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  • Organ Voluntary Length

    Hi all, I'm new to the forum and fairly new to the organ world. I'm working on building up a repertoire worthy of being played in church each week and was wondering, what is a good length for preludes and postludes? I've been to churches where the organist plays preludes of 5 minuets, and other churches with 1-2 minute preludes? I'm curious as to what is standard practice in most First Churches in Small Town, USA hehe

  • #2
    Sam99,

    Welcome to the Forum! I hope you enjoy your time here and contribute often.

    You've already discovered that the length of the Prelude varies based on organist and denomination from church-to-church. Therein lies you answer–it varies. The title of your post indicates you're asking about Voluntaries, then the body of the post asks about Preludes and Postludes with nothing about Voluntaries.

    In a Protestant church (i.e. Baptist or Methodist), generally pieces run between 2-3 minutes. In some churches where they listen to the Prelude, I play 2-3 hymn arrangements (occasionally a short classical piece), whereas in churches where it's merely background music for talking, I just play one. In a more liturgical church, it may be longer and more classically-based.

    I generally keep my postludes short (1-2 minutes), and louder–payback for the talking during the Prelude. Voluntaries (or Offertories) are generally the same length as one of the Prelude pieces.

    Simple hymn arrangements can be found from Lorenz (some of the older books available on *Bay), and I have one collection I use often–perhaps too much. The Complete Works of Donald Hustad has many hymn arrangements that range from simple to complex.

    Please tell us more about your playing situation (denomination) and approximate location in the United States (i.e. State or Region). That will help us help you. Again, welcome to the Forum.

    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

    Comment


    • regeron
      regeron commented
      Editing a comment
      My understanding of "Voluntary" includes Preludes and Postludes. It developed in the English church. As such it would not have referred to an Offertory, because a hymn was sung during that time.
      Proof of --- "different location and time period" can mean "different meaning."

  • #3
    myorgan is correct - voluntary length varies from place to place.

    When I was growing up, piano and Hammond organ played together. We'd make a list of hymns to go through before the service. That music would usually start 15-20 minutes before the service began. We rarely did fancy arrangements for piano and organ. Instead, we just decided who would do an intro (sometimes this was a spontaneous decision, confirmed by a glance) then play our pre-determined number of verses (usually 3) of each hymn on our list.

    In my current situation, there is no organ. But I have a nice grand piano, big enough to fill our small room with our small (fewer than 80 people) congregation..
    PRELUDE - people are chatting. It's the kind of family fellowship you get when you haven't seen someone since last week. I play classical music only - Mozart, Beethoven, Scarlatti, Debussy, Bach, Mendelssohn, etc. Pieces range from 2-8 minutes. (Sometimes I'll do a whole Mozart Sonata before the service starts.)
    POSTLUDE - Although, like the Prelude, there is still some chatter, people remain in their seats until I have finished playing. That just evolved - it wasn't done intentionally. To return the respect, I'm careful to not play a Postlude that lasts more than a minute or a minute and a half.... maybe 2 minutes if I know the music will keep their attention. Although the congregation remains seated, the minister leaves the room immediately after the spoken benediction (and while we're doing a sung benediction) to return his microphone to the sound people and to get into place by the exit door. He still hasn't really caught on that people don't even think of standing to leave until the piano has finished playing.

    Though it's off topic, I thought I'd mention:
    APPLAUSE - Although the minister hates it and has spoken against it, these piano pieces (more often the Postlude) will receive some applause. The choir, which also does a great job, used to be thanked by the congregation with applause, too, until the minister squelched it. Unfortunately, he never thanks the choir verbally, so the congregation still feels a need to thank these volunteers for the inspiration they provide week by week.

    Back to the topic:
    Ours is not a congregation that enters quietly, and sits silently to meditate before the service begins. However, we have formatted our worship to include quiet time near the beginning, after the Prelude and announcements, and before the introit, call to worship and opening hymn. In this way, we are able to accommodate both the fellowship and meditation elements.

    Comment


    • #4
      How well I remember the days when the "prelude" was a 15 or 20 minutes medley of hymns played by the pianist and organist together. That was actually a lot of fun, and many folks really enjoyed it too. Not everybody, but a goodly number would sit relatively quietly listening for some of their "favorites" to get played by the instruments. Nothing showy about it, but it was a meaningful prelude to the worship hour for many. How times have changed!

      Our church, where I've played for over 7 years now, is about to undergo some changes, for the better, I trust. Until now, we've had two services, though neither drew large crowds. Two services only so we could offer two different "styles" of worship and music. But good sense has prevailed, and we are returning to a single service, as the church had for the first 100 years, until about 12 years ago.

      Since our traditional service has been at 9:00, there was a time constraint, with Sunday School starting at 10. So no prelude (I was warming up with the choir ahead of the service) and no postlude (no time). Now, with a single service beginning in March, I'll still not play a prelude because we're having a "warmup" season of acoustic praise songs (simple choruses accompanied with acoustic guitar and piano) between Sunday School and worship. But I will finally be able to ROMP with a big postlude, as the worship service ends at 12-ish and is the last event of the day. I can play all afternoon if I want to

      I'm unlikely to put on that much of a program though, since my skills are limited. But I can use that time now to show off the organ a bit, perhaps get into some interesting registrations, throw in some cool solo effects, do some riffs on the hymns we will have just sung in the service. My intent will be to send the people home with joy in their hearts. Looking forward to having some good times!

      (And the combining of the two services means we will finally have a consistently larger crowd, hopefully more enthusiastic hymn singing. And we're not altering the basic format of the traditional service, just adding the pre-service praise time.)
      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

      Comment


      • #5
        I'm hoping to be able to play in Methodist or Baptist churches. I'm in Georgia currently. Right now I play for a tiny Episcopal church (no choir, no frills) and they aren't picky about the things that I play. Generally they want very short pieces (so for example the offertory must end as soon as the collection and preparation of the table is over, which takes maybe a minute). I grew up in a small church without an organ, but I'd like to return to a Methodist/Baptist/Presbyterian type church that has more familiar music eventually. I had assumed 3-4 minutes for pieces in those type churches.
        Last edited by sam99; 02-23-2019, 06:08 PM.

        Comment


        • regeron
          regeron commented
          Editing a comment
          In your case, the Offertory sounds like the perfect opportunity to improvise, either freely or based on one of the service hymns. Improvising for a minute is not that hard. Improvising for a minute on a weekly basis will challenge you to learn some simple formulas and practice them. You'll need more than one formula or everyone will get bored of it soon enough. You'll learn about anticipating the priest's movements as the preparation of the table nears completion. There are lots of short keyboard pieces that you can use as inspiration and it may even serve as a stepping stone to longer improvisations.

      • #6
        I plan on playing prelude for 10 minutes before the meeting starts and postlude for 5 minutes after the meeting ends. Before I start prelude I spend several minutes running through hymn intros and trying any last minute registration changes. Since the organ at church has a blind capture system, I need some time to set it up just before the meeting too (at least if I'm planning on using it). The last thing I do before starting prelude is run through a more interesting piece (usually classical but sometimes a hymn arrangement) as something fun for me and the people who got there early.
        I have a handful of disparate pieces that I play through sometimes for prelude as well as some organ chains books that I usually play out of. The books have several sight-readable hymn arrangements that are all about a minute long with transitions between each song.
        Last edited by samibe; 02-23-2019, 08:28 PM.
        Sam
        Home: Allen ADC-4500 Church: Allen MDS-5
        Files: Allen Tone Card (TC) Database, TC Info, TC Converter, TC Mixer, ADC TC SF2, and MOS TC SF2, ADC TC Cad/Rvt, MOS TC Cad/Rvt, Organ Database, Music Library, etc. PM for unlinked files.

        Comment


        • #7
          Originally posted by sam99 View Post
          I'm hoping to be able to play in Methodist or Baptist churches. I'm in Georgia currently. Right now I play for a tiny Episcopal church (no choir, no frills) and they aren't picky about the things that I play. Generally they want very short pieces (so for example the offertory must end as soon as the collection and preparation of the table is over, which takes maybe a minute).
          Sam99,

          In that case, I'd suggest having a conversation with the Episcopal priest to suggest you be able to complete a piece during the offertory. After all, it's one time the congregation actually listens to your playing and generally comes just before the sermon/homily, so it would be nice if you could complete the piece.

          Hopefully, you're able to play for a church of your choice soon, but for now (if you're just learning), you'll probably have to accept what you can get until your skills are honed. No time you spend playing for a church is wasted, you will learn valuable skills which will serve you well in the years to come.

          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

          Comment


          • #8
            I talked to her about it, still wants it to end soon. I may just have to slowly increase the length of them over the course of several months, or play longer preludes ha!
            Thanks for the encouragement Michael! I’ve definitely honed in my skills since I took on this church (I’ve learned a lot on the fly and by just doing)

            Comment


            • #9
              Not usually a good idea to ignore the wishes of the priest or minister in any service, so I wouldn't recommend trying to extend any of the music within the service proper. But if you have the flexibility to do so, play longer preludes and postludes, even if you don't think anyone is paying attention. it will be good experience for you, and you might even win some folks over to the idea that the organ music is worthy of their extended attention!
              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

              Comment


              • #10
                Oh yes, I know, I wouldn't actually do that with the offertories haha.

                Comment


                • #11
                  I play for a good number of churches in my area, but not one regularly every week. Although I have gotten to know the preferences of the various pastors and priests at these churches, if a few weeks go by between playing a service at a certain one I have a quick conversation with whomever I am working with that day, before the service.

                  That conversation goes pretty much like this : "I know when to play all the various pieces of music required for the service, so lets make a plan so we are both on the same page. When you are speaking, I am not playing; When I am playing, you do not speak until I finish the music. I watch you, and and you can trust me to end the piece shorty after I see you are ready to continue. It is much more elegant and classy to end a piece properly ( even if in the middle of it, a nice end point is quite possible ), than to merely stop wherever I happen to be."

                  I have never had a minister have any problem with that arrangement.

                  The Offertory is the main issue, but every now and then you will encounter a minister that starts the welcome spiel during the prelude music. That is rather annoying to say the least. I carry a battery operated clock in my music bag, and sync it with the clock the minister uses - so I do know when I need to stop playing.

                  Although church services are not "performances" like a stage show, some of the same sort of elements of doing a decent production obviously apply.


                  Regards, Larry

                  At Home : Yamaha Electones : EX-42 ( X 3 !!! ), E-5AR, FX-1 ( X 2 !! ), FX-20, EL-25 ( X 2, 1 chopped, 1 not ). Allen 601D, ADC 6000D. Baldwin 626. Lowrey CH32-1. At Churches I play for : Allen Q325 ( with Vista ), Allen L123 ( with Navigator ). Rodgers 755.

                  Comment


                  • myorgan
                    myorgan commented
                    Editing a comment
                    When I am playing, you do not speak until I finish the music.
                    Have you ever had a pastor, get up, shuffle papers, and stand at the pulpit waiting for you to finish? It used to happen to me, and it was so rude!

                    Michael

                • #12
                  Great advice, Larry! Communication between us musicians and the folks who do the speaking in a service is essential. MOST of the time we manage pretty well where I play, as I've been playing here over seven years and have come to know the routine well, and to know the quirks of each of the ministers and serving elders. But to be honest, I haven't ever actually talked to them much about our interaction within the service, beyond some general discussion in worship committee meetings.

                  My hardest thing is trying to bring the communion "background music" to a proper repose at the exact moment the last elder places the tray back on the table. (I trust it's more than "back ground music"; I try to select an appropriate piece with the right atmosphere each week, hoping it will elicit reflection, not just cover the noise of people moving about.) Our practice is for all to "hold the cup" when the trays are passed, and the serving elder will give a verbal signal when everyone is served so that all may lift the cup at once. Some of the elders are very sensitive to the music and will wait a few seconds to let me finish. Others are not musically inclined, and may simply signal for the cup when the tray is set down, and I need to stop rather abruptly.

                  Last Sunday I attended the final "contemporary" service in our church, as that service is being discontinued and we will have one combined service in the future. I took note at the contemporary service that the keyboardist simply "noodled" VERY softly during communion, using what sounded like an "electric piano" (Rhodes or Wurlitzer sound) turned down so low it was just barely audible. It set a very nice quiet mood for communion, and when it was time to stop, his music was so quiet he simply faded away quite quickly. It didn't really matter if he was finished with the "piece" or not, since it sounded like he was just playing little snippets from this or that chorus or hymn. I wondered to myself if I couldn't just do something like that and completely stop worrying about creating a neat little cadence when bringing the music to an end. I could even use an electric piano sound on the Allen Expander, I suppose.

                  Sort of takes away the one time during the service when the organ really could "shine" as there are normally several minutes available to play, and I have the freedom to do whatever I like. Perhaps a mix of the two, playing a piece that lasts a couple minutes, then transitioning to soft noodling to the end.
                  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

                  Comment


                  • regeron
                    regeron commented
                    Editing a comment
                    I'm not sure that learning to 'noodle' as you described it is a skill worth spending time on.  If you are not a fan of improvising during communion, how about having a hymn and a corresponding hymn arrangement (in the same key) both on the music rack.  Mark some spots in the arrangement where you could repeat or cut out.  Typically, these would be at cadence points.  As the moment for the verbal signal approaches, you can switch to the last line or two of the hymn.  That will usually allow you to end more quickly and easily in that situation.

                  • jbird604
                    jbird604 commented
                    Editing a comment
                    I like your suggestion, regeron. Though I do enjoy improvising, sometimes I feel like I've run out of fresh ideas. This and that variation, minor re-harmonizing, making a solo out of a phrase or two, a bit of freedom with a melody here and there. Lots of good stuff to do, but I guess I need to spend more time PRACTICING my improvs and planning the variations I intend to use. But yes, having a hymn plus a corresponding arrangement both on the music desk might help me get my groove back. I'm sure I have numerous examples of that if I'll look through my books. Maybe if I do that a few times I'll get some fresh ideas that I can transfer to improvising.

                • #13
                  Diplomacy and behaving like an adult both require compromise, hopefully on both parts. It the other party won't compromise, we have to make the decision to work within their stated boundaries or find another job, especially if the other party is essentially your boss or the person who can hire/fire you.

                  You'd be better off to work within the offertory length - challenge yourself to find or create music of the appropriate length. Then, in the places in the service where you have more freedom, take advantage of that.

                  In too many instances, unless there are other factors at play, the person wearing the backward collar will win, no matter how valid your arguments.

                  If you can prove that you can work with people, rather than against them, we can only hope that, over time, you will earn more freedom.

                  Comment


                  • #14
                    We are blest with a number of people who will sit quietly for the postlude. Under that circumstance a longer postlude would be a treat for them, I know it is for me. A break from running back to "Real Life".
                    A related comment, I go to a university church and many of the choir members are music majors. And usually we don't do a recessional procession. The students would jump up and run away, gabbing as they went. I have made the comment to them, if they are going to be professional musicians, they need to give professional courtesy to another musician. So, at least for a while, many would sit quietly through the postlude. The remainder would take the effort to very quietly leave. It doesn't seem their teachers have made the point about respecting other's performances.

                    Comment


                    • #15
                      As I mentioned above, I will have more freedom on the postlude now, with our revised Sunday morning schedule that makes the worship service the last event. No need to hurry up and get quiet so as not to disturb the Sunday School classes. I really NEED to rise to the challenge, get some more serious music, take it more seriously. And I should quit wringing my hands about communion, just work out some nice improvisation and do it, trusting that I'll be able to find a cadence when I need to.

                      In my situation, the communion music only needs to occupy about two or three minutes most weeks, when we pass the trays, but can run five minutes or more on first Sundays when we walk up and do intinction. And I could make it a goal to play at least three minutes of postlude, which would be an improvement over the quick 1-minute wonders I've been getting by with!
                      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

                      Comment

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