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Voluntaries


Guest Andrew Butler
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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
Post removed - no one seems the slightest bit interested in such practicalities!  :wacko:

 

Really? You sound depressed - we've all been there!

Regardless, I am going to assume that others have the same weekly task as you and me and give you my ideas for whatever they're worth.

 

1. Even if you haven't got a large repertoire, I suggest you make a point of noting down what you have actually played. This will avoid giving your folks the same music quite so often. If you publish a list in advance, this will force you to do some preparation - not a bad thing!

 

2. There is a better chance that they will hear (and appreciate) a good pre-service voluntary than the after-service one. A decent little piece, timed to finish at the right moment is a great help to everyone as they prepare for worship. Vary the style of this from week to week. This might be, say Stanley one week, Wesley the next, Whitlock, Bach etc. etc.

 

3. I personally believe that nobody (not even the great DB) should rely on Improvisation every week. It is the equivalent of allowing your clergy person to make up all the readings every week. God save us!

Published compositions are, after all, the considered work of professional composers and even if they are not better than your improvisations, they will at least be more varied!

 

4. If you have any choice in the matter (repertoire wise) ideal after service fare is in a reasonably closely related key to the last hymn and not too long. If they know you only play for five minutes, they might just stay sitting or at least refrain from chatting loudly until you've finished. I recently heard a Franck Choral as an out-voluntary (all 15 minutes of it). By the time (our friend) the organist finished, the church lights had been put out and I and my wife were the only ones still in the nave.

 

5. People love tunes. Silly isn't it... but they do. C.S.Lang's Tuba Tune is the sort of thing that will stop congregations in their tracks and make them ask for more. Items like Rutter's Toccata in Seven, A Stanford or Smart Postlude or a lively fugue also never fail. Obviously, avoid hoplessly-up-tempo-frolics during Lent!

 

6. An out-voluntary does not have to be on full organ (unless you've only got 10 stops)!

Fast/Lively is a very good subsitute for loud.

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Post removed - no one seems the slightest bit interested in such practicalities!  :wacko:
That's a pity, Andrew. I thought it was a good topic and was interested, but wanted to give the matter some thought before replying (I'm a bit short of time just now). And most forum members are not online all the time, so many who might have been interested will not have seen your post.

 

My immediate impressions were that I thought you were very much on the right track. Please consider reinstating your post.

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It's (sometimes)worth lending half an ear to the sermon. The clergy are fond of dropping in quotes from well known hymns, which can be a good stepping off point for an improvised voluntary, either during the Eucharist or as a Sortie

 

Has anyone changed their minds during a service and played a different voluntary on the strength of something heard/seen/done during the service ?

 

 

H

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2. There is a better chance that they will hear (and appreciate) a good pre-service voluntary than the after-service one. A decent little piece, timed to finish at the right moment is a great help to everyone as they prepare for worship. Vary the style of this from week to week. This might be, say Stanley one week, Wesley the next, Whitlock, Bach etc. etc.

 

This is fine if you have a priest who is punctual and can be relied upon to start the service at an agreed time. I am in the position of never knowing when he will decide to read the notices, etc, before the service. It is no better at Evensong, when the choir rehearse in the stalls before the service - sometimes up to 18h28 - there is nothing worse than either truncating or elongating a reasonably well-known piece of music because the procession arrived earlier (or later) than one was expecting.

 

3. I personally believe that nobody (not even the great DB) should rely on Improvisation every week. It is the equivalent of allowing your clergy person to make up all the readings every week. God save us! 

Published compositions are, after all, the considered work of professional composers and even if they are not better than your improvisations, they will at least be more varied!

 

This is all very well if one has the luxury of regular practice-time, Paul! In my case, I generally work in excess of seventy hours each week (and then go home and do all the boring things, such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, washing, paper-work, etc). I normally get to practise on Tuesday evenings, after teaching from around 08h to 21h. I occasionally have Saturday evenings available, too - providing the church is free. However, I am sure that you will appreciate that I am usually quite tired by this point. Since I have, in addition, to prepare the accompaniments for three fully-choral services (with a cathedral repertoire) each Sunday, I hope that you will understand why I choose frequently to improvise after services, too.

 

However, not only do I make certain that each improvisation is different - sticking to a particular style or period, I also try to ensure that it is appropriate to the mood of a service. I have attended services on a number of occasions, at which the (often published) voluntary is anything but suitable. Sometimes this was obviously a mis-calculation on the part of the organist; sometimes it just happened that the service ended with quite a different 'feel' than may have been expected from the readings and other music. Under the circumstances, a thoughtfully-crafted improvisation can be a very useful thing.

 

However, I realise that this was not what Andrew originally asked, so I will also give some thought to the question of (published) voluntaries.

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My two golden rules that come before all else are:

 

1. It must be something I can play accurately and well. This will sound like a sine qua non to all of you, no doubt, but I'm constantly amazed by amateur organists who insist on trotting out something they can't really play - and I don't just mean reluctant organists who can't even play hymns properly and therefore have some excuse. I don't claim to be perfect - far from it - but I do subscribe to the view that wrong notes are an insult to a) the composer and :wacko: God.

 

2. It must be something that suits the instrument to hand. No point in playing the Widor on a 7-stop wheezebox with nothing above 4' pitch.

 

After this, other considerations come into play.

 

3. I will always consider a piece appropriate to the day or season if I have one up to par, though I'm not slavish about that since it can sometimes be no more than an esoteric exercise. For example, many German chorale preludes are on tunes unfamiliar in England, so the point would go unappreciated.

 

4. More valuable is to play something that is in keeping with the mood of the service. If there is one. If you've put down an Evensong menu with Bairstow's Save us, O Lord and F in Dyson you could easily get away with playing a quiet Bach CP as the concluding voluntary - but it probably wouldn't work if the final hymn is Thine be the glory (but if it is, there's probably been a failure in communication somewhere).

 

5. If the mood of the service is up-beat, it can be every effective if you can polish it off with a flashy piece in the same key as the final hymn.

 

(I had some other things in mind, but I've just been interrupted and I've lost them. And I have to go out and teach now. May add them later.)

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Has anyone changed their minds during a service and played a different voluntary on the strength of something heard/seen/done during the service ?

H

 

Yes, quite frequently the sermon or the intercessions or people present will throw up something that makes the one published (ours go 3 or 4 weeks in advance) utterly inappropriate and if I feel I can justify it to the boss then I'll do something else. I'm with pcnd on pre-service improvisations - I'm nowhere near as good however. We have notices 5 minutes before the service then a few minutes gap before the procession, which leads seamlessly into the first hymn (theoretically) as soon as the last boy gets into the stalls. So that is a very good discipline for having a prelude or variations based on notable features from the first tune.

 

I'm intrigued as to what the original post was - only just got back from work and therefore haven't seen it...

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Has anyone changed their minds during a service and played a different voluntary on the strength of something heard/seen/done during the service ?

Yes, of sorts.

 

I'd been planning to play a little Bach prelude I'd just learned. But the sermon was all about lambs, and sheep, with all the usual metaphors. I noticed that the first two bars of the Bach could be quite happily substituted with 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' and it'd work just as well.

 

So I did. The sight of the vicar processing out to that fabulous tune is probably my second favourite musical achievement ever. (The favourite was getting a capacity crowd - 200 or so, including several Catholic priests - to all shout "Arse!" in unison when our disreputable ceilidh band played a barn dance at Fisher House in Cambridge.)

 

As for the congregation, the only other pieces they've given such a favourable reaction are Widor's Toccata or anything by L*f*b*re-W*ly.

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It's (sometimes)worth lending half an ear to the sermon.  The clergy are fond of dropping in  quotes from well known hymns,  which can be a good stepping off point for an improvised voluntary,  either during the Eucharist or as a Sortie

 

Has anyone changed their minds during a service and played a different voluntary on the strength of something heard/seen/done during the service ?

H

 

One late summer Sunday morning we had a visiting preacher who delivered a fiery 'hell and damnation' - type address. The effect of this was helped immeasurably by one of the biggest electrical storms for some years. The Boellman Toccata commenced in my head. I thought I'd supressed the urge and that good taste would prevail but the storm resumed just before the end of the service....

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One late summer Sunday morning we had a visiting preacher who delivered a fiery 'hell and damnation' - type address. The effect of this was helped immeasurably by one of the biggest electrical storms for some years. The Boellman Toccata commenced in my head. I thought I'd supressed the urge and that good taste would prevail but the storm resumed just before the end of the service....

 

And why not? (To mis-quote Bary Norman.)

 

It seems quite suitable to me, under the circumstances.

 

I suppose that you were not wearing a black cape with red lining?

 

This movement always brings to mind a visual image of a slient film (1920s era), with the heroine tied to some train tracks and a dastardly villain rubbing his hands in glee as the 12h40 to Boston approaches. All this, whilst in the pit below the screen, the sound of the Boëllmann Toccata comes wafting up (a bit like a smell)....

 

Now what was that stuff in the little white bag....?

 

:wacko:

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One late summer Sunday morning we had a visiting preacher who delivered a fiery 'hell and damnation' - type address. The effect of this was helped immeasurably by one of the biggest electrical storms for some years. The Boellman Toccata commenced in my head. I thought I'd supressed the urge and that good taste would prevail but the storm resumed just before the end of the service....

The Boellmann Toccata is a wonderfully effective piece, provided it is done properly. What I hate is when organists slam on the brakes for the final chords. It ruins the effect of what should be a one-way ride to hell! :huh:

 

In the days when I used to play for a service once a week, I just didn't have a big enough repertoire for the voluntaries afterwards. There are only so many times you can wheel out the CS Lang, popular though it may be. I found the more I improvised the better I got, and using the hymn sung during the service as the basis for the improvisation was effective, but also helpful.

 

I always thought that one of the benefits of being an organist rather than a parishioner was that you don't actually have to pay attention to the pearls of wisdom, or otherwise, that routinely dropped from the pulpit. That so many of you appear to listen, and even let it effect what you play afterwards, really is something to behold! :wacko:

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