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peter ellis

Accompanying Psalms

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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!

 

 

Descants are best if they are used sparingly. JSW at York and Ian Tracey at Liverpool are masters of this art. Saying that I think that JSW is more conservative than he was, say, 15-20 years ago. Agree with the point of the Choir's role in conveying the meaning. Some choirs seem to raise psalm singing to another level while with others it comes across as pedestrian.

 

Other techniques that I like is trebles/sopranos singing two verses on their own followed by the men singing two verses on their own. Then there are the magnificent unison verses at the end of each book of the psalms.

 

One other feature that makes York distinctive is the accompaniment is continuos. An enhancement in my view.

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Descants are best if they are used sparingly.

Depends how you do them. Having listened to Campbell's psalm accompaniments for three years I am firmly convinced that there is plenty of room for endless invention in texture and counter-melodies, some of which may be obvious, some much more discreet. But IMO many organists accompany the psalms too loudly. The sort of variety I am referring to only works when the organ aims to provide a supporting "bloom" for the singers rather than an equal partnership. How much organ to use is of course a matter of personal taste, but I find that an obtrusive organ rapidly becomes wearisome. If you do happen to prefer a more robust accompaniment then, yes, your scope for "messing around" is going to be severely reduced.

 

One other feature that makes York distinctive is the accompaniment is continuos. An enhancement in my view.

I wondered how long it would be before someone raised this. I too prefer a continuous background. So who is for and who against?

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Other techniques that I like is trebles/sopranos singing two verses on their own followed by the men singing two verses on their own. Then there are the magnificent unison verses at the end of each book of the psalms.

 

Especially when the tenors split, so half sing the top part an octave down, and the rest sing their own parts. I believe this is known as fauxbordon, but I may be wrong. Whatever, it’s a very effective of adding more “colour” to a psalm.

 

B)

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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....)

 

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

 

 

Butter = Flute 8ft

 

War = Add Oboe

 

Oil = Flute again

 

Swords = Oboe 8 + Clarion 4 with 32ft Metal included

 

 

Somehow, I can just imagine this working perfectly at York. There's something very bright and subtle about the Swell reeds at York. It was always a wonderful instrument for choral accompaniment.

 

MM

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Guest Psalm 78 v.67
Depends how you do them. Having listened to Campbell's psalm accompaniments for three years I am firmly convinced that there is plenty of room for endless invention in texture and counter-melodies, some of which may be obvious, some much more discreet. But IMO many organists accompany the psalms too loudly. The sort of variety I am referring to only works when the organ aims to provide a supporting "bloom" for the singers rather than an equal partnership. How much organ to use is of course a matter of personal taste, but I find that an obtrusive organ rapidly becomes wearisome. If you do happen to prefer a more robust accompaniment then, yes, your scope for "messing around" is going to be severely reduced.

I wondered how long it would be before someone raised this. I too prefer a continuous background. So who is for and who against?

 

I am basically "for" as long as registration changes can be done tidily. I was accompanying a good small parish choir a few months ago, in a congregational evensong. They sang the psalm beautifully, and when it came to the Mag (chant) I decided to complement their singing with a continuous accompaniment - but I should have warned them! My first registration change was so subtle that they didn't notice, and thought I was inexplicably prolonging the last chord of the previous verse. Beautiful singing fell apart! Oops.

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

 

 

As Philip Marshall worked for a while in my home town, I can add just a little to the biography.

 

He was certainly a respected teacher at the Boy's Grammar School, but never over-assertive. I think some of his fellow staff were surprised to learn that he got the Ripon appointment, whereas those who really knew, were not in the least bit surprised.

 

During his time in Keighley, he was organist of Holy Trinity Church, which had a fine Harrison organ (sadly no more). This was one of the two instruments visited by Arthur Harrison and Lt Col George Dixon when they discussed proposals for a new approach to organ-building; the other being at Thornton PC, Bradford, which still exists so far as I know.

 

I was also organist of this church back in the 1960's, and it was an object lesson in how not to increase the size of an organ. The 3rd manual, (an partially enclosed Choir organ situated ABOVE the Swell keyboard) added in the first quarter of the 20th century, was an absolute travesty, with cloying Flutes at 8, 4 & 2, rather poor ENCLOSED reeds in their own box and something which sounded a bit like a Viola da Gamba.

 

That 3rd manual was a disgusting sound, and blended with absolutely nothing at all.

 

So much for Lt Col George-Dixon's "improvements" to the original!

 

MM

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Is that the girl band All Saints B) - 'never heard them use Chamades before though!

 

AJJ

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Guest Psalm 78 v.67
Is that the girl band All Saints B) - 'never heard them use Chamades before though!

 

AJJ

 

But I'd happi;y demonstrate mine to them (if I had any ;) ) ........or Girls Aloud...The Pussycat Dolls.....and I've just discovered that the fit blonde from Scooch (Eurovision) lives not far from me :wub:

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I've just discovered that the fit blonde from Scooch (Eurovision) lives not far from me B)
I thought "camps" would be a more appropriate word. ;)

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Guest Psalm 78 v.67
Hmm!

 

AJJ

 

Does that refer to my comment, or Vox's reply to my comment?

 

I stand by my comment - she's blonde, 28, and called Caroline.....Mmmm!

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Guest Psalm 78 v.67

Evensong last night: with no choir, registrational subtlety/descants/harmony inversion etc, obviously have to give way to support and encouragement of the congregation. However, I "painted" the 2nd half of v.10 by playing manuals only!

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Yes.

 

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

 

I always thought that Geoffrey Morgan came to Guildford 15 years after Barry Rose left...

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I hardly ever read these postings, but have just found one about me, so thought I had better reply, even though the topic has long gone cold, and I am two years late...

 

The story about me and "BR" at Guildford as related by David Coram, was inaccurate, though based on fact.

 

The "BR" referred to was Bernard Rose (not Barry) and the incident took place at Magdalen College Oxford, not Guildford Cathedral.

 

I was organ scholar at Magdalen at the time and was once criticised by Bernard Rose for "playing the psalms too romantically".

 

I defended myself thus "I was only trying to paint the words, Dr Rose."

 

"Yes, but not EVERY word!" said the great man.

 

Geoffrey Morgan

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I hardly ever read these postings, but have just found one about me, so thought I had better reply, even though the topic has long gone cold, and I am two years late...

 

The story about me and "BR" at Guildford as related by David Coram, was inaccurate, though based on fact.

 

The "BR" referred to was Bernard Rose (not Barry) and the incident took place at Magdalen College Oxford, not Guildford Cathedral.

 

I was organ scholar at Magdalen at the time and was once criticised by Bernard Rose for "playing the psalms too romantically".

 

I defended myself thus "I was only trying to paint the words, Dr Rose."

 

"Yes, but not EVERY word!" said the great man.

 

Geoffrey Morgan

 

 

Fantastic - brightened my morning!

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I always thought that Geoffrey Morgan came to Guildford 15 years after Barry Rose left...

 

A Rose by another name - said by Bernard Rose to GM when he was organ scholar at Magdalen.

 

JS

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I am not one of those sainted beings who knew Boris Ord personally, but I recall a friend (I think David Blott, who designed the organ over which pcnd5584 presides) telling me that one of his favourite Boris quotations (David was a choral scholar at Kings under Boris) was “I’ve got a noise for everything in the psalms except Og the King of Basan”.

 

David Harrison

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Geoffrey Morgan

 

This man has such an incredible understanding of how to illustrate words!

I remember his "His chariots of wrath the deep thunder-clouds form" inspiring such awe that the entire choir amost gave up singing and gazed up at the organ-loft in terror...

...and a puddle emerged beneath one smaller, less experienced member who had failed to empty his bladder before the service.

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