Now that you understand the different parts of the organ and the family of each of your stops, it's time to cover hymn registrations. When you accompany the congregation, there are some hard and fast rules that need to be observed.
Different Types of Organ Registration
The three primary types of organ registration are chorus, solo and accompaniment, and trio/duo.
If there are two or more parts*, and no part is prominent or more melodic in nature, then use Chorus registration. Some examples are:
• Hymns on manual only (i.e., "I Know My Father Lives")
• Hymns with pedal playing bass (almost all hymns, including "Joy to the World," "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet," and "Jesus of Nazareth, Savior and King")
• Preludes and Fugues
If there are two or more parts and one part is prominent, or more melodic in nature, then use Solo and Accompaniment. Some examples are:
• Hymns with soprano or tenor solo (generally found in arrangements)
• Some simple hymn preludes
If there are only two manual parts, with or without pedal, and both of the manual parts are prominent or melodic in nature, then use Trio/Duo registration. Examples include true trios and duos, often in music of the Baroque era (e.g., fugues) or in specific hymn prelude arrangements.
* “Parts” is defined as the vocal equivalent of a choral part such as soprano, alto, tenor, or bass,or a line that includes a series of chords.
This it the most commonly used registration of the LDS church organist, as it is used in congregational accompaniment, and the one we will cover in this lesson. Both hands play on the same manual, with the bass usually played in the pedals.
Build upwards from a foundation of 8’ pitch on the manuals and 16’ on the pedals, using at least two stops of different pitch (a minimum of one 8’ and one 4’ on the manuals and one 16’ and one 8’ on the pedals). Generally, at a minimum, the 8' on the manuals and the 16' on the pedals should be from the principal family.
Economy is very important. When you need clarity, only use one stop at each pitch level (such as 8’, 4’, and 2’ principals on the Great, and 16' and 8' principals plus Great to Pedal on the Pedal.)—the fewer stops the better. For a fuller organ, build in a pyramid configuration, such as three 8’ stops, two 4’ stops, and one 2’ stop on the manuals, with a similar configuration on the pedal.
Avoid gaps between octave pitches as you build. Don’t use 8’ and 2’ without the 4’. Chorus reed stops may be used, sparingly, to augment a chorus of flue stops, especially during the last verse of a hymn. For better blending, use a mixture in your registration. Do not use solo reeds in chorus registration.
Mutations add strength and gravity to chorus-type combinations. They are particularly useful, however, for the color they add to solo combinations. For example, the Cornet (cor-NAY) consists of 8’, 4’, 2 2/3’, 2’, and 1 3/5’.
What not to do:
Avoid soft stops which make little or no difference in the sound--if you can't hear it when you add it, you don't need it.
Never use celeste stops, which are detuned and destroy the clarity of the ensemble.
Avoid using 16' stops in the manual, which muddy and darken the sound.
Finally, never, ever, ever use tremolo to accompany the congregation!
Important Things to Remember
The registration should be the appropriate volume for the music being played. Hymns such as "Glory to God on High," "All Creatures of our God and King," or "Now Let Us Rejoice" call for a bright and loud chorus, including higher stops, mixtures, and possibly chorus reed(s), but do not overpower your congregation.
Hymns such as "Jesus Once of Humble Birth," "How Gentle God’s Commands," and "Nearer My God To Thee" call for a softer chorus, consisting primarily of 8’ and 4’ principals, flutes, or strings, but make sure you adequately support your congregation's singing volume.
Balance between the manuals and pedals is important, as is balance within the chosen stops. A chorus registration made up of flutes in the manuals and principals in the pedals will allow the manual parts to be swamped by the pedal part. A chorus of 8’ flute, 4’ flute, and 2’ principal will be top-heavy, while a chorus of 8’ principal, 4’ flute, and 2’ flute might be bottom-heavy.
Clarity is critical, since all the voice parts will be played with the same sound and the congregation will be relying on the organ to play their parts. Listen carefully to ensure that all parts can be heard clearly.
It's time to pull out your stop list again, sit down at your organ, and break open Hymns from the L.D.S. Hymnal Marked for the Organ by Carol Dean, or your hymnbook.
On the Great, identify your principal stops, and select an 8' and 4' principal. On the Pedal select a 16' and 8' principal along with Great to Pedal. Since we haven't covered playing the pedal board yet, also select the Bass Coupler.
Identify a hymn that you believe should have a bright chorus. Play a bit of it to get a feel for the sound of your registration. Add a 2' principal to the Great and try it again. Add the mixture. Now add a chorus reed (if you want to use a stop from the Swell, also add Swell to Great and Swell to Pedal). Now is the time to get a feel for the way the stops on your organ work together. If you have other options for the above stops, try them out. Feel free to experiment with all of the "no-no's" and try to train your ear to understand why they don't work. If your organ lacks a 16' principal in the pedal, try the 16' stops that it does have and see if you can use them together to balance the manuals.
Now identify a hymn that is much more reflective or reverent. Go back to the original registration I suggested (8',4' and 16', 8', w/coupler). Play a bit of this new hymn to get a feel for the sound of the registration. Try swapping the principal registration for flutes and/or strings. Add a 2' flute. Try an 8' principal with a 4' flute and listen to the balance. Experiment with different combinations and see how many different colors you can find on your organ (keeping in mind the "no-no's").
Proper registration is vital to congregational accompaniment. As the organist, it is your responsibility to paint the proper mood for the hymn. If a call-to-worship song, such as "Glory to God on High" is played with soft flutes and strings, the message is lost. Similarly, if a reverent hymn such as "Upon the Cross of Calvary" is played with a full principal chorus with mutations, mixture, and reeds, important reverent reflection will be lost. Become familiar with your organ, so that you will know approximately what different registrations will sound like before you ever select a stop. In Lesson 5: Interpreting the Hymn Text we will learn how to choose the best registration options for a few different hymns. Plus, dust off your shoes--in Lesson 6 we'll take them for a spin!