Welcome to The LDS Organist Blog

The purpose of this blog is to help pianists learn to become true organists. Many individuals believe that if you play the piano you can play the organ, but the instruments differ greatly. While this blog is specifically geared towards members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, much of the information shared can be utilized by all. I hope that the information I share here will help you become an effective organist in your ward, stake, or other congregation.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Breathing

There's a saying attributed to Berlioz and Stravinsky alike about the organ: "The monster never breathes!" Is this the case in your organ playing?

Let's consider Organist #1, who is afraid of silence. This individual takes great care during hymn accompanying to avoid any gaps in the music. Every moment of every hymn is filled with the sound of the organ, like so:



Organist #2, however, breaks without fail at the end of every line. When singing, about every two or four measures you'll hear a moment of silence.



Finally we have Organist #3, whom we should all strive to emulate. This organist reads through the hymn text, studies the message in each verse, and chooses where to breathe in order to best share the message of the text with the congregation. Every verse is different, and this organist reflects the text of each verse. In reading through "Silent Night," the organist notes the following phrasing:

Silent night!

Holy night!

All is calm,
all is bright round yon virgin mother and Child.

Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
sleep in heavenly peace;

Sleep in heavenly peace.


"Silent Night!" is followed by a breath, as it's a complete phrase.

"Holy Night!" again is followed by silence.

"All is calm," is followed by a break in the right hand only, as it is part of a sentence but is its own phrase set apart by a comma. "All is bright round yon virgin mother and Child," is one complete phrase and should not be interrupted or the meaning is lost.

"Holy Infant, so tender and mild," is slightly set apart from the rest of the sentence by a break in the right hand. "Sleep in heavenly peace," completes the sentence and is followed by silence.

"Sleep in heavenly peace," completes the first verse.

Listen to the difference:



For the second verse, Organist #3 chose breaks in different places:

Silent night!

Holy night!

Shepherds quake at the sight!

Glories stream from heaven afar;
Heav'nly hosts sing Alleluia!

Christ, the Savior, is born!

Christ, the Savior, is born!


Finally, for the third verse Organist #3 chose these breaks:

Silent night!

Holy night!

Son of God,
Love's pure light radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth;

Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.


As organists, we are called upon to enhance the worship of our congregation. It is very important that we study the text of the hymns and strive through proper registration and "breathing" to share the spirit of these hymns with the congregation.

Instead of:

Hark, all ye nations! Hear heaven's voice

Thru ev'ry land that all may rejoice!

Angels of glory shout the refrain:

Truth is restored again!

Oh, how glorious from the throne above

Shines the gospel light of truth and love!

Bright as the sun, this heavenly ray

Lights ev'ry land today.


Try:

Hark, all ye nations!

Hear heaven's voice thru ev'ry land that all may rejoice!

Angels of glory shout the refrain:
Truth is restored again!

Oh, how glorious from the throne above shines the gospel light of truth and love! [no breaks]

Bright as the sun,
this heavenly ray lights ev'ry land today.


In Conclusion

My challenge to you is to study the hymn text and reflect this phrasing in your accompaniment. Your congregation as a whole may or may not consciously notice the change, but those individual members who strive to worship through hymn singing will appreciate your efforts. The hymns will also begin to mean even more to you, personally, as you strive to better share the message of the hymns with your congregation.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    As a church organist I would like to add an additional important point about breathing.

    With the organ you can easily hold a note far longer than a singer or congregation can accompany it. This can put a big strain on singers or make it impossible for them to sing. Even though I'm not known for my singing voice :-), make a point of singing the him as I play it, so as to keep track of my phrasing. That way I know that the congregation will be able to sing it too.

    HTH.

    ReplyDelete