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Church organists - What day do you get your 'set list?'

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    Church organists - What day do you get your 'set list?'

    Here it is, Monday. If you play at a church, what day do you get a 'set list' (probably not the right term but my background is rock n' roll) of hymns and any other music you will be playing this coming Sunday?

    I know I will get different answers but as an aspiring church organist I'd like to get a feel for how many days I might have to practice.

    Thanks,
    Christopher
    Hammond RT-3, Estey circa 1903, Baldwin Acrosonic spinet piano, Fender Rhodes Mark I 73 stage piano.

    #2
    I'm told our rector has planned the hymns for the entire year ahead. I gather that is somewhat unusual, he's a bit of a control freak. The preludes, anthems, and postludes the organist chooses in conformance with the liturgical calendar and confirms with the rector, so however far in advance he likes.

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      #3
      When I was church organist,decades ago, none of the churches I played at provided me with hymn list in advance, even though I requested it. I found out the hymns to be played when the congregation did by looking at the numbers on the hymn board.

      Sight reading on any level has never been a strong point, so I experienced a little angst every Sunday morning, but was able to handle what came my way. Still, having the hymns in advance would have provided an opportunity to prepare a more varied accompaniment than was what was written the hymn book.
      Last edited by Admin; 01-13-2020, 10:32 AM.
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        #4
        Originally posted by ChristopherDB113 View Post
        Here it is, Monday. If you play at a church, what day do you get a 'set list' (probably not the right term but my background is rock n' roll) of hymns and any other music you will be playing this coming Sunday?

        I know I will get different answers but as an aspiring church organist I'd like to get a feel for how many days I might have to practice.
        It definitely varies. In quite a few churches the organist and/or music director will be picking the hymns. They would be required to submit them to the Church Administrator for the bulletin in time for its printing. I don't think you can go wrong assuming that you will get hymns by whatever day the Choir Rehearses that week. In any case, any music other than hymns (Prelude, Offertory, Postlude, Special Music) probably won't be selected by Clergy. That falls squarely within the Organist job description. The organist would be responsible for getting the titles to Church Administration by a certain day of the week usually stated in the job posting description.

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          #5
          At my church the organist emeritus selects the hymns using the lectionary. They are then presented to the pastors for their approval and they are allowed to make changes if they think another hymn or hymns might tie in better with their sermon themes.

          The music staff receives the hymn lists for the coming month at least a month in advance, sometimes quarterly. I predominantly use the lectionary and several other sources when selecting my preludes, offertories, communion and postludes. I know who is preaching on any given Sunday, I also know who the liturgist is so that I can meet with them in advance if they need to rehearse anything.

          In a former church awhile back I never knew what the hymns were going to be until Thursday night choir rehearsal, and sometimes not until Sunday morning if the bulletins were being printed on Saturday night. So thankful for all the sight reading sessions during my organ study years.

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            #6
            I'm fortunate to carry the title "Music Director" at my church, which means I choose all the hymns (though the pastor sometimes suggests one) as well as the anthems and other special music and all the instrumental music. So in my case, I have the "set list" whenever I can manage to draw it up for myself! (The bulletins are printed on Thursday, so I must have it all done before then. I normally have it all ready to share with the choir on Wednesday night.)

            The posts above should give you a good idea of how varied the answers can be. Like somebody's rector mentioned above, when I'm at my best, I plan the hymns several weeks out. I've been known to get ambitious and plan two or three months worth at a time. But more often, I work from week to week.

            If you are in a church that adheres to the Lectionary, you at least know well in advance what scriptures will be read, and presumably what direction the sermon might take. That gives you quite a bit of help in preparing your preludes and other service pieces.

            Best things is to practice regularly on a variety of hymns and music and try to have several pieces ready to play on short notice. And be insistent, if you have to depend on someone else to select the music, that you must know as much as possible several days before a service. It is simply inexcusable for a pastor or music director to present the organist with a list of stuff to play when he/she arrives at church! Most of us truly could not cope with that for any amount of money!
            John
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              #7
              Christopher,

              As you can tell, answers are all over the place. I've discovered the same in my 40-year career so far.

              When I am responsible for coming up with the music and planning the music for a list, I generally like to have the list a month in advance. The caveat is that it is open to minor change depending on pastoral needs.

              As a musician, I've been in churches where I found out the hymns when members of the congregation gave the name of the hymn as a favorite and sight-read the hymn. For that reason, I'd say that most churches average about 1 or 2 weeks in advance. Choir numbers need more pre-planning. Organ-only parts of the service are up to the organist and his/her skill level. Organ-instrumental duets or ensembles should be planned 2-3 weeks in advance.

              Hope that gives you what you need.

              Michael
              Last edited by myorgan; 01-14-2020, 05:06 PM.
              Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
              • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
              • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
              • 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 6 Pianos

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                #8
                Usually, we get the list on Wednesday, sometimes even Tuesday, sometimes Thursday. However, if something goes wrong, you come to church on Sunday morning and get the list then
                I play any hymn that's in the book, no problem. But I choose my entry piece so that it matches the first hymn. Difficult if you don't know what the hymn is. But... as Michael said, "anything goes". I remember one service where the pastor asked at the end of her sermon if I could please play another hymn than the one she chose previously because preaching had inspired her and we needed a different song. I'm fine with requests like this, but for beginners, this can be a nightmare.

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                  #9
                  Last week I got the list on Wednesday and one more hymn was added on Friday night. I ended up having to use the bass coupler on two of the songs because I didn't have enough time to get the pedal part worked out and cleaned up. (I needed a couple more hours of practice).

                  My preferenceence is two weeks because that allows me to get any of the more difficult songs worked out in time and sometimes work out an alternate accompaniment for one of the hymns. I have had some songs sprung on me just before I start prelude Sunday morning. Thus far, I have been able to pull them off. We'll see how long that lasts.

                  In a previous congregation, the music coordinator would distribute the list quarterly (sometimes monthly if he hadn't had time). One week I showed up and he handed me the list for the entire next year. I liked playing there.
                  Sam
                  Home: Allen ADC-4500 Church: Allen MDS-5
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                    #10
                    Thanks all for the responses. Although I had expected each situation to be different, I didn't realize that sometimes music was planned months in advance.

                    My sight reading is decent, but asking me to play a hymn I have never done before would be risky at this time. There is a chance I might pull it off. Worst case is that it might sound pretty good on the last verse.

                    Thanks again,
                    Christopher
                    Last edited by ChristopherDB113; 01-14-2020, 06:07 AM.
                    Hammond RT-3, Estey circa 1903, Baldwin Acrosonic spinet piano, Fender Rhodes Mark I 73 stage piano.

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                    • samibe
                      samibe commented
                      Editing a comment
                      I've had that one happen. It took all three verses. First verse, I completely misread the last two measures (held the notes for half their values and finished early). Second verse, I still played the last two measures wrong, but did figure out why. Third verse, perfect.

                    #11
                    I choose the hymns initially and give a draft list for the next month to the Vicar at least three weeks in advance so that he can make any changes he wants to in good time. In principle I wouldn't accept less than a week's notice of hymns, though I'm happy to make a last-minute change if there's a good reason.

                    I produce the anthem list for the term before the first choir practice: there may be the odd change, if too many singers are going to be away on a particular Sunday, or if I discover I've been too ambitious in one of my choices!

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                      #12
                      Peterboroughdiapason makes a valid point. How can a church expect an organist to his/her best job when the music selections are provided at the last moment? It is quite unfair of a church to expect that of their musician(s). The choir needs to be prepared, the pianist needs to be prepared, and the organist needs to be prepared. That takes time–sometimes more than a month.

                      Michael
                      Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
                      • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
                      • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
                      • 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 6 Pianos

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                      • jbird604
                        jbird604 commented
                        Editing a comment
                        That is so true, Michael!

                      #13
                      I am a singer in the choir and a substitute organist for this particular parish. We have a music director who choose the set list.
                      Although some times he sent it out to us early, what usually happens is he would send it out Friday night. And some times even Saturday night.

                      And there are couple of times it's 11pm Saturday night and I am learning a couple of new motets for the next morning 8 am Mass.

                      However, after staying there for a while I noticed that a lot of music are being used over and over again and less and less new pieces I need to learn. Basically just run through it a few times and I am good to go.

                      Same with playing the organ, when everything is new, I had the pressure of learning 11 new pieces to be played the coming Sunday, and that lead to having to simply the music, skip notes, and bad fingering arrangements.
                      After a while you kind of familiar with what music they use then things are easier, you don't need to learn the notes anymore, you just need to improve the singing or playing.

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                        #14
                        11pm Saturday I'm usually in bed with all phones off. I'll be sure to let my future music director know that.

                        I had assumed there would be some repetition of material, and as you probably noticed, multiple hymns sometimes use the same tune so even if the title may not be familiar, the music is something you have played before. My thought was that I would see whatever pattern there was to songs chosen from a hymnal and then be practicing potential hymns a few weeks early, working ahead so to speak.

                        If I started out being a sub I would work on everything as soon a list came out, so if I was called in at the last moment I'd be ready to go. If the church is 30 minutes away, I'll be there in 10.
                        Hammond RT-3, Estey circa 1903, Baldwin Acrosonic spinet piano, Fender Rhodes Mark I 73 stage piano.

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                          #15
                          One difference I've noticed between Catholic and Protestant services is the total amount of music, and the amount that changes from week-to-week.

                          For the Catholic service (normally not musical, but it is musical for the mass I play), there are:
                          • 3 songs/hymns, and a 4th hymn when there is no instrumental offertory, and I generally find out about them about 1 hour before the service,
                          • 2 intoned pieces (Scripture reading & Alleluia) with congregational responses, generally found out about 1 hour before the service,
                          • Approximately 4 Communion pieces (i.e. Holy, Holy, Holy, etc.), and
                          • There is no prelude and postlude.
                          One of the intoned pieces is repeated each week (the Alleluia), and all the Communion pieces are repeated weekly.

                          For the Protestant services (Baptist) there are:
                          • Prelude, Offertory, and Postlude (each week they are different),
                          • Approximately 4 hymns/songs per service (all are different from week-to-week), found out about 5 days in advance,
                          • Perhaps a "special music" to prepare (I prefer calling it a "musical offering"), and
                          • Communion music once per month.
                          After 1.5 years, I still rely heavily on the cantor to guide me through the Catholic service, and to tell me when to start or stop playing. I've found it MUCH easier now that I've been playing half of the same music from week-to-week. However, the music is quite easy to sight-read, and nothing is really difficult for the average organist to play.

                          The Protestant service changes completely from week-to-week, and I've found the hymns are mostly sight-readable, however, the extra service music is as simple or as difficult as the musician desires.

                          I'm not sure one service is more difficult to play than the other, however, each has its own challenges to overcome. I hope this helps someone.

                          Michael
                          Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
                          • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
                          • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
                          • 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 6 Pianos

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