Welcome to The Latter-day Saint Organist's Resource 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.

Feel free to browse and search this blog. It was started in January 2010 and while new posts aren't added very often, this blog contains a wealth of information and is a wonderful resource for all organists. If you're a new reader, you can find the first lesson here: Before We Begin: Acquiring the Essentials. Also, please "like" the corresponding facebook page, which is updated more often. A link is provided on the right sidebar, or you can click here.

Thanks for visiting!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Guest Article: Playing Preludes from a Hymnal

I am so excited to have as my guest today Mike Carson, dean of the Utah Valley Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, who was recently appointed to a five-year term as the Bonneville District Convener in the AGO.

Mike Carson

Playing Preludes from a Hymnal

“An organist who has the sensitivity to quietly play prelude music from the hymnbook tempers our feelings and causes us to go over in our minds the lyrics, which teach the peaceable things of the kingdom …” (President Boyd K. Packer).

Get Ready…
  • Choose hymns of the same topic such as: “Hymns of the Savior,” “Hymns of Comfort,” "Hymns of Supplication,” or seasonal hymns.
  • For convenience, photo copy the hymns and arrange them in a three-ring binder using clear protective sheets and obtain an erasable, fine-point marker to make notes and marks on the sheets.
Get Set…
  • Use hymns in complimentary key signatures. This approach gives the feeling of a “hymn medley” and makes transitioning from hymn to hymn pleasing to the ear.
  • Begin with a hymn in two or three sharps. Then play each succeeding hymn, subtracting one sharp from the key signature each time until reaching the key of C major (no sharps or flats). Play the next hymn in the key of F major (one flat), adding another flat in each hymns’ key signature (see diagram below).
D > > > G > > > C > > > F > > > Bb > > > Eb > > > Ab
2 sharps - 1 sharp - none - 1 flat - 2 flats - 3 flats - 4 flats

The following is an example of a series of hymns chosen to a topic and in the order of the complimentary keys illustrated above:

Hymns of the Savior
  • D Major: Where Can I Turn for Peace? (#129)
  • G Major: Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee (#141)
  • C Major: Come, Follow Me (#116)
  • F Major: How Great the Wisdom and the Love (#195)
  • Bb Major: Come unto Jesus (#117)
  • Eb Major: There Is a Green Hill Far Away (#194)
  • Ab Major: I Stand All Amazed (#193)

Rather than always playing the hymns in the traditional four-part style, utilize a variety of “voicings” or textures, while using the written harmonization of the hymn.
  • For example, begin by playing a solo melody line with the right hand.
  • Then, with the left hand, add a “duet” accompaniment derived from the best moving lines in the alto, tenor, or bass parts.
  • Next, play a “trio” by using the soprano, alto, and tenor lines with both hands on one manual at written pitch or both hands very softly one octave higher.
  • Finish by playing the four-part voicing on one manual, with or without pedal.
Another effective voicing is called “soloing out the melody,” achieved by playing the melody on one manual and an accompaniment derived from the alto and tenor lines on the other manual. After the skill of “soloing out” is mastered on the manuals, you may play the bass line simultaneously on the pedals!
  • An excellent book containing a selection of hymns with the melodies already “soloed out” is The Organist’s Upper Hand, arr. by Darwin Wolford, pub. by Jackman Music Corp., Orem, Utah. This book also contains a helpful list of various registrations that work satisfactorily for solo/accompaniment combinations.
  • Another excellent resource is Elizabeth Berghout’s “Solo & Accompaniment Hymns,” available in three volumes from www.WardOrganist.com.
To express the meaning of each verse’s text, repeat the hymn several times, using a variety of voicings, textures, and registrations. Refer to Don Cook’s “Registration Suggestions for Prelude/Postlude Music” at: www.organ.byu.edu/newldsorganist. Click on “New Handout.”

Keep registration changes simple, one per verse, adding or removing just one stop or pushing a preset button while the fingers are off the keys. Another effective variation is to play the melody up or down an octave without changing stops. Simple!

Let’s get fancy!

Pedal Point

A single note, either the tonic key tone or the dominant (fifth) tone, sustained during harmonic changes in the manual parts. When the dominant tone is used, it has a strong tonal effect that points the harmonies to the cadence, creating suspense and anticipation. (Example of key-tone pedal point in hymn #139, first eight measures.)

Harmonic Variations

Suspensions and passing tones (examples in hymns #154, 155), deceptive cadence (example in hymn #173, measure 4).

Introductions, Interludes, Tags

Create an introduction by using the bracketed introduction suggestions, or play an interlude between two verses by using the last phrase. At the conclusion of the hymn, play a “tag” by repeating the last phrase, with or without “augmentation” (doubling note values).

Playing Postludes from the Hymnbook
  • The organ postlude is an aid to worship. To reflect or sustain the spirit of the meeting, play a hymn that was used in the service.
  • Play the postlude in a related key to the closing hymn: If the closing hymn is “Come, Come, Ye Saints” in G major, play the same hymn as the postlude in C major from the men’s section of the LDS hymnbook. If the closing hymn is “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee,” play the same hymn as the postlude in the key of E-flat. (Use the LDS Church Music site at www.lds.org to transpose the hymn.)
  • When playing the closing hymn as the postlude in the same key, begin at a phrase other than the beginning, or begin the postlude at a refrain.

Preludes creatively planned, carefully prepared, and skillfully played “from the hymnbook,” have a major impact on the worship experience and can bring great joy to the organist and worshiper alike.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Lesson 14: Marking a hymn, part 1

Click here for Lesson 13: Thumb glissando and a new hymn.

Before deciding on fingerings, it's important to know when hands can be lifted and when they have to sustain notes. Therefore, the first step in marking a hymn is marking the text for breathing.

Why is breathing important?


As I mentioned in the "Breathing" article, which I highly recommend reading again:

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.

If we don't do this, the meaning of the hymn can be lost amid awkward breaks, as in the Silent Night example I shared in that article:
All is calm,

all is bright round yon virgin mother and Child.
Makes much more sense than:
All is calm, all is bright

Round yon virgin mother and Child.
Proper phrasing, or breathing, can mean the difference between members of the congregation feeling and understanding the message of the hymn, or just singing along with the organ.

Hymn 296, "Our Father, by Whose Name"

Our Father, by Whose Name

With Mother's day and Father's day coming up in the United States, hymn 296, "Our Father, by Whose Name," is a good hymn to study, as it talks about parents, children, and love in the home.

In this lesson we will analyze the text of each verse and decide how we want to phrase the text. You can use the hymn in your hymnbook, or print out a copy, then place it in a binder. If you'd like to print it, follow the link to the search results, click on the title, allow the new window to load, then click on the printer icon on the left-hand side.

Verse 1

Verse 1

Read through the first verse and decide the phrasing that will best share the message of the hymn with the congregation. This hymn is more poetic in nature, so the phrasing is more difficult than some. Here is my example, but your interpretation may vary:
Our Father, [very brief break in just the right hand]
by whose name all fatherhood is known,

Who dost in love proclaim each family thine own,

Bless thou all parents,
guarding well,
With constant love as sentinel, The homes in which thy people dwell.

The congregation will most likely want to breathe after "name" and "proclaim," among other places. Keeping the tempo close to 96 will help them sing each phrase without having to take a breath.

This phrasing is all well and good, but how do you mark the hymn this way?

/ - A slant after a word means a brief break in the right hand
| - A line after a word means a complete break in hand and feet
— - A long dash (an em dash) after a word means no break, or you can swoop the line if you'd rather


Verse 2

This verse is pretty straightforward:
As thou thy Child didst fill with wisdom, love, and might,

To know and do thy will and teach thy ways aright,

Our children bless, in ev'ry place,

That they may all behold they face,
And, knowing thee, may grow in grace.

Another option:
Our children bless, in ev'ry place, That they may all behold Thy face, /
And, knowing Thee, may grow in grace.

Verse 3

Our Father, by Whose Name

This verse can be interpreted a few different ways, but this is probably the simplest:
May thy strong Spirit bind our hearts in unity,
And help us each to find the love from self set free.

In all our hearts such love increase,
That ev'ry home, by this release,
May be the dwelling place of peace.


Choose this hymn or another one (or more) and mark it for breathing, keeping in mind the message of the hymn, in preparation for next week's lesson.

Continue practicing hymn 11, "What Was Witnessed in the Heavens?" and take the time to review the previous lessons, especially the ones dealing with manual technique.

What Was Witnessed in the Heavens?

In conclusion

Now that this hymn is marked for phrasing, or breathing, we know where we can lift our hand, and where we need to sustain the notes. Both of these things are essential when we decide on fingerings in part 3. We also know where we lift for one or more verses and sustain for one or more verses. With this knowledge we can continue on in our hymn preparation.

Continue on to Lesson 15: Marking a hymn, part 2.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunday Song: This is My Father's World

Organist Richard Elliot plays "This is My Father's World" in the Conference Center on the Schoenstein organ, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Arrangment Dale Wood Composed by Franklin Lawrence Shephard

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Free Accompaniments

Unlike the title suggests, free accompaniments are not arrangements you can get for no cost. Instead, they are arrangements of hymns that utilize a different harmonization and are intended to be played while the congregation sings the hymn in unison. They are also called alternate or free harmonizations and are generally used on the final verse(s) of a hymn.


When to use in Sacrament Meeting

Every ward and branch is different and has a different philosophy on sacred music and musical numbers. Some organists utilize free accompaniments often, while others (probably most) have never heard of them. Before planning to use a free accompaniment, present the idea to your local Priesthood leaders and/or music chairman to get them on board.

Free accompaniments should be utilized sparingly. I like to think of them as a musical number, turning the congregation into a large choir. My philosophy is that free accompaniments can be utilized up to once a month as a rest hymn. Others feel differently.


How to use

In order to use an alternate harmonization, the congregation must be very familiar with the hymn. Additionally, the organist and music director must be very well prepared.

Prior to the hymn, the congregation should be instructed as to how to proceed. For example, "After an interlude, please sing the last verse in unison."


In Conclusion

Free accompaniments can be an effective tool of the LDS organist in bringing the Spirit of the hymn to the congregation, as long as the harmonization is effective and appropriate and doesn't call attention to itself. Listening to the Spirit is key here.

More Information

Don Cook's handout on free accompaniments

Free accompaniments and audio samples at www.wardorganist.com

A catalog of free accompaniments at www.LDSOrganists.info

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Utah Super Saturday

AGO logo

The Utah Valley chapter of the American Guild of Organists is hosting a Super Saturday this Saturday, April 24th, at BYU in Provo, UT.

Pianists and organists of all ages are invited to attend, and admission (including the lunch) is free.

The keynote speaker is W. Herbert Klopfer, member of the General Music Committee of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Pre-registration is required for individual instruction.

Check-in is at 8:00 a.m. in the Madsen Recital Hall South Foyer.

For more information, follow these links:
General Information Flyer
Schedule of Events

*** If you know of an event in your area that you would like featured on this blog, please leave a comment on one of the posts. Thanks! ***

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lesson 13: Thumb glissando and a new hymn

Click here for Lesson 12: Prelude and Postlude.

If you remember from Lesson 8: The Manuals, the thumb glissando differs from playing a finger glissando with the thumb--it occurs from white key to white key, or white key to black key.

The Thumb Glissando

Alena Hall shared this technique in a handout:
When the notes are moving inward, the organist plays a white key with the tip of their thumb. While continuing to hold the key down, the organist slides the hand forward in order to continue playing the note with the base of the thumb. The wrist should drop to aid in this process. This frees the tip of the thumb to play the next note, which occurs by lifting the wrist and rocking to the tip of the thumb. When the notes are moving outward, the opposite occurs. The tip of the thumb plays the white key, with the wrist high. In order to play the adjacent note, the wrist drops and plays the key with the base of the thumb.

More detailed information is available to preview here, at Google books.

Here is a visual example:

If you are interested, additional exercises are located on Page 15 of Don Cook's The New LDS Organist supporting materials packet.

A New Hymn

Hymn #11, "What Was Witnessed in the Heavens," contains a few thumb glissandos. Here is an example of one:

Again, I am using Carol Dean's Hymns from the L.D.S. Hymnal Marked for the Organ, mentioned here.

This hymn utilizes direct fingering, redistributing the inner part, finger crossing, finger substitution, finger glissando (the left thumb), thumb glissando, and independent movement. Essentially, every technique that was mentioned in Lesson 8 is found in this hymn.


Using the 15- or 7-Step Method to Learning a Hymn, covered in Lesson 10, learn hymn 11, What Was Witnessed in the Heavens? Practice slowly, never faster than you can play perfectly. Gradually increase the tempo until it can be played at tempo (69-80 bpm).

Read through the text and ensure that your breathing is properly placed.

Get a feel for the mood of the hymn, and choose effective registration for each verse. Practice flawless registration changes between verses.

In Conclusion

With this lesson, basic organ technique has now been taught. In the next lesson we'll break away from Carol Dean's book and start learning how to figure out our own hymn markings. Continue on to Lesson 14: Marking a Hymn, Part 1.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday Song: Improvisation on "Puer natus"

Olivier Messiaen's improvisation on the Gregorian Chant tune "Puer natus," played at Ste-Trinité church in Paris, where he was the organist for over 60 years.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Organ Tour: The oldest playable organ in the world

Valais castle

According to High End Travel Switzerland, Valère was a vast fortress - mentioned for the first time in 1049 - with a church and several houses within the wall rings. The church "Notre-Dame-de-Valère" dates back to the same period.

The church is 395 feet above the town of Valère on a steep hill.

Its "swallows nest organ" from the 14th-century is the oldest playable organ in the world.

According to Paul Hoffman, from the New York Times, "The organ, built in 1390 and most recently restored in 1954, is mounted on a wooden pulpit jutting out like a ship's bow from the rear wall of the Romanesque-Gothic church, once the Cathedral of Sion and one of Switzerland's most haunting edifices."

Valere Organ

The organ has 10 ranks and 8 registers:

Bass II

Principal 8
Octaf 4
Copl 4
Quint major 2 2/3
Superoctaf 2
Quint minor 1 1/3
Mixtur II

Valere organ

Intrigued? I think this organ is fascinating!

Here are two clips of the organ being played:

A New York Times article on the organ can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/1983/07/03/travel/what-s-doing-in-switzerland-s-valais.html

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New lesson coming on Monday

I'm getting ready to try playing the organ again. My ankle is still stiff, but I think it's healed enough to play. I'm planning to get another lesson up on Monday.

Sorry for the delay!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sunday Song: Trumpet Tune in D Major

"Trumpet Tune in D Major", by David N. Johnson played by Wayne Burcham-Gulotta at Church of the Redeemer, Episcopal, Morristown, NJ.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tracker Action

In some Sunday Songs I've mentioned tracker action. What is this action?

Tracker action

Tracker action is also referred to as mechanical action on pipe organs, as opposed to electrical. It's a similar comparison to a manual typewriter and electric typewriter. In one, the keys are connected to each individual letter:

Manual Typewriter

In the other, electric components tell the typewriter which letter to type:

Electric typewriter

This video demonstrates the tracker mechanism and action (from 3:18 to 3:56):

powered by Splicd.com

As you can see, comparing this action to the manual typewriter's action helps visually explain this action (to those of us familiar with these typewriters).

When couplers are used on an organ which utilizes tracker action, the coupled manuals' keys are also depressed.

Here the Great and Swell are coupled to the lower keyboard (from 5:14 to 5:27):

powered by Splicd.com

Finger Strength

As you can imagine, the more stops and/or couplers used, the more manual strength is needed to overcome wind pressure in order to to play the keys. On larger organs a Barker lever/machine or other pneumatic action is often employed to ease the pressure needed.

Tracker and the Allen AP-22a

While the new Allen organ being installed in LDS buildings is not a pipe organ, the touch of the keys mimics the feel of a tracker. Many pianists have remarked that the touch feels more like that of a piano. as there is now a slight resistance to the manuals. The couplers, however, use electronic action.

In Conclusion

Many of my readers don't have the opportunity to play on a pipe organ with tracker action. However, if you ever get that opportunity, I recommend taking it, or searching it out. I think it's a lot of fun to play these manual pipe organs.

There's a great view of the keys on coupled manuals in the first minute of this video:

Monday, April 5, 2010

Spring Break!


It's spring break.

Although I initially planned to post a lesson today, I don't have one ready, and things are really crazy here today.

Enjoy the break!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sunday Song: Variations on an Easter Theme for Two Organs

Organist Diane Bish is joined by Organist Simon Preston in a Concert for Two Organs at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, playing Rutter's "Variations on an Easter Theme for Two Organs."

Sunday Song: Easter Alleluia

The monks of Conception Abbey.

Sunday Song: Toccata on 'Christ the Lord is Risen Today'

Have a joyous Easter Sunday!

A Toccata on an Easter Hymn played by Diane Bish on the Moller Opus 11739, 205-rank pipe organ of Calvary Church, South Carolina.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Playing with Injuries

Today's article is a day late, but here it is:

I sprained my ankle two weeks ago, and it got me thinking: Do organists generally play through an injury, or take time off to heal first?

sprained ankle

After asking this question of others, here are the responses I received:

"I broke my toe a week before I was supposed to play for commencement when I was receiving my master's degree. I had to cancel and find a sub. I could not even wear my shoe, much less play. Even walking was painful. I think unless playing is absolutely unavoidable, it's best to take a break."

"I broke my right foot about three years ago and had use a boot or cast for about four months. Because I had other organists to cover for me, I was too proud to just use my left foot on the pedals...just leaping from note to note with the left foot! If it happened today, without as many options as I had then, I would have to use more "manual only" technique--and I might be forced to use the bass coupler! ... It certainly helped me realize just how important my hands and feet are to my happiness each day."

"I hate to say it, but it's probably best just to take a break. I injured my foot badly last fall in an accident, and I tried to keep going by just using one foot, then by trying to play with a still-painful foot after it healed a bit. Neither was a good solution; it messed up my technique completely and caused me to overuse other joints trying to compensate. I had to take a break for several months. I've had students before who injured their arms or hands and tried to keep playing, and the same thing happened: they just learned really bad habits. One young man still plays with his elbow and wrist held stiffly in front of him from a period of practicing with a cast on his arm. The good news is, now that I've given my foot plenty of time to heal, it's back and better than ever, with no residual problems."

"I have continued to play the organ with several types of injuries through the years. Just this last year I fell in a parking lot, breaking my nose, as well as spraining my knee; another fall left me with a concussion and sprained wrist. Some years ago I broke my kneecap and continued to play, as it was my left knee. For the first 4 weeks I used just manuals, but was still able to drive. March 10 of this year I fell and shattered some ribs and deflated my lungs. It is going to be awhile before I can play this time. I have had carpal tunnel, ulnar nerve palsy, and continued to play. i remember many years ago when my sister played in a recital with a broken thumb. I really hate to miss Palm Sunday and Easter this year. I am confined to home (being dismissed from the hospital yesterday) with home nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy and a home health aid, as well as Meals on Wheels. I was wanting a vacation, but not like this. God promises us that all things work together for good to those who love the Lord, who are called according to His purpose."

wrist brace

It looks like the consensus is to take a break unless you can't. That was my decision as well. I'm finally able to walk almost normally again, so I'm hoping to try out my organ shoes again soon.