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Hymns and how to play them!


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Ok, short version..... I am a non-musician and I am trying to teach myself to play the full harmony accompaniment to a range of hymns on the organ. I've not long started but it's going ok so far. However my total lack of knowledge can obviously be a drawback and I have a couple of questions which I hope people here don't mind me asking:

 

1. There are a number of places where the music requires playing a tenth on the left hand. I am not able to stretch that far so what do I do? It was suggested to me that in such instances I should ignore the tenor part and play the bass part - and where practical should play the tenor part with the right hand. Would this be the advice of forum members and if not, what should I do instead?

 

2. After deciding to do this I needed some music - I've never owned or even seen a full edition hymn book so I had to buy one. I found Hymns Old & New on Amazon and bought it (assuming it was simply a 2011 version of Hymns Ancient & Modern as the name means more or less the same). However now that the old thread on hymn books has come to the top of the pile I have just discovered how loathed this publication is. So should I a) keep going with it b ) feed it to the dog or c) place it carefully on the fire grate and wait until the autumn? My concern is that since people are queueing up to complain about the keys and arrangement of the music that I'll wind up learning the wrong thing! Obviously options B and C would require a replacement - and if so then what?

 

I understand people will probably think it is unwise to try to play hymns with as little experience as I have but this is what I want to do and therein lies the motivation to get on and do it. If anyone wants to know the full reasons why I am doing this a second post to explain will follow but I wanted to avoid cluttering up the questions with backplot And if you don't want the boring backplot just ignore the follow up! ;)

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Basically, I went to a cathedral school and sung in the recital choir (the school's not the cathedral's) and from there stems an interest in choral music. At the same time I started learning the piano and demonstrated a modest level of talent - or so I was told (and even if true, doubtless far less than most here). But I lacked the patience, inclination and application to get anywhere. I achieved Grade 1 (with distinction) and was swifly moved to Grade 3 (2 being deemed pointless by my piano teacher) but amidst constant frustration / anger on the part of my tutors at my laziness and poor attitude I got bounced between several teachers without really even starting Grade 3. The head of music for the junior school was a good man and keen to keep me encouraged and eventually I wound up being taught outside of school by an old man who, I believe, had once been the organist at the cathedral but by then was long since retired. He was far more patient and I liked him but by then I'd more or less had enough of the piano. He decided I should try for Grade 4 but around that time I moved from the Junior School to the Main School. It was more difficult to get to lessons, far more difficult to practice (not that I ever did) as I didn't have ready access to a piano and I lost the support and encouragement of the school's music teacher. Now in the main school I came under the school's DoM, with whom I had previously crossed paths. He didn't like me anyway and was quite happy to let me walk away and cease to be problem for him.

 

I had discovered (and this was a large part of the problem) that I could pick out almost any tune I heard pretty much instantly and, that without much thought, I could make up a simplistic accompaniment to go with it. Playing by ear was easy and felt natural, and very quickly I had made up an accompaniment for all the hymns I liked. My simplistic accompaniment, though a far cry from the proper four part harmonies you'd expect had been sufficiently passable that I had already stood in for regular organists at a couple of churches (the choirs knew not to sing the harmonies when I played). By contrast playing the annoying sheet music I was given to learn for the exams was difficult and boring, required patience, practice and perseverence - all of which I lacked. And the constant b********g I got for not practicing just turned me off even more so even though the old man and his grand piano represented a much nicer experience by that stage it was essentially already over so at approximately age 12 I walked away and never looked back.

 

Now fast forward in excess of 20 years and a series of life changing events of have robbed me of much that was important to me. I am now trying to rebuild my life and replace what I can no longer do with other things. With most sports now out of the question I found myself looking back at the music I left behind. All those hymns I learned to play by ear - now I want to learn to play them properly. BUT - I only ever did Grade 1, I haven't played a note in more than 2 decades and I have no cash for lessons. I'll have to do this by myself. Doubtless many will feel hymns are not the right choice of music for this and I have no argument with that PoV except for this - it's what I WANT to do and that alone makes it vastly more likely that I will put in the effort required. It's where I lack the knowledge that I will need help.

 

I learnt Love Divine All Loves Excelling (Love Divine tune) first. It took me several weeks of 30 mins or so 2-3 times a week to figure it out. I then learnt O God Our Help In Ages Past (St Anne tune) in about a week with less time each day and then I learnt Abide With Me (Eventide tune) in about 1 hour. As you can see as things started to click into place mentally the amount of time taken to learn the music has come down substantially - or maybe I've just been picking easier pieces each time? I could play the tenths in the St Anne because for some reason I have long enough to get ready for them and I can play the tenths in the Eventide by playing the tenor part on the right hand). I had a brief go at O Thou Who Camest From Above last week but it had me completely foxed and I have been away ever since - just back tonight. I was wondering whether to persevere or find something easier. Trouble is I don't really know what is easy and what is difficult until I try to learn them! Perhaps if I post a list of tunes I intend to learn someone can suggest those which I should attempt first and those which would be better waiting until later?

 

Any help / advice appreciated anyway!

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1. There are a number of places where the music requires playing a tenth on the left hand. I am not able to stretch that far so what do I do? It was suggested to me that in such instances I should ignore the tenor part and play the bass part - and where practical should play the tenor part with the right hand. Would this be the advice of forum members and if not, what should I do instead?

Depends how brave you're feeling, but the bass should be played with the pedals then you'll have plenty of fingers free to play the other parts, otherwise you'll have to miss one of the middle parts, trying where possible to make sure that you're playing the essential notes of the chords, and not open 5ths!

2. After deciding to do this I needed some music - I've never owned or even seen a full edition hymn book so I had to buy one. I found Hymns Old & New on Amazon and bought it (assuming it was simply a 2011 version of Hymns Ancient & Modern as the name means more or less the same). However now that the old thread on hymn books has come to the top of the pile I have just discovered how loathed this publication is. So should I a) keep going with it b ) feed it to the dog or c) place it carefully on the fire grate and wait until the autumn? My concern is that since people are queueing up to complain about the keys and arrangement of the music that I'll wind up learning the wrong thing! Obviously options B and C would require a replacement - and if so then what?

Last Saturday I played three hours of a local church's 24 hour hymn sing - they sang the complete Common Praise. I was playing the from about 470-530... quite a few hymns there that I hadn't come across having been brought up with the New English Hymnal. If you're after the favourites then either Common Praise or New English Hymnal would be fine - although you might pick up a cheap copy of Ancient and Modern New Standard now that it's been replaced; Where they differ, I prefer the NEH harmonies, but I think that's probably just down to my own upbringing!

I understand people will probably think it is unwise to try to play hymns with as little experience as I have but this is what I want to do and therein lies the motivation to get on and do it. If anyone wants to know the full reasons why I am doing this a second post to explain will follow but I wanted to avoid cluttering up the questions with backplot And if you don't want the boring backplot just ignore the follow up! ;)

Personally I think that playing hymns properly is one of the most important things that an organist can learn how to do, and should be done very early on, so not unwise at all in my opinion!

 

Steve

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Ok, short version..... I am a non-musician and I am trying to teach myself to play the full harmony accompaniment to a range of hymns on the organ. I've not long started but it's going ok so far. However my total lack of knowledge can obviously be a drawback and I have a couple of questions which I hope people here don't mind me asking:

 

1. There are a number of places where the music requires playing a tenth on the left hand. I am not able to stretch that far so what do I do? It was suggested to me that in such instances I should ignore the tenor part and play the bass part - and where practical should play the tenor part with the right hand. Would this be the advice of forum members and if not, what should I do instead?

 

2. After deciding to do this I needed some music - I've never owned or even seen a full edition hymn book so I had to buy one. I found Hymns Old & New on Amazon and bought it (assuming it was simply a 2011 version of Hymns Ancient & Modern as the name means more or less the same). However now that the old thread on hymn books has come to the top of the pile I have just discovered how loathed this publication is. So should I a) keep going with it ;) feed it to the dog or c) place it carefully on the fire grate and wait until the autumn? My concern is that since people are queueing up to complain about the keys and arrangement of the music that I'll wind up learning the wrong thing! Obviously options B and C would require a replacement - and if so then what?

 

I understand people will probably think it is unwise to try to play hymns with as little experience as I have but this is what I want to do and therein lies the motivation to get on and do it. If anyone wants to know the full reasons why I am doing this a second post to explain will follow but I wanted to avoid cluttering up the questions with backplot And if you don't want the boring backplot just ignore the follow up! ;)

 

Well, it's not that easy to work out exactly what you're doing - you say you're a "non-musician" but you must have some musical knowledge, surely? The answer to your question about stretches of a 10th etc is that one tends to use the pedals when playing hymns so the bass part would be covered by these (coupled to the manual that you are playing on) leaving the two hands free to cover the tenor, alto and treble part. Of course, you can often (usually) redistribute the parts between the two hands so that you play three notes with the right hand and just the bass of certain chords with the left hand. This is essential on a piano, of course, but on an organ it is good not to use pedals in every verse just to create variety. Don't count on leaving out a part altogether - if the part you omit is the third of the chord, the chord will sound very "bare" (wrong) without it.

Hymn books are, as much as anything, a matter of taste and familiarity. I don't care for Hymns Old and New partly because I didn't grow up with it, but I also find it less easy to play from because of the way the music is laid out. Almost any other standard hymn book is easier to read, in my experience. As I say, these things are a matter of taste, but a good alternative standard hymn book would be Common Praise which is the latest version of Hymns Ancient and Modern. The notation is very clearly laid out and you will find some of the better, more durable "modern" hymns in it. You don't need to destroy or abandon Hymns Old and New - but why not look at Common Praise and see if you find it easy to play from? The whole business about keys for hymns is about the circumstances in which they're used - E is the highest note you can reasonably expect a congregation to reach, I suggest but a lot of them will be growlers singing an octave lower so you don't need to be too concerned. Hymns sound brighter in certain keys - I never play Ye holy angels bright in C major, for example - always better in D. The other major hymn book is the English Hymnal - all beautifully laid out on the page with more (unknown) hymns for feasts and special occasions - probably (arguably anyway) regarded as the most scholarly of all the major hymn books.

As to the wisdom of playing hymns when relatively inexperienced, I would only say that a lot of able organists who can play very complex pieces from the standard organ repertoire are foxed by hymns for some strange reason. I don't think you can do any harm by trying some early on in your organ playing career - just as it's good to try to transpose from an early stage.

I hope that's a help - keep going!

Martin.

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Two very helpful replies so soon! And many thanks to you both.

 

I should just clarify that I am not a young organist looking to learn. I am just someone who has lost much of what I had my adult life and who is looking to find new things that I enjoy doing. Hymns are something I enjoy, certain ones I remember from school are anyway and a few weeks ago I had an old two manual electric organ shipped up from my parents where it had been gathering dust for a very long time. It barely worked but after working away at it, it now makes a passable sound (mostly). Once fixed I tinkered around on it for a little while but eventually decided it was time to do something useful with it and finally learning to play something I always loved seemed like the best solution. I'll never be "an organist" but that doesn't mean I can't gain some pleasure from playing in the sanctuary of my own home!

 

Anyway it sounds like I am on the right lines with the 10ths and I'll look around for some of the alternative hymn books suggested.

 

I'm sure this won't be the last question though ;)

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I like to think that hymns is one thing I can do well, so here goes...

 

On choice of hymn books, we currently use a version of HON and I don't like it at all. The traditional hymns mostly retain musical integrity but they have messed with the words to politically correct them which I dislike when it's done how they do it. I think inclusive language is a fine principal but has to be balanced with a respect for poetry and with some judgement as to what becomes ridiculous (e.g. changing every 'he' in 'He would valiant be') - but some examples of inclusive language can work well (e.g. Brother, sister, let me serve you). My other major problem is with the arrangements of many of the modern hymns. To think that they claim they have renowned musicians doing these beggars belief - the harmonic progressions in many are at best clumsy and at worst unfathomable. I frequently find myself altering the harmonies to something which makes musical sense - but judging by your post above that is something you'd be capable of doing. When you're accompanying unison hymns, take carte-blanche to do this. I'd keep HON simply for its range of content (it doesn't leave much out) but take a lot of it with a large pinch of salt.

 

I like Common Praise - a good balance of hymns including many of the better more recent hymns (e.g. Coe Fen, Guiting Power, Corvedale, Be still, Shine Jesus Shine - yes I am serious!), sensitive editing of words, and generally good musical intergrity. Ancient and Modern New Standard, its predecessor, I don't rate. I think you'll struggle to find copies of the one before that - Ancient and Modern Revised - but that is good if a little outdated in places nowadays. New English Hymnal is also good and a staple of many Cathedrals, but I've never really worked with it all that much.

 

If you wish to start playing at churches, hymns are essential so definitely worth looking at. Posters above have covered the big stretches point - the pedal should be taking the bass notes and the the hands can then cover the other parts as you find comfortable (but a manuals only verse here and there can be effective). There are some hymns which I wouldn't dare play without pedals though - Repton and Wolvercote spring to mind because there are too many notes to play the original versions on manuals only (although there is a manuals arrangement of Repton in Common Praise).

 

There is a difference between playing hymns through and actually accompanying them. When accompanying, important things to consider as I think of them:

 

1) Tempo - firstly, to pick a sensible one and stick to it. I'm not a fan of hymns which dash along at break-neck speed, but I don't like them too ponderous either. Sometimes the words or the sense of the hymn can dictate the tempo - some are more solemn and benefit from going slower (e.g. Rock of Ages which is four-square but the words don't demand it to bounce along). Many recommend that you sing along so that you know that the tempo is reasonable and that you can fit the words in comfortably. Also, maintain the tempo in the pauses between verses - they shouldn't just be random pauses. This is quite difficult to explain and perhaps someone can do a better job than me - but essentially you carry on counting as the verse finishes and come in at the appropriate place - so if there is an upbeat you'll start on the last beat of the bar, if not, start on the first beat, and so on. Likewise, the number of beats will vary depending upon the time signature.

 

2) Introduction - should be at the speed at which you intend to play the rest of the hymn. Organists vary what they do for introductions, and I'm not always consistent. The first line is normally best as it reminds people how the tune goes and once they hear that they will find the rest easier to pick up. I sometimes do first then last line so it sounds better musically. Some (e.g. Repton again) can IMO only be done by playing the end of the verse though. Its by no means an exact science.

 

3) Phrasing - try to let your playing reflect how the words flow. The classic is 'The Lord's my shepherd' (Crimond) - playing each line of the first verse as an individual phrase makes no sense whatsoever if you look at the words. Ancient and Modern Revised used to mark carry-throughs between lines which can be helpful, or you can mark them in if you find it helps. Likewise, a brief release at a comma (but not so much as to disrupt the tempo) helps emphasise the phrasing of the words.

 

4) Registration - once you have conquered the above you can start to think about varying registration. When done well, this can turn an adequate accompaniment into an excellent one and bring hymns to life. I normally play introductions on manuals only and will normally increase the volume when the hymn actually starts to give a clear signal that the hymn itself has started. Then it is a case of interpreting the words as you see fit, within the limits of the stops and registration aids you have available. Manuals only verse can be very effective, as mentioned above. Sometimes this can veer towards being a little cheesy, but that has never put me off. But I would say don't overdo this aspect until you have done the first three parts to your satisfaction.

 

I also like last-verse reharmonisations - although I know many don't. If this interests you, you can find books to help or you can improvise them if you have a good command of harmony. Rawsthorne's book (published by Mayhew) is a good starting point. Once again, this is something only to be done when you're comfortable with the points above though.

 

As to which hymns to practise, I'd guess hymns which are more 'four-square' will generally be easier at first. Hymns in triple time always seem to have slightly more intricate moving parts in the centre, so Hereford which you mention above isn't that straightforward. Some hymns are quite difficult to play - I always find Wolvercote particularly tricky because there is so much going on with all the moving parts in the middle. If you find you can't do something, I'd try to find something easier and then come back - the more experience you get the easier it will become overall. I've often found that with organ pieces I've aspired to play that if I come back in six or twelve months they are somehow nowhere near as difficult as they were when I first looked at them. Also, go and listen to other organists playing hymns. Particularly in Cathedrals and more eminent Parish Churches, I should hope that the hymns will be accompanied well and you can hear how they are done and pick up ideas. I still do this, not just with hymns, but with all elements of service accompaniment.

 

I really enjoy playing hymns, and I think to lead worship in this way is a privilege because you are facilitating other people to worship. If you do find a church, I hope you find one where they sing well, because that always make it a much better experience for all concerned.

 

I hope thats something in the realm of what you were after!

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Ok, short version..... I am a non-musician and I am trying to teach myself to play the full harmony accompaniment to a range of hymns on the organ.

 

Hi

 

When I was learing the organ - many years ago - I was shown 3 ways of playing hymns:-

1) SA in the RH, TB in the LH - manuals only. If there's too big a stretch, then either play the Tenor in the rh or move the bass (amd maybe surrounding notes) up an octave.

 

2). RH S & A, LH T Pedals Bass - the most common method, but you will need to learn to play the pedals fairly well.

 

3). TH S, LH A & T on another manual, Pedals B (i.e solo the tune), or it's variation, RH A & T, LH S an octave down, Pedals - Bass. I wouldn't even think of trying this until you can do the above 2.

 

To this I would add that most hymn tunes (with the exception of those intended for unison singing and modern songs) are lain out for a 4 part choir. There's, IMHO, no reason at all why you have to keep to that on the organ - move the inner parts around if it makes playing easier or more effective. Obviously, normally the melody has to stay at the top, and unless you know a lot about harmony, it's best not to try and change the bass part.

 

The purchase of an organ tutor will help in terms of technique - I can't make any recommendations - I used Stainer's and Alcock back in the 60's - now long out of date! Also, maybe there's a local organist who would be willing to help you out.

 

Good luck

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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I think that playing hymns well is very difficult and so many, very fine, players play hymns badly.

 

I don't know whether I can tell you how to play hymns, I think it's something that you just do - perhaps you do it well because you have been a member of a congregation or choir before you got onto the bench!! Obviously technique comes into it but, perhaps, it also comes from your own convictions

 

Firstly I think you set the speed by imagining yourself singing the hymn, you set realistic speeds for the numbers in the congregation and the acoustic of the building and you play rhythmically. You count in-between verses - leaving always the same rest. You think about play-over and verses and play the words as far as registration goes.

 

Only the other day I heard a player, who had 'been through the mill at Kensington Gore' (or wherever!) and had survived to decorate his name with diplomas, playing a simple hymn tune that I found was almost unsingable due to his playing! Afterwards he played a voluntary that was very fine but practising hymns, or even looking at them beforehand, was clearly beneath him! The hymn playing completely spoilt the ceremony and the organist had forgotten why he was there!

 

Difficult subject!

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I also do as suggested above - imagine I am singing the hymns as a member of the choir or congregation and play accordingly. I often get told off for playing hymns too fast but I really feel that at times things can really drag and meaning, natural flow etc. is therefore lost. As an example - on Sunday - Great is thy faithfullness came out nicely one in a bar - not too fast but distinctly lighter than usual and in a sense it had far more meaning than at a slow and solid three in a bar - to my ears anyway. I do also spend time checking through all the hymns I have to play - I think that this is very important and as much part of my role as the 'fancy bits'!

 

A

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I also do as suggested above - imagine I am singing the hymns as a member of the choir or congregation and play accordingly. I often get told off for playing hymns too fast but I really feel that at times things can really drag and meaning, natural flow etc. is therefore lost. As an example - on Sunday - Great is thy faithfullness came out nicely one in a bar - not too fast but distinctly lighter than usual and in a sense it had far more meaning than at a slow and solid three in a bar - to my ears anyway. I do also spend time checking through all the hymns I have to play - I think that this is very important and as much part of my role as the 'fancy bits'!

 

A

 

 

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Digressing from the original question, (I hope we've covered that and given good asnwers), it amazes me how often brilliant musicians cannot accompany a hymn. I shall not name names, (that would be cruel), but a fairly recent broadcast from a cathedral, demonstrated how it all goes wrong.....in this case, it was the OMC's fault.

 

They would get to the end of a line, and wait for the sound from the congregation, THEN start the next verse.....disaster!

 

The whiole thing started to gather a momentum of its own, as the OMC tried to clip the end of the lines and come in early at the start of subsequent verses........disaster upon disaster.

 

Furthermore, in general terms, I have lost count of the number of times the space between verses is filled with uncounted fresh-air, and when the next verse starts, no-one is able to anticipate it. I even know of one former OMC who insisted on two full beats between verses, whether it was in 3/4, 4/4 or even Rhumba Rhythm.

 

I don't actually know how I am able to do it, but I have no difficulty bringing the hoardes under control and getting them in line. A recent mass, where people from different churches attended, witnessed people wanting to sing familiar hymns at quite different speeds....a difficult situation.

 

I find that when people want to drag along, the best way is to play the first few notes staccato, with lots of daylight in between, (as there is with staccato).....it's like using the organ as a percussion instrument to emphasise the pulse. Verse ending get the appropriate space.

 

"The day thou gavest" (for example)....2 full measures rather than 3.

 

"Love divine"....3 full measures rather than 2, but still in three time, due to the fact that the hymn tune starts on the first beat of the bar.

 

BUT......I have a little "trick".....a little polished diamond.....which I insert just AFTER the count. I can't explain it, but it goes 1-2-3 and then a tiny, almost non-existant extra something or other......just enough to grab a quick lung-full of air.

 

Maybe it's just an acoustic thing, or maybe it is so subtle, it's a psychological thing, but it prevents people from coming in late, whatever it is and however it works.

 

In the old days of big congregations in big spaces, I instinctively learned how to do it from others, but I don't recall anyone ever sitting me down to explain it. It was just the way it was done, and everyone understood.

 

Anyway, it was fun getting the members of several other congregations to sing as one, and by the third verse of the first hymn, they had got the hang of it; after which there was no longer a problem.

 

MM

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All the foregoing messages contain a great deal of useful advice and the old adage “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” seems to be entirely apposite. However, I think Tony Newnham’s last point is well worth considering. If you were to approach a local organist or perhaps one of the organists at the cathedral in Norwich, it might well be possible to point you in the direction of someone who could give you immediate advice at the keyboard as you play.

 

I hope that you will keep us all informed as to your progress - and good luck: as we have been told, playing hymns in such a way that the congregation can actually sing them is not necessarily the prerogative of the virtuoso!

 

David Harrison

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... Also, maintain the tempo in the pauses between verses - they shouldn't just be random pauses. This is quite difficult to explain and perhaps someone can do a better job than me - but essentially you carry on counting as the verse finishes and come in at the appropriate place - so if there is an upbeat you'll start on the last beat of the bar, if not, start on the first beat, and so on. Likewise, the number of beats will vary depending upon the time signature.

 

What works for me, and seems to work with the choirs and congregations I work with, is to leave two beats between verses in a hymn that is in 4/4 (or 2/4 I guess, but I can't think of many of those!). With hymns in 3/4 I make the last chord 4 beats (I complete bar plus beat one of the next) and then leave two beats rest so that the next verse begins on the down beat (assuming that's where it's meant to be, for example in Blaenwern); a whole bar of 3 beats rest seems to long for me, but I remember seeing a TV broadcast from St Georges Chapel Windsor (It could have been the wedding of Prince Edward?) where they seemed to have HUGE gaps between verses of hymns - four beats I think in the 4/4 hymns - I guess local customs prevail in some places!

 

Steve

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It's not clear from the OP/2nd post whether the practice instrument has pedals - unless I've missed something. Another query is whether they can be used; I'm trying not to ask if the Great Misfortune affected your legs (you did say that most sports were now impossible)

 

The business of reaching the 10th and/or playing the bass line on the pedals might be easier to answer if this were clarified.

 

Apologies if this is insensitive - I wish you every success in your new venture.

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What works for me, and seems to work with the choirs and congregations I work with, is to leave two beats between verses in a hymn that is in 4/4 (or 2/4 I guess, but I can't think of many of those!). With hymns in 3/4 I make the last chord 4 beats (I complete bar plus beat one of the next) and then leave two beats rest so that the next verse begins on the down beat (assuming that's where it's meant to be, for example in Blaenwern); a whole bar of 3 beats rest seems to long for me, but I remember seeing a TV broadcast from St Georges Chapel Windsor (It could have been the wedding of Prince Edward?) where they seemed to have HUGE gaps between verses of hymns - four beats I think in the 4/4 hymns - I guess local customs prevail in some places!

 

Steve

 

 

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I go along with the two beat thing in 2/4. 4/4 etc.

 

However, I've just mentally hummed through "Blaenwern," and I can't imagine how 3 + 1 and then 2 beats of silence work better than 3 + 3.....it's quite a quick 3 after all.

 

Maybe it's just me.....I don't know.

 

MM

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You sound to me as though you are doing very well. I foolishly offered to fill in at our parish ten years ago when the organist was taken ill, being the least underqualified parishioner. Like you I had been a chorister through all my senior school years and had learned the piano up to a bit less than grade 3. I do not have your ability to harmonise at the keyboard, but I do make a rough but passable job on paper. I had to do four hymns a week right from the start and a lot of simplification went on. No one ever complained, but I was embarassed by how banal it sounded. I was forty six at the time, old enough to have known better.

 

I set about learning to play. The most important thing was a good teacher. I found pedaling very tiring at first, but I got the hang of it eventually. Now I learn most hymns in a few hours, and can play fair chunks of the Orgelbuchlein.

 

Things to try: "Pearsall" is actually quite easy, either on manuals only, or pedaling, but sounds rather flashy and impressive.

 

The first time you manage those pedal runs in Cwm Rhondda you will feel as though you have made it to heaven.

 

It took me two years to learn "Guiting Power", so don't be put off easily.

 

As for books, the parish uses "Celebration hymnal for everyone." Avoid this like the plague - tiny scrawling print, a lot of errors, and some poor rearrangements. For better arrangements I use Ancient and Modern Revised & New English Hymnal, which I found in charity shops.

 

I have the ultimate advantage over you - my hands are big enough to manage a tenth. Gloves are difficult to find though.

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I find that when people want to drag along, the best way is to play the first few notes staccato, with lots of daylight in between, (as there is with staccato).....it's like using the organ as a percussion instrument to emphasise the pulse. Verse ending get the appropriate space.

 

 

 

 

MM

 

Hi

 

I find that playing the bass line (on the pedals) staccato for a couple of lines usually works. If that fails, then MM's suggestion is the next step - and failing that, solo the melody on something loud enough to make the point!

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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The thing about the interverse gap is that it's a part of the music, as much as the verse. So, one piece of music from the in-breath before the playover to the end of the echo after the last verse. Thus, the interverse gaps are counted/felt according to the pulse of the music, not necessarily the number of beats. (Perhaps the pulse could be defined as the minimum number of beats in the bar if one was conducting a competent orchestra. (E.g. 2 for 4/4, 1 for 3/4, etc.) )

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Firstly my apologies for not replying sooner. I'd like to thank the many people who have offered advice and some folks in particular have gone to considerable length to craft detailed replies - please be assured I have read every last word and will doubtless continue to refer back to it.

 

One thing that has been brought home to me is how little I know about musical theory, in particular timing. I know, of course, what each note means but had not really given much consideration to the timing. It's highly unlikely I could read the music of any hymn well enough to play it if I did not already know how it was supposed to sound. I rely on my ear to get things like the tempo right - I just need the music to give me the proper harmony. It is my hope that with perseverence I will become familiar enough with reading music that I could start to tackle pieces that I am not familiar with, though I suspect it will be some time before that is the case and that I will start with more simplistic pieces than hymns.

 

My intention really is simply to be able to play for my own enjoyment, not really to accompany a church service, though I do recall from doing a few times all those years ago that the congregation always seemed to want to sing more slowly than I played. If I slowed down a little so did they so they!

 

On the subject of pedals, the instrument is a 1970 Solina electric organ, the sort of thing that was the forerunner of the brown plastic 1980's Hammond organ type jobs with two rather short manuals, offset, stops like "banjo", wobbling vibratos and any number of drums and rhythms! Fortunately this one was obviously designed with a more traditional use in mind and all the stops are of the kind found on a typical pipe organ (though obviously mimicked with primitive electronics). There are no drums or anything like - but there certainly isn't a full radiating concave pedal rank either. Instead there is run of one octave of pedals suspended from the base of the organ (and they don't all work). They are also not especially easy to play. As for my use of my legs, although I suffered a nasty thigh injury on my right leg it is to all intents and purpose capable of normal use now. Sadly the same cannot be said of my left leg which was broken in many places between the knee and the ankle. I've looked at the x-rays many times and stop counting the pieces at about 15. That includes multiple vertical splits on the both ends of the tibia running into the knee and ankle. As a result neither functions especially well but since to all intents and purposes I shouldn't have a left leg at all (in fact probably shouldn't even be alive) I am not going to complain too loudly. I've seen some pretty impressive footwork on YouTube and even in live recitels, things I could never hope to emulate with my physical limitations, but then nor will I ever be able to play pieces of that nature anyway. In terms of playing the pedals to your average hymn (if there is such a thing) I do not imagine it would be a huge problem. I should add though, that at this stage I have not attempted to play them to the hymns I have learnt. It has taken all my concentration just to learn what to do with my hands! Besides, the pedals that there are on this organ are just a soft, rumbly bass and don't make the clear sound that playing the bass part on the manuals does.

 

Apologies if this is insensitive

Oh no need to worry about that. I don't mind telling the stories I just don't really know that anyone wants to hear them! I can no longer ski, run or play racquet sports - which are basically all the sports I used to do. This is because of the high impact they would have on my knee which now has a deformed joint, damaged cruciate ligaments and hardly any cartilage Swimming and cycling should be no problem and I should be able to still do hiking on an irregular basis. Instead of squash I have now taken up golf!

 

On the subject of finding someone to assist me - that would be ideal. Sadly though I have no realistic means of payment and I imagine most professional musicians would be somewhat reluctant to give their time freely and I would not wish to embarrass them by asking. I live in a small village with a small and very old parish church. According to the NPOR there is a two manual pipe organ in the church with a total of 9 stops. This would be a logical instrument on which to try to learn but I am not known to the church and have nothing really to offer them in return for being allowed to use the organ - if indeed they would even consider that. My ability to do any of this is considerably hindered by circumstances at the moment, just as it has taken me a week to reply to this thread and last night was the first time I have had a chance to crack on with learning another hymn. O Thou Who Camest From Above has been abandoned as I just couldn't get to grips with it and I am now trying Alleluia Sing To Jesus (Hyfrydol) instead but confess to struggling a little with this too. I got the first part fairly quickly but the last part still has me foxed! Off to try again in a mo....

 

I shall take on board all that I have been told.

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You sound to me as though you are doing very well. I foolishly offered to fill in at our parish ten years ago when the organist was taken ill, being the least underqualified parishioner. Like you I had been a chorister through all my senior school years and had learned the piano up to a bit less than grade 3. I do not have your ability to harmonise at the keyboard, but I do make a rough but passable job on paper. I had to do four hymns a week right from the start and a lot of simplification went on. No one ever complained, but I was embarassed by how banal it sounded. I was forty six at the time, old enough to have known better.

 

I set about learning to play. The most important thing was a good teacher. I found pedaling very tiring at first, but I got the hang of it eventually. Now I learn most hymns in a few hours, and can play fair chunks of the Orgelbuchlein.

 

Things to try: "Pearsall" is actually quite easy, either on manuals only, or pedaling, but sounds rather flashy and impressive.

 

The first time you manage those pedal runs in Cwm Rhondda you will feel as though you have made it to heaven.

 

It took me two years to learn "Guiting Power", so don't be put off easily.

 

As for books, the parish uses "Celebration hymnal for everyone." Avoid this like the plague - tiny scrawling print, a lot of errors, and some poor rearrangements. For better arrangements I use Ancient and Modern Revised & New English Hymnal, which I found in charity shops.

 

I have the ultimate advantage over you - my hands are big enough to manage a tenth. Gloves are difficult to find though.

Now that does make for an interesting comparison - and shows what can be achieved. I can only hope I can emulate your example!

 

My plan was never really to learn to play for services, just for personal satisfaction and enjoyment, though if I manage to progress to that level I shall be happy to do so when available. Availability is a large part of the problem though. I also could use a different instrument on which to learn. The old electric organ I have is over 40 years old and feeling its age. I have to carry out remedial work on it before every session of learning / practice or many notes either crackle and bang or fail to play at all. I've seen many impressive electronic church organs came and go on Ebay in the last few months but my house is on the market and I have no idea where I shall end up living, only that it will be much smaller than where I am now. That has made me reluctant to buy anything with a full pedal rank or which might make enough noise to upset the neighbours who will doubtless be somewhat closer once I have moved. That problem will work itself out in time however. My availability will also become more predictable - in the meantime I have to go with what I've got.

 

I think the point about being a chorister is well made - though I have never referred to myself as such. Being in the recitel choir of a cathedral school, but not in the cathedral choir itself, the term "chorister" was exclusively reserved for use by the actual cathedral choir. The school choir was generally a rather poor relation in prestige if not necessarily in actual ability, though we did put on many concerts ourselves in the cathedral and at other venues. My memory is pretty hazy now but I am fairly certain we did Evensong in the cathedral on the odd occasion (presumably to give the choristers and lay clerks some time off) and I have a feeling they may even have done tours but since took place in the holidays when I was abroad with my parents (boarding during term time) I never took part. But without my time in the choir I am certain my very limited abilities on the organ would be reduced to pretty much nothing since I rely so heavily on my ear to be able to play anything!

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According to the NPOR there is a two manual pipe organ in the church with a total of 9 stops. This would be a logical instrument on which to try to learn but I am not known to the church and have nothing really to offer them in return for being allowed to use the organ - if indeed they would even consider that.

Do please get in touch with them and ask. The Church exists to serve its community, not vice versa, and no member of the Christian clergy worthy of the name would refuse. In any case, you've said yourself that in due course you might be willing to play for services - which means you will in time have something you can offer by way of payback.

 

Don't underestimate the difficulty of what you're trying to do - playing hymns from the typical hymn book 4 part harmony is quite a bit harder than most people (certainly most people in congregations) tend to credit, particularly if you do want to play the bass part on the pedals. You've got 4 voices, all moving all the time, and until your hands and feet learn the typical ways that the chord progressions work, you'll be thinking about all four notes, every chord. That's a lot of mental processing in a very short space of time. I was sitting down to learn and practise and work on basic hymns long after I could play stuff like Franck 3 and The Widor. (There's lots of far gentler ways of getting into playing the organ!)

 

It might be worth looking at Anne Marsden Thomas's The Organist's Hymnbook - your local library could probably get hold of a copy - which is "A tutor in playing hymns with 160 hymn arrangements in graded levels of difficulty. Also including a complete instruction in pedalling illustrated with photographs" - it starts with 2 and 3 part arrangements and goes on upwards, so even if you don't start at the very beginning, you should be able to find something realistically achievable, but with enough challenge to be interesting, plus you get a sense of progression as you work through the book.

 

Finally, get in touch with your local Organist's Association (The IAO website has details of all the area ones. The Birmingham OA has a bursary scheme that has provided funding to cover a few lessons and I guess others may have something similar.

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I second what Contrabordun has written.

 

As a teenager I was organist at a small parish church but for various reasons had a long break, 30+ years, from playing although my love for listening to the organ and its music remained undimmed. A few years ago I really fancied another go and approached the vicar of a nearby church for permission to practice a few pieces to see if I still had the touch. One thing led to another and I now play fairly regularly as a second deputy for the church at which I was organist all those years ago. I found both the clergy and organists at the churches I have contacted more than happy to allow me access to practice. I have always left a small donation in a gift aid envelope after each session to express my appreciation although the churches have never asked for anything.

 

Do go and ask; perhaps after a service when both the vicar and organist are there together. You'll not regret it, and I'm sure that the sound you'll make with a real organ will inspire and encourage you even more.

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Do please get in touch with them and ask. The Church exists to serve its community, not vice versa, and no member of the Christian clergy worthy of the name would refuse. In any case, you've said yourself that in due course you might be willing to play for services - which means you will in time have something you can offer by way of payback.

I think I will do exactly that. I've been pondering this exact thought since my followups last night. I am perhaps being a little quick to judge (though hopefully in a nice way) but the local vicar is female and all the women priests I have met to date have been excellent advertisements for the churches they serve - everything you would hope a member of the Christian clergy would be. I will get in touch and explain what I am trying to do. I'll give what I can back to the church in return but I will be honest that it is likely to be fairly limited in real terms. However I am the manager of an IT department so there might be some internet / computer related favour (or favours) that I can provide.

 

Don't underestimate the difficulty of what you're trying to do - playing hymns from the typical hymn book 4 part harmony is quite a bit harder than most people (certainly most people in congregations) tend to credit, particularly if you do want to play the bass part on the pedals. You've got 4 voices, all moving all the time, and until your hands and feet learn the typical ways that the chord progressions work, you'll be thinking about all four notes, every chord. That's a lot of mental processing in a very short space of time. I was sitting down to learn and practise and work on basic hymns long after I could play stuff like Franck 3 and The Widor. (There's lots of far gentler ways of getting into playing the organ!)

A few people have highlighted that hymns are surprisingly difficult. It's actually a relief to hear that in many ways because, to be honest, I am finding it very difficult. Difficult - but not impossible. It just takes work - and more than once it would have been handy to have someone I could ask how to deal with a particular problem. Maybe getting involved with the church can provide an avenue on that one too? In any case, despite the apparent difficulty of hymns I do have the advantage of familiarity with many of the tunes from my singing days which does assist greatly in turning the notes on the page into a passable impersonation of the real thing!

 

It might be worth looking at Anne Marsden Thomas's The Organist's Hymnbook - your local library could probably get hold of a copy - which is "A tutor in playing hymns with 160 hymn arrangements in graded levels of difficulty. Also including a complete instruction in pedalling illustrated with photographs" - it starts with 2 and 3 part arrangements and goes on upwards, so even if you don't start at the very beginning, you should be able to find something realistically achievable, but with enough challenge to be interesting, plus you get a sense of progression as you work through the book.

That sounds perfect. I'll look into that too. Many thanks contrabordun (and handsoff).

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I hope you can have access to the church organ; there's nothing to lose by asking. Even if not (under the present incumbent) you can make considerable headway with the instrument you've got, at least with note learning and improving your musicianship. The pedals that you have are probably enough for the time being, because you may only be able to manage to co ordinate hands and feet at cadence points, but all that will come together eventually. You probably won't gain a great deal of knowledge of registration from it, though.

 

I wouldn't worry too much about the hymn book - any old thing will do to begin with, and your own sensibilities will inform you if the arrangement is poor or the pages fall out too easily.

I wouldn't even worry too much about playing 4 parts with hands and playing the bass part with feet (when they are up to it). Purists will insist that the hands should not play the bass line if the feet are doing it, but sometimes trying to separate this off is just too hazardous.

 

It may even happen that the organist would give you a bit of help in return for a promise to deputize as and when you feel ready. I only play for services as a sort of thank-you for having the use of the instrument. I'm fairly useless but still find myself playing for about 30+ weddings a year.

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Some good advice here. I would say "stick at it" and keep working at it until the fluency starts to come, which it will. Small steps and all that and don't feel shy practising at a slow tempo until you've got it under your fingers.

 

I would second just going and asking if you can practise on the church organ. I'm sure they'll be more than happy to help develop an organist that could one day occasionally help out. I can't think of a vicar or organist that would turn down that opportunity.

 

Do get in touch with your local organists' association. I know our local Organists' Association hold workshops for reluctant organists in the area to help people in a similar situation to you - see here: http://www.wdao.hampshire.org.uk/index.php...anists_Workshop

 

One or two students have invested in the AMT The Organists Hymnbook. While it's very useful, I sometimes feel it goes in to too much detail, such as studiously writing out every crotchet into quavers plus quaver rests in middle parts to indicate breaths and ends of lines. I've found this over-application of ideas has hindered rather than helped some students as they get caught up trying to perfect unecessary details added by the book and worrying about them rather than develop a feel of musical line and breath.

 

On balence, I think it's better to use a normal hymnbook and work out for yourself how to adapt hymns and apply the "tricks of the trade" the AMT book sets out to document. I think it is better to teach the general principles and let organists develop their own feel for the tricks of the trade and how to apply them rather than be spoon-fed all the time.

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More thanks due for more helpful advice. I certainly will be contacting the church though I have just been plunged into a slightly complicated situation (my life is anything but predictable at the moment) which may keep me otherwise occupied for some little time now and I suspect the electronic organ may have to suffice until all this is past and the future a little clearer.

 

On the subject of registration, thankfully the organ I have is aimed at church / chapel usage and although some stops are better imitations than others they are all intended to mimic pipe organ stops which is certainly going to help more than some of the electronic organs I have seen - but certainly I'd prefer working with a real pipe organ. There are only four stops on the swell of the church organ though (compared to 12 on my home one) so there will certainly be far fewer combinations available.

 

On the subject of the hymn book, I don't hugely mind the one I have, I was only concerned because of all the bad coverage it gets on here. I've been able to play many hymns for years using my own improvised (and simplistic) accompaniment. My aim now is to learn how to do it properly and I was worried that I would spend all this time trying to read the real music only to find that the music in the book I am using differs wildly from more respected publications. If that isn't the case then I shall happily continue to use it.

 

The Organists Association workshop looks ideal but a bit of a commute from Norwich but I shall definitely look at getting in touch with the local outfit. What a great suggestion (thanks to all who have suggested it) - I would never have thought of that. I've looked at the website of the local outfit but unfortunately nothing quite like is being listed by them.

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