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  • Singing While Playing Organ


    I have an interesting question for you guys that may be quite off topic, but it's a question that has been bugging me for a while. Is it significantly harder playing the organ while you are singing at the same time?

    The reason I ask is because those organists in those videos normally do both playing and singing at the masses, but since those videos were during Palm Sunday, our church hired a cantor just for that Sunday. But on other Sundays, the organists do both the playing and singing. Well, the first organist (the one using the "full plenum") recently took over as our full time regular music director since the second organist left and got another job. Ever since he took over, I notice he's been struggling at certain masses. What strikes me is the inconsistencies in his playing. Some masses, he can play very well, but at other masses, he seems to struggling with adjusting the organ during the mass. For example, when playing one hymn, the volume of the organ is too low & weak. Then on the next hymn, the volume is louder, but the sound isn't as full and vibrant as it should be. I don't recall this being an issue with the second organist, but maybe the second organist was just better at multi-tasking, while the first organist is just better at playing while someone else sings. And because our church is too cheap to hire a cantor, he just deals with it and probably struggles along the way. But then again, I'm just guessing here, which is why I'm asking this question.

    For those of you organists out there, is it SIGNIFICANTLY harder to play the organ when you have to sing as well?

  • #2
    Originally posted by mrorgan View Post
    For those of you organists out there, is it SIGNIFICANTLY harder to play the organ when you have to sing as well?
    There is no general answer to this question. I can easily play a hymn and sing the soprano part (the melody) at the same time. However, when it comes to a piece like "Hör mein Bitten" (Hear my prayer), WoO15 by Mendelssohn (https://imslp.org/wiki/Hear_My_Praye...ssohn%2C_Felix) ), either my singing or my organ playing will suffer. This doesn't mean I can't do it, but I wouldn't volunteer either.




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    • #3
      Originally posted by mrorgan View Post
      I have an interesting question for you guys that may be quite off topic...
      I agree with you that this is "quite off topic." It is an interesting question, and I think you might get more people to look at it if you started it as a new topic. Just a suggestion.
      Bill

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

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by voet View Post

        I agree with you that this is "quite off topic." It is an interesting question, and I think you might get more people to look at it if you started it as a new topic. Just a suggestion.
        I was afraid it might annoy people. But if it's ok with you guys, then sure, I'll start a new one...

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        • myorgan
          myorgan commented
          Editing a comment
          No need, Mrorgan. I moved the relevant posts to a new thread.

          Michael–Moderator

      • #5
        If you are able to sing while playing it will really help get the pauses (when one inhales to sing the next phrase) correct.

        In days of yore I always sang the first verse while playing ... It really helped me with establishing proper tempos and phrasing.

        In one past church I had to use a cross-over mic at the organ console for the Saturday Mass on many occasions. In my present church I am periodically asked to sing the "leader" part for our Saturday church service liturgy (Chicago Folk Service) for either the Pardon or Deacon's Prayer music. A cross-over mic at the piano works out fine for that. I accompany myself for the liturgy parts as well.

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        • #6
          For me -- and others may differ -- it is not necessarily harder to play while singing. It depends greatly on how well I know a given hymn, for example. If we're using a well-worn old hymn that I've been singing since I was a preschooler, I can probably play the organ and sing all the verses blindfolded. But if it's something that is new to me, I may really need to concentrate on the playing in order to get the notes right. If it's a particularly new or difficult hymn, it could be nearly impossible for me to sing and play without making a terrible mess of it!

          However, as with anything else, PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT (or at least helps). When I start working on the hymns for next Sunday several days in advance, and spend plenty of time practicing, I can usually get familiar enough with the hymn to be able to play and sing at the same time, at least on the first verse.

          I suppose the question could be whether or not it is necessary or even appropriate for the organist to be singing. And that depends very much on the church and the situation. In a large well-staffed church the organist may have no need to sing unless he/she wants to -- there is someone else leading and/or the choir sings to well that the organist's voice is superfluous. But in many smaller churches it may be a real boon to the singing if the organist can develop the skills needed to sing along while playing.

          Your observation that the current organist seems to have trouble controlling the organ while singing may indicate that he isn't very good at multi-tasking. He might get better at it with time, or might not. Some people are good at that, some are not and never will be.
          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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          • #7
            Somewhat sideways of the topic, but interesting - My teacher has told me to sing my count as I'm learning pedal lines - had me try with and without and said the legato noticeably improved when I sang.

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            • #8
              Originally posted by lizny View Post
              Somewhat sideways of the topic, but interesting - My teacher has told me to sing my count as I'm learning pedal lines - had me try with and without and said the legato noticeably improved when I sang.
              This is way off topic, but your post reminds me of an organ studio class I took in college. The professor was trying to make a point about my playing of a Bach chorale, so he sang the melody and asked me "What is wrong with that?" He meant that I needed to phrase it better, but his voice was so bad, I thought he didn't like the registration.
              Bill

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

              Comment


              • #9
                I got the notion from some of the previous posts that playing and singing helps establish the rhythm. I would definitely agree unless you do not know the organ part very well. For me, I tend to let the organ lead my voice, not vice versa. My instructor always tells me to sing while I play, but I never do (I hope she isn't on the Forum!). My voice really hurts after singing two stanzas of the soprano part since I actually sing baritone (occasionally tenor). When I sing the tenor part, I always go to slow, but when I sing the bass part, I go to fast. I don't know why but those are my issues with singing. In response to the original post, the organist is just getting used to singing and playing. It took my teacher two years to play and sing perfectly smooth. BTW, ask the pastor to look for volunteers for cantoring. My parish has found 8 volunteers over the last decade that went professional and are all music directors! Some of them even declined free musical education to stay and sing at our parish!
                “I play the notes as they are written, but it is God who makes the music.” - Johann Sebastian Bach
                Organs I Play:
                - Allen 2100(T); 1951 M.P. Moller, 3 manual, 55 stop, 28 ranks, (Opus 8152); and 1965 Balcom and Vaughan 3 manual, 34 stops, 25 ranks (Opus 690)

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                • #10
                  I never sing while playing. That is for several reasons, some more denominational than others. The main reason is that in modern times now, in the usual denominations I play for, the Organ is the leader of any congregational singing. Not a Cantor, not a Song Leader, not a Wanna Be Star ; the Organist Leads with the Organ. Obviously it is important that the organist needs to phrase things correctly, so that the congregation can sing with how you are playing. If that requires you to sing while playing, then go ahead and do it. I have never found it necessary to sing along out loud, but I do that in my head as I'm playing.

                  Some denominations pretty much expect the organist to sing while playing, and normally into a mic at that. To my way of thinking, doing it that way is rather like accompanying a soloist ( yourself in this case ). Normally when one is accompanying a soloist, the organ registration would be much different than what you use for leading a congregation. Seems kinda odd to be using a full plenum registration to accompany yourself singing a solo.

                  My feeling is that if you are singing, and accompany yourself according to your phrasing of a hymn as a solo, you will at times get out of sync with how the congregation actually sings that particular hymn. When that happens, they will stop singing and just listen to you doing your thing. If you are singing out loud, I really don't think it is possible to listen carefully to how the congregation is actually ( no matter how it is printed in the hymnal ) singing it. Lagging, getting ahead, catching a breath in an unexpected place, etc. Your voice will also mask the volume differential between how the congregation is singing that day, and the volume of the organ.

                  I've been blessed over the years to play mostly for congregations who actually SING, and appreciate strong leadership from the organ / organist. Even amongst those congregations though, you will find certain hymns that they like to / want to / will sing a bit differently than the hymnal indicates. Once you play for them enough times, you get to know about those idiosyncrasies, and figure out how to deal with them.

                  OTOH, if you are playing for a congregation that does not sing much, or at all, then perhaps singing the hymn for / to them is a good thing. Personally, I'd never take a position like that. I'd never be comfortable in that sort of situation, because my singing voice Sucks !

                  BTW, the Bible has Verses ; Hymns have STANZAS ! Please forgive me -- it's just a "thing" with me to point that out.
                  Last edited by Larrytow; 05-01-2020, 05:23 PM.
                  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.

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                  • #11
                    The list of celebrity musicians that sing and play PIANO is fairly short: Elton John, Bruce Hornsby (both idols), Jackson Browne, Dr. John ... a few others. The list of celebrity musicians that sing and play ORGAN is much shorter: Billy Preston. All of these musicians operate in a decidedly Pop/Rock/R&B styling. Church organists that sing from the organ are, dare I say it, NEVER organists of the first caliber. Never. You simply cannot lead a hymn with your voice while ripping off descant accompaniments and free harmonizations while soloing the Cantus (in Tenor octave) on a different manual. And that's ok, a simpler, less rehearsed 'joyful noise' has its place, but that isn't the model of church musician I want to emulate.

                    I agree with just about all of what Larrytow had to say. If I choose a particularly obscure hymn tune, which isn't hard in my church, I pick one of two of my sopranos that actually were raised in churches where they sang more than 25 hymns, to lead it from a lectern microphone. I then accompany them. Some disembodied voice booming from the PA while the organ plays ... ... not judging, but I never have seen that at St. Thomas, NYC or St. Paul's K Street or any church where the organist is of a very high caliber or even just well trained. The best of us would drop several words per hymn given the task of being both Cantor and Accompanist. The Congregation needs those words and/or pitches and the really picky ones (o.p. I am talking about you) would be making mention of how the musician lost their place in the opening hymn and sang the wrong words to verse 3. Perish the thought.

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                    • Philip Powell
                      Philip Powell commented
                      Editing a comment
                      Another point: none of us are Elton John!

                  • #12
                    Interesting thoughts. I stated above that I can see some good in singing while playing, at least for me in my small church, where my voice might encourage the people to sing with more enthusiasm, but I can also see the arguments against it -- the organist needs to concentrate on PLAYING the hymn artfully. I would certainly not want to sing into a microphone while playing, actually don't like to sing into a microphone at all under most circumstances.

                    I got really upset one time back in my Baptist years when I was leading the songs for a revival, and the "evangelist" insisted that I hold the microphone in my hand and put it right up to my mouth when singing! He was all about creating a spectacle and whipping up the crowd before his sermon, and understood nothing about the subtlety of making good music.

                    I think the best admonishment for the organist is to "sing" the text to yourself while playing, whether audibly or just in your head. For me, following the text of a hymn sure helps me to properly match my playing -- registration changes, expression, tempo and variations thereof. But I don't necessarily have to be singing in order to follow the text.

                    As to "stanza" and "verse" -- I used to be in on that little skirmish. We all know that "stanza" is the proper term for each complete section of a hymn, and that "verse" in reality refers to each individual line. But it seems that nearly everyone these days is using "verse" in place of "stanza," even people in the music world who ought to know better. It's now to the point that I actually fell self-conscious when I use the word "stanza" in front of people, so I'm pretty much resigned to using "verse."
                    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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                    • #13
                      Originally posted by jbird604 View Post
                      As to "stanza" and "verse" -- I used to be in on that little skirmish.
                      [snip]
                      But it seems that nearly everyone these days is using "verse" in place of "stanza," even people in the music world who ought to know better. It's now to the point that I actually fell self-conscious when I use the word "stanza" in front of people, so I'm pretty much resigned to using "verse."
                      I guess there's a good reason for that, John. In my online dictionary, I looked up:
                      • Verse–A group of lines that form a unit in a poem or song; a stanza: the second verse.
                      • Stanza–A group of lines forming the basic recurring metrical unit in a poem; a verse.
                      Talk about circular reasoning. Imagine you didn't know what either word meant!

                      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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                      • #14
                        Originally posted by jbird604 View Post
                        Interesting thoughts.

                        I think the best admonishment for the organist is to "sing" the text to yourself while playing, whether audibly or just in your head. For me, following the text of a hymn sure helps me to properly match my playing -- registration changes, expression, tempo and variations thereof. But I don't necessarily have to be singing in order to follow the text.

                        As to "stanza" and "verse" -- I used to be in on that little skirmish. We all know that "stanza" is the proper term for each complete section of a hymn, and that "verse" in reality refers to each individual line. But it seems that nearly everyone these days is using "verse" in place of "stanza," even people in the music world who ought to know better. It's now to the point that I actually fell self-conscious when I use the word "stanza" in front of people, so I'm pretty much resigned to using "verse."
                        John, the Stanza thing was tacked on to the the end of my last post just for you ! It was meant in fun of course. LOL I'm impressed that you know that a Verse is an individual line IN a Stanza - there are a lot of organists ( and ministers ) who do not know that detail. My "Thing" about pointing that out to anyone who gets them confused comes from my very first organ teacher, who would do that regularly ( and very sweetly - she was a wonderful lady and teacher ) to everyone. Now, 50+ years later, I do it partly in her memory, and partly because I'm just kinda crotchety. She had a lot of other memorable little lines about various things as well. Another one is : Pedal Peekers are Poopy Players ! I heard that one a lot back then, and when I catch myself still doing that at times today, I hear her voice in my head calling me out.

                        Not being much of a singer myself, I don't actually know what things sound like when one sings along with the congregation while playing. It seems to me that the proximity of your voice coming from your own head to your ears would make that the loudest thing you hear ? I would think if you hear yourself better than the congregation / organ mix, you are possibly going to make up for that by using less volume than what the congregation needs for proper support ?

                        Even though I will never sing along out loud, this is interesting to me to hear about how others do it. I do know one organist in my area who sings while playing . He does this on every hymn, every stanza also. He told me that it was the way he was taught, and has been doing it his whole career. Doing it that way does not seem to mess him up ever, so obviously it can be done. I'm not talking about a keyboard player in a garage band style church - this guy is playing real hymns on real organs. The only thing I have noticed about his method is that he does not change organ registrations nearly as much as I do. It makes sense that there is no time to play "with" the organ, if you are reading both the music and the words while playing. We all have certain hymns memorized completely, but there is no way that anyone can do that for the whole 500 or so hymns in most hymnals.

                        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


                        • davidecasteel
                          davidecasteel commented
                          Editing a comment
                          Actually, singing reduces the sound level of anything coming in through the ears. There is a muscle in each ear that pulls a tendon connected to the bone linkage to inhibit its movements; it is activated by engaging the vocal cords, presumably to avoid causing your own voice from deafening you.

                        • Larrytow
                          Larrytow commented
                          Editing a comment
                          That is interesting to know - thank you David. I had no idea.

                      • #15
                        Originally posted by Larrytow View Post

                        Pedal Peekers are Poopy Players
                        That was some sassy little old lady organ teacher!
                        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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