Monthly archives "July 2017"

TAO August 2017–Playing Catch Up

Playing Catch Up

Can we agree that there are more than four seasons in a year? Yes, of course, there are! Spring, summer, winter, and fall can never capture the subtle changes that move us from one day to the next. At least in my world, mini-seasons abound. Deep Summer’s hot, languid days zap all motivation from me, detaching me from my usual busy-ness and leaving me vulnerable to the fatigue I have gathered over the past year. Deep Summer gives me permission to surrender to my need to rest, deeply and completely. It’s a chance to catch up with myself before “What Is to Come” arrives in a few weeks. You know what I mean…
Much shorter than our traditional three month seasons, mini-seasons turn over quickly; soon the subdued pleasures of Deep Summer will transform into another mini-season, Pre-Fall. As its exuberant energies bubble up, I will find myself with piles of catalogs and calendars as fall’s music program starts to demand more and more attention. With the right approach, Catching-Up Season can have its own pleasures, but only if you love the rigors of organization. I am late to that game! So late, in fact, that I have had to develop my own survival tools. Last year, I offered my own organizational tool kit, a Procrastination Prevention Packet, which many of you requested. It is still available, with an additional page designed to corral your thoughts about what music you really need to find, which I call “The Holes in My Library” page. Just let me know if you would like one.
Catching-Up Season means planning the big festival pieces you will need to rehearse and finding those smaller, in-between pieces that whiz by Sunday after Sunday. Truly, it is impossible to remember all our repertory, much less to put our fingers on all the great things we might play if only we could remember them and where they are. Let me suggest you take advantage of the past three years of “Practical Organist” articles. There is a wealth of information, often organized by topics such as patriotic music, music for world communion, or resources for hymn playing. I invite you to scroll on over to my blog,, to look for yourself. I hope you find just what you are looking for.
Here is something else you might find helpful. For several years, I have been using something my wife, Betsy, made for me: a clear plastic page holder. It is the handiest tool on the console (other than my flubbed-note filter, of course). I keep one on the piano, too. You can place it directly over a whole page of music. It holds the page securely, and there are never any blocked notes, because you can read right through it. You can easily make one yourself, but if you are challenged in this area, I will be glad to send you as many as you like. Just send a check for $10 per item to Christopher Cook, 4111 Mt. Abraham Avenue, San Diego, CA 92111. They also make great presents for your music loving friends.
Let me help you catch up with some of the music that our publishers have issued recently. Charles Callahan is offering something to broaden your World Communion Sunday literature with his Cantad al Señor (MorningStar Music 10-684). Even without your congregation knowing all these hymn tunes, you can set a fine Latin atmosphere with them. Most are easy two-stave arrangements with just a few easy pedal pieces included. In my mind, music from the British Isles also counts as a world music. Charles Callahan’s intermediate level Celtic Suite will be a fine choice for that occasion or any Sunday when you feel like wearin’ a bit o’the green! After a modal prelude with rising, aspirational lines, you will find two quiet hymn-tune arrangements, “Slane” and “St. Columba,” where the off-beat pedal ostinato is particularly delicious to play. Callahan tops the suite off with a rousing postlude combining three traditional Irish melodies into a truly dynamic grand finale.
If you are still looking for something to brighten your observance of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, look no further! Daniel Gawthrop has published a wonderful Reformation Symphony (Dunstan House 1701). Each of its four movements explores a familiar Reformation hymn providing clear quotes of the tune and well-written developments of its features. Happily, that Dan has limited himself to advanced intermediate technical demands means there is still time to learn it for this year’s late-October festival. For something else in the Reformation mood look at Living Voice of the Gospel: The Hymns of Martin Luther (MSM 10-683). Here Michael Burkhardt vividly illustrates Luther’s belief that music is a continuing voice of revelation. For each of the seven hymns cycling around the liturgical calendar, Michael has selected three chorale preludes from among the German baroque masters, then added one from his own creative mind. For teachers, there is a music history lesson for your students here. For the rest of us, there is something here to refresh our spirits.
Donald Rotermund’s, 36 Flexible Hymn-Based Extemporizations (MSM 10-988) runs on a parallel track with Burkhardt’s while looking beyond the Reformation for his hymn selections. Rotermund is the author of two improvisation books, Off the Page (MSM 10-90-33) and Off the Page, Too (MSM 10-90-56), and he intends this new book to be illustrative of his approach to creative hymn playing. However, you don’t need to know his theoretical background to enjoy all three of his settings for each of these twelve familiar hymns. Each intonation sets a different mood, which you will find useful when adapting the same to different times in the service.
For variety, you can’t go wrong with this new volume of two-stave, pedal-optional music, The Complete Organist, Volume 2 (Lorenz 70/2013L). Carson Cooman has compiled forty-nine moderately easy arrangements of at least two familiar hymns, if not three, for every season of the liturgical year. He has taken care that there are a wide variety of compositional styles to meet every service playing need, from prelude to postlude. Here is another addition to the budget-buster list.
It isn’t often that I receive music specifically for Latter Day Saints’ services. Reflections (MSM 10-217) is an anthology of nine hymn arrangements celebrating 150 years of organ music in Salt Lake City, all of which were premiered at this summer’s regional convention. These are lovely, easy arrangements by familiar composers, and four of the nine will be useful for mainline Protestant worship. Tabernacle Organist, Clay Christiansen has a new solo volume out, too. Titled All Things Bright and Beautiful (MSM 10-644), these mainstream hymn choices are just a little more demanding. All eight have something to recommend them. I think you will enjoy both of these volumes.
Speaking of enjoyment, here is one last irresistible piece—just for fun: Dan Miller’s
Happy Birthday Parodies (MSM 10-452). You haven’t lived until you have heard these four clever arrangements that quote “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” Beethoven’s “Hallelujah” from The Mount of Olives, a Scott Joplin rag parody, and “Stars and Stripes Forever.” If you want to appear clever, just toss one of these into your next rehearsal or concert!
It’s August—Deep Summer. I hope you take full advantage of its unique and restful charms, before it’s too late. You know what’s coming, and I know you want to be ready. What’s after Pre-Fall and Catching Up Season? FULL ON SEASON!

To order the plexiglass page holders mention in this article, please contact him by e-mail:, or send your check to the address above.