SOPP294: I create my own organ accompaniment for the mass setting, reading from the choral/keyboard score and blending the parts so that the soprano line of what I'm playing doubles the congregation's melody
Before we go to the podcast episode for today, we'd like to thank everyone who sent us nice feedback about our organ duet recital at St Paul's Cathedral in London. It means more than you know...
And here is SOPP294:
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 294 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Andrew and he writes:
“Mass for Fathers Day this morning went well. Parts of the Mass were sung to the Glendalough Mass by Liam Lawton. The school's REC (Religious Education Co-Ordinator) is a guitarist. I've rigged up a mixer to feed through the organ's amplifier and speakers. He puts his amplified acoustic guitar through it, plus a couple of microphones for the singers. He leads with rhythmic strumming, and he has a small choir consisting of students from his class who lead the singing quite well. I add judicious, unobtrusive organ support beneath. I create my own organ accompaniment for the mass setting, reading from the choral/keyboard score and blending the parts so that the soprano line of what I'm playing doubles the congregation's melody but I add other bits from the keyboard accompaniment to make it interesting. Playing only the SATB part or only the organ part doesn't work - it has to be an amalgam of the two. Some of the songs come with melody and guitar chords only, but fortunately I learned many, many years ago how to improvise my own accompaniments based only upon this material. In the end it was all OK. I don't choose the songs as that's not my job, but stylistically I can play just about anything that gets thrown at me. One of the songs was handed to me shortly before the Mass - I'd not seen it before, but it was dead easy - mostly based around the chords of C and G, with a D major chord thrown in here and there for good measure. The opening song was a bit of problem - at one point I was playing a G minor chord (as marked on the score) but my colleague was strumming G major!!! Also, he suddenly decided to cut the third verse of the final song and wrap it all up after just 2 verses, but I try to keep my wits about me at all times - I caught this just in time and was able to round it all off smoothly! Just as well I love theatre organ music as those keyboard stylings come in handy for some songs. Now I hope to get back to some of my own work.”
V: So Andrew plays organ accompaniments for the choir and also this choir is being led by a guitar as I understand, right?
V: This is not an easy job to do for an organist actually, to provide accompaniments sometimes based entirely on the chords, abbreviations of chords.
A: Yes, it’s not easy if you don’t know harmony and have no experience but it’s very often the case that church songs come with only one line.
A: And some chords written for a guitar.
V: To me I can relate a little bit to this because it’s part of the improvisation tradition. You could play just the chords with or without the pedals and that would be almost fine but not that interesting. But if you for example take a solo stop on the organ and play some melodies over that accompaniment. And remember the choir is singing and guitarist is playing the harmony too then you are sort of creating an additional solo line like a descant with the pedal accompaniment in the bass line too. That would be like a short chorale prelude don’t you think?
A: Yes, but I think you could do that if the congregation knew that hymn very well because if you would start doing such a sort of thing with unfamiliar hymn then I think nothing would happen. It would be hard for a congregation to follow you.
V: Obviously you are right. The way to do it is to play the bass line with the pedals and with the left hand to take three upper parts in the closed position. So your thumb almost always plays the soprano line in the left hand, maybe one octave lower, I don’t know. And then the right hand plays on the second manual or the solo manual something nice which would suit the harmony and the choir too. But additional, not doubling the voices. You could double the tenor line actually, one octave higher but you could actually improvise additional descant and it sounds nice.
A: For myself I am more conservative and when I am accompanying congregation I’d like to do rather do less than more. At least that what works for my character. I remember our last recital together when we played that last motet.
V: Umm-hmm, by Hans Leo Hassler "Tibi laus, tibi gloria".
A: That’s right and then you were just like a dog, sorry for such a comparison, that got out of his house and then free through the fields. You were adding so many things that it was really hard to follow you.
V: What could you. You could also feel like you are off the leash too.
A: I felt like that this is the last piece of the recital and that you haven’t started to do it right from the beginning. That somebody still had to hold the rhythm together.
V: (laughs) I was so happy that it was the last piece and I got so inspired by my speeches between the pieces that I told the public that we’ll be improvising this interpolation, adding many flourishes and cadences and runs.
A: Ha Ha but he forgot to tell this to me before the recital.
V: I didn’t forget, I just didn’t think about it.
V: But you were OK about this.
A: Yes, I was OK.
V: (laughs) But if I told that I was planning to do this like a week ago before the recital it would be distressful for you.
A: So when instead of to do from the start, that’s right, during recital.
V: To suffer just for three minutes is better than for seven days.
A: Well yes, but to make a long story short, I think it’s nice to add things but you need to make it tasteful and to fit the occasion.
V: Umm-hmm. Was my improvisation tasteful?
V: You doubt it.
A: I think it suited because it was the last piece of the recital. Then the public sort of forgives anything.
V: Thank you. You are very nice.
A: You are welcome.
V: Should I listen to my recording one more time.
A: I don’t know. I would be too scared off to listen to it.
V: Interesting. But that’s what happens when you improvise. Sometimes you think you are playing one thing but sometimes your public is hearing another thing. And your partner, in this case Ausra, is listening to the third thing so you have to be aware of your surroundings.
A: Yes, that’s right. So basically I would suggest sometimes to make recordings of yourself especially when you create your own accompaniments and to listen to how it sounds from the distance.
V: Or after the mass.
A: Because maybe everything will be just fine and you will love it but maybe you will get different opinion after listening to yourself from the side. But anyway I think Andrew does a wonderful job. I really respect people who are very creative and very brave actually and wants to try new things and improvise as Vidas or Andrew do.
V: What do you mean Vidas? Is that a compliment?
A: Yes, it is.
V: Wow. Thank you. Guys, today will be my very lucky day. I received my third compliment this morning from Ausra.
A: I’m glad you like it.
V: How many compliments did I give you today?
A: I don’t remember. Maybe none. None yet.
V: When we stop this recording we’ll start counting, right? And tomorrow we'll share with you the video of this Florilegium Portense recital that we were talking about earlier. It has this organ intabulation by Hans Leo Hassler and many other fascinating pieces of 17th century. Hope you'll enjoy listening to it. Look forward to it tomorrow. Thank you guys, this was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: Please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow and we hope that our answers are either educational for you or inspiring or even entertaining. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: 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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