HE PIPE ORGAN changed my life. I was a pianist as a child and I avoided playing the organ because the only organs I ever heard were electronic instruments that were not played very well. Why play hymns on the organ when you can play Chopin and Beethoven on the piano?
A lot has changed since! A life-changing moment was playing a real pipe organ for the first time and hearing a simple 8’ flute stop resonate throughout an empty church. My life has never been the same since.
What followed were studies in counterpoint and organ performance including repertoire from French and German Baroque to contemporary classical composers. I devoted my craft to years of study and practice of such repertoire. Registration is an essential art and science. Appropriate tempo, articulation, and registration depend on architecture and the tonal design of the organ. Adaptability, yet striving for authentic historic practice has been my life.
For church, the vast majority of practice was on preludes and postludes. Hymns were nothing. Easy, right?
GAIN, MUCH HAS CHANGED. Not that focusing on repertoire is not important. It is. But the older I get, the more time I spend on practicing hymns, even ones I have played for decades. (Hymn playing alone is an art!) The older I get, the more time I spend practicing the congregational antiphons and responses. The older I get, the more time I devote to making sure I can conduct clearly—perhaps while singing one of the choral voices all from the organ console.
If the choir doesn’t respond the way I like them to, perhaps I should conduct better. If the congregation doesn’t sing comfortably, perhaps I should adjust the tempo or registration.
Playing daily Mass and singing each verse of every hymn will influence one’s view. Type setting hymns and antiphons for worship aids will heighten one’s awareness of the quality (or lack thereof) of any text.
Hymns are important. Hymnals are important. Liturgical texts are important. Making the congregation’s job easier to sing these is the ultimate goal. The older I get, the more I spend on these. If not, what good am I to the prayer of the people?
Finally, this often begs an important question: Who is the leader of song anyway? Read. And practice.
Soli Deo Gloria