Saturday, August 30, 2014

Entitlement in the mind of the church organist.

Being an organist means often relying on the kindness of strangers.

It is rare for an organist to play an organ at a church that was paid for by the organist.  Odds are the organ was purchased by people from the church, many of whom are no longer at the church due to death, job transfer or a decision to join another church.

Violinists who play Stradivarius instruments today are often in a like situation, as some Strads are now owned by investors, and loaned out to artists while increasing in value like a well-chosen stock.  These lucky violinists are usually extremely grateful and make a point of thanking those who have loaned the instruments publicly whenever possible.

Spending time around church organists though, you'll find a different attitude.  Many organists refer to the church organ and the church itself as "my organ" and "my church" and are publicly critical of the instrument and the church itself.

Is the organ they are playing possibly inferior, justifying this attitude?

A blind survey to a large international group of organists 15 years ago had interesting results.  The majority of organists when asked what organ they wish they were playing rather than the one they presided over at church chose Aeolian-Skinner.  Except for one small group.

This small group was made up exclusively of those playing Aeolian-Skinner pipe organs.  Every one of them wished they were playing another organ, not an Aeolian-Skinner.

What is behind this sense of entitlement and dissatisfaction among church organists?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Hymn books are for singers.

As an organist, I came late to hymns, playing in churches at which just a few hymns were sung over and over again.  My organ teacher introduced me into hymn playing and The Parish Organist by Concordia Press, something that I recently revisited.  More about that soon.

While working with The Parish Organist and having recently had a meeting in which helping pianists become organists was impressed upon me as clearly important, we've created, with some great assistance, a new book that will at first be available in a Catholic edition, The Catholic Organist's Book of Hymns.

Hymn are printed to be sung. Hymn books are singer's books, not books for organists.

Organists cannot play the organ from a hymn book with confidence and style without lessons that teach the traditions of playing hymns from hymn books.

It's really, really hard for a pianist, used to playing the notes on a page to face having to to learn how to ignore notes written for singers, convert them into notes that serve as organ accompaniments and also carry the rhythm and insert the breaks needed to adequately accompany hymns being sung on the organ which is being played.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Why I didn't buy a __________ organ.

I read this recently and just had to shake my head:

At the AGO convention I attended recently one of the exhibitors was ___________. They had a very nice digital organ on display. The unit included a headphone jack so, with the head phones in, I played a few bars. Or course it sounded much more like a pipe organ than my 1970′s electronic organ. I also liked the headphone feature as it would allow me to practice with some privacy. My husband and those walking on the sidewalk would not hear me practice. The idea of having a newer model was tempting.
__________ sells many different organ models and prices range from ___________ and up. The price range is very similar to a new car. New car or new organ? It could be a tough choice for me. I brought home one of the _____________ brochures showcasing the _________ which according to their website is “is equally at home in a church, practice room, school or community hall.”

The reason I didn’t buy a _______ organ:

Bottom line is a new organ will not make me a better organist. Sure it would sound better but it would not improve my technique. It would not help me learn new music faster. It would not correct my tempo issues. Some things, like organ skill, can’t be bought and require hard work, practice, and persistence.

Organists say the strangest things...not a nod to the inspiration that comes when playing an organ that...inspires.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Floppy no more...

We live in times when technology of a few years ago is replaced with newer, smaller and faster technology and this has been the case with the very popular Rodgers PR-300 MIDI module, later upgraded to the R-300S.

This module as actuality two modules in one - a voice module with MIDI instruments and a sequencer that records and plays back anything played on organ stops and also on the MIDI instruments in the module itself.

Four years ago we began searching for a USB drive replacement unit and were told that they were available - but none of them worked.  We finally came across an engineer in Italy who told us why and, encouraged by his comments, we continued to search out and finally found a unit.

6 weeks of testing and the unit works very nicely.

The PR-300/s floppy drive was limited to storing only 99 MIDI song files.  The USB drive unit has 999 banks for storing information from floppy drives.

See for more information.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Catholic Organist's Book of Hymns

Hymnals have music arranged to be sung and organists are expected to take lessons and master the art of what I call "playing the invisible notes". There are things that are "understood" that are not written in hymnals - since they are written for singing. Certain notes are repeated with articulation (little puffs of air) while others are festooned with invisible ties and are never repeated unless....well, there are a whole bunch of rules. And there are no rest for breathing? In music written to be sung? And the organ HAS to breath to keep the rhythm going when the choir breaths even though the choir is not shown when to breath.

Can you see why pianists have "trouble" playing hymns on the organ and sounding effective?

So this project offers the following:

A choral prelude, useful to play when introducing the hymn before singing - but especially useful when introducing the melody by playing it 4 to 6 weeks in advance of the first singing.

Then, on the left page the usual hymn. On the right side is the exact same hymn written to be played by the organist.

On the next page is a version for three part playing, especially useful as a variation to play while singing but also for those coming from the accordion who can play two parts in the RH and are learning to play Bass Lines in the LH. And also for less accomplished pianists getting started playing hymns.

On the right page is the hymn melody and words with chords.

Both organ versions omit the words sung since they appear on the opposite page for reference - Select TWO PAGES when viewing the attached sample file.

It will be available as a set of printed books but also in PDF form so that you may print out only what you need.

Use this link to be notified on release - expected before Lent.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Why organists hate some organs.

I've known since 4th grade that most of my life was going to be centered around the organ as a musical instrument. Young people tend to like any organ, by any builder, in any style.  It's in the late teen's and 20's when outside influences start molding feelings against some kinds of organs and total admiration for others.

I recall playing an organ years ago that replaced pipes with digital recording and speakers and thinking, "So what?" an opinion that changed a few years later when I found myself working for churches, designing organs for them.  Digital computer organs.

Then, for awhile I was designing pipe organs and pipe organ with digital stops in them while still designing digital organs.

Eventually settled into working with digital organs that easily combine with pipes.

A comfortable connection.

I'm not sure why organists as they mature develop love/hate relationships with certain organs.  People who were thrilled to play a Hammond suddenly are embarrassed to admit ever playing one.  

Of course, organists also have the strange situation of being one of the few instrumentalists who do not have to buy their instrument!  Could that be at the base of this?