Monthly archives "October 2018"

TAO November 2018–The Escape Room

The Escape Room

Halloween came earlier than ever this year. You see, back in August our friends, Mike and Andrea, invited my wife and me to experience our first Escape Room with them. A mysterious, velvet-caped guide ushered eight brave souls into the “Dreamscape Room,” with just an hour to decipher the room’s hidden clues leading us safely back to reality through the locked portal. She warned us that our failure to succeed would abandon us to an eternity in the shadow world. The fantasy elements were fun, but we were given no directions or guidelines—we had to, literally, read the room.
For the first part of the hour, confusion reigned among us, as we uncovered symbols without connections and puzzles without contexts. Rebuses, hieroglyphics, mirrors, hidden switches, keys without locks, and swirling images on the ceiling eventually converged, so we could connect the meaning behind the clues. Finally, the combination to the locked portal gave way, and we escaped doom with eight minutes to spare. Would I brave another escape room? You bet! We celebrated at a nearby restaurant, where the camaraderie was terrific. What did we learn? Winning feels good, but the reward is solving the puzzles in a limited amount of time.
Sacred musicians have our own kind of puzzles to solve. One of my favorite puzzles is, “What shall I play next week?” Weekly bulletin deadlines can leave us with the feeling of being locked in a Liturgical Escape Room. The first step in avoiding the sense of doom that envelops those who fall behind is to plan and practice ahead. What to play? The Practical Organist is here to help!
Learning new music keeps us engaged and builds our confidence. But, finding appropriate music at a just the right level can be complicated. Happily, publishers are becoming more conscientious about commissioning well-written music on the easier end of the scale. Let’s look at some manuals-only things first. Kevin Hildebrand is into his fourth volume of For Manuals Only (Concordia) where he has chosen an interesting mix of traditional Lutheran chorales and new-ish hymn tunes such as “Earth and All Stars,” “Rise, Shine You People,” and Marty Haugen’s “Joyous Light.” He is very good at providing creative introductions and interludes that highlight the hymn melodies.
Creativity is never far from John Dixon’s fingertips, especially in his new volume, From Calvary’s Hill (Lorenz 70/2017L), where traditional Lenten/Easter tunes receive a sympathetic two-page consideration. Other optional-pedals volumes include Postludes in Two Minutes or Less (Lorenz 70/2109L), where Richard Williamson provides material for organists whose congregations’ desires for coffee trumps any artistic offerings you might want to make, and Ruth Elaine Schram’s Prayludes of Praise (Lorenz 702082) provides hymns linked into medleys with flexible start and stop points along the way. With this volume, there will be no need to hunt for a cadence when the pastor suddenly stands up! Well-known composer, Lloyd Larson, has also made a foray into the optional pedal literature with his Be Thou My Vision (Lorenz 70/2108L), offering his winning formula of satisfying harmony and colorful voicings to this useful choice of hymn tunes.
If you are looking for something fresh and unexpected, look no farther than Craig A. Penfield’s Eight New Little Preludes and Fugues (Lorenz 70/2131). Clearly, Craig has penned this volume with education in mind. Moving from very easy to early intermediate, each well-constructed prelude and fugue will reconnect you with Baroque roots. Joe Utterback, on the other hand, will have nothing so old in a new volume that he intends to be a jazz organ primer. Each piece in his Eight Short and Easy Jazz Preludes (Wayne Leupold 600317) will bring a smile to listeners’ faces and a tap to their toes. A group of three would make a fine summer prelude.
It is, literally, a small step into easy three-staff music, such as Benjamin Culli’s three sets of Easy Chorale Preludes for All Seasons (Concordia), and the rewards of venturing there with him are great. What a nice variety of styles he has incorporated into “Cantad al Senor,” “Marion,” “Jesus Loves Me,” and “What a Friend!” The same can be said of Alfred Fedak’s Tongues of Fire (Lorenz 70/2153), especially the volume’s signature piece, “Pentecost Dance.” Matching the talents of these two gentlemen is Robert Powell, with O for A Thousand Tongues (MorningStar 10-696). Circling around the church calendar, every one of these tunes is useful. If you would like to see the contents of these volumes, I recommend going to the publishers’ websites.
Poetry comes in many forms, some without words. One such volume is The Beatitudes (Lorenz 70/2144L), the product of Roberta Rowland-Raybold’s sensitive reflections on the Sermon on the Mount. Played together, they are effective explorations of their inner meanings. Practically speaking, it would be easy to use one or more of them in Sunday services, as well as at memorial services. There is more poetry in Quiet Reflections (Lorenz 70/2113), a volume combining new music by Fenton Broden, who has chosen three psalms for dynamic interpretation, with out-of-print music by George Frederick McKay (“Three Expressive Pieces”) and Kevin Norris (“Six Lyrical Pieces”). Audiences still love these lush harmonies, and you will find them to be most useful for a variety of purposes.
The Music Room contains so much fine music, that I wonder why anyone would ever want to escape from it. I have more to share with you next month!