Monthly archives "January 2017"

TAO February 2017–Love Letters

The Practical Organist
February 2017
Love Letters

Lo, the winter storms are here. What’s the weather report between you and your congregation? Sunny? Partly cloudy? Thunderstorms? Surely, it’s not as cold as it is outside. Even so, there too many stories of contentious and even adversarial relationships floating in guild circles. Some organists feel abused by their congregation. Just as bad, some congregations regret the day their organist found the start button on the console. If you consider the sole purpose of the church, to extend love and compassion to a hurting world, such stories should never be. Let’s consider how different things would be, if the gentle winds of Love were to prevail, like the spring we are just beginning to long for.
Love would give us ears to hear what the congregation responds to without having to be told. Love would give us hearts humble enough to choose music that uplifts them in worship, regardless of their “cultural level,” which is probably beneath mine. Love would enable us to forgive their many trespasses into my territory, my area of expertise. It would salve our wounds even often bear, wounds from words that were spoken with the best of intentions..
February is the month of love, with Valentine’s day competing for liturgical attention with the allure of the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany. Love letters will be crossing every which way in the next few weeks. I hope you get at least one. Have you ever received a love letter from your congregation? If not, this one is for you:
Dear Misunderstood Organist, You may not know me very well, if at all. I sit in the back of the church at the early service, so I can slip out as soon as the service is over. I really need to be there, since I live a shellshocked life, but I don’t really fit in with the church crowd and would rather not have to meet them when I am down. I get a lot out of coming, and I like your music. I would never dream of seeking you out, so I am writing this note to thank you for making me feel better when I come.
You are there every week, and I know you have to work hard to learn all that music. I secretly admire you, because you stuck with music lessons, when I quit. You never let the little mistakes in your playing get you down, even when I see others wince or roll their eyes. If you aren’t perfect, then maybe there is room for me in heaven, too. I love to watch you bob along with the music, and sometimes I get a glimpse of the little smile you have when you play the postlude. There must be such joy in playing. I am glad to get a little of it for my week ahead.
Sometimes I am concerned that people take you for granted, that you will always be there, expected to make whatever sacrifices of time and energy and good will it takes to make it all look so easy in worship. Who knows what it is really like to work behind the scenes with our pastor, the church council and the choir director? Do they appreciate you? I wonder. If no one ever says it out loud, thank you. Please forgive those who let another week go by without expressing their appreciation.
Everyone is so caught up in their own worlds, busy with their own challenges and their own worries. If everyone in our congregation would give it a thought, next Sunday they would all be in a line to shake your hand and give you the gratitude you deserve. They won’t be, but maybe this little note will let you know that they do care more than they let on. As my mother used to say, “Don’t let the turkeys get you down when you can fly like an eagle.” You are my eagle, and this turkey needs to see you flying when I come to church next week. Yours truly, Nadine
The church is one place where the many dimensions of love come together. Right after Valentine’s Day, we will turn toward Lent, where the deepest dimensions of love are ready for exploration. Are you looking for something new to play this year? Here are several books to consider.
Lenten music calls for a unique combination of depth, darkness and comfort. Familiar hymns are often the best way to help people find the unseen spiritual path that leads from the despair of isolation toward the ultimate glory of new life on Easter morning. Anna Laura Page’s And Through Eternity I’ll Sing On (Lorenz 70/1904) is a fine example of sensitive writing, offering conservative, but not boring harmonies that support her creative settings of nine of the most familiar African American spirituals. It’s written in two-stave format with pedal parts included. Please don’t automatically discount it because of this! The countermelody in “Wondrous Love” is simply gorgeous. “He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word” suffers. Her walking bass “Surely He Died on Calvary” is as ear-pleasing as it can be.
Lent is also well served by Franklin Ashdown’s Adagios of Hope and Peace (Augsburg 9781506413587). Eight familiar hymns are dressed in beautifully designed patterns that rise and fall in support of the melody. Ashdown has an interesting way of nesting the chorale within the supporting harmonies to achieve a restful flow, reminding me of Vaughan Williams string compositions. Although he intended this volume for memorial services, there is a need for “Abide with Me,” “Be Still My Soul,” “Rock of Ages,” “The King of Love,” and “If You But Trust God to Guide You,” during the Lenten season, as well. Ashdown has also included two two of his own free compositions here. Both are useful when non-hymn tune material is desired.
Music that speaks across the generations are what make classics The Classics. We have to make sure that our arrangements of them attract everyone’s ears. Gerald Near’s new arrangement of “Deep River” (MorningStar 10-37) fills this expectation beautifully. It’s not too literal, not too sentimental, and not too dramatic; yet it will lead your over-stimulated congregation to the place of deep peace and comfort where healing and hope live. A new arrangement of “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” by Robert G. Farrell (Paraclete 01617) takes this normally subdued melody into a musically satisfying place. Using a steady rhythmic underlay, a lovely countermelody, and truly gorgeous harmonies, Farrell’s arch climaxes and recedes without ever becoming harsh or overbearing, and it remains within moderate technical demands.
Postludes in Lent can pose special problems, don’t you think? You want to send them out on a high note, but how can you maintain a little restraint at the same time? Robert Lau’s solution is Lamb of God Most Holy: Five Postludes for Lent (MorningStar 10-372). Each of his two-page pieces limit themselves to early intermediate technical demands. He is an expert at keeping the chorales at the forefront and at providing interesting counterpoints. Included in this volume are “Forty Days and Forty Nights,” “Glory Be to Jesus,” O Lamb of God, Most Holy,” “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” and “Sing, My Tongue, the Glorious Battle.
The next volume for your consideration is Lenten Postludes for Organ (MorningStar 10-362). This is a substantial compilation of previously published works. It will be very useful to the advanced intermediate organist. Representative chorale preludes include Michael Burkhardt’s famous “The God of Abraham Praise,” David Schelat’s “When Jesus Wept,” a very sinuous “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,” by James Biery, and Charles Callahan’s “O Day of Peace.” The publishers have also brought back from the past an unexpected “Out of the Depths” from Johann Kuhnau’s First Biblical Sonata. There are a total of ten pieces here—more than you need for one Lenten season.
Lent is coming, coming indeed. February is the time to prepare. But, before you dive into the fray, do one thing for yourself. Take a moment to write your own love letter to your congregation. What would you like to say? What would you like them to know about you and your work among them? Go ahead, write it down. You don’t have to send it. Just make sure they hear love in your playing. That’s a real Valentine gift only you can give.

TAO January 2017–Collecting Ourselves

January 2017
Practical Organ Music

Collecting Ourselves

Christmas is over, but its spirit of Christmas will live on into the New Year. I say, “Keep celebrating!” The customs surrounding this beloved holiday encourage our living extravagantly its message, “Good will to all.” However, many of us manage to turn it into something more like, “Good eats to all,” and “Good gifts to all.” My January hangover begins when I get on the scales and the bills start arriving. That’s when it is time to tighten my belts—the one around my waist and the one around my wallet.
You may be a bargain hunter who loves shopping the after-Christmas sales. That’s when pre-Christmas prices drop dramatically, so it is easy to fill your shopping cart with booty before it all disappears. Don’t you wish that organ music would go on sale sometime?
I don’t have to tell you how expensive new music can be. For just this reason, many of us avoid looking at all the exciting things that publishers offer—the things that I share with you each month. How do you decide what to buy, and when to buy it? The best answer to this question lies in knowing what you need to complete your library of organ music. I recommend taking a look at the holes in your repertory. Are you weak in Advent literature? Are you tired of playing the same patriotic music every year? Have you played your favorite pieces so often the congregation can hum them with you? Strategic repertory planning means keeping a list of what you need, so you have a way of matching your needs with new volumes as they are issued. I keep a list of hymn tunes that I am short on. I keep another list—a wish list—of pieces I would love to buy if I could ever afford them.
Planning music purchases means making a budget, so you can look forward to the pleasure of learning and sharing new music regularly. (We have to keep things fresh for ourselves and for our congregation.) Most of us pay for music out of our own pockets. What a limitation that is! I certainly can’t afford to buy everything I need for service playing, so I must look beyond my financial limitations. Have you ever considered asking the church to include a small amount in next year’s fiscal plan? After all, most of your purchases are made on their behalf. A small amount this year could lead to another small increase next year.
Church people are generally a generous sort, and you already know several folks who would support you if asked. However, it does take a certain kind of courage to approach them and risk rejection. Here is an idea that might help: tell them you are starting a Book-of-the-Month Club (and why), then invite them to sign up for a month at ten or fifteen dollars. (Be sure to check with your supervisor before starting, just in case.) With just a little more creativity, you can plan an informal music event as a thank-you for their sponsorship. Serve some light refreshments, play a few new pieces, invite them to sing along, and watch them sign up for next year. People love to help worthy causes. And what is more worthy than the cause of good music?
Regardless of the amount we have to spend, let’s make the most of the money in our budgets. Bargain hunting starts with knowing what you need; then, looking for the best buys you can find. Smart bargain hunters know that buying in quantity reduces the per item price. It is easy to find music books that cost three or four dollars per song. Let’s see if we can reduce costs by considering mega-collections. Don’t be fooled by the higher price. Many of these volumes offer a wide variety of pieces as low as one dollar each. Take a look at these:
The Complete Organist, arr. Southbridge/Elliot (Lorenz 70/1493L) offers forty-six easy two-stave pieces for $40.00. That’s less than the advertised price! 150 Hymn Tunes (2 vols.) (Mayhew 1400500) offers easy, three-stave pieces arranged alphabetically by hymn tune. Here are contemporary arrangements of frequently used hymns, often transposed into several of the most commonly used keys. Oxford Service Music for Organ, arr. A.M. Thomas offers three volumes of manuals-only literature and three volumes with easy pedals. These are shorter works spanning the 16th through the 21st centuries. The Organist’s Bumper Collection (Mayhew 1450380) offers a wide variety of classic and modern compositions evenly split between hymn tunes and free compositions. At $25.00, this volume of 100 pieces is the best bargain yet at approximately twenty-five cents each.
Bargain hunters know that price isn’t everything: a low price for a poor product is never a good deal! Mega-collections are often gathered from the publisher’s best-received works, leaving you with the cream of their crop in one volume. How often have I found a favorite piece from years ago repackaged with other fine pieces in a new book? It takes years to build a useful library of organ music. Retrospectives are a useful shortcut for pianists transferring their skills to the king of instruments. Anyone willing to give the organ a try deserves a leg up. Mega-collections are an easy way to discover the wide variety of music that is available to you.
Here are some more resources to build an instant library. The Essential Collection for Organ, ed. Jane Holstein, Vol. 1 (Hope 8373) and Vol. 2 (Hope 8580) will fill the big hole in your library with easy to intermediate arrangements of standard hymn-tunes. Many favorite composers, including Hal Hopson, Douglas Wagner and Joel Raney, live between their covers. They are known for clear writing that speaks right to our listeners’ hearts. Essential Repertory for the Church Organist and More Essential Repertory for the Church Organist (Mayhew 1400536/7) stays on the classic side of things with offerings from 17th-19th centuries. Pieces are selected to stay between levels 4-8. The second volume includes some nice pieces from the 20th century British stable. You will not be saddled with unusable pieces here.
To build a library is to look to the future. Let’s search for pieces that will serve you well as your skills increase. The six volumes of Oxford Hymn Settings, arr. Groom Te Velde & Blackwell, are arranged by liturgical season. Here are a wide variety of recently written hymn tune arrangements holding to high compositional standards at an intermediate level. The editors have ensured “just right” lengths of two to three minutes each. New volumes continue to be issued, so come back to see what’s new. The same can be said for the Augsburg Organ Library, which is up to twelve volumes and growing. Not only are there books arranged by season, there are books arranged by special occasions such as, baptism and communion, weddings, memorials, even summer and autumn. Though the library is rooted in Lutheran hymnody, there is something for every tradition in each volume. Editors have chosen a variety of global hymns to illuminate. Truly, this is a comprehensive survey of late 20th century composers’ creative efforts. Burkhardt, Cherwein, Sedio, Wold, Albrecht and Ferguson live here. Challenges begin at the intermediate level, extending to the early advanced levels from time to time. Building repertory from volumes such as these will serve you well into your career, and add value to your own sense of musical accomplishment as you learn them.
Knowing what you need to build your library and planning a budget to fulfill your dreams are the first steps to professional success. You should dream big and enjoy the process of meeting your goals. Buying books one at a time is the obvious thing to do. Are you aware of the resources you can build through annual subscriptions? Two companies are working to uncover historic gems and to commission new works you can add to your library with absolutely no effort on your part.
The Organist’s Companion, Wayne Leupold Editions, ($44.95 per year) is issued bimonthly for a total of six volumes per year. Each volume contains 32 pages of easy to intermediate hymn tune preludes and newly revived classics, with both manuals-only and easy-pedal offerings. Editor Wayne Leupold lavishes as much attention to detail, both in his selection of material and in his editing, as he does to his many other projects. Over the course of the year, you will receive as wide a variety of music as any other mega-volume you can buy. You can access the subscription at
The good folks at Lorenz Music offer subscriptions at three different levels of accomplishment. The editors are excellent at choosing hymn-tune material at specific technical levels. If you are a two-staver, The Organist is for you. If you are ready to tackle moderately easy, three-stave music, take a look at The Sacred Organ Journal. Intermediate organists will enjoy The Organ Portfolio. All three subscriptions are edited by Carson Cooman, whose high standards for composition come through regardless of which subscription you choose. Annual subscriptions go for $42.95 (12 issues) with an option for digital download as a bonus. You can access these subscriptions at
Mega-collections and subscriptions are a bargain hunter’s paradise. You can get more music for less, or, if you are like me, you can use the money you save to buy even more music! Does that make me a music hog? You bet it does–oink, oink!

Thanks to the good folks at San Diego’s Organ for opening their many drawers of music in the writing of this article.

TAO December 2016–Ministry from the Manger

Practical Organ Music
December 2016

Ministry from the Manger

I know you’re getting busy, but I hope you’re not too busy to spend a minute reflecting with me on the season ahead. Even though last year’s Christmas season went well, I didn’t make it to the manger, myself. Not that I didn’t circle around it, waving to the shepherds and wise men, checking out Mary and Joseph, looking for angel dust. But my eyes were too locked in on the music scores to look into the baby’s face. Christmas was a little hollow, and I’m just not going to let that happen again.
As a matter of fact, I’m going to look at Christmas from inside the manger this year. So, move over Baby Jesus! They say you came to bring us some good news from God. Is it true that God loves us and wants us to flourish? Is that what you’re going to tell us? That’s a big order for a newborn. Right now, I see the glow of light surrounding you as you sleep. If you opened your eyes, you would see me first–even though you would prefer seeing your mom? I just need to be here for a few minutes, to absorb some of your glory. When I sit on the organ bench, I’m going to need a little of your light to illuminate the notes I’m going to play. I’m going to need your help changing them into music–music that proves I’ve really met you. There are people waiting outside the stable to see you, just as there will be people waiting in the sanctuary to hear me. In my playing, let them hear your soft breathing, your low cries, and your heartbeat for humanity.
You have been embedded into the created world, just as I am embedded in this congregation. Let some of the music I make ripple into the world outside these sanctuary doors, just as your life has rippled down through the ages. You have touched the entire world with the message the angels sang, “Peace on earth, good will to all!” Let me have a small part in carrying the love you brought with you tonight. Amen.
With hearts in the right place, it’s time to take a look at what’s new this year. Every year brings such riches to add freshness to your repertory. Advent first. How Shall I Meet You, Jeffrey Blersch’s newest opus (CPH 97-7728), is filled with seven fresh, creative settings of the Advent hymn canon, including a delightful dance on “Hark the Glad Sound,” a lilting 6/8 setting of “Nun Komm, der Heiden Heiland,” a multi-metered, rhythmic variation on “Wie Soll Ich Dich Empfangen,” and a stalwart “Helmsley” arrangement utilizing Telemann’s “La Majesté” in the ritornello. Simpler to play, but equally creative is a new volume from the pen, more accurately, from the computer, of Robert Lau. Lo He Comes: Reflections for Advent (Lorenz 70/1967L) offers a lovely ornamented adagio on “St.Thomas,” a cheerful trio on “Prepare the Way, O Zion,” a gentle “Gabriel’s Message” utilizing chord planes for a haunting effect, and two short variations on “On Jordan’s Bank” and “People, Look East” that invite you to run–even skip to Bethlehem.
You will find longer, more fully developed arrangements in A Boy is Born in Bethlehem: 5 Organ Pieces for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany (MSM 10-176). Raymond Haan takes all the time he needs to explore five familiar tunes, three of which are for Advent: “Comfort, Comfort Now My People” moves from one beautiful tone color to another for maximum romantic effect, while he contrasts large sounds with quiet ones in “Hark the Glad Sound!” Haan shaped his “See Amid the Winter’s Snow” in a classic arch that whispers, builds to a grand climax, then recedes to pianissimo. This one is on my must-play list!
Michael Burkhardt also covers the entire season with his Festive Hymn Settings for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany (MSM 10-178.) Even though this volume isn’t s hymn festival, you could use it to make your own. Each of fourteen hymns has an extended intonation, a set of varied accompaniments supporting the text for each stanza, along with a congregational leaflet indicating their part. Here is something useful for everyone seeking to add that “something extra” to their hymn playing.
New hymnals bring new hymns to our awareness, but organists often have to wait for effective arrangements. Written in the same format as Burkhardt’s hymn settings is David Sims Wondrous Birth (Augsburg Fortress (9781506413662). You can use these to help your congregation learn and appreciate “In a Lowly Manger Born (Mabune),” Infant Holy, Infant Lowly,” “There’s a Star in the East,” and “In the Heavens Shone a Star (Kalinga).” He has also included settings of “Un Flambeau,” the Irish melody, “Columcille,” and “People, Look East.”
Christmas certainly brings out the best in our composers, know it doesn’t take virtuoso technique to get the message of joy and hope into your sanctuary. New this year is Christmas Presents (Lorenz 70/1965L). John S. Dixon’s two-stave offering (opt. pedals) gets the job done with his typically tight, keyboard-sensitive writing. John included two minor carols, “Boar’s Head” and “Masters in This Hall” along with more typical fair such as “Sussex” and “Wexford” Carols, “Joy to the World” and “Carol of the Bells.” Equally easy, but written on three staves, is David Clark Iseles’ A Festival of Christmas (Lorenz 70/1968L). Simple, joyful arrangements cover five of the more standard carols. Just one more step in challenge is Marianne Kim’s new The Heart and Soul of Christmas (Lorenz 70/1962L). Encouraged by her volume of light jazz hymn settings, Marianne has written eight arrangements of standard carols that remain tasteful while offering harmonies and textures from the jazz palette.
Moderately advanced players will enjoy Bernard Wayne Sanders’ Venite Adoremus: A Christmas Fantasy (CPH 97-7730). He has set five carols with optional endings that will result in a through-composed medley, if chosen. While this isn’t a new idea, Sanders has done a fine job of constructing well-thought out bridges that will leave the listener none the wiser. Carols include “Gelobt Seist Du,” “Greensleeves,” “Divinum Mysterium,” “Quem Pastores,” and “Adeste Fideles.” For those needing longer prelude material, this is it.
I found a treasure in Kristina Langlois’ Postludes for Organ on Festive Tunes (Augsburg Fortress 9781506413631). “Noel! Tidings of Comfort and Joy!” is a toccata combining “God Rest You, Merry” with “Noel Nouvelet.” Kristina is very good at using rhythmic elements in developing the two carol melodies—and her French harmonies aren’t bad, either. The challenge of learning this piece will be worth the effort. There are two other pieces, including a terrific arrangement of “All Creatures of Our God and King,” to look at for later.
It will take an advanced player to master the intricacies of Jacob B. Weber’s new Joy to the World (CPH 97-7724). Utilizing three different toccata patterns and even more key changes, Weber builds and builds to a glorious pedal solo finish. If you have the time to spend, this great toccata will make a big splash on Christmas Eve. I’m going to give it a try!
Well, I’ve been saving the best for last, so here is your reward for making it this far. I love Larry Shackley’s new volume, Christmas Tidings (Hope 8717). Nothing is too hard, nothing is too long, nothing is too far out—everything is just right! Here is a completely unexpected, “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly,” set in a gentle swing style, a sparkling partita on “Good King Wenceslas,” gentle, colorful settings of “Veni, Emmanuel” and “Little Town of Bethlehem.” And, to top it off is his “Angels We Have Heard on High” in Bulgarian rhythm. It is light, fast, and playful, written in 7/8—what a delight to play!
There is a wonderful music this year. I hope you find something to enjoy preparing. Now that we’ve checked our hearts at the manger, let’s get busy. The joy is in the work! Make it a great Christmas–for us all!

TAO November 2016–Putting on Ayres

Practical Organ Music
November 2016

Putting on Ayres

One day in master class, my college piano teacher remarked to us that keyboardists are really just frustrated singers. There must be some truth to her remark, because organ literature is filled with beautiful melodies that invite everyone to hum along. Bach’s “Air on a G String” and his “Sinfonia” (or “Largo”) from Cantata 156 are familiar and much loved examples. S.S. Wesley’s Air, with its elegant triplet swing is another. Songs, with or without words, need no justification for their existence: to hear their beauty is to know love. The simplicity of the song form supports an infinite expressive range: love, peace, sublimity, drama, adoration. From lullabies to dramatic opera arias, song form can say it all.
And, of course, we organ aficionados think the organ can do it better! After all, we have a wealth of tone colors. Under our fingers lie rich harmonies. Grand and noble rhythms encourage our best composers to fill the air with sweeping symphonic sounds. While you may not be up for a weekly movement from one of the great organ symphonies, you can bring beauty to every service, recital or concert with some of the transcriptions in J. Michael Case’s Ten Transcriptions and Arrangements for Organ (MorningStar 10-681). It is filled with a variety of familiar and unfamiliar tunes you will enjoy. Here is a simple, yet effective version of Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter Theme,” a lovely arrangement of the “Meditation” from his first symphony, and the “Ave Maria” from Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil. There are two largos from Baroque masters, Vivaldi and A. Corelli, as well as easy organ solo versions of Franck’s much-loved Panis Angelicus and Adolphe Adam’s O Holy Night. There are more familiar works in Samuel Metzger’s new Five Classical Transcriptions for Organ (MorningStar 10-099), including Bach’s Sanctify Us By Thy Goodness, his “Quia Respexit” from Magnificat, another A. Corelli piece, Sarabande, “Largo” from the Vivaldi Lute Concerto in D Major, and one of my favorites, “In Paradisum” from the Faure Requiem.
It is easy to follow the trail of classic influence on song form through some of Mendelssohn’s shorter sonata movements, to many of Alexander Guilmant’s pieces to be found among his assorted collections, past the famous “Cantilena” from Gabriel Rheinberger’s Eleventh Organ Sonata, right on to Flor Peeter’s “Aria” from his Trumpet Sonata. Peeter’s best known student, Paul Manz, gifted us with his own Aria (MSM 10-906) as did Manz’ student, Michael Burkhardt (MSM 10-170). Herbert Howells’ Two Slow Airs for Organ (Novello 14015550) are sensitive offerings from England. Joel Martinson’s Aria on a Chaconne (Concordia 97-6271) continues to touch me every time I play it. Each of these provides lovely, thoughtful, practical music for the many services you play, whether for prelude, communion, or memorial services.
Songs that touch the heart will never go out of style. A transcription of Gabriel Fauré’s Pavane with its yearning b-minor melody is always worth learning. In the same key is Andrew Carter’s “Aria” (Andrew Carter Organ Album, Oxford, 2004), with its long flowing lines, restated in the tenor. It is easy to find several examples of works that move into rich harmonic fields that demonstrate mid-20th century compositional styles. Robert Elmore is always a good bet for that. His Autumn Song (OUP) and the “Pavane” from Rhythmic Suite are worth the search. Just as luscious without quite so many accidentals is the Aria that Emma Lou Diemer wrote in 2004 (Zimbel Press). There is also a lovely aria composed by Craig Phillips in his Wondrous Love collection (Fred Bock 0945). Daniel Gawthrop’s imaginative works include several pieces worth collecting. First, his Nocturne (Dunstan House 0512) is an easy piece with an expansive tune that few have ever heard. His moderately easy Arioso (DH 0702) is a well-developed piece that is a little longer. And finally, Gawthrop’s Sketchbook Three (DH 0204) contains a heart touching “Prelude” along with three other pieces in a variety of characters. You will also enjoy the fourth movement, “Recessional in English Style.”
Let’s leave the past behind, so we can explore some newer works that will add depth and variety to your library. Raymond Haan, whose Three Canzonets for Organ (Flammer HF-5132) have been a mainstay for me, has new volume of similar spirit. Three Lyric Solos (MSM 10-692) contains an “Organ Hymn,” quietly building to full organ and then receding to a quiet close. “Lyric Procession,” with optional trumpet, is a grand and noble song to close a solemn service. I have also enjoyed the first movement of James Biery’s Aria and Toccata (MSM 10-682) where a steady quarter-note pulse supports a slightly syncopated melody line that floats above it. The toccata that follows is a moderately challenging romp that is fun to play. Ronald Perera, who likes to push the boundaries just a little, gives us his Aria (E.C. Schirmer 8357). This is another “arch form” piece that starts and ends softly with a big build-up in the middle. It reminds me of two by David Conte, both very sparse: Soliloquy (ECS 5149) and Recollection (ECS 5963). Works using simple resources that challenge our musicianship are worth exploring whether we share them in worship or not.
The Psalms often provide composers with inspiration. Alan Hommerding explores a variety of them with three new pieces. Two Psalms In Memoriam (World Library Publications 003106) explores grief and loss in “The Lord is Near to the Brokenhearted.” It contrasts nicely with his lively exultation, “I Will Praise the Lord All My Life.” Alan goes even further into the celebration mode with You Crown the Year with Goodness (WLP 003088). With two vital, rhythmic motifs to explore, this is a delightfully expansive work that never looks back! Psalm 23 continues to be the people’s choice for most loved psalm. Its pastoral images reassure us in times of anxiety. Here is a real treasure to share with your people: Gwyneth Walker’s Beside the Still Waters (E.C. Schirmer 8148). Her quietly flowing triplets sustain a sumptuous tenor melody that builds to the heights of song before graciously fading to a quiet end. It will leave you breathless.
Songs of the heart often lead to prayer. The organ is often called upon to open the gates of prayer. I am sure you already have many favorites in literature of the prayer. Let me add a few more for you to consider. Preludes for a Prayer, Zaonivmir Nagy’s new volume from Paraclete Press (PPM01615) is quite an exploration. Three of the seven short pieces conform to our expectations of quiet and reflection, while the others describe more intense states of prayer. Perhaps more predictable are the seven sets of hymn tune-based arrangements by Robert J. Powell, Prayerful Preludes (MSM 10-786 on). Most of these are based on familiar evangelical hymns. So are the arrangements by Neil Harmon in his In Prayer: Five Organ Preludes (MSM10-667) and in Alfred V. Fedak’s Eight Meditative Preludes for Organ (Concordia 9707736). Each of these composers keeps technical limits clearly in mind as they create very useful materials that will touch the hearts of your people.
Don’t tell your pastor or your priest, but for many Sunday worshipers, music is the heart of the matter. Music can touch the deepest corners of our souls in ways that the best-written sermon or the most carefully prepared communion cannot. Fortunately, we are not in competition with the word or the sacraments. Luther reminds us that music is a gift that has a place of honor next to theology. I love hearing him thunder, “I have no use for cranks who despise music. It drives away the Devil and makes people joyful.” That’s quite a challenge in today’s world. Let’s get to work!

TAO October 2016–Reformation Reboot

Practical Organ Music
October 2016

Reformation Reboot

It’s coming–the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is almost here. There is much more to the quincentenary of the Reformation than the opportunity to add another SAT-worthy word to your vocabulary. For 500 years, Protestants have played a role in Christian history, which makes for a twenty-five percent participation rate. For some, the breakup of the Roman church is not a reason to celebrate; rather it is an occasion to mourn—there is no reunification in sight. For others, it is a birthday candle for their denomination. Regardless of your perspective, let me ask you a question: does the Reformation have anything to offer us organists?
If you are one who will mark 2017 with a nostalgic look back at its significance, you have an abundance of musical resources to draw on. Of course, we have all kinds of music from that era. No doubt there will be many bows to the traditional trinity of Schutz, Schein and Scheidt, devotions to “Soli Deo Gloria” Bach, as well as remembrances of his successors. We do love to celebrate our heritage, and we will be great at doing so!
This year you can expect to see some new compositions on Reformation hymn tunes (with mostly German names) that reflect the musical styles of the era. Here is a very nice anthology, A Reformation Celebration (Concordia 97-7734). The “Carillon on ‘Ein Feste Burg’” by James Biery keeps the snappy rhythms of the original chorale while easy repetitive sixteenth patterns propel the piece to a satisfying conclusion. The walking bass “Erhalt uns Herr” by Benjamin Culli is a very nice processional, while Walter Pelz’ arrangement of “Es ist Das Heil” is a brilliant Handelian overture. There are a total of eight pieces here. If you like this volume, you will also enjoy two matching books, A Reformation Christmas (Concordia 97-7732), containing another eight pieces for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, and A Reformation Easter (Concordia 97-7733) with pieces for Lent through Pentecost. The publisher has limited each composer to one piece, which means that variety is guaranteed.
Also staying faithful to the German heritage is a fine new volume by Karl Osterland. A Wittenberg Collection: Lutheran Chorales for Organ (Augsburg Fortress 978-1-5064-1357-0). He enjoys taking on the challenge of creating interesting organ reflections that keep the listener engaged. You will find his “Schmucke Dich” to be a gentle andante, his “Christ, du Lamm Gottes” to be an adagio with somewhere to go, and his “Vom Himmel Hoch” to be a sweet refreshment. The other side of Osterland’s personality bursts forth with a vivacious set of variations on “Es ist das Heil” and a bold “Wie Shon Leuchtet.” I have already mentioned the moderately challenging Grand Partita on “Ein Feste Burg,” where his skill as a tone painter illuminates words taken from the four stanzas. This is one piece that you could use in alternatim in your next hymn festival.
Dan Gawthrop will make his Symphony #3 (Dunstan House 1701) available after its premier in May 2017. This is an exciting addition to the literature for Reformation. Dan has restricted himself to moderate technical demands, but not to moderate musical value. In it you will find four creative movements linked to four of the best known hymn tunes of the Reformation: “Nun Komm, der Heiden Heiland,” “Wachet Auf,” “Aus Tiefer Not,” and “Ein Feste Burg.” This is a piece worth waiting for!
If you are not already collecting the many volumes of the Augsburg Organ Library, a very good place to start is with their newest volume, Reformation (9781506413600). Containing both previously published works as well as pieces commissioned for this volume; there is a wealth of creativity between its covers. Hymn tunes are not limited to the sixteenth century, and some are moderately challenging. Some of our high-flying composers are there, including Flor Peeters, Paul Manz, Wayne Wold, David Cherwien, and Aaron David Miller. Not nearly as challenging is Ronald Nelson’s Easy Hymn Settings, Volume 2 (Augsburg Fortress 9781451420838). His work is always satisfying to play and to listen to. While not every tune is Reformation oriented, there are enough to make it worth owning. Hymn Tune Innovations, Set 2 (Concordia 97-7731) seldom goes beyond its moderate technical boundaries. With the many volumes he has recently published, Benjamin Culli has earned my respect as a composer who knows the chorale variation tradition and enjoys expanding its range. Most of the seven tunes in this volume represent well known Lutheran hymns, but he has strayed from the straight and narrow, applying similar techniques to more mainstream hymns, such as “Darwall’s 148th,” “Italian Hymn,” and “Song 1.” The same can be said for Kevin Hildebrand, who is offering Salvation Unto Us (Concordia 97-7738). These are twelve easy preludes directly targeted at the Reformation celebration.
As you know, Reformation liturgists returned singing the church’s song to the people. We haven’t stopped loving our hymns ever since. I hope you enjoy exploring the many ways that hymns can be varied in worship. There are many volumes of creative hymn resources available. New for the 2017 sesquicentenary is 24 Hymn Introductions for Reformation (Concordia 97-7737). John Eggert has put his mind to easy, short intonations for a mighty lot of chorales. Henry V. Gerike has done the same to 27 Hymn Harmonizations for Reformation (Concordia 97-7741). I like the way his use of harmony avoids the typical dissonances, favoring simple chord substitutions that encourage the congregation to sing without making them raise their eyebrows at the organist. Jane Holstein has done the same for a slew of mainstream hymns in 55 Hymn Harmonizations. (Hope 8718). Interspersed throughout the book are introductions, modulations and interludes to go along with her reharmonizations. Frankly, I don’t keep many harmonization books in my library, but this is one I am going to hold on to!
Most of us take the outcomes of the Reformation for granted. Hymns themselves are a product of the historical revolution, and creative hymn playing reminds us that its effects are alive today. As much as we love to honor the past, the Reformation is not just an historic event. Its leaders’ vision was a church “Reformed, and reforming,” which indicates their understanding that the spiritual life is constantly dynamic and changing. Each generation, in fact, is responsible for renewing the church and handing it on to the next generation.
I am challenged to find ways to reverse my backward-looking orientation, with all the artistic glories I treasure. I struggle to craft a forward-looking vision that includes the past, but makes room for the future. I invite you to participate in the church’s ongoing reformation. What does it look like to invest in a cultural dialog from our musical and theological perspectives? At the very least, I hope you will consider how to embrace the opportunities the challenge of renewal offers each of us:
o Maintaining your professional music skills.
o Adding to your skills—becoming comfortable with American musical styles.
o Exploring the ideas of church leaders and their vision for the road ahead.
o Committing to the development your leadership skills and offering them locally.
o Encouraging the next generation of musicians.
We live in such a dynamic world, don’t we? The cultural change we see all around us is a direct outcome of the Reformation. While not everyone is a Protestant, its effects touch everyone. How should we respond to the challenges in front of us? How can we participate in creating a bright future for the church we love? The “Reformed, and reforming” perspective is a lesson from history is a gift to the future church. Join in!