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OrganistOnTheHill

Easy Organ Pieces & leading a congregation?

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Hello everyone,

I am a beginner organist at a school (very fortunate enough to have an access to a Willis & Co Organ and a Lewis & Co Organ!) and I am preparing towards my first school chapel service as a organist. (We have two short morning prayers in a week). I need least two pieces, first piece for the entry of the congregation and clergies and a second piece for the exit of clergies and the congregation. I also have to prepare a hymn, which I would like some advice on tackling on practicing. I was around Grade 7 on piano and stopped for a couple of years. I fiddled around on the piano since last year and got better enough to reach the approval from the director of music to take up the organ. I am working on Bach's 'Es ist das heils uns kommen her' at the moment. 

1. May I have some tips on tackling a hymn? Transposing, volume (selecting proper stops for a hymn and the volume) and etc.

2. Suggestions of quite easy manual only organ voluntaries or pieces that are suitable for exit/entry for chapel. (Or maybe very simple pedalling?)

3. Other tips on leading the congregation and tips of being an organist in a chapel service.

Thank you!

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The most important things in hymn accompaniment, especially if the congregation can be depended upon to join in with enthusiasm, as is very often the case in school chapels are:

  • The choice of 'interesting' hymns in the first place - you may not be able to influence this!
  • Choosing the right speed;
  • Playing rhythmically at a steady tempo;
  • Playing the play over - (usually the first few bars) - so as to attract attention and interest with choice of stops, a rhythmic approach from the moment your hands touch the keys - all can be lost from the very first moment if you don't think about this and get it right;

You mention transposition. The need for this depends pretty much upon which hymn book you use- hopefully you are not going to need to transpose your first few hymns but there is no doubt it is a very useful skill. You can make hymns sound more alive and interesting by thinking about the key. E major is much more attractive than F. But let's leave transposition for another time.

Volume - well you need to start pretty loudly - Great to 15th + Swell to Mixture with or without at least an 8ft Cornopean - but much depends on the organ, the setting and the size of the congregation. 500 adolescent voices ill need more than an elderly congregation of 20 in the village church, obviously. But... it is more about rhythm and trying to infuse for electricity into the music than sheer volume. In a school, as mentioned above, the playover needs to catch the congregation's attention from the start - that means 'loud' or bright. Playing over Ye holy angels bright on Swell 8 and 4 ft diapasons with the box half open, isn't going to do it as it will make them think it's a quiet hymn and they may not bother to join in! Different registrations are normal from verse to verse. Save things like your Great mixtures, especially any sharp mixtures, pedal reeds etc for climaxes. Nothing worse than powerful mixtures screaming away verse after verse. Not sure of the size and scope of your school organ. If you have three or four manuals as I suspect you might, occasional use of a Tuba or other powerful solo reed can be made but this needs very careful practice and nothing you do should mean you have to slow down etc. What, in effect, you will be aiming to do, is solo the melody with on hand on the Tuba - this can be in the tenor range, so with your left hand, or in the treble range, with your right hand. This can help to get the congregation going a bit and is fun in verses that mention trumpets! But, this isn't easy as you will need to cover the harmony of each chord or voice part with your other hand and the pedals - a skill that needs much practice and which can be left for much later. Remember, you are at the start of this process!

Speed and rhythm - in a school chapel you probably need to veer slightly towards a faster tempo than a slower one and really it's impossible to advise fully on this in print without knowing what the organ is like, the building is like and what actual hymn we're thinking of. You set the speed in the play over so think this through carefully in the moments before you start playing. Avoid slowing down at the end of the playover. Always try to keep a regular number of beats between the playover and the start of the first verse, and between the verses. Imagine you are playing Hyfrydol... you will play the first 8 bars as the play over and hold the last chord for exactly three beats. Then count three beats' rest and then burst in with the first verse and keep going in strict time. We talk about this as being 3 + 3 and sometimes in other hymns it will be different... 2 + 2, for example. Always work this out in advance. Aim not to slow down at the end of any verses except the last. In general terms, a slightly staccato touch is better in terms of keeping the tempo going than lots of legato. You can vary this by playing legato with your hands but staccato with the feet. 

Don't forget to follow the words so as to put in occasional breaks mid-line if the sense of the words demands it, and to move without breath from one line to another, again, if the sense demands it. It isn't just a matter of playing the hymn through n times where n = the number of verses! This can be harder than you think sometimes, especially if the congregation don't sing or the organ console is some distance from the singers.

Listen to hymns on itunes and Youtube - there are some lovely recordings from Westminster Abbey, St Paul's and other cathedrals. Youtube is especially valuable as unlike in a CD recording, there will actually be a congregation and not just an SATB choir singing. Listen to things like royal weddings, Lady Thatcher's Funeral, HM The Queen's Golden Wedding service in St Paul's etc - all very educational. 

There's far too much here and I have probably left out some important points - actually, I have seen something recently, I am sure on iRCO about hymn playing. Learn to love your hymn playing and get a buzz from helping your fellow students enjoy it too. 

I'll leave manuals only voluntaries for another occasion!

Hope this is helpful.

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There's so much to say about this!  I'll offer one or two personal views about hymns. The main thing to bear in mind is that hymns are about herding musically unsophisticated (if not downright lazy) congregations into some semblance of discipline. Whatever else you may do in a hymn, never forget this.

When playing over a hymn there are two main things you need to do: 1) remind the congregation of the tune they are to sing; and 2) set the exact speed at which they are to sing it. Since, in general, congregations are rarely very alert it is, IMO, best to play the opening of the hymn rather than the end. Playing the last line or two of a hymn is of no practical help to a congregation and even I sometimes find myself struggling to recognise a tune when this is done. If you want your congregation to sing well it's as best to make it as easy for them as possible. That said, you had probably better do whatever is normally done in the chapel you're playing in.  The play-over absolutely must be at the same speed you want the hymn sung and there should be no rallentando at the end of the play-over. Some organists like to maintain rhythm throughout the hymn by counting beats in the gaps between the verses and coming in on a beat.  Congregations seem to get used to this and it does seem to help in a subliminal sort of way, but (unless it's already the established practice where you are) I wouldn't worry about it until you get used to making registration changes quickly.

The speed of a hymn should be consistent with its general mood and never so fast that people don't have time to breathe. If the people in the congregation don't have time to get good lungfuls they're not going to sing well, are they? Keep the rhythm steady throughout the hymn and don't make rallentandos except at the end of the last verse.

It's really impossible to give advice on registration without knowing the organ, the chapel and how well (or pathetically) the congregation sings. From the way you worded your question I take it that the services are "hymn sandwiches" without a choir. However, even in places with a strong, good quality choir, they are unlikely to be heard at the back of a church over a singing congregation, so the primary responsibility remains yours. In general you want to keep up a volume level that supports the singers adequately and gives them confidence. (Some people can be very self-conscious about actually being heard.)  I would avoid accompanying verses just on the Swell. (There are circumstances when you might possibly get away doing this, especially with a good choir, but stick with the rule of thumb at first.) Upperwork is helpful in leading a congregation because they can hear the higher stops better, so think of registering "vertically". So a chorus of 8', 4' 2' will do the job far more effectively than three 8' stops. A Swell chorus coupled to a Great 8' may suffice for less loud verses. If you have a Choir manual how much you use it will depend on how much "body" the stops have. Most traditional English Choir Organs I know are far to delicate to be of much use in accompanying a congregation.  Try not to play a whole hymn on the same registration throughout. While always providing "body" for the singers, volume and brightness should ideally reflect the words. Few hymns need anything very fussy in the way of registration. Most of the time you should not need to change any stops during a verse; they can be changed between verses.

Transposition. Unless you are using a really old hymn book, you should not need to do this as all the hymns will have been transposed to a suitably "congregational" pitch. (In fact some have been transposed down too far and could do with going back up a bit.) 

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As organist at a few tiny village churches with single manual organs in the main I can't add anything to the expertise above but would mention that Kevin Mayhew sells a book of hymn tunes transposed down, sometimes a semitone and for some tunes, more. It's very handy until your transposition skills are up to speed.

 

 

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The trouble is, there is such a lot! When I was first playing for school services as a boy, C.H. Trevor was just producing two different series; Old English Organ Music for Manuals and Organ Music for Manuals. There were, or rather, there are, 6 volumes in each set. These are still available (published by Oxford University Press) but whereas Volume 1 of the former cost be 40p in about 1971, and Volume 1 of the latter, 65p a year or two later, they are now £10 a volume or more. Now, the thing is this... these are not very scholarly volumes (ornaments missing etc) but they are, in my opinion a very useful resource and some of these pieces will be in your repertoire always - you don't stop playing manuals only music just because you've found your feet! The first series mentioned includes voluntaries by people like John Stanley, Henry Heron, et al, whereas the second set of volumes is more wide ranging - nothing modern, but they cover the ground from people like Handel and Orlando Gibbons through to some of the manuals only repertoire of César Franck and Léon Boëllmann. Aged 14-16 and playing two or three services a week, I used to rely on these though I did have manuals and pedals pieces up my sleeve as well. 

There are some 'new' volumes around now - published by OUP and edited by Anne Marsden Thomas - they are called Oxford Service Music for Organ and there are FOUR volumes, I think... two are for manuals only and the next two for manuals and pedals. A quick hunt on Google will find them. You may already know the name Anne Marsden Thomas - she is a major figure in the UK in Organ Education and anything produced under here imprimatur will be wise and well worth having.

There are plenty of other sources of manuals only music, and I think you could do a lot worse than pay a visit to Foyles in Charing Cross Road where there is a good stock of organ music including several drawers full of manuals only music. There are huge volumes produced by Kevin Mayhew - another publisher of church music - you often find these in your local music shop and whilst not scholarly editions, they can be useful for service use. [You may also find, in your local music shop, as I always find in mine, vast numbers of volumes of music by someone called Caleb Simper - I would avoid these - much better things to spend your money on! Not much of Simper's music is played any more.]

The other thing to do is to familiarise yourself with a website called IMSLP. This is a vast repository of scanned music of all sorts but you can sort it by composer or instrument. Above, I mentioned César Franck. If you go to IMSLP, choose Franck from the composer list, and then find something called L'Organiste. Some of these are very playable and useful, and C.H. Trevor incorporated some of them into his Organ Music for Manuals volumes. You can print one piece at a time if you want to, or a whole volume. You might also like to find "L'Heures Mystique by Léon Boëllmann. Choose ones of these (and the Franck) which are not too 'corny' in terms of the harmony - not all are to current taste! [By the way, it is easy to spend a fortune in ink and paper printing off stuff from IMSLP and you need to be wary!]

I hope that is a good start for you. I am sure you want to be looking at some straightforward music for manuals AND pedals, too. Well, where to start? Probably the next two volumes of Oxford Service Music for Organ.

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1 hour ago, Martin Cooke said:

The trouble is, there is such a lot! When I was first playing for school services as a boy, C.H. Trevor was just producing two different series; Old English Organ Music for Manuals and Organ Music for Manuals. There were, or rather, there are, 6 volumes in each set. These are still available (published by Oxford University Press) but whereas Volume 1 of the former cost be 40p in about 1971, and Volume 1 of the latter, 65p a year or two later, they are now £10 a volume or more. Now, the thing is this... these are not very scholarly volumes (ornaments missing etc) but they are, in my opinion a very useful resource and some of these pieces will be in your repertoire always - you don't stop playing manuals only music just because you've found your feet! The first series mentioned includes voluntaries by people like John Stanley, Henry Heron, et al, whereas the second set of volumes is more wide ranging - nothing modern, but they cover the ground from people like Handel and Orlando Gibbons through to some of the manuals only repertoire of César Franck and Léon Boëllmann. Aged 14-16 and playing two or three services a week, I used to rely on these though I did have manuals and pedals pieces up my sleeve as well. 

I second this information. In addition to these volumes C. H. Trevor also issued two volumes of Seasonal Chorale Preludes for manuals only. A lot of them are extracts from partitas by Walther and Kaufmann, and as said are pruned of their ornaments, but the pieces are often charming. I do not recommend the volumes by AMT.

Some of the pieces published by Trevor are available online at IMSLP.  All of John Stanley's voluntaries are there, both in facsimile and in good editions by Pierre Gouin. Ditto the Ten voluntaries by William Boyce. Have a look at their movements for the Trumpet stop. As Martin mentioned, Franck's L'Organiste is also there and will provide lots of movements for use before a service.  Pachelbel was an excellent composer and many of his chorale preludes are for manuals only, or require only minimal use of pedals. Of course the downside of printing from the internet is that you end up with reams of loose A4 sheets!

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E major is much more attractive than F”—at the risk of opening a can of worms <sound effect> this is debatable. Bach’s Italian Concerto, most of Brandenburg Concerto No. 1, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, his string quartet Op. 59 No.1 and his “Spring” sonata for piano and violin, much of Handel’s “Water Music” and Messiah, Brahms’s 3rd Symphony, Dvorak’s “American” string quartet, the second movement of Messiaen’s “L’Ascension”, and a host of other pieces would, I suggest, prove the opposite. There is nothing intrinsic about E or F, particularly in 12-tone equal temperament, which is what most organs are generally tuned to. 

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There is a good repertoire list here, quite entertaining as well! http://www.cumbrianorganists.org.uk/ (Go to "features", then "choosing your repertoire")

I think the Ann Marsden Thomas book "The church's year" is useful.

A book I use a lot is "80 chorale preludes" edited by Hermann Keller - most are for manuals, or can be played without pedals: https://www.musicroom.com/product-detail/product450705/variant450705/80-chorale-preludes-by-german-masters-of-the-17th-and-18th-centuries/

The "24 Pièces en style libre" by Louis Vierne are very good. (and on IMSLP).

As for hymn playing, excellent advice above. I would get used to having a regular gap between verses - I nearly always go for 2 beats -  just seems natural to me. Personally I don't worry about the metre - after all, no-one is troubled by a pause in music: it doesn't mean the rhythm is compromised.

You need to listen to the congregation: you may need to give a little leeway at the ends of lines, otherwise it can sound rushed. Congregations do sometimes need to be bullied, but if they are behind it may mean the speed is too fast or that they don't have time to breathe between lines.

Personally I do sometimes put a little rit. at the end of the play over if it seems unnatural otherwise - not with the more muscular hymns and, in any case, no more than holding back slightly the last chord or two.. Provided the speed is well established at the outset the singers will be perfectly able to sing at your speed when they start. That is a minority view, though, I admit!

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“Of course the downside of printing from the internet is that you end up with reams of loose A4 sheets!”

If you have a tablet computer, such as an iPad, it is much better to download the music and keep it there. I use an app called ForScore with my iPad for this purpose. I have hundreds of scores and it is very easy to find what you want quickly. You can annotate the music with an Apple pencil and play from the tablet itself if you want to. Another advantage is that you can keep different versions for different organs that you may play on. There is even a feature called Reflow which converts your music into one continuous line which moves at whatever speed you want it to, so you don’t need to turn pages. Alternatively, just print out the odd score when you want to perform it in public.

 



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Like OrganistOnTheHill I find the above advise very useful and wish I had heard such many years ago.

However, I suspect many of us would love to know which school is so lucky to have BOTH a Willis and Lewis.  My former school is now very fortunate in having a Hill, Norman Beard of 1968 and a re-sited Schulz of 1862.  The former in the Chapel, that latter in The Big School.

I left shortly after the chapel was destroyed by fire (NOT the reason for leaving as I had finished my A levels!) so both organs are after my time.

OrganistOnTheHill do please let us know which school it is.

Martin

 

 

 

 

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For a huge selection of earlier music for manuals you should head straight for Fitzjohn Music where David Patrick has edited and publishes what must surely be the largest spread found anywhere currently. Reasonably priced, nice to look at and well edited. 

https://www.impulse-music.co.uk/fitzjohnmusic/

A

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Martin Owen, our school has the Walker* organ in the chapel and a nearby parish church has a Lewis & Co organ. The school has a Harrison & Harrison in the Speech room which is quite hard to access. The school is Harrow.

Sorry, my mistake. The Willis organ stood until the early 1900s and was transferred to East Greenwich Baptist Church. Then replaced by a Lewis and again replaced by a Walker organ.

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Hi

Just a note - I see that someone above has mentioned Franck's "L'Organiste".  These were actually written for Harmonium, and he often calls on the divided keyboard & registrations at different pitches.  If you're going to play them (and many do work well on a pipe organ), you need to (1) ensure that the edition you use has they registration codes (Numbers in circles above each stave, etc.) - I've seen editions without this essential feature on the web!.  Also (2) that you take on board the relevant pitches of the Harmonium stops.  

One example is where he alternates short passages between rank 3 (sounding an octave higher than written) on one stave, and rank 2 (16ft rank) on the other.  The effect is passages that are around the same pitch, but different in tonality - not passages 3 octaves apart!

Hope all goes well as your organ playing develops.

Every Blessing

Tony

 

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Barenreiter have fairly recently published a really nice three-volume set of easy voluntaries called 'Sonnstags Orgel': https://www.baerenreiter.com/en/shop/product/details/BA9287/ . Some are manuals-only, some have fairly modest pedalling. It's become my default for pre-service noodling, but it has several pieces suitable for exit voluntaries too. The pieces cover a variety of styles right up to the present day, which maintains interest. I bought mine from Blackwells in Oxford so I presume it's readily available.

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I've lost the knack of how to do quotes but this adds a bit to what I said above about hymn accompaniment. So, today's Sunday Worship on Radio 4 from Lancing College would make perfect listening! [Actually, for all sorts of reasons it is well worth listening to - it is energetic from start to finish in just the way a school service needs to be - (let alone one at 8.10am on a Sunday morning!) - and the music is outstanding. I'm not sure whose setting the Mass is, but it is most stimulating.]

Anyway, OrganistOntheHill, do listen to the accompaniment of at least the first hymn. A good strong introduction at a good reasonably fast-moving tempo - and... in the key of A flat major instead of the more dull sounding G major found in many hymn books, and all making good sense of the words across the ends lines as necessary. The organist on this occasion is Edward Picton Turbervill, formerly Organ Scholar of St John's Cambridge. 

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4 minutes ago, Martin Cooke said:

I've lost the knack of how to do quotes but this adds a bit to what I said above about hymn accompaniment. So, today's Sunday Worship on Radio 4 from Lancing College would make perfect listening! [Actually, for all sorts of reasons it is well worth listening to - it is energetic from start to finish in just the way a school service needs to be - (let alone one at 8.10am on a Sunday morning!) - and the music is outstanding. I'm not sure whose setting the Mass is, but it is most stimulating.]

Anyway, OrganistOntheHill, do listen to the accompaniment of at least the first hymn. A good strong introduction at a good reasonably fast-moving tempo - and... in the key of A flat major instead of the more dull sounding G major found in many hymn books, and all making good sense of the words across the ends lines as necessary. The organist on this occasion is Edward Picton Turbervill, formerly Organ Scholar of St John's Cambridge. 

I shall have a listen to the broadcast. Thank you for suggesting it.

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You might also enjoy looking up the organs of Lancing College Chapel on NPOR - a large 4 -manual Walker with en chamade trumpets on the west gallery and then a 2-manual Frobenius up near the choir. I believe you can play the Walker from the Frobenius by using blind general pistons. 

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4 minutes ago, Martin Cooke said:

You might also enjoy looking up the organs of Lancing College Chapel on NPOR - a large 4 -manual Walker with en chamade trumpets on the west gallery and then a 2-manual Frobenius up near the choir. I believe you can play the Walker from the Frobenius by using blind general pistons. 

That's right.  I remember a fine performance of Gigout's Grand Chœur Dialogué  played from the Frobenius but using both organs.

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48 minutes ago, Martin Cooke said:

I've lost the knack of how to do quotes but this adds a bit to what I said above about hymn accompaniment. So, today's Sunday Worship on Radio 4 from Lancing College would make perfect listening! [Actually, for all sorts of reasons it is well worth listening to - it is energetic from start to finish in just the way a school service needs to be - (let alone one at 8.10am on a Sunday morning!) - and the music is outstanding. I'm not sure whose setting the Mass is, but it is most stimulating.]

The setting of the Mass is by the College’s DoM Neil Cox. One can listen to the service here

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1 hour ago, SlowOrg said:

The setting of the Mass is by the College’s DoM Neil Cox. One can listen to the service here

I thought that was likely - excellent! And what was the voluntary?

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Originally published in 6 volumes and now republished in 2, these are a very useful (if not very scholarly!) collection of voluntaries for manuals:

https://www.musicroom.com/product-detail/product32477/variant32477/the-cloister-album-of-voluntaries-volume-one-books-1-3/

https://www.musicroom.com/product-detail/product32478/variant32478/the-cloister-album-of-voluntaries-volume-two/

Many of the bass lines can be pedalled when you gain confidence.

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16 minutes ago, Vox Humana said:

"More than 70 songs for electronic or pipe organ, american organ, harmonium or piano."

I only only person who silently screams whenever I see the word "song" misused in this way? 

Complain to musicroom.com - their words!  It's certainly a misuse of 'song'. The Amazon description of Vol 1 is also rather odd:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cloister-Album-Voluntaries-Organ-Faber/dp/0571528724/ref=pd_sim_14_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=JKCCYZVYHKQTGHB0R0A9

as it claims there are 22 pieces - in fact, there are 71.  The titles they list are from the original Book 1 and don't include Books 2 and 3.  They do list the contents correctly for Volume 2:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cloister-Album-Voluntaries-Organ-Keyboard/dp/0571534724/ref=pd_bxgy_14_img_2?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=C9E7DTE6HFW6PNAXXNRY

 

 

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2 hours ago, Vox Humana said:

"More than 70 songs for electronic or pipe organ, american organ, harmonium or piano."

I only only person who silently screams whenever I see the word "song" misused in this way?

No, you are certainly not, although I prefer to trample on the pedals to create a thunderstorm. You have spurred me into action. I have just edited the Wikipedia page on "Musical Composition" by adding this sentence: "The word "song" is widely misused by people in the popular music industry to describe any musical composition, whether sung or played only by instruments."

Let's see if it gets edited out. I'll keep doing this on any relevant Wikipedia page for as long as it takes. It would be great if others would do the same. 

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