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Playing (or not) Repeating Notes in Hymns

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  • Playing (or not) Repeating Notes in Hymns

    Many hymns have repeated notes. I find, except for the soprano part, I tend to hold them rather than repeat them, especially in the pedal part but often also alto and tenor. Do you folks do the same? Of course, it depends somewhat on the hymn, but I find I prefer the sounds of the organ to be as sustained as possible most - most, not all, but most - of the time for hymn singing.

    Thanks in advance for your replies.

    -S-

  • #2
    That of course is a can of worms, with opinions all over the place. I for one don't have a hard and fast rule about it. If I'm playing a hymn that calls for a strong rhythmic feel, I may lift my hands off all the keys between counts. This is especially needed if I am playing in a lively environment where the organ tones tend to be sustained by reverb. But on a hymn that is more mellow and reflective, I may tie repeated notes across many counts, even across bar lines in some cases, though of course one nearly always needs to break the soprano part into beats, separated by intentional half-counts of rest. And other hymns may fall somewhere between these two extremes, perhaps holding bass and alto while repeating soprano and tenor, or some such combination.

    Sometimes in a service, I may play some verses of a hymn in a strong rhythmic style, then drop to a more connected style for other verses, depending on the text and the mood. To be honest, I don't really think about it much. After 50 years of playing, most of what I do is somewhat instinctive and automatic, but I'm sure that at one time I did have to think about it and sort of learn by observation -- watching and hearing how other organists did it.
    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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    • #3
      Originally posted by jbird604 View Post
      After 50 years of playing, most of what I do is somewhat instinctive and automatic, but I'm sure that at one time I did have to think about it and sort of learn by observation -- watching and hearing how other organists did it.
      It's only been 5 years for me, and that's precisely why I asked. I think what I'm doing is fine and wanted to know if others do the same. Most of our hymns are pretty mellow, and it seems a good strategy. I'm just asking because I noticed that I do it, and technically I'm not playing precisely what's written, hence the question.

      For things that are rhythmic in a certain way, I often switch to the piano.

      -S-

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      • #4
        Originally posted by jbird604 View Post
        ... but I'm sure that at one time I did have to think about it and sort of learn by observation -- watching and hearing how other organists did it.
        Bada bing bada boom! /thread

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        • #5
          Steve,

          If a piece or hymn is upbeat, often I'll repeat between the 3rd and 4th beats so the pedal keeps the singing line moving. Holding everything down except the Soprano leads to deadly slowing. Repeated notes in other parts help keep the tempo moving.

          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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          • #6
            Originally posted by myorgan View Post
            Steve,

            If a piece or hymn is upbeat, often I'll repeat between the 3rd and 4th beats so the pedal keeps the singing line moving. Holding everything down except the Soprano leads to deadly slowing. Repeated notes in other parts help keep the tempo moving.

            Michael
            Touche!! Amen!!
            Mike

            My home organ is a circa 1990 Galanti Praeludium III, with Wicks/Viscount CM-100 module supplying extra voices. I also have an Allen MDS Theatre II (princess pedalboard!) with an MDS II MIDI Expander.

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            • #7
              Registration and its changes are important to keeping a hymn accompaniment fresh and appropriate to the text.

              Articulation - both type and degree - is just as important. The more you play, the more options you should have at your disposal. if you haven't considered this before, start with a black-and-white approach
              - First example - 1 verse totally legato, another verse totally detached. Eventually work on mixing the two, one phrase at a time.
              - Another example - play one verse that is sharply detached, play a second verse where the detachment is subtle and a third verse that is totally legato. Eventually practice the articulations that fall between the two extremes.
              - A third example - play one verse where everything is legato, play a second verse where the soprano is legato but the other voices are detached.
              - A fourth example - choose two contrasting registrations. See how they influence the kind of articulation you would use with each. See how an assertive registration changes when you move from an assertive articulation to a gentler one. Likewise, see how a gentle registration changes when you switch from a gentle articulation to something more assertive.

              From those 4 examples:
              1 develops the ability to change intentionally.
              2 develops the ability to make subtle variations.
              3 develops the ability to use two articulations at the same time - a kind of layering.
              4 allows you to observe the effect that the changes have.

              It is unfortunate that most training on making hymns interesting focuses on registration and avoids the importance of varying the articulation.
              Last edited by regeron; 04-29-2020, 09:44 AM.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by myorgan View Post
                If a piece or hymn is upbeat, often I'll repeat between the 3rd and 4th beats so the pedal keeps the singing line moving. Holding everything down except the Soprano leads to deadly slowing. Repeated notes in other parts help keep the tempo moving.
                An interesting observation. I keep good time, and haven't found the need to keep the pedal moving since I do that by other means. I do, however, play quarter notes often in the long notes at the end of a phrase or otherwise, just to keep the time moving because that's where I find people tend to come back in late.

                -S-

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by regeron View Post
                  It is unfortunate that most training on making hymns interesting focuses on registration and avoids the importance of varying the articulation.
                  So true. I've been in many workshops where a more experienced organist or an organ teacher would try to help us amateurs and beginners do a better job of playing in church. And nearly all the time they wanted to talk to us about REGISTRATION. And that seemed to be what the participants wanted to hear about. Since many amateur/beginning organists in smallish churches come to the organ straight from the piano, and have little or no particular knowledge of the organ, they seem always to be puzzled about which of all those tabs and knobs and buttons they need to use for this and that.

                  But articulation or touch or legato/detached playing style were almost never mentioned, beyond the occasional admonition to not play the organ like a piano.

                  I do recall that one clinician we had when I worked at the Allen dealership came from an LDS church, and also taught organ and piano in a university, and he did talk about articulation, giving some rudimentary guidance on when to detach and when to connect the notes. Of course you can't teach a bunch of amateurs very much in an hour or two. But at least he mentioned it.

                  Nowadays, I think of articulation as the #1 factor that separates lousy playing from effective playing. Anybody can draw the correct stops, but it takes some thought and observation and practice and purpose to learn how to properly touch the keys!

                  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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                  • Philip Powell
                    Philip Powell commented
                    Editing a comment
                    I always just hold unless it's a low bass line since I love having the pedal stick out!

                • #10
                  Steve,

                  As you can tell from the various responses, there are many factors that go into how a hymn is articulated. In addition to things that others have mentioned, I suggest that if you listen well while you are playing, you will get clues about what to do. Is the congregation lagging behind? Maybe things are too legato and they cannot feel the beat. After you have more experience, you will know what to do instinctively.

                  I suggest you take a look at the videos in the American Guild of Organists Lessons for the New Organist. There are 30 videos in the series and a number of them relate to hymn playing. Lesson 15--Using "Time and Touch to Shape a Melody--relates most to the question you pose, however, several others also relate to hymn playing. You can check them out at

                  https://www.agohq.org/lessons-for-the-new-organist/

                  These are well done and I hope you find them helpful.
                  Bill

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

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                  • #11
                    Thank you for linking to that AGO page, Bill! I actually have not seen that before, and I really enjoyed just the one section (#15) that I listened to. No doubt there is a ton of good material here for the aspiring organist. Or even for someone like me who's played for 50 years but still has a lot to learn!
                    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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                    • myorgan
                      myorgan commented
                      Editing a comment
                      I do wish there were more playing and less talking, though.

                      Michael

                    • jbird604
                      jbird604 commented
                      Editing a comment
                      I noticed that too. The guy plays beautifully, but he spends too much time telling us what he is about to do!

                  • #12
                    I agree with you, John. I find those videos interesting as well. There is a wealth of material and it is always interesting to get a another perspective on things.
                    Bill

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

                    Comment


                    • #13
                      voet, my main purpose in posting was to assure myself that I wasn't doing something widely considered wrong, and I now have that assurance.

                      I will watch those videos, thank you.

                      Although I'm only a 5-year organist, I'm a lifelong professional musician and 65 years old and, if I may self-appraise, feel like I have an idea of what's musical and not, and also a pretty good idea of what I can manage to do on the organ and not. I do the best I can, playing as musically and text-appropriately as I'm able to.

                      My guiding principle, and something I also say repeatedly to our choir, is that we are song leaders - our job is to perform the hymns in a way the leads the congregation and encourages them to participate with a full heart and a full voice. Every musical decision in my playing and my leading the choir follows from that principle.

                      My thanks to everyone for the good discussion.

                      -S-

                      Comment


                      • jbird604
                        jbird604 commented
                        Editing a comment
                        I like your guiding principle! Keep up the good work!
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