Daily archives "September 15, 2018"

TAO October 2018–Merry-Go-Rounds

Merry-go-rounds are not just for kids, you know. Do you remember how magical they were? When adults find themselves running around in circles, we say that life is a merry-go-round—a sure sign that someone has lost the magic of the metaphor. There’s nothing wrong with running around in circles, as long as they’re the right kind of circles.
If you find yourself there in the whirl of daily busy-ness, hang on! The magic in the merry-go-round of life comes to those who savor the ride. Circles travel fastest on the periphery, so when you move to the center, the ride appears to slow down. As T.S. Eliot observed, the center is “the still point of the turning world.” He continues, “Except for the point, the still point, there would be no dance, and there is only the dance.” So, fellow musicians, our work, itself, is the solution to a too-busy life. Let’s center on making music that dances!
The church’s liturgical year is a circle of sorts, a cycle of events that returns year after year. And our work as musicians has its own kind of cycle. We plan, we practice, we perform. It’s easy for our sense of purpose to get bogged down in the weekly routine. So, I have devoted several articles hoping to help reconnect our work with our vision for ministry. We’ve looked at new ways to practice, too. The circle is turning again, and it’s time to consider what to practice––to find new music worth making.
As practical organists, we want to be able to meet all the needs of our music program. Weekly, we accompany choirs, lead congregational hymns, and prepare solo literature. These are the visible tasks. However, there are many invisible skills that make them possible. Weaknesses in these invisible tasks have a way of undermining our confidence at the keyboard.
To build more confidence, mastering basic keyboard skills is essential. While scales and arpeggios are important, there is more to keyboard musicianship. How about figured bass, open score-reading, harmonizing, transposing and improvising? If you’ve tried to learn them on your own, you know how frustrating it can be. There is a new series to help bridge the gap in these five challenging keyboard skills: Graded Keyboard Musicianship: Training in Core Keyboard Skills by Anne Marsden Thomas & Frederick Stocken (Oxford, 2017) is an excellent two-volume contribution which you can do alone or with a teacher. Logically organized, short lessons gently move from beginner to intermediate level, which is where most keyboard skills books on start. The authors have kept the examples short, without omitting any steps. I highly recommend these new volumes for anyone seeking help in boosting their command of these keyboard basics.
As we cycle through the church year, hymns for each season return to us. Leading them is one of our most important responsibilities. In the face of frequent repetition, let’s keep them interesting and uplifting. There are books, books, and more books of hymn introductions, modulations, and re-harmonizations to choose from. Keep your collection fresh with Daniel Gawthrop’s two new volumes of Free Accompaniments for Organ (Dunstan House). Written at an early intermediate level, most of these standard hymns have something for every verse, often including a trumpet descant. Daniel keeps his harmonies colorful, but conservative. The third volume of Samuel Metzger’s The Festival Hymn Collection (MorningStar 10-434) has just come out. My goodness these are big pieces! Just like his earlier volumes, extended introductions are set-ups for exciting singing; modulations build to bold final verses. What’s new in this volume are two-part descants for women’s voices. Quieter hymns are also well crafted. There are fifteen intermediate arrangements of standard hymns to add to your library.
The church’s business is to celebrate significant events in the cycle of life. Weddings and memorial services have their own repertories. We can all name specific pieces of music that go with each. New organists need easy access to them. If I were a new organist, I would look at the great arrangements Michael Burkhardt has provided in Processionals and Recessionals for Festive Occasions (MSM 10-455). Almost everything needed for a wedding is here, and any worship service will be more festive with one of these grand pieces.
Two new books for memorial and funeral services have come out recently. The editors at MorningStar Music have collected thirteen familiar hymn arrangements from past publications into In Memoriam (MSM 10-432). With familiar composers, Wilbur Held, Michael Burkhardt, Charles Callahan, and Robert Powell taking the lead, you can count on writing that avoids sentimentality and beautiful harmonies that do not attract attention to themselves. Designed to match the scope and quality of earlier Oxford volumes, Wedding Music and Ceremonial Music, newly released The Oxford Book of Funeral and Memorial Music contains there is something from every era. From eight short J.S. Bach choral preludes, to Attwood’s“Grand Dirge” for Admiral Lord Nelson, to standard gems from the Romantic Era, this volume concludes with two lovely commissions by Rebecca Groom te Velde: “On Eagles’ Wings” and “Crimond.” If I were a new organist looking for the best collection of standard classical memorial literature, I would start with this volume.
Life’s merry-go-round is much easier to manage when we keep one eye on our purpose. With a little practice, we might even enjoy the ride. I hope you are!