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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Angels and Saints, Patience Please

Monday, May 31st, 2010

“I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

This quote has been running through my head a lot as I’ve been spending time alone in church.  Our church music director will be away for the first three Sundays in June and asked if I would be willing to take the reins during his absence.  This isn’t the first time I done this, but I believe it is the longest stint I’ve had.

My initial thinking, and usual approach, when playing the service is to use the piano to accompany everything.  This is where I feel safest.  I spend a lot of time at the piano, working with the Children’s Choir, rehearsing with the Brass Kickers and accompanying myself for a variety of solos and duets.

However, I’ve begun to feel compelled to use the organ.  Its variety of colors, range of tones and wide dynamic range cannot be approached by the piano.  Although I love the sound of a piano accompanying a solo voice, the organ adds significant sonic breadth, especially when accompanying hymns.

In fact, I believe that it is the flatness of verse after verse of a hymn played on the piano that has continually pushed me to move out of my personal comfort zone and explore the organ as a more versatile and ultimately more appropriate instrument for such situations.  To be sure, it is now taking me an inordinate amount of time to prepare for a service.

When using the piano, all I needed to do was learn to play the notes.  Now I need to worry about the voicings for each verse.  Looking at the text to suggest color and dynamics adds work.  Basic tasks such as figuring out which manual to use for each verse and configuring piston settings so that they are convenient to access while playing also adds complexity for someone that does not use the instrument often.

I have great respect for those that make such planning and preparation look easy.  I cannot imagine doing this week after week, at least not with a separate full time job.  I would guess that over time one would get to know the instrument and have a more organized approach to this process.  For me there is a great deal of experimentation, figuring out which ranks extend into which octaves and which timbres sound well together.

To be sure, it is an amazing experience to fiddle with such decisions and hear the difference in the feeling invoked by a given hymn.  Played with certain stops, the piece is upbeat.  Change the sounds and it is suddenly reflective or pensive.  In fact, my biggest risk is probably over-using the breadth of sounds and dynamics.

For instance the carillon seems like a great choice for bringing out a melody, perhaps to introduce a hymn.  However, it would probably be tiresome for the congregation if used every week.  Also, it is tempting to approach some hymns with a powerful accompaniment.  I enjoy hearing the reverberation at the end of the piece while practicing.  However, the congregation shouldn’t be in a shouting match with the organ, so I’ll need to tame my “Virgil Fox-ness”1.

This will be in interesting month of Sundays for me and the congregation.  I pray we will each find enjoyment and meaning during the worship time spent together.

At the least, I hope those worshiping don’t come away saying, “I like the silent church before the service begins, better than Dave’s organ playing.”


Youth Brass Players Do a Great Job with Benedictus

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

Ever since I first heard the Benedictus from Karl Jenkins‘ “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace” I knew that I would enjoy having the opportunity to share it with my church family. I also thought that it would need more than just me playing a piano accompaniment. Luckily my children and two of their friends were willing to put in the effort to learn an arrangement of the piece that I put together.

The Benedictus comes late in Jenkins’ Mass and provides a respite from the devastation, sadness and grief that is brought to life during the preceding movements. It begins in a beautifully serene way, erupts with a wonderful climax on the words “Hosanna in excelsis” (Hosanna in the highest) and then returns to its original calm and peaceful spirit.

Although scored for strings, with the brass appearing during the “Hosanna”, I think that the use of brass throughout worked well. During our early rehearsals the trumpets used mutes for the opening phrases, but we decided that the tone was not conducive to the mood of the piece.

A video of the performance has been uploaded to YouTube so that family and friends may share in the experience. I thank all four of these hard-working students for giving up some of their summer recess time to work on this. I know that the congregation and I truly appreciate each of them sharing his or her talents. Also, a special thank you to my wife, Lisa, for recording the service so that this could be shared.

The video is available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_KdZfnyizE