Third Guild Meeting: December 1943
By Dr. Frank W. Asper
Tabernacle Organist and Member,
Church Music Committee
The organist has three functions to perform in the church service: first, the solos on the organ, consisting of prelude, postlude, and sacramental music; second, the accompaniments to the choir; and third, the accompaniments to congregational singing.
Let us consider this organ solo music. It should be planned and selected so that it may help every individual to an attitude of reverence, humility, and worship. The organist must try, so far as is in his power, to make his prelude worthy of being listened to. It is possible for the organist to disturb the serenity of worship by selections that may be ill-chosen. No number should be used that has secular connotations, such as operatic melodies or love songs. Sacramental music must surely be sacred. When hymns are used as organ music, it is best to play slowly, softly, and with an occasional change in registration. The postlude may be played fairly loud, though not necessarily with full organ. it may well be short.
The importance of an organist as accompanist to the choir is seldom realized except by the director and the organist himself. Of all the qualifications that go to the making of an indispensable organist, the ability to read and play fluently at first sight is the most important. Those who wish to improve their sight-reading abilities should devote a few minutes each day to the playing of unfamiliar material. such material should be well within his technical grasp. No matter how slowly it may need to be played, the tempo should be kept even. It is only a matter of practice until one can read music as easily as a book or a newspaper.
In general, accompaniments should be softer than the voices. For this reason it is sometimes erroneously thought that the organ should never be heard above the choir. When the organ part is written independent of the voice parts, the organ is equal in importance with the choir part, being a sort of organ and choir duet. On the other hand, when the instrument plays the same notes as are sung by the voices, then the accompaniment should be used only to support the voices.
To accompany hymn-singing well is a fine art. The sounds of the organ should reflect the general sentiment of the hymn. The organ tone must be kept light enough so the people can hear themselves, and at the same time strong enough so that they feel some support for their voices. Too many changes in registration should not be indulged in. Hymns should be announced by the organ in the tempo in which they are expected to be sung. The organist should strive, together with the director, to maintain that tempo. But neither organist nor director should ask for an increase in tempo, once it is set. to do so is distracting to those who sing to worship.
Questions for Consideration
1. Is the organist receiving due courtesy and attention from the choir members and director at the time of the prelude?
2. In small wards and branches where pianos are now being used, are plans now under way toward the purchase of a reed organ?
3. Have we purged ourselves from the use of music which is foreign to the spirit of worship? Are we guilty of playing love music or operatic melodies?
4. Are our organists as regular, prompt, and dependable in their duties as is the bishop of the ward?
5. Does each organist know that church music is like drink to a thirsty soul, and that he will “in nowise lose his reward”? See Matthew 10:42.
6. How can choristers and organists co-operate with respect to tempos, dynamics, and mutual understandings?
7. Let four organists be assigned to prepare and present at an organ examples of effective prelude, postlude, and sacramental music.
8. Announcement. The subject for treatment at the fourth meeting will be “What is the Matter with Choral Singing?” Both organists and choristers should be prepared to discuss their opinions together.
9. Bibliography to be consulted: The Organist’s Manual, by Tracy Y. Cannon; Organ Voluntaries, by Alexander Schreiner; Devotional Organ Album, by Frank W. Asper.