pressure (Potential Energy) on the metal springs.

While testing the clothespins before the service, I turned a page of music on the music rack and the page brushed against one of the clothespins. The clothespin, in a blink of an eye, snapped shut faster than a Venus Flytrap and shot off the music rack at great speed (narrowly missing my face) and crashed into the wall behind me with a “SNAP.” Simultaneously, the other two pins snapped off also and the entire LED strip fell down onto the swell manual. Potential Energy had been transformed into Kinetic Energy.


Don’t underestimate the potential energetic force in a metal spring!

Upon reflection, I decided that I would have to be extremely careful during the evening service whenever I turned pages, as I wanted to use the LED strip anyway, despite the risk, because finally, for the first time since accepting the position as organist at House of Prayer Lutheran (HOP) on February 1st, I could clearly see the keys on the two manuals. The service began promptly, and everything was going just fine. Somehow, however, when I was replacing one music book with another on the music rack, I accidentally jostled one of the clips, and “SNAP!” off flew the clothespins again, smacking against the wall behind me, and the LED strip once again fell down onto the swell manual. Pastor Erisman on the altar looked like he was about to lose it, but he managed to control himself and keep a straight face. I decided (unwisely, it seems) to hook up the LED strip again, and this time, I promised myself (cross my heart), I would be more careful NOT to jostle it.

But, you guessed it! After another ten minutes or so, I forgot to be careful, and the clothespins snapped off the third and last time, and the LED strip fell down again on the swell manual. This time, however, I unplugged the darned thing and set it down on the floor besides me. It wasn’t worth the hassle; I’d rather play in the dark than deal with this temperamental, spring-loaded jack-in-a-box.

I noticed several choir members tittering and laughing under their breath, but I don’t think anyone in the congregation was aware what was happening. After all, it’s not like anyone makes a habit of watching everything the organist does. When I return to HOP on Sunday, I hope to see the LED strip permanently affixed with adhesive tape.

The author at the House of Prayer Lutheran 1989 Schlicker Organ.