10 Tips on Hymn Playing – Dr Robert Boughen OBE

Ye shall know them by their fruits. Mat.7:16

…and while it is highly admirable to be able to play the latest brutally difficult piece without making a mistake, there is a much more subtle and comprehensive skill in not merely playing a hymn tune (simple though that might seem at first glance) but in leading and energising a congregation to an advanced spiritual awareness of the text.  But first…

A)  HOW TO CARVE AN ELEPHANT

  1. Take a block of marble
  2. Remove therefrom everything that does not look like an elephant.

B) HOW IS ALL MUSIC PERFORMANCE LIKE PEANUT BUTTER?

It varies from oily-smooth to crunchy. Yes, all this is relevant to hymn playing.

In A) one needs to have at least a mental image of an elephant and in hymns, one needs to have a sonic impression of how it (words and music) should sound. If you are not energised by quality examples live (But where shall wisdom be found? Job 28:12)  then there are many examples on the internet. Don’t merely listen but dissect analytically. P is for plan, persist, paper (for jotting down discoveries) and prayer so read James 1:5 plus verse 14.

In B), from choir training (no not merely choral conducting for almost anyone can stand up and wave their hands around) to playing every instrument, there must be, where the texture demands it, contrast between the ultra-smooth and the short, detached style: to paraphrase the Bard, “A surfeit of the sweetest (SMOOTHEST) things a loathing to my stomach brings.” [A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Act 2 Sc.2]

Here are some basic tips for beginners.

  1. A hymn tune is written for a four part choir and needs to be arranged for an organ. Tie together all repeated notes except in the treble and in the bass from a weak to a strong accent. This basic legato style is vital but NOT if that is all. At times, to move a congregation along, I have for a short time, played every chord staccato. To give an accent, let there be a sliver of silence before the sound, the more ‘martial’ the words and tune, the more silence to give the effect of an accent on the unaccentable organ!
  1. The introduction must be played in the tempo of the hymn WITHOUT ANY SLOWING DOWN. Often the first phrase, then the last phrase can be used.
  1. Be consistent for in doing so, you will gradually train your congregation. Only slow down at the end of the last verse and nowhere else otherwise the whole hymn will get slower and slower and end up going backwards!
  1. There is no one ideal tempo for a hymn, it depends on the time of day, acoustics, the instrument, the liturgical season of the year etc. Try to be consistent in the way you finish a verse, breathe, then start the next one. I like to continue the (silent) musical pulse and this helps the singers to anticipate the start of the next verse.
  1. In all of this, the words are the most important so be aware of the overall ethos of the poem, the places where this will change and phrase (and alter the organ sound) accordingly. Play the words and not merely the music.
  1. If the tune drags, use higher pitch stops (4’2’mixtures) rather than more mere decibels, bullying the singers instead of gently leading “those who are with (out)…”Be aware of the places where it is difficult to snatch a breath in strict time, and allow a little elbow room of tempo variation without distorting your basic pulse.
  1. It is far, far easier to lead from the console if the organ is large with a wide range of tone colours and not mere volume. This is easy on the seven-manual monster in St.Abinadab’s Abbey-On-The-Hill (above) and very difficult on a harmonium (a wheezy little excuse for an organ) (below) or the staggered two-manual baby electronic with twelve sticks underneath. Believe me, I’ve tried them all!
  1. The introduction should be played on clear, incisive stops and at times, even the melody only at this time, is a welcome breath of fresh air. Then, firm without being belligerent appreciating there is a difference between Good Friday and Easter Day!
  1. If you cannot play the pedals, then don’t!
  1. Be daring, experiment, ask for feedback from the singers. Dominus vobiscum.

Recruiting Singers in 2017! St Brigids Catholic Church, Red Hill, Brisbane

Some questions…. Do you think the beauty and quality of music in the church is important? Is it something you want to see continue?  So do we!

At last- St Brigid’s choir is recruiting new singers in the new year:
4 part harmony- bass, tenor, alto, soprano. You’ll need to be able to hold a tune. An ability to read music and to sight read is certainly helpful. However, you may have a  quick ear to pick up music aurally (we have a couple of members who are able to learn this way) If you’re not sure of your ability, come and have a go ‘risk-free’!

The choir has been characterised in 3 ways: a youth choir, a family choir, and a unique choir. For 12 years, it’s been predominantly a  youth choir. We’ve also had whole families come through the choir, and the bass line has had many Dads whose children have been in the choir! Younger non-chorister children and babies are very welcome in the loft. We’ve built up a strong choir community.

We have been compared with Cathedral choirs- and while our intent in offering quality music of a similar style is serious, we ourselves are not always-  we can be more relaxed up in ‘the loft’, and there’s a lot of laughter during rehearsals. We are somewhat unique among Catholic parish churches in Brisbane- a harmony choir that draws on the rich musical tradition of the church from 9th century Gregorian chant up to 21st century works. A number of people have come into the choir because of their music preference.
 

Likewise, many people in the congregation come to St Brigid’s because of the music. We are certainly made to feel appreciated!

The choir sings at all services .This full participation gives the choir a significant role in public worship and the musicians can find personal value in ministry that is both valuable to and valued by others. We believe that people are called to a deeper spirituality and relationship with God through music. In fact I know of many who have come into Christianity through sacred music.

Expressions of interest and details: Tricia or Roland – 3367 1098 / 0400 336 756 /  bartkowiak@aapt.net.au

And keep an eye out in the Jubilee Catholic Parish website for forthcoming details.

Posted in QLD

Church music: an unlikely global social network

Photo Credit: Hans-Jörg Gemeinholzer

During my recent time in Northern Europe, I had the opportunity to see dozens of wonderful sacred spaces.  Towers protruding from the landscape, these buildings are often imposing on the outside, and remarkably beautiful on the inside.   As a Christian, sitting in these amazing buildings is both awe-inspiring and uplifting.  As an organist-nerd, I am often transfixed at the amazing instruments (plural in many cases!) that are in these churches.  Take the gilded “old” organ in the German Church in Stockholm (pictured) – I challenge any organist to not get itchy fingers looking at this marvellous instrument!

Given the complexity, fragility and dedicated craftsmanship of these impressive instruments, it comes as little surprise that it is difficult to gain access to their consoles.  In fact, many of the churches I visited offered tours, tower climbs and even organ recitals – but never the opportunity to see the organ up close.  At some places (including the German Church above) I asked a church delegate whether it would be possible to view the console.  The usual response was either “no”, or “I don’t know what our organist would say about that”.

I was to be based in Copenhagen for six weeks whilst studying, and I realised before my trip that I should try to find a church in which to practise while I was away.  I emailed three church organists at large churches close to my residence, asking them whether it would be possible to either have lessons with them whilst overseas, or at least to have some practise time at their church.  I received responses from all three, and offers for both lessons and practise time from two of them.  I accepted the offer from the first respondent, and arranged a time to meet for coffee once I’d arrived.

Babett was organist at Grundtvigs Kirke in Copenhagen (pictured), a church about the same size as the city’s cathedral, and with a stunning four manual Marcussen and Son organ.  Not only did Babett make herself available for lessons, but she also gave me my own key to the organ loft so I could come and go as I pleased! She also made sure I was up to speed with the organ recitals that were happening around town while I was there.  She accompanied me to a recital at the cathedral, and insisted that we join the recitalist upstairs for a glass of wine after the concert.  She introduced me to the recitalist (director of music at another city church), the cathedral’s director of music, and to the console of the cathedral organ.

A couple of weeks later, Brisbane’s own Christopher Wrench gave a recital in one of the city churches.  I met up with Christopher after the concert, and he introduced me to the church’s organist, who was only too pleased to show us around the church, including its Carillon.  We then shared a lovely meal at a local restaurant and traded musical war stories.

It’s suffice to say from the experiences above that I felt well and truly immersed in the church music culture of Copenhagen.  As someone living in a foreign city with only the few friends I’d met at university, it was amazing to feel so “at home” in the church music community so far from Australia.    The act of sharing an art form transcends countries, generations and church hierarchies.  It would seem that “what the organist does say” is quite different from what the church curators imply.  Behind the ornate organ cases and locked organ consoles are organists who are friendly, engaging and willing to welcome you into their church music community – all you have to do is reach out to them, and common interests takes care of the rest.

Adam Hoey is the Chairman of the Queensland Branch of the Royal School of Church Music.

Reformation Sunday Service – Cantata BWV 37

The Choir of Scapturet Peters Lutheran Church, Indooroopilly welcomes visitors to our third annual Bach Cantata Service at 9am on Sunday October 30th.

At fifteen minutes in length, this year’s Cantata BWV 37 Wer da gläubet und getauft wird for choir, soloists and instrumentalists, is a masterwork in miniature.

The hymns are ‘gems of the Reformation’, including Martin Luther’s translations of Psalm 46 and The Lord’s Prayer and the beautiful How brightly shines the Morning Star.

Posted in QLD

Expressions of Interest – Choir Director

ACU-logo-Aikenhead

An exciting opportunity is available for a highly dedicated Choir Director to enhance Australian Catholic University’s (ACU) musical tradition. One position is currently available on the Brisbane Campus.
The Choir Director will facilitate high quality and professional choral performances at significant ACU events, and will be responsible for both the conducting and administration of the campus choir. The choir director will conduct the choir; select and source repertoire in consultation with other choral directors and institutional stakeholders; audition and select choristers; plan and schedule rehearsals and performances, and contribute to local, national and international choral activities.
The successful Choir Director will demonstrate musical competence at an advanced level, particularly in the field of choral conducting and performance, and have strong leadership abilities. Experience in managing choirs in an educational setting and familiarity with Catholic liturgical traditions would be an advantage.

Please send a brief 2 page overview of your experience and expertise with your CV to Mary Roche, Associate Director, Student Programs at Mary.Roche@acu.edu.au
For further information please contact Mary Roche, Associate Director, Student Programs on (02) 94659154 or Mary.Roche@acu.edu.au.
Please note that this is a contractor arrangement and all interested candidates will be required to produce their ABN.
Expressions of interest close: 3rd June, 2016

Posted in QLD

Wanted: Director of Music – Ann St Presbyterian Brisbane

Ann St Presbyterian 1Ann St Presbyterian in the Brisbane CBD is looking to hire a Director of Music.  The position would likely begin part-time and increase to full-time by the end of 2016.

The church has a 2 manual, 1903 Richardson organ, which was completely restored in 2004.  More information can be found on the OHTA website.  A recording of some hymns being played on the organ can be found here.ORGAN Ann St Presbyterian 1

Click here to view the position description.

Posted in QLD