EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS FOR PIANISTS
Dr. Parley Belnap - Utah Valley AGO Chapter Workshop - 11/07/02
Pianists who have had no training on the organ are often asked to play the organ for church services. It is sometimes assumed that all keyboard instruments are the same and that if you can play the piano, you can also play the organ. Although there are some similarities between the piano and the organ, there are important and distinct differences. Often the service of a pianist is needed to play the organ for the church service because there may not be a trained organist available.
Service to one's fellowmen is an important part of one's personal commitment. Playing for the church service is one way to serve your fellowmen; so pianists should be encouraged to accept this responsibility and use it as an opportunity for service and for the development of their talents.
If you as a pianist as called to play for church services, there are some things you can do. These are stopgap measures and pianists should be encouraged to use them only as such. (They should never become the norm.)
1. Play the hymn as a duet, two players at one organ. One person will play the soprano part with his/her right hand and the alto part with his/her left hand. The other person will play the tenor part with his/her right hand and the bass part with his/her left hand. Play the hymn in a smooth and singing style. Separate the repeated notes and make breaks at the end of phrases to simulate the taking of a breath. Play rhythmically. Pay attention to the words and feel the meaning and inflection of the phrases. Think and perform lines as a choir would sing them.
2. Play the melody of the hymn in octaves in a smooth and singing style. Make breaks or simulate taking a breath at the end of the phrases. Play rhythmically as if you are part of an orchestra or other ensemble. Pay attention to the words and try to feel the meaning and inflection of the phrases.
3. Play the melody of the hymn with the right hand and the bass with the left hand. Omit the alto and tenor parts. Playing all four parts of the hymn on the organ in a smooth and singing style require an adequte organ technique. Playing just the soprano and bass will sound different to you; but you will be abel to project the rhythm. Tempo, and the singing style much easier and smoother. Don't hesitate to use the soprano-and-bass-only style. The rhythm and drive are very important to the success of congregational singing. This simplification will allow you to give your attention and effort to rhythm, tempo, and the singing style of the hymn.
4. Using the pedal without adequate training is problematic and is often intimidating. A simple way to begin might be to place the left foot over the dominant note and the right foot over the tonic note. Then at the various cadences, add the proper tonic or dominant note in the pedal.
5. Another possibility would be to play the soprano and alto notes with the right hand and the bass only with the left hand, omitting the tenor part. Playing three parts in a smooth and flowing manner with the hands only is easier than playing four parts. Again, the important point is the continuity, rhythmic drive, and flow of the hymn.
6. This is the same as number 4, with the addition of the pedal at cadences. Keep the left foot positioned over the dominant note and the right foot positioned over the tonic note. Play the appropriate note at the cadences.
7. Use the Hymns Made Easy.
Basics of Hymn Playing
Hymns are written for the human voice, not for the organ or the piano.
Most hymns will be played with both hands on the Great manual (lower
keyboard on a two manual organ). The right hand will usually play the
soprano and alto parts, the left hand will play the tenor part and the feet
will play the bass part on the pedal. Legato touch is the most standard
touch for the playing of hymns. Repeated notes are an important factor to
the rhythm of the hymn.
Think and perform lines as a choir would sing them.
Be able to play legato and repeated notes at the same time. Do not let
them influence each other.
In hymns of a sustained character, it may be necessary to add ties
between two repeated notes.
Phrasing can be compared to punctuation in written sentences.
A phrase has direction toward a cadence, which gives a feeling of arrival.
Play the hymn by feeling and sensing the phrases, insert a rest at the end
Fingering and Pedaling
Devise an efficient fingering and pedaling and mark enough in your
hymnbook so that you can play any passage to same every time.
Study the text, determine its meaning. Great hymn playing is projecting
the spirit and meaning of the text.
Practice each part alone and then use the seven-step method, or the
fifteen-step method, or hands alone, then pedal alone, and then together.
Use various combinations and learn the hymn to perfection.
Select a registration that reflects the spirit and mood of the text, and will
encourage and support the congregation.