Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 167, of #AskVidasAndAusra Podcast. This question was sent by David. And he writes:
Today I had to play "O Worship the King" for service. I wanted to make it a little more exciting, so instead of playing just the last part of the hymn as an introduction, I improvised a short modulating fanfare with Trompette En Chamade on the Swell, then on the Great with a rather full sounding registration continued with the the second half of the hymn only slightly re-harmonized followed by a one beat rest to let the congregation know it's time to join in.
It was very well received, and it was fun to play, but I wonder if you have any suggestions for beginner/intermediate organists for both hymn introductions and alternative harmonizations. I think some time ago either you or Ausra indicated that one has to be careful with alternative harmonizations and that are not a good idea on the last stanza as a general rule, but in our congregation they seem to work well and add interest, and the people seem to sing all the more enthusiastically. Perhaps you have a suggestion or a formula for improvising Hymn introductions or could recommend a publication with somewhat simple introductions. Anything you can suggest would be wonderful.
V: Ausra, this is a question that is probably bothering a lot of church organists.
A: Sure, because you know it is a big part of your job.
V: To introduce the hymn. What’s the most common introduction? Probably to play the entire stanza in four parts for congregation.
A: Well or just the last eight with sometimes even four measures.
V: The last phrase or two.
V: Mmm, hmm. Or the first phrase and the last phrase.
A: That’s true.
V: Is this a boring way to introduce a hymn?
A: Well, not necessarily. It’s sort of a traditional way.
V: Do you think that David should do this or, anything else you could add?
A: Well, you can do it for some hymns and then for other hymns you may, you know, play an elaborate introduction.
V: If you were invited to play in David’s church what would you do?
A: Well, now when I know that his church, his congregation loves elaborated preludes, maybe I would play some fancy introduction too.
V: Would you play with ornamented chorale in the right hand, version?
A: Yes, could be.
V: Or in the left hand, tenor line.
A: Maybe I would do it in the right hand. It would be easier.
V: What about in the pedals with augmentation? With Posaune.
A: Well, yes but I wouldn’t play introductions with Posaune, I think it would be too crushing, too loud, probably. What would you do?
V: I think any example that we can find from Bach’s Orgelbuchlein would work well here, except, except in those days, the hymns were played rather slowly, and if you notice the texture of their chorale prelude and the rhythm of that tune is basically twice as slow, which means probably that the entire piece would last a minute or two, here. And that’s usually in modern terms, too long.
A: Yes, for example, I myself don’t like long introductions to the hymns. I mean it’s okay to play, you know, to do fancy postludes for example, but if you do long introductions for each hymn, I believe the service might become longer and longer.
V: So if you take for example the first phrase and the last phrase, but treat it as a chorale prelude based on the model from Orgelbuchlein, would that be sophisticated and creative enough?
A: I think so yes.
V: And not too long.
A: Yes. Plus you know, in America there are so many publishers that publish church music, and you can find actual introductions to various hymns. Although you have to check and to be careful that you play your introduction and your hymn in the same key. Because there might be different keys in those.
V: And then they have alternative harmonizations for the last stanza usually.
A: Sure. Yes.
V: Would you play the last stanza somewhat different then?
A: Well, it again depends on the hymn itself. Because not for each hymn is the proper way to do it. Especially, for example, if you are playing in a Catholic Church and you playing, let’s say during Lent, I wouldn’t do it. But if it’s Easter on Sunday, then yes, okay. Why not?
V: Mmm, hmm. And you can even transpose your harmonization, up a step or an entire step, entire whole tone higher.
A: Would it like in pop music, yes? (Laughs)
A: Yes. It would give your more excitement.
V: Would you then choose to play modulating interludes between those two stanzas?
A: No. I wouldn’t do that.
A: I’m afraid I might be kicked out of the church, as Bach was.
V: What’s wrong with that? Look at Bach, (laughs) what he achieved later?
A: Well, but at that time, he lost his job.
V: That’s okay. He found another. And you know, if you did that consistently, their basically voice about you would, you know, spread around the mountains, across the globe, that you are one and only.
A: Yes. I think, you know, sometimes it’s a problem that organists wants to demonstrate his or her ability, above everything else. But you know, while playing in church and especially doing hymns, because we always have texts, and I think the texts in hymns are the most important part. So, and I mean that your accompaniment should never, you know, sort of cover the text. That’s my opinion.
V: Yes. You should probably choose the texture and the registration based on the text.
A: Yes, I know, and you can register the hymn accordingly.
V: That’s obviously for another topic of discussion; registrations, right? It’s not things that David is asking, but, yeah, he could probably use some alternative harmonizations and make introductions, and sometimes even modulating fanfares, right? It’s nothing against the rules, right, if it’s a solemn occasion. If it’s a festivity like Christmas or Easter or Pentecost. I think one of the easier ways to introduce a hymn is to start with a single voice, let’s say soprano. Then after the first phrase, you add the altos, so then two part texture. After the second phrase you add the tenors, then the three part texture. And for the last phrase, all four parts come in.
A: That’s a nice way to introduce a hymn.
V: Gradually making it more sophisticated, more thicker texture and a little bit louder, right? That’s if the hymn has four phrases.
V: What about if the hymn has six phrases, Ausra? You should add the six voices then?
A: (Laughs). No.
V: Why not?
A: (Laughs). Would you like to do that?
V: Yes! Double tenor. I love it.
A: Well it would be very hard. Go ahead and do it.
V: I did actually. It didn’t work. So I stopped doing it.
A: So I would rather stick with four voices on hymns.
V: Or even two voices. What’s wrong with two voice introductions? You could have a Bicinium, right, for entire stanza. Or even the first phrase and the last phrase, very thin texture, soprano and the bass playing basically outer voice, outer voices of the hymn. Maybe a little bit with embellishment in the right hand or the left hand or in alternation. Would that work?
A: I think it would work just fine. And because you have to play in church each Sunday and do a few hymns, so, well you can use all these methods and see what is working for you.
V: And don’t forget the three textures where you play three parts and you can place your hymn tune in any of the parts, soprano, tenor or the bass.
A: That’s right.
V: Excellent. So guys, we hope this was useful to you. Please send us more of the questions. We love helping you grow. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: And remember, when you practice…
A: Miracles happen!