Jump to content
Mander Organs
Vox Humana

Musical Standards in Church

Recommended Posts

On another thread, Henry Willis posted this:

 

 

And we wonder WHY the general public is turned off by the organ?

 

DW

I am sorry to say that such playing is very far from unusual in churches in my neck of the woods, where there is virtually no concept of music as a serious art form. I would even go so far as to suggest that it is quite common. How far is this true on other areas? How far do you find similar playing in countries such as America, Norway and Germany that take church music seriously?

 

I am not so unrealistic as to suggest that organists must either play to FRCO standard or not bother at all, and one can argue about where to draw the line with regard to what is acceptable (personally I am quite pragmatic about this), but surely there are many cases like the above example when silence would be more seemly? That churches should nevertheless consider such playing an appropriate and acceptable public witness speaks volumes. Does the church get the organists it deserves? What does such playing do for the public image of the church at large? Has the church allowed music to become a bullet with which it has shot itself in the foot?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Such *things* may be find in Belgium as well.

There are churches -meant here as social groups-

who fears, and hate, the culture; art in the church is

a sin.

When you hear sentences like "We do not need concerts",

"Help the poors instead of caring for music", "we are only

a little provincial church" the red warning light must flash:

here we are.

 

Pierre

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Patrick Coleman

I don't know many of my colleagues who would tolerate this standard of playing at a wedding, though I have heard some pretty poor efforts made on Sundays. (That, and the generally poor standard of preaching, makes it very difficult to decide where to worship on a Sunday off... :unsure: ) It's easy to take it for granted when we have good musicians and instruments (and where there are competent clergy).

 

However, may I gently suggest that there are organists and instruments out there - many of them - who suffer from the opprobrium of not being top-notch and get little encouragement from the elitism that comes over - intentionally or not - from those who have the training, skill and instruments that enable them to maintain the highest possible standards.

 

Thank God for the high standards, but there is a crying need for more 'Reluctant Organist' courses, and also for some way of getting rid of the few persistent nuisances who are completely incompetent (especially when once upon a time they might well have been quite good).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I wonder if this particular video (which links to another equally bad) is what I call an "Auntie Mary Moment" - that is where a friend of either the bride's or groom's family plays the piano and therefore it is imagined thatr he/she can also play the organ. I have heard worryingly bad wedding and funeral playing just in the past 6 months because of this (oh and I make no claim to be FRCO standard but just, as I have remarked earlier here, a competent organist capable of putting in a decent recital about once a year and accompanying Mass and other services to most peoples' satisfaction.)

 

Patrick and other clergy here can probably advise as to the pastorally best way to deal with the Auntie Marys of this world - but quickly please as I have the annual meet this year's couples session this Saturday!!

 

Cheers

 

 

Peter

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest drd
...

 

Thank God for the high standards, but there is a crying need for more 'Reluctant Organist' courses, and also for some way of getting rid of the few persistent nuisances who are completely incompetent (especially when once upon a time they might well have been quite good).

 

As someone who has and does encourage those called "Reluctant organists", or, as I prefer, "Diffident Organists" to seek and receive training, (I've organised sessions for such both individual and in groups) I completely applaud the sentiment - we must encourage and value volunteers who give their time and skills, and provide opportunities for them to widen their own musical horizons by using our own resources. Yes, there may well be situations where someone is quite unsuited to organ playing, perhaps skills or lack of the ability to take a lead are areas of concern, and then seek to guide their energies elsewhere.

 

Encouragement, and provision of training/coaching/mentoring opportunities also gives the opportunity to give some guidance in the management of church music - often a larger commitment than actually performing on the instrument!

 

In other words, I believe it's part of the responsibility of being in post where there are significant musical resources including perhaps a comprehensive instrument, to assist others who may be keen but who have not yet, possibly, had access to such mentoring and coaching.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
However, may I gently suggest that there are organists and instruments out there - many of them - who suffer from the opprobrium of not being top-notch and get little encouragement from the elitism that comes over - intentionally or not - from those who have the training, skill and instruments that enable them to maintain the highest possible standards.

As someone who has and does encourage those called "Reluctant organists", or, as I prefer, "Diffident Organists" to seek and receive training, (I've organised sessions for such both individual and in groups) I completely applaud the sentiment - we must encourage and value volunteers who give their time and skills, and provide opportunities for them to widen their own musical horizons by using our own resources. Yes, there may well be situations where someone is quite unsuited to organ playing, perhaps skills or lack of the ability to take a lead are areas of concern, and then seek to guide their energies elsewhere.

 

Encouragement, and provision of training/coaching/mentoring opportunities also gives the opportunity to give some guidance in the management of church music - often a larger commitment than actually performing on the instrument!

 

In other words, I believe it's part of the responsibility of being in post where there are significant musical resources including perhaps a comprehensive instrument, to assist others who may be keen but who have not yet, possibly, had access to such mentoring and coaching.

I agree with all of this entirely and if I gave the opposite impression, then it is my fault for not explaining myself clearly enough. The last thing I had in mind was to snipe at diffident organists, all of whom will no doubt be doing their best to help "keep the show on the road", sometimes at the expense of some personal embarrassment. They do deserve every encouragement to develop whatever capabilities they have. Rather, I was querying whether, if the church treated music as seriously as it deserves, it would ever be in the pickle it is regarding the supply of organists. After all, there are supposed to be plenty of competent organists out there who are not engaged with any church. Promoting public respect for the church obviously needs an awful lot more than just an upswing in musical standards. However, I cannot help thinking that, in allowing (if not unwittingly promoting) the degredation of musical standards, the church has done itself a public disservice.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Patrick Coleman

No Vox you didn't give the opposite impression. I think you're quite right about what dire musical standards do to worship and witness. That's why I take my hat off to those who encourage the diffident.

 

I did want to underline the real danger of high standards being their own worst enemy, especially where (as in both religious and musical circles) practitioners are passionate and can be intolerant of imperfection. I have suffered severe discouragement of this sort in the musical sphere, and conversely I run the risk of inflicting it on others in the religious sphere.

 

But there's a big difference between imperfection and rubbish!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, Patrick, I think you are absolutely right. Unfortunately, this intolerance of imperfection in others that you mention is not uncommon amongst music lovers. It is certainly not confined to church music and I have often wondered what end it serves. It is one thing to impose the highest standards on one's own music making (and one's choir or orchestra), but to get hung up on the slightest imperfection in a someone else's performance, as some do, rather suggests to me a severe limitation in the ability to enjoy music. Frankly, I suspect that such hypercriticism is often more a manifestation of pretension and big-headedness than anything else: "Ooh, see what professional musical standards I have: I can't stand the slightest imperfection!" Yet it must be true that everyone has a line beyond which lies the unacceptable. The problem would be agreeing where to draw it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest drd

I certainly wasn't getting at you Vox, what I meant to do was to add what I thought was a set of views on a closely related activity which is in support of your point - in that we can only try to help to bring standards to where we believe they should be.

 

In attempting to do that, I believe we would all wish to use the resources we are privileged and lucky enough to steward.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest drd
...Rather, I was querying whether, if the church treated music as seriously as it deserves, it would ever be in the pickle it is regarding the supply of organists. After all, there are supposed to be plenty of competent organists out there who are not engaged with any church.

 

... and, if I may say so, I couldn't agree more with this. I was one of those disengaged for a while, but returned to the fold, as it were.

 

If only more clergy would realise that in the main we are on the same side! :unsure: (Oh, now, I really am NOT sniping at clergy!)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Over the years I have taught a number of older beginners at the organ whose main aim has been to play hymns decently and be able to cope fairly well with a simple Sunday morning Mass - perhaps Gregory Murray and four well known hymns. Most of them have worked long and hard at this. One was not helped by her priest-in-charge constantly telling her, in front of the congregation, to go faster. I knew this priest and told him if he did it to her again I would hit him! These people need every encouragement and I have found that often what they lack is not talent but confidence and an understanding of how to make best use of practice time. Many people who can play fancy, difficult voluntaries to a good standard have never acquired an ability to play hymns well.

 

There are many experienced, well qualified and previously devoted, hard working organists providing parish church music to a professional standard who now, for various reasons, are no longer prepared to do this. Somewhat relucantly, I joined that merry band at the end of May last year. I find that by doing freelance work I am better treated and better paid and at the same time I avoid the irritation of worship committees, PCCs, know-all church officers and endless admin/secretarial duties. This month, as a freelance, I have earned more than twice what I would have got had I still been doing a regular church job and there has been no aggro attached to it. Yes, I greatly miss running a choir, but in this area there are few churches that either have or want traditional choirs.

 

I have often wondered why some smaller churches - especially in remote rural areas - insist on having a poor quality organ, or something that purports to be like an organ (harmonium, for example) when there may well be a more than capable pianist in the congregation who would be happier, and more effective, playing a decent piano. An "organ sound" is not essential to music in worship and never has been.

 

Malcolm

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I have often wondered why some smaller churches - especially in remote rural areas - insist on having a poor quality organ, or something that purports to be like an organ (harmonium, for example) when there may well be a more than capable pianist in the congregation who would be happier, and more effective, playing a decent piano. An "organ sound" is not essential to music in worship and never has been.

I agree entirely. Eight years ago I was organist of the principal church in a team of three. Of the other two, one had a terrible ramshackle 10-stop Hele and the other had some tremendous valve-driven electronic cinema organ-type thing, complete with 'rhythms', both of which I had to fight to extract music from time to time. The team rector asked me if it was worth getting a similar electronic thing as an alternative to the Hele. I suggested two good pianos, partly in the interests of the churches actually possessing decent musical instruments, and partly so the two pianists who normally played at those churches might stand more of a chance. The reply was, 'Ah, but wedding couples like to have an organ sound'. Hmm.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
After all, there are supposed to be plenty of competent organists out there who are not engaged with any church.

 

 

There are many experienced, well qualified and previously devoted, hard working organists providing parish church music to a professional standard who now, for various reasons, are no longer prepared to do this.

I think that this is probably true around certain cities or university towns, but I've certainly not found it to be the case out in my neck of the woods. Such organists are very few and far between, I find, alas.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I wonder if this particular video (which links to another equally bad) is what I call an "Auntie Mary Moment" - that is where a friend of either the bride's or groom's family plays the piano and therefore it is imagined thatr he/she can also play the organ. I have heard worryingly bad wedding and funeral playing just in the past 6 months because of this (oh and I make no claim to be FRCO standard but just, as I have remarked earlier here, a competent organist capable of putting in a decent recital about once a year and accompanying Mass and other services to most peoples' satisfaction.)

 

Patrick and other clergy here can probably advise as to the pastorally best way to deal with the Auntie Marys of this world - but quickly please as I have the annual meet this year's couples session this Saturday!!

 

Cheers

 

 

Peter

 

Well we had the meet the couples session on Saturday and I gave them my usual talk - choose hymns that are most likely to be known by the congregation, consider the appropriateness of entance and exit music (I had a bride who wanted to come in or go out the the Titanic theme tune but pointed out that the film's storyline hardly communicated the optimism which a wedding ought to suggest) and then asked if anybody intended importing a organist; only one couple did, and stated that the bride's brother was an organist. Further enquiry - in private, after - revealed that he "used to play when he went to church", and that he would be coming over from France the day before the wedding when he could try out the organ. If he coudn't manage the organ he would use the keyboard. Hmmm.....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Patrick Coleman
Further enquiry - in private, after - revealed that he "used to play when he went to church", and that he would be coming over from France the day before the wedding when he could try out the organ. If he coudn't manage the organ he would use the keyboard. Hmmm.....

 

I would not allow this...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I would not allow this...

 

The trouble is that they are both "big cheeses" in the parish, both on the Parish Advisory Council, he's a server, she a reader - well you get the picture....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Patrick Coleman
The trouble is that they are both "big cheeses" in the parish, both on the Parish Advisory Council, he's a server, she a reader - well you get the picture....

 

And there are still people who become RCs because they are in search of authority!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The trouble is that they are both "big cheeses" in the parish, both on the Parish Advisory Council, he's a server, she a reader - well you get the picture....

 

One would have hoped that their obviously-highly-regarded positions would have given them some insight into the advantage of having their Parish organist to deal with it in a professional way instead of pandering to the 'family' expectation of cousin Cuthbert hacking his way through a few pages of one-finger harmonium arrangements of 'The Classics' or 'Songs from the Shows'. :D:o

 

Perhaps you could play them the YouTube thing which I posted up a few days ago, as encouragement?!! :huh:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I would not allow this...

 

Yes Patrick but you are a priest and I just an organist - the authority vested in the former is not often recognised in the latter. A good example is that one year. on Adevent 3, I played Wachet Auf at Communion, after the communion hymn had been sung, and by arrangement with the celebrant who thought it a good idea. The piece took us into that period after communuion before the closing prayers and blessing and I was told off by a parishoner - in fact a CHOIRISTER - for "keeping Father waiting". I pointed out that the piece was appropriate to the season and that its inclusion in the liturgy had the full approval of the celebrant. Response? Oh that's OK then if Father said so. That's what I come up against.

 

HW's suggestion of playing them the YouTube video - thanks for the idea but it would make no difference I'm afraid. Thank you anyway!

 

Peter

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Forty years ago there were a number of Anglo Catholic priests in the Brighton area - and elsewhere - who worked on the principle that their church would do what Father said because Father knew best, Father was in charge, it was the right thing to do, it was what Father wanted and Father would have a childish tantrum and "one of Father's turns" if Father didn't get his own way. It had the advantage that you knew where you were and it stopped the more domineering and uninformed laity insisting on getting their own way as often happens in churches now. The downside was that Father was NOT always right and usually he had an army of sycophantic dotty old women and rather camp young men to see his every whim was carried out. One well known vicar actually brought his sycophants with him, lock, stock and barrell, from his previous parish in another part of the country. In his particular case he transformed a somewhat run down Brighton church into one with a national reputation of excellence and activity.

 

If anyone tried this kind of behaviour today (in either the Anglican or the Roman Catholic church) I suspect that everyone would very quickly tell them where they could go and what they could do with their opinions.

 

There are varying degrees of pros and cons to both sides.

 

I would add that nearly all the people in the scenarios I have described above are long since departed. The sad thing about them is that, by and large, they were good, faithful, caring priests but most were absolutely terrified of having to deal with people and confrontation and therefore felt safe behind this shield of autonomy.

 

Malcolm

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Forty years ago there were a number of Anglo Catholic priests in the Brighton area - and elsewhere - who worked on the principle that their church would do what Father said because Father knew best, Father was in charge, it was the right thing to do, it was what Father wanted and Father would have a childish tantrum and "one of Father's turns" if Father didn't get his own way. It had the advantage that you knew where you were and it stopped the more domineering and uninformed laity insisting on getting their own way as often happens in churches now. The downside was that Father was NOT always right and usually he had an army of sycophantic dotty old women and rather camp young men to see his every whim was carried out. One well known vicar actually brought his sycophants with him, lock, stock and barrell, from his previous parish in another part of the country. In his particular case he transformed a somewhat run down Brighton church into one with a national reputation of excellence and activity.

 

If anyone tried this kind of behaviour today (in either the Anglican or the Roman Catholic church) I suspect that everyone would very quickly tell them where they could go and what they could do with their opinions.

 

There are varying degrees of pros and cons to both sides.

 

I would add that nearly all the people in the scenarios I have described above are long since departed. The sad thing about them is that, by and large, they were good, faithful, caring priests but most were absolutely terrified of having to deal with people and confrontation and therefore felt safe behind this shield of autonomy.

 

Malcolm

This is still true today. I have experience of working with three such priests, very much as you describe, barring bringing their sycophants from a previous parish. However I also know three priests who embrace none of this, and I hasten to add that their churches do seem happier, with a noticeable closeness of community. Your description rings true in so many ways, but my great frustration was always that, for those of us who declare a Christian faith, dealing with people, and accepting confrontation are very much entwined with who we are and what we profess.

 

AJS

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Whilst the playing on that youtube clip is clearly terrible, am I the only person that is troubled by the moral issue of making an unauthorised recording of a public performance and publishing it on the internet?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In my last post, I have to admit to having been fairly laid back about friends or relatives playing for weddings, reasoning that, even if some unorthodox sounds were to issue from the organ, those present would know that the offending player was a guest, not a member of the home team. I do remember after one such occasion however, opening the organ on the Sunday morning to find small pieces of card with letter names blu-tacked to some of the pedals and post-its with the words 'top', 'middle' and 'bottom' attached to the department labels :huh: The family had informed me that their friend was 'ARCO standard'. If that really was the case, then maybe I should re-take :lol:

 

I did tend to be more keen ask questions about the guest organists sometimes brought in to play for the annual services of local groups. We had a lot of these – every possible size and type of organisation from the LEA (they forgot to book the cathedral one year) to the local Civil War re-enactment society. Dodgy playing at one of these occasions could have reflected badly (if unfairly) on myself or one of my colleagues.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Diverging slightly, I always thought that it would be a good idea to have goals for those who play the organ but who would not profees to being organists. How about some kind of course concentrating on Hymns or popular wedding pieces? The many 'reluctant' organist l have come accross while tuning or playing are in fact the opposite being very keen to play well, use the correct stops etc. Often all that is needed is a few words of guidance and encouragement. The organ as we that are so used to playing day in day out seem to forget can be a pretty daunting contraption to a pianist. I always remeber an afternoon course run by the rscm that l attended in my earl teens which did just this. One lady asked 'if there is a sw to gt why not a gt to sw?' when you think about this kind of thing is NOT obvious to those who are not familiar with organs.

 

William Northmore

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...