SOPP345: In order to create a more inspirational music for God & the congregation, who should be playing melody and who should be the accompanist?
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 345 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. And this question was sent sent by Pauline. She writes:
Hi, I have a question to ask here. I am a self learned electronic organist in church.
I play hymns every Sunday together with another pianist.
In order to create a more inspirational music for God & the congregation, who should be playing melody and who should be the accompanist?
V: Ausra, don’t you think that the organist and pianist both should be playing something more substantial, not only melody or accompaniment? What’s your opinion?
A: Well, it depends on what kind of hymn it is, because some hymns actually work quite nicely on the piano, and some don’t work on the piano at all. So, you obviously need to look at the real of the hymn, and then decide what to do.
V: But, I don’t think that, for example, a pianist could play the melody and the organist could only play the accompaniment in chords, or, for example, vice versa, that the organist could play the melody with the right hand, and the pianist would provide the accompaniment. This wouldn’t be...
A: Of course I couldn’t agree more! I think in general, electronic organ and piano is a bad duet. I wouldn’t mix them both together.
V: But, if you treat it like a Taizé music… remember, so, in Taizé, they have a basic chordal structure for a keyboard instrument, but then anything else that plays together, they play melodies and duets and trios and dialogues, and it sounds rather nice this way—polyphonic.
A: Well, true, but I think if you would want to do something like Taizé, you would still have to have only one keyboard. And if you want to have some elaborations, you would need to add other instruments, such as flute, maybe...I think flute would work very nicely… and a violin, or any other solo instrument.
V: Do you think that Pauline’s pianist could play two melodies—two separate and contrasting melodies in each hand as maybe two melodic instruments, a violinist and flutist, would do?
A: Well, it’s possible. I’m not sure about how the final result would be.
V: Or in the left hand, maybe he could imitate, maybe, cello, and in the right hand some kind of solo treble instrument, and create a nice dialogue.
A: That’s a possibility although I don’t know how advanced they both are, and how well they could do that. Because, this kind of musicianship would take some improvisation skills.
V: Right! This would be nice. I believe they could train themselves. What would be the first step? What would you do if, for example, you and I had to do this, or even in our house situation, I would play on the organ and you would play on the piano, and vice versa? That wouldn’t work, because our piano is not in tune with the organ.
A: As is our organ, yes.
V: But, in theory, maybe, I’m thinking…. Thinking in chords, this accompaniment, so to say, but melodic accompaniment could also think in chords that the organist is playing, or choir singing, and then play a lot of arpeggios and things like that. But not only arpeggios, make them melodic, make them meaningful.
A: Somehow now, I’m thinking about that Geistliches Lied from Austria. Remember way back in the year of 2000, when we were in the church music courses in Salzburg.
V: Yes, this is like a Christian popular music, but quality popular music, I think, because each instrument has its own part, and a very developed part. So, Pauline, maybe you could actually do something like this with your pianist. Maybe you could even write out the melody, or two melodies for your pianist, and maybe you could write out chords and things like that for yourself, right? Because to do this on your own on the spot would be too stressful. You need to either rehearse or write it out.
A: Sure. And really, if you want to make everything very nice ask from the congregation. Maybe there is somebody who plays another instrument other than a keyboard instrument. That would really make things much nicer.
V: And then, you could actually arrange any time of hymn for them, to add descants and treble solos, and maybe bass lines—alternate bass lines.
A: Sure. Although, I don’t know how many and which stops this electronic organ has. But, if it has enough reeds, and other colorful stops, maybe the organ could then act as a solo instrument, and piano would provide accompaniment.
V: Right. Then the organist needs to play maybe the treble part, and maybe the left hand could play the cello part. Right?
A: Yes. That way, maybe the organ could be a solo instrument, and piano would accompany.
A: Although you need to check it on the spot, and I cannot guarantee that it will sound nice.
V: And also, it depends on where the organ is located. In the back or in the front?
A: How far is it from the piano?
V: Mhm. How difficult it is to communicate and play together. So, it’s a lot of things to take in and to take into consideration in this situation. Do you think that organists usually have enough time to do such creative things in church?
A: Well, I’m not sure. It depends on the situation. Usually, I think we all don’t have enough time for things.
V: But usually, people are very appreciative, congregations are usually appreciative if you do a little more than is required from you.
A: That’s true.
V: Right? Her pianist could easily play the chords, and she could play on the organ what’s written in the hymnal, and that would be it. And nobody could complain, and actually nobody would have the right to complain, right? Because it’s quite enough if you play it nicely on both instruments. But if both of you do something extra, then people will notice, I hope.
A: True. Do you think people always notice and appreciate new things?
V: No, not always, but imagine if Pauline or her pianist, before the service, would come up and say, “My dear congregation, today, we have prepared for you something very special,” and the both of them would describe what they will be doing in, for example, the following hymn—the opening hymn. People would, I think, appreciate that.
A: Well, yes, but it’s of course also a danger of elaborating too much, and adding too many things that the hymn might be unrecognizable, and people might not be able to sing it.
V: And there’s always the danger of playing like in a concert setting. Right? Sometimes the clergy doesn’t like that.
A: True, because, for example, for my case and my understanding of good hymn accompaniment, the most important thing for hymn accompaniment is to play in a right and steady tempo. This is actually what is the most required from the organists who are accompanists. Congregational singing.
V: But, I mean, if it’s, let’s say, a special occasion, maybe a hymn festival, and they would like to do something more and more creative on a number of hymns during that festival, for example, then a few verse, not necessarily every hymn every verse should be done this way, but every once in a while to make it more colorful and more creative, that wouldn’t hurt.
A: True, and I think it’s always easier if you have a choir at a church. It is a big help for singing congregational hymns, because they lead the congregation.
V: Interesting. I would probably do such experiments. It’s all experiment… you don’t know what the result will be, but you don’t know until you try. And if you don’t try, you will always regret it afterwards, because you don’t know. Maybe it would have been worth it. Thank you guys, this was Vidas,
A: And Ausra,
V: 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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