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Liturgical Music at the Chapel


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I think one of the features of being an organist is that you need some kind of small repertoire of short pieces that you should be able to play on demand. Well, maybe not so for the talented organists who have the ultimate ability of being able to improvise any themes/pieces on the spot.... I look forward to my organ career in the future (few months or maybe next year) that I may be needed at a few services at chapel. (That is if my playing improves, hopefully!) 

A regular morning service starts off with the congregation coming in and being hush-ed down by schoolmasters while the organist plays a prelude (I think its usually improvised?) and a hymn (hymns on the Sunday worship). The relatively quick morning service ends with a postlude usually quite grand and loud. I recall one service, Crown Imperial, was played by my teacher. It was absolutely fantastic!

I am looking for some short pieces that are ideal as postludes and preludes! 

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There are many collections of music suitable for such purposes. A particular favourite of mine is the three volume series published by Bärenreiter entitled Sonntagsorgel. The first volume contains mostly festive pieces which make great (mostly short) postludes. The second has meditative and pastoral pieces which work well as preludes and interludes during the service. And the final volume contains chorale-based works. Although these are from the German tradition, many of the tunes are of course well known in the English speaking world as well, and so work well here. 

Details of volume 1 can be found here, and the others by clicking on “related products”: https://www.baerenreiter.com/en/shop/product/details/BA9287/

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Well, the world is our oyster here, really, and it depends on how technically competent one is and how much money one wants to spend buying music - though, of course, it is inevitable that you will need to buy some service music. It's a bit of a shame if the people you observe only improvise before your chapel services because although you can learn from this yourself, you don't get to know good pre-service music. I think I once mentioned before, in reply to one of your queries, the volumes by Oxford University Press - Oxford Service Music for Organ - see here. If you look at the sample music on that OUP site, you will see straightaway, some music that would make worthwhile pre-service music which is not too demanding technically. There are at least two volumes of these books - I think there are 2 for manuals and pedals, and 2 for manuals only. Don't be reluctant to use manuals only music - OUP publish several volumes of these - see here. There are six volumes in this series, and when I was your age, playing regularly for chapel services, I certainly used volumes 1-4. You may be able to buy some second hand - always worth looking on Ebay - type in "Sheet organ music" but watch out for silly prices being asked. 

So, those volumes could be good starting points.

Yesterday, I was perusing this volume. (OUP's, Autumn Festivals from their new Hymn Settings for Organists series.) There are several lovely pieces here - try David Blackewell's beautiful prelude on the hymn tune, Thaxted, for example. Now, you're not going to want to play every piece in this volume, but maybe 25% of them - and that's about how it goes with volumes of organ music. 

If yours or your parents' wallets are feeling generous and expansive, you could also buy the Advent and Christmas volume - some lovely hymn and carol preludes there ready for December. Here's the link. With this one, don't be put off by the sample material which may look a bit complicated! There are some really lovely, approachable pieces in this volume, including Aland Bullard's piece on Stille Nacht, which you can see at the end of the sample material. 

The other starting points for you could be Bach's Orgelbüchlein - that's volume 1 in the Bärenreiter edition. People like me (!) grew up using the Novello edition of Bach's organ works - and very good it is too, but it has dropped out of favour since new, more scholarly editions have appeared. However, volume 15 of the Novello edition of the Orgelbüchlein could be very valuable for your purposes as, in addition to Bach's actual chorale preludes, you get a version of the chorale itself. Thus, a chorale prelude lasting, say 2'30" can be spun out a bit by playing the chorale through before and after, if needs be, varying the registration accordingly. 

Then... another 'little organ book' - the one, very appropriately this year, in memory of C.H.H. Parry. See here. (You may want to invest in one of the second hand volumes of this that are around - they will probably be hard bound and much larger than this later facsimile edition - but also more expensive!) This is a treasure trove of beautiful miniatures, several of which are pretty straightforward and almost all of which are attractive. They make ideal pre-service pieces. 

Finally, get to know some of the delightful miniatures by Percy Whitlock. OUP publish a volume of all his short pieces - see here - and although it's £35, it's priceless really. You will have to settle to learning the notes, but start with Fidelis. If you don't want to shell out £35, I have spotted, online, two second hand copies of Whitlock's Four Extemporisations which is where Fidelis comes from for £3, and then you will have inserted your toe in the water without too much outlay. The links to these are here - (look for the secondhand music tab on the left) and here

Once again, if you live in London, go to Foyles for an hour or two, look up some of these suggestions and have a jolly good browse through everything. 

In the meantime, I hope this is useful. 

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A variation on Martin's suggestion regarding the Orgelbüchlein.  Allan Wicks used to recommend playing the prelude, then the chorale, then the prelude again.

You can download Whitlock scores from IMSLP.

I suppose that at least one reason for extempore playing before chapel is that an extemporisation can be curtailed or lengthened as required, whereas as set piece has a definite length.  Also, especially in a school, the noise level might not be conducive to playing something quiet.

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