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I'm just starting to play again after a period of absence, and reviewing my old hoping to learn from reactions I have received from members of the congregation as I rejuvenate my repertoire and look for new pieces to add. I have always had excellent reactions to Mendelssohn - hence I'm currently beavering away at the Preludes and Fugues, but fairly frosty ones to Karg Elert. What pieces or composers have your congregations loved and hated? (hoping to pick up some tips here)

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The folk at my church are musically unsophisticated, which is typical in Britain. Basically they like music that is tuneful and cheerful. It has to be both. I once played Bach's Liebster Jesu BWV 731 and was roundly told by one lady, "Can you play something cheerful, please? We don't want any of that mournful rubbish!" :o

 

My predecessor used to give them Lefebure-Wély's Sortie in E flat and I'm sure they would have loved it. Blow that for a game of soldiers. I have my dignity.

 

Last Sunday I gave them Mulet's Carillon-Sortie and got applause and several appreciative comments, plus some young girls keenly peering at the console. Other pieces in this mould, like the Final from Vierne's first, get a similar reception. Bach's "Jig" Fugue is another, owing to its jolly subject and BWV 565 because everyone recognises it. Lots of fast fingerwork always goes down well too - the Widor inevitably gets applause.

 

Basically, if it isn't relatively easy listening, they won't listen.

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The folk at my church are musically unsophisticated, which is typical in Britain. Basically they like music that is tuneful and cheerful. It has to be both. I once played Bach's Liebster Jesu BWV 731 and was roundly told by one lady, "Can you play something cheerful, please? We don't want any of that mournful rubbish!"

 

If anyone ever said that to me there'd be major trouble!!!

 

A :o

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I played the finale to Vierne 1 when deputising at a City Church in London three weeks ago and that, as always, was hugely popular with people of all ages and genders. The following week I played Guilmant's March on a Theme of Handel and that was also popular but not as much as the Vierne.

 

If I'm deputising somewhere I always try to give them something that I know, or suspect, they don't normally hear. There is one church in Brighton where, for that reason, I would never play the Bach D major or the Stanley Suite for Organ (arr. H Coleman) and another where I wouldn't play the Dorian because I'm sure those congregations are thoroughly sick of those pieces. The church where I played the Vierne and Guilmant is one where I am in the congregation most Sundays so I know what they do and don't usually hear.

 

Malcolm

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I have a regular little "fan club" who gather around the organ console for mass.......I'm thrust into the turba I'm afraid.

 

They are the ones who tell me what to play; especially the improvisations.

 

They can be quite wicked at times, and consequently we've had improvisations ober den well known chorales, "The lullaby of broadway," "My old man says follow the band" and "The organ grinder's swing."

 

Of course, they are totally unrecongisable to all but the most sophisticated of ears, but more usually it takes the form of, "Play something in the style of Handel" (quite easy), "Haydn" (easier still) or something topical, like last Sunday, when I was asked to improvise on "We're all going on a summer holiday" in the style of Mozart.

 

I must have improvised a thousand "Cornet Voluntaries" by now!

 

When it comes to REAL music, my bunch of musical misfits like Handel, (especially the Water Music), the THREE famous Toccatas.....Widor, Bach and Mushel; the latter among their favourites. They have other favourites, such as Nevin's "Will o' the wisp" and Pachelbel's Chaconne in F minor; the latter now more popular than the Canon in D.

 

They smile beningely at Schumann, and marvel at the dissonant energy of Alain's "Litanies," which just about works, even without manual reeds.

 

At the higher end of the market, there is a small but dedicated band of Bach enthusiasts, who stay right to the end of one of the big works.

 

So a bit of a mixed bag, but one which finds a degree of appreciation, a few challenges and not a lttle good humour.

 

MM

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I think most of us probably have certain people in our congregations who are always quick to offer thanks and appreciation - a 'fan club' if you like.

 

Regrettably, I'd say the things that I probably get the most obvious positive reactions to are transcriptions - the Dambusters' march and the Verdi Grand March in particular spring to mind here. I've played Lefebure-Wely E flat a couple of times but was surprised at how little reaction it got (although the vicar loves it!). I always mess up the chromatic scales but with that sort of piece I'm not convinced I'm doing the composer a dis-service if the notes aren't quite all there!

 

The Widor is popular (of course!), and Carillon de Westminster usually seems to go down pretty well. I'd love to play the Final from Vierne 1 but its beyond me at the moment. I don't play BWV565 either, I have things I'd rather learn than that. The odd bits of Bach I do play tend to be well-received - I've done the St Anne Fugue a couple of times which has elicited some interest. I have a few other 'silly' pieces that I occasionally roll out (e.g. Hornpipe Humoresque) but they are best served as occasional offerings as I'm sure the effect would pall if I did them regularly.

 

My pieces tend to fall into a few categories I guess - big pieces (e.g. Widor, Vierne) for big services; crowd-pleasers (e.g. Verdi, and I suppose Lefebure-Wely); run of the mill stuff (inoffensive stuff like Ireland's 'Alla marcia' and Dubois's 'Marche-Sortie); and things played for my own personal pleasure which no-one else will enjoy (e.g. Howells' 3rd Rhapsody). I try to balance the four out over time while ensuring that the same pieces don't crop up too often - it's all too easy to play Widor 5 whenever you have a big service, and I'm not someone who will have certain pieces they play on certain festivals and I like to rotate them year on year. I'm always trying to build new stuff in and this autumn I'm hoping to crack the Final from Guilmant 1 and have a go at the first movement of the Elgar Sonata.

 

The only time I had a really adverse reaction to something was when I played movements 4 and 1 respectively of 'L'Ascension' before and after the Mass on the evening of Ascension Day last year. I quite enjoyed using my digital organ's option of alternative voices and thought I created quite a convincing French sound. They really split opinion, as several people have said how much they enjoyed them (obviously totally different to almost anything else I play - I don't play any other Messiaen) but a sizeable number also disliked them, and the Vicar politely asked me not to play them again (they got BWV630 this year). Interestingly, I'd played the first movement after the same service the year before and it passed without comment, so I can only imagine that having it before AND after was too much. Our vicar is pretty forgetful so I might dig one of them out again next year - I doubt he'll remember he banned them!

 

As I said, its a balancing act - try to show them some really good music every now and then, and throw in some pot-boilers and crowd-pleasers to keep them happy too.

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Now then... I could ponder this one for days!

 

I've long favoured an educational approach towards organ music as part of worship, combined with (obviously) an attitude of matching music to season or occasion as carefully as possible. I also feel it's a duty to champion the neglected and to prevent traditions from ossifying. Yet it's also important to remember that one's choice of music could "make or break" the worship of others...

 

Lefebure-Wely has nearly always gone down well in places where I've worked, although this has resulted in numerous interminable requests for "it." Sometimes I honour these requests, but sometimes I take the opportunity to show people that he wasn't a one-work composer: hence, having trotted out the Sortie in E flat for the All-Age Service in two consecutive months, I switched to the Sortie No. 1 in B flat and opened everyone's ears anew to this varied and joyous stuff - with which, let it be remembered, Lefebure-Wely bid his congregations "go in peace to love and serve the Lord" (or more likely "Deo gratias") at Ste Sulpice every week. (Next time, they'll be getting Sortie No. 2 in B flat, which hardly anyone seems to play but which doesn't really deserve to be eclipsed by the others, superior as they are.)

 

In a similar vein, I have shown my congregations that there is another Widor Toccata (that from his 4th Symphonie) and also that Widor had a quiet and delicate side suitable for Communion or the end of an Evening Service. I've introduced wedding parties to the delights of Dubois' "Cantilene Nuptiale" and shown that Saint-Saens wrote a lot more than the Organ Symphony or Carnival of the Animals.

 

Just about any Bach is well received, as are Buxtehude and Whitlock. Things like the Reubke Sonata (Fugue) and Bossi Etude Symphonique have provoked favourable comment, although this is more to do with the virtuosic nature of the music than with the degree of aptness for a service. I've even managed to get Messiaen into the picture, albeit with works that are the most approachable for average listeners: "Le banquet celeste" (especially on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday) and "Offrande au Saint Sacrement" go down better than "Transports de joie" or "Dieu parmi nous." (People like their ears to be tickled, but not assaulted!) Jongen, Howells, Peeters and Andriessen are usually appreciated, particularly in their more tender or joyous moments, but Petr Eben is a little too astringent for local tastes. And composers like Stanley, Gibbons and Blow tend to be met with indifference - people neither like nor dislike them, for it seems to them like musical polyfiller.

 

Not since I came to my current post have I heard the words "please don't play that again," although for a time there was an autistic girl with sensitive ears who reacted badly to the louder stuff and whose mother tried to persuade me to play the louder Bach pieces "with the volume down." (I think in the end I suggested that they might try sitting somewhere other than directly in front of the pipework, where they were clearly getting blasted to pieces by the full force of the instrument!) I'm about to move to a new post next term, so it will be interesting to see what will go down well and what won't; I have a fair idea from old music lists of the sort of thing that my immediate forebear used to play, but I've also met with folks there who say that they've often asked to hear a bit more Lefebure-Wely and been turned down... so perhaps I can reunite them with their "old friends" whilst introducing them to new ones...

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At the higher end of the market, there is a small but dedicated band of Bach enthusiasts

 

MM

 

Interesting turn of phrase!!!

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I find it quite interesting that congregations on the continent seem more receptive to 'modern' (whatever that means!) noises than British congregations.

 

I've heard quite dissonant 'chorale preludes' preceeding a hymn in Germany without, seemingly, any reaction from the congregation and, in France, I've heard 'modern' French composers - Messiaen, Alain, Durufle etc. (modern - all dead!!!!) played after Mass. Indeed some improvisations I've heard during offertories or communions have been hugely dissonant but totally accepted by those in the pews.

 

I think also there is a slightly different attitude towards the organist abroad. Often he/she is shown a good deal more respect (is that the word I want?) as a professional person than in this country. I was in Chartres on 15th of August a few years ago. After 11am High Mass in the Cathedral, at which there were quite a number of very 20th century improvisations during the ceremonial, we went for lunch. At 3pm there were Vespers, the Psalmody sung in the church down the road, followed by a huge procession through the city, complete with statue, to the Cathedral - to be greeted by a loud and strident improvisation before a full Cathedral sang a plainsong Magnificat to a huge 'French' organ accompaniment. Vespers finished and, at 5pm, there was to be an organ recital. I expected the Cathedral to empty but the people just sat there waiting. Eventually Patrick Delabre, the titulaire, gave an hour's recital that included some Bach but mostly included 'modern' French music followed by an improvisation. The cathedral was packed for the recital and at the end it was very obvious that there was real affection and appreciation for the player.

 

Why is it in this country that we put up with 'Mrs Boggins' telling us what to do? Why do our congregations feel that they can tell us, often in no uncertain terms, what they think everyone wants to hear? What have we done to put us so far down the ecclesiastical 'pecking order'? How do we rectify it?

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... I switched to the Sortie No. 1 in B flat and opened everyone's ears anew to this varied and joyous stuff - with which, let it be remembered, Lefebure-Wely bid his congregations "go in peace to love and serve the Lord" (or more likely "Deo gratias") at Ste Sulpice every week ...

 

Contemporary accounts give the clear impression that his service improvisations and voluntaries were in a rather more serious vein - and somewhat different in style - to these sorties.

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Contemporary accounts give the clear impression that his service improvisations and voluntaries were in a rather more serious vein - and somewhat different in style - to these sorties.

 

This would seem to be backed up by the piece of music linked to another current discussion on here.

 

A

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Contemporary accounts give the clear impression that his service improvisations and voluntaries were in a rather more serious vein - and somewhat different in style - to these sorties.

If they were anything like the liturgical items printed in L'Organiste moderne (which is available on IMSLP) then I would say only to a point. It is true that they are not so evocative of the fairground as the Sortie in E flat, but they are still very firmly... how shall we put it?... low brow. However, I think they are no worse than what most other organists of the time were producing. One can see why the seriousness of Franck's improvisations came as such a revelation.

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Interesting turn of phrase!!!

 

 

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

 

 

I'm not quite sure what I meant by that phrase, "at the higher end of the market," save for the fact that they are headteachers, solicitors and accountants.....perhaps Bach is an intellectual thing with them.

 

MM

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May I, without undue irreverence, wonder what God prefers to hear at His services?

We may not know, we cannot tell

What strains He likes to hear.

But we believe that Messiaen

And Bach are quite sincere!

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We may not know, we cannot tell

What strains He likes to hear.

But we believe that Messiaen

And Bach are quite sincere!

 

 

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

 

 

I know for definite that God would have been cringing this morning at Mass!

 

After the peace, we have the Agnus of course, and as part of my harmonisation, I play a tenor counter-melody in the left-hand on the 4ft Flute, against the 8ft Rohrflute in the RH; making it a lyrical alto melody of course.

 

What they got this morning was distinctly atonal, with the couter-melody almost an exact semi-tone low!!!!!

 

This is what happens when you don't pull the stop out properly.

 

Sorry God.

 

MM

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I know for definite that God would have been cringing this morning at Mass!

Oh, that's where he was! He certainly wasn't at our place! :P

 

This morning I gave them this, which I stumbled across during the week. Easy for both the organist and the listener and very effective. It went down well.

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Oh, that's where he was! He certainly wasn't at our place! :P

 

This morning I gave them this, which I stumbled across during the week. Easy for both the organist and the listener and very effective. It went down well.

 

If I know for a fact that God won't be around I will try this out - thank you, VH. Another one for the album.

 

It doesn't look difficult but I reckon I can make a horlicks even of this. Our congregation are happy to accept most things if carried off with conviction. They are never asked to endure Messaien; even if I could play it I can't afford it.

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Oh, that's where he was! He certainly wasn't at our place! :P

 

This morning I gave them this, which I stumbled across during the week. Easy for both the organist and the listener and very effective. It went down well.

 

Nice little piece - I tried it a bit faster than the suggested speed - 'came out a bit like the start of the first movement of Widor 5 - 'also bunged in the pedals in the loud bits! There is some more Rousseau organ music published here.

 

A

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Nice little piece - I tried it a bit faster than the suggested speed - 'came out a bit like the start of the first movement of Widor 5 - 'also bunged in the pedals in the loud bits! There is some more Rousseau organ music published here.

 

A

Yes, I agree it does need pedals. I played the first phrase without them on Full Swell coupled to Positive fonds and also omitted them in bars 10-13, but otherwise used them throughout, reducing the Great to fonds 8' for the piano sections and allowing myself some naughty crescendos, especially at bars 29-33 - and keeping the 32' reed and Sharp Mixture in reserve for the allargando.

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It seems to be the In Thing these days for the congregation at many of the cathedrals to wait patiently in their seats during the organ music at the end of the service and often to offer a round of applause.

 

Recently, I decided, with our vicar’s approval, to try, experimentally, the proposal that the post service music should be announced and briefly introduced at a suitable point in our service; almost always The Eucharist. I do my bit at the end of the intercessions and before the ceremony of the Holy Grope. I also say a word or two about the communion motet. At Choral Matins all this comes, obviously, just before the anthem.

 

I suggested to the congregation that they might care to join the vicar and the choir in being seated while the music was played and that if they wished to chat to their neighbours they were most welcome so to do but would they kindly leave quietly and converse equally quietly in the porch. To my knowledge, so far, no one has.

 

The only reactions I have had so far have been nothing but very positive; we are a small village church congregation with, presumably, the same prejudices and angsts that other board members find in their own churches and yet the appreciation has been enormous. I wonder, if, with their several attentions having been drawn to the music, they find it easier to remain and concentrate quietly.

 

Neither the church organ nor my present state of health allow me to play such harmless little trifles such as Dieu Parmi Nous, the Durufle Toccata, the Willan Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue and my own version of Pomp and Circs 5 but then - say, heart, what will the future bring? Having spent the last seven months recovering from a broken hip my organ playing has been virtually nil and so I’ve been exploring the Bach 48 on our rather decent grand piano.

 

If any board member cared to try something along the lines outlined above it would be most illuminating to hear how the clergy and congregation reacted to the proposal. Indeed, there are, probably, those who already do and their experience would be well worth hearing about.

 

David Harrison

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Contemporary accounts give the clear impression that his service improvisations and voluntaries were in a rather more serious vein - and somewhat different in style - to these sorties.

 

Indeed, although I'm sure I read somewhere that Widor was prevailed upon to be less serious (and more like his lamented predecessor) when he took over at St Sulpice, to which his response was something along the lines of "when I hear sermons preached in the style of the Paris Opera..."

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Indeed, although I'm sure I read somewhere that Widor was prevailed upon to be less serious (and more like his lamented predecessor) when he took over at St Sulpice, to which his response was something along the lines of "when I hear sermons preached in the style of the Paris Opera..."

This was Saint-Saens (see Rollin Smith "S-S and the organ" 1991 p 105-7). Widor reported it in his "Notice sur la Vie....M Camille Saint-Saens" Paris 1922.

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