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Virgil Fox Arr. O God Our Help

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  • Virgil Fox Arr. O God Our Help

    So I have watched the archive of Virgil Fox playing this amazing hymn. I am dumbfounded at his knowledge of theoretical progression in the verses and in between the verses. He gave a masterclass on the subject back in the 60’s/70’s. Does any one have any explanation of the chord progressions from a music theory standpoint? Such as, “he played this modulation in between the verses because this particular chord follows this one?” I have had five levels of college music theory classes, but it has been so long and I don’t know if anyone has already figured out his hymn modulation method or not?

  • #2

    Welcome to the Forum! It sounds like you'll fit in well here.

    Could you possibly share the link of Mr. Fox's performance so we can be discussing the same recording? Knowing him, he probably did it differently using 3 or 4 methods.

    Thanks in advance, and welcome to the Forum!

    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


    • #3
      Hello! And thank you Michael! It is a privilege to be connected with so many organists! Thank you for making me feel welcome!
      Here is the link for the performance:
      Here is the link for the masterclass:
      http://www.virgilfoxlegacy.com/masterclass/10-1.html (starts around 6:00)


      • #4
        One can't help but be moved by this. Listen to the audience singing in that enormous church at the end of his concert. As noted in the comments, Fox was dying of cancer and this was his last appearance at Riverside Church - May 6, 1979.

        Here is Fox speaking to the audience before playing that hymn, in a much better audio recording of the organ. It gives context to the video linked above.

        Last edited by AllenAnalog; 01-07-2020, 07:33 AM.
        Larry is my name; Allen is an organ brand. Allen RMWTHEA.3 with RMI Electra-Piano; Allen 423-C+Gyro; Britson Opus OEM38; Saville Series IV Opus 209; Steinway AR Duo-Art, Mills Violano Virtuoso with MIDI; Hammond 9812H with roll player; Gulbransen Rialto; Roland E-200; Mason&Hamlin AR Ampico piano, Allen ADC-5300-D with MIDI.


        • #5
          I listened to the cd set of the concert when I was a child. I think my favorite part is where he asks the audience to be silent as he meditates at the Cross of Christ. I have never heard someone change keys or use the chords he does in this song as he does.


          • #6
            Michael is exactly right: Fox likely did not use A method for modulation, he used several. And probably some were borrowed from the Jazz lexicon rather than a strict Classical interpretation. Other than the tempo ... OMG, if I was allowed to play a hymn at that tempo I could be a LOT more creative with the accompaniment. As it is, even blasting along at the ridiculous speeds that modern congregations need to sing at I manage to get away from the printed music now and then.

            Speaking to the o.p. I wonder if they own any collections of "Free Harmonizations"? Everything Fox did in that hymn can be found somewhere in someone's collection of hymn (re)harmonizations. The baseline set of FH's would be the 100 tunes that T. Tertius Noble did in the '50's, and the set of 50 more that he did later on. Noble's harmonizations do not have Introductions or Modulations but David N. Johnson has collections that do. You can literally play a hymn like "O God Our Help" beginning to end with an Introduction, different harmonizations and textures for each verse, and a modulation and pipe cleaner final verse all from his written out score. I've lost all that music but the broad strokes stay with me. The reason the Fox performance (it was a performance) is so arresting is the inclusion of a downward modulation. They are really effective and I can't do one unless it's written out for me. They have been. You won't find them in general use as they only seem to work for hymn performances. Most of us are playing hymns in a service context and it is necessary to be much more buttoned down with how far we try to take the congregation harmonically.

            After enough time and enough exposure to several different organist/arranger takes on familiar hymns you start to see the more obvious 'chord substitutions'. More importantly you hear them and make them instinctive. Case in point: "Amazing Grace". Just about every hymnal I know uses the American Shape Note harmony. When its performed though most musicians use an American Gospel harmony. The two are very different. The seventh chords and V6/4 - I cadences of the American Gospel version are so ... imprinted in my ears that I can play it that way even when the hymnal has the standard harmonization.


            • Organist2020
              Organist2020 commented
              Editing a comment
              Downward modulations are so fun to attempt. The organist I grew up listening to in my local area uses them as follows:
              Original key of Eb; Modulate to Db by lower the third in Eb, which is now a minor second chord in Db; resolve on Ab7, then strike the opening Db chord of the song.

            • myorgan
              myorgan commented
              Editing a comment

              That is exactly how most modulate a whole step down. Whatever the new key is, go to the following chords in the new key–ii>V7>I. To raise a half step, walk down a major third (i.e. C to Ab7), and that will lead you to the key of Db (C>Ab7>Db). Then there are common-tone modulations, as well as relative chord modulations, etc. I've left out some of the more esoteric modulations, but there are many more usable modulations available. A solid knowledge of music theory is extremely helpful on that front.


          • #7


            • #8
              Here is a better way of watching the video url I posted previously.


              • #9
                Certainly impressive! I wouldn't want to hear a hymn played like that too often, though. I'd love to be able to play hymns that slow, but you would need a large singing congregation, a large organ and a generous acoustic. It must have been fantastic to be there, though.

                As regards the chords, he is not doing anything particularly unusual: between verses the pedals almost constantly descend scale-wise in tones and semitones. This is something that improvising organists often resort to (makes finding chords easy) but I think it can all too often become a habit.

                There are, as Leisesturm says, many books of free harmonisations, but the older ones don't really work at modern speeds. I'm rather fond of Bairstow's books. The best for a contemporary organist that I know of (I'm in the UK) are probably those by Noel Rawsthorne who was organist at Liverpool cathedral. They are understated rather that "over the top" which is essential, I think, for printed versions that will be repeated.https://www.musicroom.com/product/km...als-organ.aspx