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  • Organ Hymns Arrangment Book

    I am looking for a book of hymn arrangements that can be easily used with a full choir as a last verse (and intro, interlude would be fine). I just want something that I can use weekly, so not very hard. Any ideas? Thanks!
    “I play the notes as they are written (well, I try), 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)

  • #2
    The "200 Last Verses" and "200 More Last Verses" edited by Noel Rawsthorne are not very hard. Of course what is 'not very hard' varies from organist to organist. The collections I know of that include introductions and interludes don't usually tend to be that easy. And I haven't even scratched the surface. IMO You aren't looking for "a book of hymn arrangements" but actually "books of hymn arrangements. Back in the day when I had churches and choirs up to it, I had a couple dozen books of "Free Harmonizations". Most I never played in services. They just served as inspiration and practice. In a book of 12 harmonizations you might actually like 3. T. Tertius Noble has two famous collections of last verse re-harmonizations (free harmonizations) one with 100 tunes and another with 50 more. I doubt I ever used even 6 tunes from each collection. They aren't that easy which is why I didn't lead off with them but they aren't jaw droppingly hard either. Most Sundays I can improvise up a different 'variation' on every verse. That is actually more effective than reading a free harmonization from a collection. Often the keys of your hymnal and the key of the harmonization will be different. If the harmonization happens to be a half step higher this can be a modulation opportunity. If you want to, feel free to PM me for more suggestions. It really is refreshing to hear of someone taking on creative hymn accompaniment when so many congregations (including mine) treat hymns like relics of a less enlightened past.

    Comment


    • Philip Powell
      Philip Powell commented
      Editing a comment
      The church I play at actually has that book. I've never looked at it since it was one of the other organist's but she has retired and left it to the church. I will look at it for sure. Your point about that I will only like a few of the arrangements is so true! When I bought a Crystal Cathedral book, it was only for two of the 30 titles.

  • #3
    My choir and congregation are used to the practice of singing the first and last verses in unison. "Fancy" options for the last verse are:
    - I play a free harmonization.
    - sopranos sing a descant (above either the hymn book harmony or the free harmonization, whichever I'm playing)

    The Rawsthorne books which Leisestrum suggested are exactly what I use most times. For some of them, I have written my own descants. I was fortunate, in one of my formative positions as assistant organist in a church with a fantastic music program, to have the opportunity to play reharmonizations while the choir sang descant over unison melody.

    My congregation is fairly enthusiastic in their singing. Some of the other reharm's out there only work with hymns at slow, majestic tempi. They lose a lot of their oomph when done at my congregation's pace. As Leisestrum mentioned, however, they can still serve as models for what I might write or improvise to suit my own situation.

    Some of the reharm's will sound dated now They may have been thrilling when they came out a few decades ago, but certain harmonic progressions have had their day. They might be able to be used sparingly, but they would give the aural equivalent of your choir showing up in plaid bell-bottom pants or cat-eye glasses.

    Your use of "easily used with a full choir as a last verse" makes me wonder if you are expecting some fancy 4-part harmony. I"m not sure how common that is. It's actually harder for some choirs to learn a new harmony, and if you want "enthusiastic" without being hard, unison melody plus descant is the way to go.

    Do you have personal experience playing or singing what you are dreaming of? If so, what is that experience? Or have you only heard others do this?

    Comment


    • Philip Powell
      Philip Powell commented
      Editing a comment
      I have played a few improvisions and I actually have been involved with descants for about 8 years. I really want to hear a great organ part though. Not distracting from the singers but with some shaped (if you know what I mean) chords and low pedal movement. The choir usually sings in unison on the last verse with 1 or 2 descant voices.

    • Philip Powell
      Philip Powell commented
      Editing a comment
      And, no, I am not looking for a fancy 4-part harmony (I want to keep the melody in my right hand on the same manual (Great for sure!) as my left). Just something that I can play every week and the choir won't freak out at. The choir director does not like the main melody played with a trumpet at all. I know I am being pretty vague, but I haven't been playing for long so I hope you guys would have suggestions. (BTW, I am going to pick up that 'Last 200 Verses' tonight. Hopefully, that'll be what I'm looking for.)

  • #4
    The late Gerre Hancock published a couple of collections of free harmonizations. The one to the tune REDBIRD ... ... OMG. I mean that in a good way. David N. Johnson also has collections some of which are manuals only. His usually are complete with intro, interlude(s), modulation(s) and pipe cleaner final verse. A feature of his arrangements is a trumpet line over or under the main melody. The one for SINE NOMINE ... Regeron is right, I for one simply cannot do it 'at tempo'. I would quibble with the reharmonizations being 'dated'. If the o.p. is playing in an Episcopal church and they are using the 1982 Hymnal I am not sure that there is any danger that any of the many fine harmonizations written for those tunes won't work, even in 2020. Amazing is amazing and lots of those harmonies were so ahead of their time that they are just right today. Like Hancock's. I never could get my head around many of them 40 years ago. Hmmm. Need to root around in the basement see where my copy got to ...

    Comment


    • #5
      I too have the Rawsthorne 400 Last Verses book and that is the one I use most often by far. For me it has the perfect balance having arrangements that are not difficult to play at all (most are sight readable or require minimal practice) and not being overly elaborate to throw the congregation off i.e. the melody is still clearly heard in the right hand above everything else. It represents great value for the sheer number of arrangements: you are bound to find most of the common hymns tunes in there and as such it will cover most of the church year. I would highly recommend this book as your first purchase. By the way, don't bother buying the 200 one otherwise you will end up having to purchase the "200 more last verses" one as well, just get the 400 version which I now see helpfully comes in a spiral bound edition to sit flat on the music rack.

      At the other extreme, there is a little blue book I bought from the RSCM that contains arrangements from the likes of Willcocks, Sumsion and Dykes Bower. It must have been written for cathedral choirs and organs. The tune is often hidden in the tenor or pedal line with the surrounding lines having lots of running quaver scales or huge heavy block chords. I can't see how they would work at a decent tempo and therefore must be suited for hymn singing at a majestic or what I call "cathedral speed". Unless you have a large organ and a strong choir to keep the tune going I would steer clear of it.

      Leisesturm's is spot on! I have a couple of the Tertius Noble books but I've probably only used one or two out of each book. They aren't difficult - a step up from Rawsthorne's in terms of difficulty - but for some reason I find them a bit "meh"/boring. Also, some of the arrangements don't carry the tune in the upper line and without a strong choir to lead is likely to throw the congregation. I generally use these books as a source of inspiration picking up little bits here and there to come up with my own or to add to the Rawsthorne ones.

      I have made the mistake of buying quite a few of these "last verse" books and most have left me disappointed. I would definitely start with the Rawsthorne then maybe the Tertius-Noble ones if you can find them cheaply secondhand.

      Finally, perhaps less well known but it comes with intro, modulation and descant with harmonisation are a series of books by Samuel Metzger. I have his Coral Ridge Festival Hymn Collection Vol 1 and The Festival Hymn Collection Vol 2 published by Morningstar. You can hear some of them being played by him on his Youtube channel. Some of them are quite difficult but others are not and to me they sound pretty impressive - great for special occasions! But you do need a decent size organ, I don't think they'd work on a small 30 stop two manual organ. Granted he does say in the opening notes that they were written with the Coral Ridge organ in mind.
      1971 Allen Organ TC-3S (#42904) w/sequential capture system.
      Speakers: x1 Model 100 Gyro, x1 Model 105 & x3 Model 108.

      Comment


      • Philip Powell
        Philip Powell commented
        Editing a comment
        I got the 200 Last Verses book yesterday and I have already learned the 'This Joyful Eastertide' arrangement for this Sunday. I think that I will use that book because it's choir friendly and fairly easy (not sight readable to me but minimal practice). For Easter, Christmas, and big occasions, I may look at some Metzger arrangements although some of his are a little funky to me. The church I play at has a 60 rank, 55 stop, 3 man. organ which isn't the 117 Ruffatti at Coral Ridge, but I am sure it'll work fine. Thanks for the suggestions!
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