Christmastime is here, and churches across Estonia are busy. In addition to church services, bigger churches are also playing host to several holiday concerts. Mari Järvi, the organist at the Catholic Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral (Peeter-Pauli katedraal) in Tallinn, is to play the organ at a total of 18 Masses during the holidays.
There was a half-hour break in the schedule between the Polish- and Estonian-language Masses at Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral on Sunday morning, and Järvi sat and waited to be told what songs would be sung during the next Mass.
"Generally speaking, you know what Mass is, and what Mass consists of, how Mass is structured," she said. "I suppose I've learned that over the 40 years I have played here. But what songs are included in the liturgy — those I am told, oh, I don't know, two minutes prior to Mass."
The organ at Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral was built in 1913 by Estonian organ builder August Terkmann, whose organs can be found in several churches across the country, including the Church of the Holy Spirit (Püha Vaimu kirik) in Tallinn. The organ at St. John's Church (Jaani kirik) in Tallinn was likewise modernized by Terkmann.
Prior to its renovation, the organ at Sts. Peter and Paul even bordered on difficult to play, Järvi admitted.
"It's a pneumatic organ: it makes a sound in such a way that when I press this key, the sound comes later," she explained. "You always have to take into consideration here that you can't play very fast-tempo songs here, because you have to take into consideration that the sound will always be delayed. This is better suited to playing romantic, more melodious music. No more pneumatic organs like this were built after 1940, because they aren't dependable."
Church visitors and attendees cannot see the organist, but Järvi was at the keys when the cathedral was visited by both Pope John Paul II in 1993 and Pope Francis in 2018.
Järvi herself has also given organ music concerts, but she noted that when playing organ at Mass, a soloist's skills aren't enough, as the organist unites the priest, the choir and the congregation.
"If some kind of hiccup occurs somewhere, the organist has to smooth it over to ensure that everything comes together again," she said. "This actually provides you with the opportunity to more fully participate in Mass, because I cannot forget myself for even a moment."
Editor: Aili Vahtla