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Finding out just how important the organ is to a service!

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  • Finding out just how important the organ is to a service!

    Interesting "different" worship service today. As our worship committee discussed the myriad activities that happen during Advent and Christmas, we browsed a list that someone had downloaded from a "worship suggestions" website. One suggestion was to have a purely a capella service, "just for a change." So we thought we'd do that, and today was the date we set for it.

    Quite an experience, though perhaps I should say "experiment." As the saying goes, you don't know how much you appreciate the milk until the cow goes dry. We sure discovered how much we depend on the organ to keep the service flowing and to keep us all together!

    A number of folks were saying afterward that they wouldn't be in favor of doing that again! Not that it was a bad service -- in fact it was still a moving service, as always, with many wonderful things happening. The lighting of the last Advent candle, a good a capella anthem, a fine sermon, the blessings of the Table, and SOME exuberant singing, at least on the most familiar carols.

    But the absence of the organ left a gaping hole in certain ways, and made parts of the service rather awkward. For example, I always play during communion and as the offering is being received. Realizing that there would be silence today, I instructed the choir at the last minute to join me in "oo-ing" a carol during those times. The choir was pretty small today already, and some choir members were scheduled to serve at the Table, leaving us even thinner, so our "oo-ing" was less than robust.

    I had laid out an octave of hand chimes in front of me to give a pitch each time we were to sing, and that worked fairly well. But it was far less effective than the normal organ introductions. Worked on some songs, not so well on others.

    Worst thing for me was that I nearly wore my voice out before it was over. I shouldn't have been so concerned, I suppose, but I felt I needed to sing at the top of my voice on every song, to lead out like I used to do when I was a Baptist song leader. And my voice is not up to that any more, if it ever was! So I was croaking like a frog before it was over.

    Bottom line -- we sure missed the organ (and piano, which also helps out copiously in our services), and realized just how many important cues we take from the organ, how much we depend on it to keep things moving, to keep us all together and focused on the words and tunes. I am glad we'll be using it to full effect on Christmas Eve tomorrow night, and for the foreseeable future!

    I know that our Orthodox brethren manage to worship all the time sans organ, and of course the American "Church of Christ" denomination does it and their churches are in fact doing well and growing. And if we did it regularly we'd probably figure out how to compensate, and things wouldn't seem awkward once we got accustomed. But I'm still glad that we have instruments to use, and hope it will ever be so.
    John
    ----------
    *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!

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  • #2
    Well, the Disciples of Christ seem to do OK without any instruments. Some of their singing is very robust.

    David

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    • #3
      I think you mean the "Church of Christ," David. And yes, some of those congregations can sing REALLY well. I have heard a few TV broadcasts by one of the large Church of Christ congregations here and they are amazing. Many of their congregations are enjoying solid growth in this area too.

      But "Disciples of Christ" is my denomination, and we definitely use instruments in all our churches. Disciples and the "Church of Christ" are in fact the two best-known present-day representatives of the "Stone-Campbell" movement that gave birth to us both in the 1800's.

      Two frontier preachers, Barton Stone and Thomas Campbell, along with his son Alexander Campbell, all of them Presbyterians, came together in their efforts to found new congregations whose members simply called themselves "Christians" rather than Baptists or Presbyterians or Methodists or Catholics. Their desire was to overcome the competition and ill-will that so often divided believers along denominational lines. The outcome was a number of loosely-affiliated congregations that eventually enjoyed rapid growth and proliferation throughout the mid-section of North America.

      Though they tried to avoid being called a "denomination," these Stone-Campbell churches did in fact work in coordination to some extent and took on many characteristics of a denomination. However, with no authoritative central structure, they developed differences of opinion about various things as time went by and they became more widely separated.

      Eventually there was a distinct divide between the "organ" branch and the "non-organ" branch. Both groups recognize their descent from the Stone-Campbell movement, but one branch adopted more conventional music using instruments, while the other adopted a "pure New Testament" approach (as they interpreted it) and use vocal music only in worship.

      The "non-organ" churches use the name "Church of Christ" today. And the "organ" churches are mostly called "Disciples of Christ," though there is a third smaller branch which also uses instruments and is usually simply called "Christian Church." Confusing it is, especially for those who are not part of our heritage.
      John
      ----------
      *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!

      https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

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      • #4
        In one of the churches I served, we did the Good Friday service a capella every year. It was very moving. It made the return of the organ on Easter more exciting.
        Bill

        My home organ: Content M5800 as a midi controller for Hauptwerk

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        • #5
          That actually sounds like a very good idea, Bill. Good Friday service is going to be quite somber anyway, and doing without the organ might well aid in imparting the intended atmosphere. The a capella singing just didn't seem to be a really good fit for Advent Four though, since the service included some quite joyful songs which would've benefited from the organ's support.

          I think that "a capella" in general is a valid way to worship when it matches the mood. And I know of course that some churches only worship this way, and they manage to convey a full range of emotion with purely vocal music. We're possibly just a bit short of the vocal power you need to do that without the organ's assistance!
          John
          ----------
          *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!

          https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

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          • #6
            I grew up in what was then called the Greek Catholic Church, now called the Byzantine Rite Catholic Church. Lots of Orthodox history and connections there. Musical instruments were not allowed. The priest sings the mass and a cantor leads the congregation in the sung responses. The only time I heard an organ in a church during those years was once when my mother took me to a Sunday service at the Presbyterian church in which she was baptized.

            We had a Hammond spinet organ at home when I was a teen and one of the local movie palaces had a pipe organ that was heard on the radio every Saturday. We often listened to Music and the Spoken Word with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and organ through their radio broadcasts. So even though it did not happen at Sunday mass, there was lots of organ music heard in our household.

            But it wasn't until college that I really got to hear organs and hymn singing by a choir and/or congregation with any frequency. I also got hooked on theater organs at the same time since the local movie palace had one.

            To add to the confusion about religious group names and their musical traditions, the United Church of Christ does have organs in their sanctuaries.
            Larry is my name; Allen is an organ brand. Allen RMWTHEA.3 with RMI Electra-Piano; Allen 423-C+Gyro; Britson Opus OEM38; Steinway AR Duo-Art 7' grand piano, Mills Violano Virtuoso with MIDI; Hammond 9812H with roll player; Roland E-200; Mason&Hamlin AR Ampico grand piano, Allen ADC-5300-D with MIDI, Allen MADC-2110.

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            • #7
              Years back in my former parish we did a Johann Sebastian Bach type of service. The organ would introduce the hymn then be tacet for the singing of the hymn verses, with a played interlude before the final verse. Apparently this was the format used in the day of Bach in Leipzig as the organ was, to some, still thought of a pagan device.

              We have done this for a verse or two at my present church - we will start off with the organ leading and I then reduce registration on each verse until the final verse which is then sung unaccompanied. Strange thing for Lutherans to experience as we typically to not like too much silence (without organ) for the hymns and liturgies.

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              • #8
                Larry -- I wasn't aware of your background in the Greek church. That's interesting how you picked up the organ bug anyway! AFAIK in this entire state there is only one church in that tradition, a Greek Orthodox Church in Little Rock that is perhaps best known for its annual Greek Food Festival that draws large crowds and always makes the local news. I've often wondered what their services were like.

                "United Church of Christ" is in fact one of the sister denominations of my Disciples of Christ denomination. While they keep their own name, we now fully cooperate with those churches and freely exchange pastors, consider them part of our communion. They have some great organs in some of their churches.

                Among the Campbellites (the term some folks use to lump all of us Stone-Campbell descendants together), it is only those congregations, primarily located in the southern US, who use the precise and exclusive term "Church of Christ" for their local congregations, who are strictly a capella. They are so strict about the name "Church of Christ" that many are loathe to add a descriptor to the local church name to even identify where it is! They certainly would never use a name like "Immanuel" or "Trinity" or even "First" to designate a particular congregation. In most cases, if they use an identifier at all, it is simply the name of the street where they are located, or possibly "Northside" or some such to give the general location within a city.

                Other groups that use variants of the name "Church of Christ" such as "Church of Christ, Scientist" or "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" or "Church of God In Christ" are of course no relation to these churches.

                "Church of Christ" congregations here in the south are among the most conservative churches, while our Disciples of Christ congregations are often known for their liberal views. Interesting that both grew out of the same Stone-Campbell restoration movement. About the only concepts we have in common any more are believer's baptism and weekly communion.

                Piperdane -- Great idea to reduce the registration over the course of a hymn and end a capella. Sounds like a marvelous way to lead the congregation into a quiet and reflective part of the service, such as prayer. I'll have to give that a try.
                John
                ----------
                *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!

                https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by AllenAnalog View Post
                  I grew up in what was then called the Greek Catholic Church, now called the Byzantine Rite Catholic Church.... Musical instruments were not allowed. The priest sings the mass and a cantor leads the congregation in the sung responses.
                  I used to live near Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York. They had a festival every spring which was a wonderful celebration of tradition, food and music. During one of their festivals, I had the opportunity to observe a choir rehearsal. Everyone was standing (they only had a few chairs for the infirm) and the entire rehearsal was done a capella. The singing was beautiful.

                  A few years later, I took a job as Director of Music in an Episcopal church where the priest was a former orthodox priest. He was a very good singer. We would usually pick hymns together. On a number of occasions he would say, "This is an unfamiliar hymn to me," and he would begin singing it.

                  I have always had my choirs sing a capella. I also would rehearse them a capella even for an anthem that would be accompanied. When singers have to rely on other voices instead of a piano for their reference, they tend to sing in tune much better. This also often serves as a corrective for the person who is not blending well or singing too loud. After they are used to this, they become much more independent singers.
                  Bill

                  My home organ: Content M5800 as a midi controller for Hauptwerk

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                  • #10
                    Sorry for my confusion. It's a problem I've always had. Thanks for the correction.

                    David

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                    • #11
                      What I found confusing as a child was the word "Greek" on the name of the church and school. In fact there were no Greeks in the church. We were not Greek Orthodox but had many Orthodox traditions, including the elaborate decoration of the sanctuary interior. There was an alter screen (called an "iconostasis") covered with icons between the congregation and the alter. This branch of the Catholic Church had a tradition of singing mass in the native tongue of the people, and it was never a Latin mass - a big distinction between us and the Roman Catholics.

                      Growing up in an area (Trenton, NJ) with lots of eastern European immigrants there were many Catholic churches with strong ethnic ties. Since most of our congregation was of Slavic descent the mass was sung in the Slavic language. A few blocks away there was a Hungarian church and not too far from that a Polish church, each using their native language in the a capella sung mass.

                      When I was about 7 years old (1954) the first English language mass was introduced. Over a period of a decade, more of the Slavic language masses were replaced with English language masses as the congregation shifted from mostly immigrants to first and then second generation American-born members. Many of us never learned the native tongue of our grandparents because assimilation into American culture was the goal. Being surrounded by people singing in a "foreign language" did not feel inclusive for us kids so that was a welcome change. Eventually I don't think they could find new priests who were fluent in these native languages so I'm guessing that there is now a 100% conversion to English for all masses in these churches.

                      I don't ever remember the readings and sermons being in any language but English for the masses we attended but I think they were in the "High Mass" which was attended by many of the older generation.

                      Unless you are a religious scholar, it is hard to keep track of all of the various traditions, schisms, separations, combinations and other changes that have occurred in organized (and sometimes disorganized) religion in the US. The personality-based megachurches with multiple campuses and world-wide TV audiences have made the distinctions even more hazy. I guess the bottom line is that if you don't feel bound by family tradition or guilt you can find a church with the religious teaching and music program that satisfies your needs and guides you to a better spiritual life.
                      Larry is my name; Allen is an organ brand. Allen RMWTHEA.3 with RMI Electra-Piano; Allen 423-C+Gyro; Britson Opus OEM38; Steinway AR Duo-Art 7' grand piano, Mills Violano Virtuoso with MIDI; Hammond 9812H with roll player; Roland E-200; Mason&Hamlin AR Ampico grand piano, Allen ADC-5300-D with MIDI, Allen MADC-2110.

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                      • #12
                        Fascinating story, Larry! In all my studies of religious history I don't recall hearing about that particular flavor of Catholicism. But the more I learn, the more I realize just how diverse Catholics have always been. And when you put the Eastern branches into the mix it gets very interesting indeed.

                        Bill, I agree that singing a capella is great discipline for a choir. Just this fall, as I prepped my choir to sing a lovely little modern-style Christmas cantata, which we performed with a rich orchestral/percussion track (ducking and hiding), I found it very helpful many times to have them sing the vocal parts without accompaniment during rehearsals. I knew that they knew their notes very well, but having them sing without the track to cover them up, and being able to hear the other singers and the other parts so clearly, helped them develop confidence and to produce a more cohesive sound. Then when we turned the tracks back on they sang better than ever. I find frequently that singing an anthem that has a piano accompaniment is very much helped when we practice it a capella, then add the piano back in. Same idea -- they can hear one another better, thus tune better, blend better, and sing with more confidence.

                        David, until I joined the Disciples seven years ago, I really was not aware of the distinctions among the various branches. As a Methodist you probably don't have a lot of exposure to the Campbell groups, so it's understandable that you might not know how they break down. You may know, though, that TCU in Ft. Worth is one of the key educational institutions of the Disciples. I actually didn't know that myself though when I lived in Ft. Worth.
                        John
                        ----------
                        *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!

                        https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

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