SOPP271: My dream is to become proficient at playing hymns on the organ, after years of not playing
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 271 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Becca and Becca writes:
My dream is to become proficient at playing hymns on the organ, after years of not playing. Piano was my concentration of study. Besides serious practice, the following three things are holding me back:
1. Finding the best approach to reacquainting myself with playing the organ, in general. 2. Need to refresh the technique of playing the foot pedals. 3. A better understanding of the use of registration in hymn playing.
V: So Becca wants to become better at playing hymns on the organ which is really nice for liturgy, right Ausra?
A: True. And that’s why she needs a good pedal technique because it’s so important to play hymns with the pedal because it gives nice support for congregational singing.
V: How did you understand this part of the question “Besides serious practice the following three things are holding me back.” What does she mean besides serious practice?
A: That she does not practice seriously yet. That’s how I understand it.
V: Hmm. Interesting, so she needs to find more motivation to sit down on the organ bench then.
A: Yes, I think so.
V: First of all I would suggest picking up a challenge. Either internal challenge or external challenge. What do you think?
A: That might help.
V: With internal challenge I could say she could pick a goal to practice for let’s say thirty days non-stop for every day for starters. Right? That would be her challenge. And probably on the calendar she would mark each day when she sits down on the bench and that would help her keep track of her practice and don’t break this pattern.
A: Yes that might be very helpful and interesting. Now I think about that first thing that she writes, finding the best approach to reacquainting myself with playing the organ in general and then she talks about playing the foot-pedals. I would not separate these two points, the first one and the second one because if you are playing the organ then pedals are a part of playing the organ.
V: Pedals are like a third hand.
A: I know so you would not need to separate these two points. That’s my opinion.
V: That’s understandable because piano was her concentration years ago and when she starts to practice the organ now her piano background comes up and she still thinks about organ playing in terms of keyboard playing, not pedal playing so much.
A: But you know in that case she just needs to do more exercises with pedal.
V: Would hymn playing help her improve pedal playing too?
A: Sure, of course.
V: Like maybe play any voice on the pedals.
A: That’s right.
V: But then she would need to do the pedal marking on the hymns correctly so she would know exactly which foot to use.
A: That’s right. So the more she will work with pedals the better she will get.
V: Right. Then probably registration in hymn playing needs to be approached from the angle of text-painting, right?
A: Yes, of text-painting but first of all she needs to see for whom she will accompany and she will play these hymns because how large the building is, how large the congregation is, and do they sing loudly or not. So all these things need to be kept in consideration.
A: Because if like ten people attending church and you play pleno the hymn it will not be good. And also if hundreds of people attend church and you will play softly on the flutes only, this will not also be good. So you need keep correct balance. People need to hear organ but you don’t need to be overwhelmed by it.
V: Umm-hmm. So generally speaking a few principal stops would normally be suited to accompany any type of hymn, right?
A: That’s right.
V: 1, 2, 3, like 8’, 4’, and 2’.
A: That’s right and then as you mentioned first you need to look at the text. What the hymn text is talking about because you also will not keep the same registration throughout the hymn. Let’s say the hymn has like five verses so you need to change registration for them.
V: Most of the organs have a couple of manuals at least so she could jump from manual to manual.
A: If you have pistons on the organ you could use them to set up the program in advance and then look at the text what the hymn is talking about.
V: Right. Is it appropriate to use mixtures when playing the hymns.
A: Well, I would use mixtures only very occasionally on very solemn occasions for example for maybe Christmas Eve service when there are more people than usually at the church.
A: And you need them to support congregational singing. You always need to check because it might be too much adding mixtures, don’t you think so?
V: Right. Maybe for the last stanza.
V: What about the reeds, would reeds work? Trumpet, Bombarde?
A: Also the same as mixtures, you only use them very little. Maybe for Easter.
V: Right. What about 16’ in the manuals?
A: Again it depends on how acoustically the church works and how many people there are.
V: If it’s a live church and a lot of people and your mixtures are not as bright and pitched lower?
A: Then yes, you could use the 16’ in the manuals.
V: To add more gravity.
A: That’s right. Because I remember once I played Christmas services at Christ Lutheran Church in Lincoln, Nebraska. There were so many people that I played with full organ and I could still not hear it, so you need to look at the particular registration.
V: Have you ever played the hymns with flutes?
A: Yes, actually I had. When we had small service like evening services for Vespers in the chapel and the organ was small and the room was small and there were few people, then yes, of course, why not?
V: What about the strings?
A: Yes, I would use them too.
V: During Lent?
A: For hymns with a softer character. For example if the hymn talks about gentle Mary, definitely would not use mixtures, and no reeds, and maybe fewer principals.
V: You know what would be suitable for strings I think, some of the Gregorian chant.
A: Yes, because there are even in the Protestant hymnals there are hymns based on Gregorian chant.
A: So definitely they need to be played softer because the character is gentle and soft.
A: And usually when we have these special seasons like Advent and Lent we play more subtle repertoire and softer hymns. Because the text talks about awaiting Jesus birth or about suffering, especially during Holy Week before Easter. So you need to use softer stops and you need to save the louder stops for Easter morning.
V: Good. I hope this was helpful to people, right?
A: Well I hope so.
V: So guys please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. And remember when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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