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Anthony Poole

Voluntaries Or Compulsories?

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Guest Roffensis

By the way again, the Bach and Charpentier you mention, take a look at the walond Voluntaries, the six vols for organ are very good, partic. no 3 and 6. The 6th has a superb fugal second half, and is rarely played these days. These pieces, like all the old voluntaries, are good for technique, and finger independancy, and they are not difficult really. A bit fiddly but you'll manage them fine if you sit down a hour a day and go at it slowly, and then increase speed as confidence grows.

Another thing, is in playing hymns, try using just the 8 foot in the pedal on some versdes, or omit the pedals altogether. For Crimond for example, verse one could be just the Diapasons, verse 2 is more happy in its wording so you can add a 2 foot. Verse three is the valley etc and death, so for the first two lines, use a manual 16 or something gloomy to thicken it out, then for 3 and 4 lines, go the other way, and use a little more upperwork. Verse 4 keep off the pedals for the first two lines, the 3 and 4 lines you can then revert to pedals and add more. Verse 5 I always go for it with, have the swell going with reeds, as its really all about thanks, and round it off pretty "full", but not too loud full! If you play the words, it does make a difference, and people do notice. There are of organists out there who can play organ music well, but have little sensitivity in doing what is the most important. Its worth doing both!!!

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I couldn't agree more with Matthew than if I'd been sitting in the organ loft myself. I speak as one who wears his collar back-to-front but who is also a wannabe organist. If you're going to to play something special at the end of the service, and you've taken care to choose a voluntary that fits with the Gospel - just as we have chosen and spoken on a theme that fits the Gospel - then we appreciate your work and will support you. We clergy may seem to be the worst offenders, in some ways, because we generally stand at the back and say the dismissal prayers, then perforce talk to the members of the congregation who wouldn't listen to the organ if you stuck one of the front rank up their nose for a good sniff.

 

If I'm honest, I'd rather listen to what you're doing with the best of all musical instruments than I would listen to the story of how Mrs Unguent's leg has been playing her up this week or about how Fluffy the pet pirrhana has developed a distressing rash - but the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries seems to bring out volubility in the congregation, and who am I, a servant of the Church (with a capital "C") to deny them the chance to relate such stories? If I could clamp them all to their pews for the duration of the Toccata in G, I would; but I can't, and that's the way the world is - However, I do occasionally hear myself saying to a parishioner ""hang on a minute, I love this bit..."

 

Though we may be your worst enemies in some cases, bear in mind that most of us in the clergy were brought up with ecclesiastical music, and may actually be the ones who most want to listen to your playing. I admit, there is no accounting for some clerical eedjit who wants to replace the glorious instrument that was installed in a church to replace the gallery band, by introducing a CD player or some gratingly-bad set of guitarists and a tambourine player, but there are those in every sphere of life who will make change for change's sake.

 

Incidentally, somebody asked "what do you do about an overly-loud Vicar?" Well, many of you sit in an elevated position and, especially in the grander Gothic buildings, no-one would see you aiming the hunting rifle with the fitted silencer...

 

Oh, and about Theo's comment about educating us poor clerics... Some of us do try to maintain a degree of solemnity about what's just been sung or played; mind you, I speak as a member of what might be called the "Cartholick" tradition, where it's usual to maintain a period of silence - and what would you, as organists, do about a player who assumes that the cleric has gone to sleep, or forgotten what's happening, so (for example) starts playing the Nunc before there's been a suitable pause after the second lesson ar Evensong? Or the one who insists on playing Appleford's appalling two-tone siren noise for "Christ has died" before us chaps up the front have finished reverencing the Sacrament at the second elevation?

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DISCLAIMER: I am not an organist - yet.

 

Does anyone know of a Web source where I could find an MP3 or WAV of Lefebre-Wely's "En Sortie..."? (It was in a search for this piece of music that I found this message board). I have a couple who think they know the composer and have heard of the piece, so that they think it might be "nice" for their wedding. I used to have an old vinyl LP of Sortie but it's gone elsewhere and not been returned, so I can't play it for them (and my organist will not stoop so low) ; and I need to convince them that what might have been appropriate to San Sulpice does not work on a small Fr Willis in an English country church.

 

And, if truth be told, I just want to see their faces when they hear what it *really* sounds like.

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DISCLAIMER: I am not an organist - yet.

 

Does anyone know of a Web source where I could find an MP3 or WAV of Lefebre-Wely's "En Sortie..."?  (It was in a search for this piece of music that I found this message board).  I have a couple who think they know the composer and have heard of the piece, so that they think it might be "nice" for their wedding.  I used to have an old vinyl LP of Sortie but it's gone elsewhere and not been returned, so I can't play it for them (and my organist will not stoop so low) ; and I need to convince them that what might have been appropriate to San Sulpice does not work on a small Fr Willis in an English country church.

 

And, if truth be told, I just want to see their faces when they hear what it *really* sounds like.

 

Hi

 

Good to have another member of the clergy on the forum! (I'm a Baptist minister in Bradford).

 

I've not got time to check at present (Morning Prayers with the other local clergy (Anglican & Roman Catholic) looms), but the L-W could be available on the Organs & Organists online web site (you'll probably need to register, but the site is worth a visit anyway).

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Sortie in Bb can be heard lo-fi at www.romseyabbeychoir.org.uk on the Listen to us page.

 

A better quality recording is obtainable through www.gillianweir.com on the Koss Classics "Scherzo" CD. I may be able to email you a high quality version, please send message thru the board if you would like me to do this.

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Guest Roffensis
I played the Sousa "Liberty Bell March" last week and got a round of applause at the end of it, whereas a more demanding (and rewarding) piece of Bach passes without comment. That's life I suppose.

 

Its Holzman's "Blaze Away" next week, that should get them going again!

 

At a very Evangelical church I suffered for years with a original 1863 Willis three decker and congregation of old ladies singing about wiggly worms WITH actions on the front row, I played "Feed the Birds" during communion, and I also played the cancan during a PCC meeting. :)

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Guest Roffensis
Hi

 

Good to have another member of the clergy on the forum!  (I'm a Baptist minister in Bradford).

 

I've not got time to check at present (Morning Prayers with the other local clergy (Anglican & Roman Catholic) looms), but the L-W could be available on the Organs & Organists online web site (you'll probably need to register, but the site is worth a visit anyway).

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

I played at a Presbyterian for years (another Willis, original 1877!) and I have to say they were brilliant there.

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I played at a Presbyterian for years (another Willis, original 1877!) and I have to say they were brilliant there.

 

The best way to get people to applaud Bach is to play nothing but Messiaen, Tippett and Arvo Part for a couple of months...

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Guest Barry Oakley
The best way to get people to applaud Bach is to play nothing but Messiaen, Tippett and Arvo Part for a couple of months...

 

I make no apology for saying so, but a great many people have been turned off organ music by too much exposure to Bach's organ repertoire. To the uninitiated it can sound extremely frenetic.

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I make no apology for saying so, but a great many people have been turned off organ music by too much exposure to Bach's organ repertoire. To the uninitiated it can sound extremely frenetic.

 

Well, you do have to choose carefully, I must admit - my staple diet is the Orgelbuchlein, 18, trios and Schublers - most of the preludes don't really do it for me - I find Bach works at his best when clearly writing for strings.

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The best way to get people to applaud Bach is to play nothing but Messiaen, Tippett and Arvo Part for a couple of months...

 

Or perhaps you could conclude every service with Michael Berkley's "Wild Bells" until they beg for something with a tune.

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I've wondered for some time where the term organ voluntary comes from?
I'm surprised no one really answered this. The term "voluntary" dates back to the sixteenth century (no earlier, I think) and means the same as "fantasy" and "ricercare" ("to search out"). The concept common to all these terms is "the composer's whim". The voluntary/fantasy/ricercare is a distinct form, which Thomas Morley described thus in his A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musick (1597):
The most principal and chiefest kind of music which is made without a ditty is the Fantasy, that is when a musician taketh a point at his pleasure and wresteth and turneth it as he list, making either much or little of it according as shall seem best in his own conceit. In this may more art be shown than in any other music because the composer is tied to nothing, but that he may add, diminish, and alter at his pleasure.

A few paragraphs later Morley speaks of "points of voluntary upon an instrument". In practice the voluntary/fantasia/ricercare is a contrapuntal form that treats a number of points of imitation in succession, in the same way that the more "meaty" Tudor anthems and motets have a different point of imitation for each new phrase of text. Tallis's motet O sacrum convivium actually started life as an instrumental fantasia. So did Byrd's Laudate pueri Dominum.

 

As for the pig-ignorant attitude of British congregations, I despair. What a contrast you find in Germany. I remember a few years ago playing Vierne's Carillon de Westminster in Aachen Cathedral after the Sunday morning mass. At the end I was surprised to be greeted with an ample round of applause. I looked over the balcony and found the whole congregation still glued to their seats. That's how it is there - the service isn't over until the voluntary has ended. And that's how it should be. Of course, they are cultured and take music seriously over there. I suspect the British tradition (since at least John Wesley's time) of producing softly pious, liturgical "mush" of no musical significance whatsoever hasn't done us any favours.

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I'm surprised no one really answered this. The term "voluntary" dates back to the sixteenth century (no earlier, I think) and means the same as "fantasy" and "ricercare" ("to search out"). The concept common to all these terms is "the composer's whim". The voluntary/fantasy/ricercare is a distinct form, which Thomas Morley described thus in his A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musick (1597):

 

A few paragraphs later Morley speaks of "points of voluntary upon an instrument". In practice the voluntary/fantasia/ricercare is a contrapuntal form that treats a number of points of imitation in succession, in the same way that the more "meaty" Tudor anthems and motets have a different point of imitation for each new phrase of text. Tallis's motet O sacrum convivium actually started life as an instrumental fantasia. So did Byrd's Laudate pueri Dominum.

 

As for the pig-ignorant attitude of British congregations, I despair. What a contrast you find in Germany. I remember a few years ago playing Vierne's Carillon de Westminster in Aachen Cathedral after the Sunday morning mass. At the end I was surprised to be greeted with an ample round of applause. I looked over the balcony and found the whole congregation still glued to their seats. That's how it is there - the service isn't over until the voluntary has ended. And that's how it should be. Of course, they are cultured and take music seriously over there. I suspect the British tradition (since at least John Wesley's time) of producing softly pious, liturgical "mush" of no musical significance whatsoever hasn't done us any favours.

 

Just to play devil's advocate for a moment, is the concluding voluntary an integral part of the service, given that the music played will often have little or no relation to the over-riding themes of the service just gone. For whom are these voluntaries played? The congregation (they don't often listen), God? Or, for ourselves - ie, look at what I can play. If the congregation's priority is to get to the tea, coffee and fellowship with their friends, then who are we to get upset because they don't want to sit and listen to organ music? Or is it that we want to be centre of attention and receive that round of applause? In no way am I criticising anyone, don't get me wrong, just that's how it seems.

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As for the pig-ignorant attitude of British congregations, I despair.

 

Well how about this then? Last week, on Ash Wednesday, I played JSB's "O Lammes Gott, unshuldig" BWV618 as the concluding voluntary. People remained quiet until it was finished, and then left the church in near silence. Contrast that attitude with that shown four days later. Again, I chose a reflective piece - "Erbarm dich mein" BWV721 - but this time I had to compete with a group of people 10ft behind me, who spent the entire time laughing and guffawing loudly.

 

No, I wasn't expecting a round of applause. Far from it. I would simply like people to either sit and listen, or leave quietly.

 

It was the closest I have come to stopping mid-piece and giving up.

:blink:

Dear Graham Powell:

 

The fact that you kept on & did NOT give up or let fly w/ protests says something about the legendary good manners of the English.

 

I have a very nice job (oxymoron?) in a RC church. The rubrics say NO solo instrumental music for memorial Masses, funerals or during Lent. Nevertheless, I do play for about 5-10 min before each Mass (repertoire) & improvise for about 30 sec on mp foundations after Mass. What do you think? Am I doing right or wrong?

 

Needy American

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Guest Andrew Butler

I had been wondering where to put this question!

 

How many of my fellow RC organists obey the "no voluntaries during Lent apart from the 4th Sunday, and feasts" rule, as most recently defined in The Ceremonial Of Bishops 1989? I do, but my PP says it is "only a suggestion" and encourages my deputies to play voluntaries in my absence.

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An ex work-colleague of mine, once organist at the parish church in one of the most photographed villages in Essex, played the same voluntary for several weeks on the trot. After 4 weeks no one had passed comment.

 

On the other hand...

 

I remember playing the St Anne fugue after Evensong one Trinity Sunday a few years back. I assumed that by the time I had finished everyone but the churchwarden would be gone - imagine my surprise at the spontaneous round of applause that greeted the final Eb chord ! I genuinely had no idea that anyone was still listening, so still and attentive had they sat.

 

Last year, as our vicar was about to depart on Sabbatical, I played the theme from John Williams' Raiders of the Lost Ark - which elicted very favourable comments, particularly from the incumbent !

 

H

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Just to play devil's advocate for a moment, is the concluding voluntary an integral part of the service, given that the music played will often have little or no relation to the over-riding themes of the service just gone.  For whom are these voluntaries played?  The congregation (they don't often listen), God? Or, for ourselves - ie, look at what I can play.
I suspect you might get as many different answers to this as there are organists. If you want to "theme" your voluntaries to the service you are more or less going to have to restrict yourself to playing chorale preludes and other programmatic music. But I don't see any need to be so restrictive. To my mind a voluntary that enhances the mood of the service is sufficient; if on occasion a more direct link is possible, all well and good. And, yes, as far as I am concerned it is part of the service on a par with any other musical item. In my book (though not everyone takes this view) that means an offering to God through which the congregation can hopefuly raise themselves to a more spiritual level as an aid to worship. The one thing music in a church service definitely is not - under any circumstances - is a concert.

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I had been wondering where to put this question!

 

How many of my fellow RC organists obey the "no voluntaries during Lent apart from the 4th Sunday, and feasts" rule, as most recently defined in The Ceremonial Of Bishops 1989?  I do, but my PP says it is "only a suggestion" and encourages my deputies to play voluntaries in my absence.

 

================

 

We don't have much an option this year, due to the organ being in small pieces.

 

However, I generally disregard the "rule" save for Holy Week itself, but tend to play more subdued voluntaries.

 

MM

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As for the pig-ignorant attitude of British congregations, I despair.

 

Well how about this then? Last week, on Ash Wednesday, I played JSB's "O Lammes Gott, unshuldig" BWV618 as the concluding voluntary. People remained quiet until it was finished, and then left the church in near silence.

Excellent! I was of course generalising and, as with all generalisations, there are exceptions. Not all congregations are philistines. It's a pity that you had the opposite experience so soon afterwards though.

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Dear Graham Powell:

 

The fact that you kept on & did NOT give up or let fly w/ protests says something about the legendary good manners of the English.

 

I have a very nice job (oxymoron?) in a RC church.  The rubrics say NO solo instrumental music for memorial Masses, funerals or during Lent.  Nevertheless, I do play for about 5-10 min before each Mass (repertoire) & improvise for about 30 sec on mp foundations after Mass.  What do you think?  Am I doing right or wrong?

 

Needy American

 

Dear Needy American,

 

I think that sounds fine.

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I couldn't agree more, VH. A couple of years ago, I suggested to my Rector that we could omit organ voluntaries during Lent. He preferred to have organ music, but quiet, penitential stuff such as I've described. I'm happy to do this, but I'm afraid the Sunday congregation sees quiet music as an invitation to express themselves loudly :( 

 

Anyway, after Sunday's shoutalong I had a moan, and a gentle reminder to worshippers to keep quiet will appear in next week's pewsheet. It won't work of course - it never does...........

 

But why is it that people who visit libraries, and even courts of law, speak in hushed, reverential tones? Something to do with the lack of organ music I guess? :blink:

 

One reason which may encourage people to behave with some decorum in law courts is that judges have power to commit to gaol for contempt people who disrupt the due administration of justice. The fear of immediate temporal punishment seems to weigh more heavily on the mind than the apprehension of divine displeasure at some indeterminate future date.

 

Perhaps I might add a couple of points from the point of view of someone who is usually to be found in the pew on Sunday rather than on the organ bench. It goes without saying that these points could not possibly be applicable to any member here.

 

(1) I have more than once in my life encountered an organist whose reach considerably exceeded his grasp in the matter of voluntaries. Those who know and love organ music are unlikely to wish to stay (either silent or physically present) while listening to an embarrassing approximation to a piece that they know: those who do not are unlikely to be converted to the cause and may well have enough musical sensibility to grasp the shortcomings on display. As I have said before it is not necessary to be able to lay an egg to recognise a bad one!

 

(2) It was Harvey Grace (and he died in 1944) who advocated that the introductory and concluding voluntaries should be on the music lists along with the psalms, anthems and hymns. He reasoned that this produced two benefits : only good music would be selected since nobody would wish to chance his or her reputation by advertising themselves as playing rubbish (query whether this would still be the case today) AND having committed to the piece it would encourage prior practice. In the military axiom proper prior preparation prevents p*@$ poor performance. How widely is his advice followed these days ? If the congregation were advised of what they would be hearing (and how long it was going to last) they might conceivably behave better, though there is no certainty they would.

 

Whenever we have a voluntary I do listen but our DM takes what to me appears a rather idiosynchratic approach that the piano should always be played more loudly than the organ. Perhaps he really wants to use the piano for voluntaries ?

 

Brian Childs

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There is much which is clearly good sense, here. There is also much to regret - often with regard to the attitude of a congregation to organ music.

 

In my church, the problem, particularly at Mass, is similar to that which many have already described. Our congregation generally pays little attention to the outgoing voluntary. There are always a few 'hard-core' listeners who sit resolutely in their pews and often, afterwards, come up to the organ loft and express their appreciation of the voluntary. This is certainly encouraging.

 

However, I would agree with those commentators who have expressed a view that they regard the organ voluntaries as part of the service. I think that it is very important to stress this point. In consequence, I try to ensure that the music I play not only enhances the act of worship, but also harmonises with the mood, as it were. To this end, I dislike publishing my voluntaries, except at major festivals. This is because it gives me the luxury of being able to substitute a piece which is more suitable to a particular occasion - in fact, to the mood which is prevalent at the end of the service. If anything, it makes me practise more, because I need to have a selection of pieces available (and up to performance standard) on any given Sunday.

 

I also improvise frequently - partly because it is something in which I am greatly interested and also because, by so doing, I am able exactly to match the mood of the service. I often use plainsong or hymn-tune themes for this - usually I first check the Holy Days Proper section in the NEH. If nothing seems appropriate, I will cast my thoughts further afield to gain inspiration.

 

I believe strongly in 'atmsophere' during a service - and I do my best to ensure that I contibute positively to this at every occasion. It is so easy to play an 'unsuitable' piece - or even to play a suitable piece unsympathetically and in so doing, adversely to affect the prevailing mood of a service.

 

Whilst this means that I often improvise on up to eight separate occasions on a Sunday, I try to keep a record of what I do, and try to ensure that I improvise in recognised forms - and not 'repeat' a similar style within a few weeks. In fact, much as one would plan printed music.

 

Another advantage of improvising, particularly before a service (or during the administration) is that one can be totally flexible as regards time. I dislike playing printed music before a service, because it is simply not possible accurately to gauge when the procession will have arrived at the stalls - and I have no intention of truncating (or artificially lengthening) a well-known piece of repertoire!

 

However, it would be nice if the congregation sat and listened - the congregations for Matins and Evensong do, virtually every week. Unfortunately, the congregation at Mass is just not that well-trained - yet.

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To this end, I dislike publishing my voluntaries, except at major festivals. This is because it gives me the luxury of being able to substitute a piece which is more suitable to a particular occasion - in fact, to the mood which is prevalent at the end of the service. If anything, it makes me practise more, because I need to have a selection of pieces available (and up to performance standard) on any given Sunday.

 

I also improvise frequently - partly because it is something in which I am greatly interested and also because, by so doing, I am able exactly to match the mood of the service. I often use plainsong or hymn-tune themes for this - usually I first check the Holy Days Proper section in the NEH. If nothing seems appropriate, I will cast my thoughts further afield to gain inspiration.

 

Another advantage of improvising, particularly before a service (or during the administration) is that one can be totally flexible as regards time. I dislike playing printed music before a service, because it is simply not possible accurately to gauge when the procession will have arrived at the stalls - and I have no intention of truncating (or artificially lengthening) a well-known piece of repertoire!

 

.

 

I can fully appreciate the reasoning and logic behind this thinking and for gifted improvisers (which I am sure PCND is) this approach may well be the best. However, it is a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless, that not every organist is capable of performing at the level of David Briggs or Nigel Allcoat. There are some whose efforts can only have one cringing with embarrassment . For such as these, if they are unable or unwilling to learn to do it better, playing "something that was prepared earlier" is the only viable option. The composers amongst you should perhaps take note. A supply of good quality, but relatively easy to play, music would be a boon to these players and their auditors alike. Even more beneficial would be pieces deliberately designed to be elastic in length so that the problem to which PCND calls attention is provided for already. Since it is more difficult to write good quality music that is simple to play than it is to write technically difficult stuff doing this would not be without its challenges!

 

BAC

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