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Accompanying Psalms


peter ellis
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Just back from our Ascension service - it just struck me half way through verse 6 today just how much i enjoy accompanying Psalms - does anyone else share my weakness?

 

Yes.

 

Famous story concerning psalms accompaniments at Guildford - BR - "Geoffrey, WORD PAINTING." "Yes?" "Not EVERY word, Geoffrey!"

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Just back from our Ascension service - it just struck me half way through verse 6 today just how much i enjoy accompanying Psalms - does anyone else share my weakness?

 

 

Does singing psalms, whilst someone who knows how to accompany them properly, count? If so, yes.

 

:huh:

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As long as the choir is good, yes. Especially when word painting, either through choice of stops or alternative accompniments

 

Congregationally sung - No as it is so much harder

 

Agreed - in my case i get to play for a professional 12 voice choir so I'm very lucky. We usually do two or three responsorial verses for congregational input.

 

Was hard not to word paint tonight in Psalm 110 with all the slaking and shattering - I was a bit stumped for what to do with Melchizedek though

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Just back from our Ascension service - it just struck me half way through verse 6 today just how much i enjoy accompanying Psalms - does anyone else share my weakness?

 

 

Ascension has been transferred to Sunday in the Italian Mission. We get to do "God goes up with shouts of joy" on Sunday as the responsorial psalm. Not sure which setting to use though.

 

On a general level, yes, I love accompanying psalms as long as the cantor follows the music! :huh:

 

Peter

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Just back from our Ascension service - it just struck me half way through verse 6 today just how much i enjoy accompanying Psalms - does anyone else share my weakness?

Yes! :D

Have some numbers from the psalm recordings from Westminster Abbey as a permanent recreation tool on my laptop!

So this means just listening for me. But during studying in Vienna, i liked to be called as substitute singer for the Anglican Church there...!

Beeing organist (but a poor one, under those circumstances) for a vacational singing of the Walbrook singers at Derby cathedral, some years ago, I learned about the high task. Will try to introduce english psalm settings with german words at my coming position....

I offer my deep respect to all choirs and organists performing psalms on high level! It is really one of the finest jewels within the global treasure of church music.

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Have some numbers from the psalm recordings from Westminster Abbey as a permanent recreation tool on my laptop!

This reminds me that I have in my player a recording I made in the mid-1980s (with permission) of a quarterly Anglican Evensong in Oslo (Lutheran) Cathedral, directed by Terje Kvam. Just like England, really - bells pealing over an introductory improvisation, Byrd: Haec dies, Leighton: responses, Howells: Coll Reg, Hadley: My Beloved Spake, and really excellently chanted and accompanied psalms in Norwegian. I missed only a big set-piece voluntary - we got a pleasant improvisation continuing straight out of the closing hymn (which was one I've never come across in this country at all, and sung by the congregation with a level of expressiveness that many choirs fail to reach).

 

The following weekend I recorded a recital in the cathedral that included a setting of words from the Song of Songs, in Norwegian, for contralto accompanied by string quartet, vibraphone and bongos! It worked very well, actually.

 

Paul

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I suppose the absolute master of Psalm accompaniment was Dr Francis Jackson: his "worms and feathered fowls," "things that move in the waters" and his "Tremble thou Earth" are the stuff of legend.

 

Of course, it was all done with more than a hint of humour, and you just knew that he relished those moments.

 

One hears wonderful stories of Dr Jackson arriving breathless at the console after the assistant had played the opening voluntaries, and as he changed his shoes, asking a visiting organist "Would you be so kind as to give them an 'A' for the responses?"

 

The psalms of the day would be announced, and "The Doctor" would still be fastening his left shoe-lace.

 

Just when you thought it was all going to end in silent disaster, he would revolve his upper body, start the psalms, and THEN swing his legs across the organ-bench to face the right way!

 

Never once looking at the words of the psalms (the words and pointing he knew by heart), what followed was absolute mastery; often leaving his visitors mesmerised by the fluid beauty of the words he so skillfully painted.

 

Are they as good to-day?

 

Maybe so, but only in a few places, when there was once a time that similar levels of artistry existed in quite humble parish churches.

 

I haven't accompanied a psalm for years, but I mastered the art to such an extent that I could do it now, without a moment's hesitation.

 

I think of all musical skills, this was one which organists could rightly call, "Mine own."

 

MM

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Guest Psalm 78 v.67
I suppose the absolute master of Psalm accompaniment was Dr Francis Jackson: his "worms and feathered fowls," "things that move in the waters" and his "Tremble thou Earth" are the stuff of legend.

 

Of course, it was all done with more than a hint of humour, and you just knew that he relished those moments.

 

 

MM

 

"Tremble thou earth" poses no problem, but I would certainly welcome suggestions as to how to "paint" the other verses mentioned. Can you recall what he did?

 

I can't remember where it was, but I heard a story of a (presumably Cathedral) organist who accompanied the words "he shall beat them as small as the dust before the wind" with just a very noisy tremulant (without actually playing a note!)

 

I suppose my "dix points" of all time would go to John Scott at St John's accompanying the last verse of 150 on virtually full organ with Cymbelstern!

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Philip Marshall at Lincoln was similar to Francis Jackson in style - I think there is a recording of him with the choir there still available as a sort of compendium of 70s 'takes'. My wife and I sang in his 'voluntary' choir for a short while in the early 80s just before he retired and it was amazing just listening to his stories of Bairstow and similar characters. I have no idea if he is still alive (does anyone know?) but he was a strong link with a past tradidtion and past personalities the sort of which do not seem to figure much any more.

 

AJJ

 

PS Somewhere also is a CD set with Andrew Lumsden playing at Westminster Abbey- Martin Neary in charge - 'can't remember the label but some of it was incredible!

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"Tremble thou earth" poses no problem, but I would certainly welcome suggestions as to how to "paint" the other verses mentioned. Can you recall what he did?

 

I can't remember where it was, but I heard a story of a (presumably Cathedral) organist who accompanied the words "he shall beat them as small as the dust before the wind" with just a very noisy tremulant (without actually playing a note!)

 

I suppose my "dix points" of all time would go to John Scott at St John's accompanying the last verse of 150 on virtually full organ with Cymbelstern!

 

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

 

 

I'm sorry, I don't recall all the details.

 

I was just going through it mentally. It's the Psalm "When Israel went out of Egypt, and the house of Jacob from among the strange people," isn't it?

 

"Judah was his sanctuary and Israel his dominion. The sea saw that and fled etc"

 

I suppose the Vox Humana and Tremulant would be irresistible for "The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like young sheep."

 

:rolleyes:

 

MM

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

I'm sorry, I don't recall all the details.

 

I was just going through it mentally. It's the Psalm "When Israel went out of Egypt, and the house of Jacob from among the strange people," isn't it?

 

"Judah was his sanctuary and Israel his dominion. The sea saw that and fled etc"

 

I suppose the Vox Humana and Tremulant would be irresistible for "The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like young sheep."

 

:rolleyes:

 

MM

 

"Tremble thou the earth at the presence of the Lord" is psalm 114, v. 7. The chant we use is one by Bairstow especially written for that psalm and the York organ. The organist's left foot plays a bottom C for the whole verse (verse 7) on the Sackbut 32', which has been a tradition, probably since Bairstow's time as there is the makring "32" in the score. Its great watching people's reactions in the congregation!

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"Tremble thou the earth at the presence of the Lord" is psalm 114, v. 7. The chant we use is one by Bairstow especially written for that psalm and the York organ. The organist's left foot plays a bottom C for the whole verse (verse 7) on the Sackbut 32', which has been a tradition, probably since Bairstow's time as there is the makring "32" in the score. Its great watching people's reactions in the congregation!

 

 

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

 

 

Richard has just jogged my memory, because I realise that I have an EP recording of the Bairstow setting; possibly from the late 1960's, and yes, I recall the earth trembling and the 32ft Sackbut rumbling away.

 

I think that on the same recording, there is Wood's "This joyful Eastertide."

 

I cannot recall who the Assistant Organist may have been, but it is likely to have been Geoffrey Coffin I would have thought.

 

MM

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Malcolm Archer during his tenure as Assistant at norwich was a fan of word painting. During the verse which ends 'and the ships of the lord sail on by' (or similiar) MA gave a 'parp' on the solo trumpet, immitating a ship's horn, to which the deam pulled him aside after the service "Malcolm my dear, when the Psalm talks about the Lords' ships, i don't think it is referring to the Queen Mary"

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Malcolm Archer during his tenure as Assistant at norwich was a fan of word painting. During the verse which ends 'and the ships of the lord sail on by' (or similiar) MA gave a 'parp' on the solo trumpet, immitating a ship's horn, to which the deam pulled him aside after the service "Malcolm my dear, when the Psalm talks about the Lords' ships, i don't think it is referring to the Queen Mary"

 

I always look forward to anything involving mountains skipping like rams or bringing forth the tender drops of rain.

 

I tried playing "the chorus of drunken men" or whatever it is (can't remember which one it's in) in an exceptionally sloppy way with some interesting added notes, but was chastised.

 

"The congregation of naughty men" is one I always feel I should be able to do something about but can never quite come up with anything appropriate.

 

The greatest thing I miss in my present place is Psalm 22 - I used to love accompanying this very eerily as the altar was stripped, but where I am now the priests sit to the side and read this to themselves after the main service is over.

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I suppose the Vox Humana and Tremulant would be irresistible for "The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like young sheep."

Word painting the psalms is one thing; sending them up is another. Personally, I think this would be focusing on the wrong imagery. Surely it's the skipping that's important. Maybe a subtle, airy descant on an 8' flute + Larigot, accompanied sans pédale?

 

I don't suppose anyone is likely to know it, but Sidney Campbell wrote a stupendous chant for psalm 114 - it's one of the most muscular single chants I know. (It was published by Novello, but that version is spurious because Campbell copied it out from memory and got it wrong - at least that was his story!)

 

Which reminds me of my last Easter at Windsor. We had been without an assistant organist since Christmas. A week before Easter Campbell fell sick. That meant that Muggins was going to have to cope single-handedly with the whole of Holy Week and Easter - and at Easter Matins the Royal Family always turned up en masse. Having successfully survived Holy Week, Easter Day dawned and with it the prospect of psalms 113 & 114 for Matins (can't remember what lectionary, if any, Windsor used then, but 'twas so). There was no way that I could ever equal Campbell's flair for psalm accompaniment (see here and here), but I had a whale of a time, especially with psalm 114. The sea was duly intimidated, the mountains skipped (on the Sw Mixture, IIRC) and the earth trembled, with a liberal amount of rather Frenchified Full Swell marking the general triumphalism. The rest of the service went quite well too and I confess that I left the organ loft with a warm glow of satisfaction for a job well done. My euphoria was, however, short-lived. A day or two later Campbell reappeared from his sick bed to relay an admonition that had filtered down via the Dean. "Her Majesty complained that the psalms were too loud on Easter morning." Talk about deflating a balloon! Nevertheless the experience has been useful, for I know that whoever I might offend in this life, I am always going to be able to say, "Look, chuck, I've upset more important people than you in my time!"

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Nevertheless the experience has been useful, for I know that whoever I might offend in this life, I am always going to be able to say, "Look, chuck, I've upset more important people than you in my time!"

 

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

 

 

A strange experience was to attend occasional mass at All Saint's, Margaret Street, London, and to wander in to vestry area for a cup of tea and a biscuit afterwards.

 

Quite often, one was confronted by HRH Princess Margaret, and there were moments of grovel and scrape, after which polite conversation would ensue; usually about the weather.

 

I don't recall the name of the assistant organist at the time, but I believe he was an ex-navy man, a very fine organist and may have been called Norman something or other. He also spoke with quite a marked "East Enders" sort of accent.

 

I wasn't particularly horrified or anything, just incredulous, when he wandered in with his music-case, sauntered up to HRH and said, "'Ello Margrit....wanna fag?"

 

At that point, HRH, (who was usually quite a stickler when it came to formal protocol), would just smile and then snatch a Capstan Full Strength out of the packet!!!!!!

 

Quite extraordinary!

 

:rolleyes:

 

MM

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Guest Psalm 78 v.67

I have often wondered what is the best way to paint "The words in his mouth were softer than butter, having war in his heart: his words were smoother than oil, and yet be they very swords". (quoting from memory; but something like that....)

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I think one should not forget that the job of conveying the meaning of the words falls primarily on the choir, not the organist.* The organist's job is to enhance the choir. With the above text it would be easy to try too hard. Personally, if I wanted to word-paint it, I would opt for subtlety by usduing descants rather than wholesale changes of stops: a flute or other smooth sound for the accompaniment, with the second quarter featuring a tenor-register solo on a suitable reed (box shut, probably). The fourth quarter could be similar, but perhaps with a different reed, or perhaps the organ might have a Sesquialtera or other incisive colour which you could use in a treble-register descant.

 

* Of course I'm assuming a cathedral-type set-up here, but I've just realised that you might have congregational singing in mind, which would call for a different solution!

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