How to argue organ over piano
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,307
    Yes, that seems completely reasonable.
  • Yes, it is a J.W. Walker & Sons of 1875, though the design of the organ isn't much different from a typical small English church organ of 1775 or even 1675, except for the addition of a 20-note pedalboard.

    And on Harmoniums, there were even ones which had electric blowers and 32-note AGO style pedalboards and up to 3 manuals. They even made ornamental pipes to add to the illusion that it was a pipe organ.
  • Except that they didn't have keralophons in the 17th and 18th centuries.
    Should we assume that your high Victorian instrument is in pristine condition?
    We have a Walker of some 25-30 ranks here in Houston, at St Stephen's Episcopal.
    A very fine and versatile tracker instrument, a neo-Baroque tonal design through an English looking glass. It's about 20 years old now.
  • I suppose what it means by "Pristine". It is nearly all original save for the fitting of a separate electric blower and a new light. The "new light" is no longer functional (spare tubes/globes are no longer available for it) and so we're waiting on a consulation with the organ builder to look at options for fitting a new one. I wouldn't mind having a light over the pedalboard installed while he was at it! The instrument is 100% functional. The key covers on the manual are worn, but add to the whole lovely antique feel of the instrument.

    The Keraulophon stop is something of a horn-sound. It is a little slower in speaking, so I usually play it with the stopped diapason to fill out the sound.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,260
    Used to have a Jardine tracker at a school in their gorgeous little chapel where I once was the director of music. still has train station written on the side of the case when it shipped in
    the mid 1800s. was about 10 ranks

    was restored while i was at post

    loved it
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • B. Ruelas Ford;
    With regard to songs such as "On Eagle's Wings', those aren't hymns. "On Eagle's Wings" in particular stole its melody from a pop song in the movie "Gigi" [a young Parisian girl being trained to be a High Class prostitute]. The melody is from the song Hermione Gingold and Maurice Chevalier sing while reminiscing about their past, the chorus is "Ah, Yes, I remember it Well".
    You might try to educate the priest you're working for in the differences between these "religious songs" and real "hymns". [but it's usually hopeless, if you're male you have a chance, if you're female, the priest won't listen at all].
    A hymn is a poetic text in praise of God, with a regular meter so that it can be sung to tunes written in that meter, and the verses can all be sung to the same tune. That's what makes them so useful, the meters are regular, and can be used for many different texts, and the congregations can really SING them.

    I don't understand why this discussion includes all this talk about the use of piano OR organ "TO ACCOMPANY" hymns. The organist LEADS the congregation's singing, the only person being ACCOMPANIED would be a professionally trained Cantor or other soloist.

    It's the organist's job to set the phrasing and the pace of the hymns, and to lead the congregation into keeping up that pace; the organ is able to do this because it can be heard by any size congregation whereas the same can't be said for the piano.
    The piano's good for 'accompanying' a Cantor, but not for leading the congregation, a loudly singing congregation can't hear the piano. And if it's amplified it produces cacophony, no help to anyone: the organ can lead a congregation in song, the piano can't.

    But, like my experience has taught me [60 yrs. of it], unless you're working for an exceptional pastor who knows his musical and liturgical limitations, there's not much hope of improving the music he's choosing. Liturgical idealists can't survive in regular Catholic parish churches, it's easier to work in another denomination, because you don't really care what music they use, or how they butcher their services, or if they follow their liturgy or not!



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  • marajoymarajoy
    Posts: 781
    You might try to educate the priest you're working for in the differences between these "religious songs" and real "hymns". [but it's usually hopeless, if you're male you have a chance, if you're female, the priest won't listen at all].

    Wow. That's a pretty insulting generalization (towards priests.)
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  • And painfully accurate.
  • marajoymarajoy
    Posts: 781
    And frogman, you've experienced that personally? ;-)
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,079
    I have seen that generalization over and over. Yes, it is insulting and yes its true in a number of cases.
    Thanked by 3Gavin Ben Yanke Jam
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 985
    It would be wonderful if this forum could consistently seed hope and inspiration, rather than despair. Just sayin'.
  • I am the music director for a church that has a beautiful pipe organ and on top of that a beautiful 7' Steinway Model B. So which one do I choose? The answer is both. I am trained in both organ AND piano and so I am not biased when it comes to choosing which one to play. I use my ears and my judgement to make that decision. Some pieces are meant for the organ, some are meant for the piano and some are meant for neither. Don't fight it.

    We are a huge church and the piano can be heard just fine. If you know what you're doing and have the proper microphones, you can also mic the piano and not have any negative repercussions. We are constantly checking and rechecking the sound. I never just let the sound be. I am always tweaking. But that is all I am saying on the matter. It is what I say next that is important.

    I cater to the youth, the old and everyone in between. I don't choose the music or the instrument I play based on my likes alone. I am very observant when it comes to our congregation and our pastor. I know when a piece works and I know when it doesn't work. We use chant, contemporary music (Matt Maher, Fernando Ortega, Hillsong etc.), the schmaltzy 80's music, standard hymns etc. We use everything whether I like it or not. I know when to play the piano and when to play the organ and when to use neither.

    But if you really want to know the truth it is really not about me, the congregation or even the pastor. The truth is it's about God; plain and simple. If I can in some way bring people closer to God through my music than I have done my job. My pastor is an amazing man. He has opened my eyes to so many things and I think it took me awhile to realize what is truly important, but now that I know what is important the rest really doesn't matter.


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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,052
    Pegwhit, that is the key, I think. You have to know your congregation and pastor. Mine would run me out of town over contemporary music and pianos. Evidently, it works for your people.
  • Peg Whit's post should be required reading to all on this list as a way of seeing how the focus of musicians in the liturgy that for centuries was to serve God and trust and follow the leadership of the church fathers as being led by the Holy Spirit has, in a very short time, totally reversed focus.
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,569
    The best argument I have made for organ over piano has been to use the organ. The congregation hasn't heard much of it for a long time (just one other organist, who is a sub, not a regular Sunday musician). Many people have commented on how they find the organ much more reverent and how the music is so much more beautiful with the organ involved. I've received zero complaints about it, which is odd, because usually the whiners are the loudest ... so I can only assume good things from the lack of complaints so far.

    The best way to argue beauty is to present beauty. It speaks for itself.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,052
    Our organ conked out for two weeks a couple of years ago, when we had a roof leak in the swell chamber. It ruined a windchest and killed the power supply. The congregation was quite worried about it, and many told me how happy they were to have the organ back when it was repaired. No one said they missed the electronic piano we used during the organ repairs.
  • ex-user
    Posts: 12
    I came for the answer, "how to convince pastor that organ and not piano is liturgical instrument".
    I expected the documents, and they are existing, but in USA there are "smart" documents of Bishops that intentionally leaving the hole for a commercial use of liturgy.
    Sorry for a bitterness. The architecture of Altar and Sanctuary never meant any instrument especially baby grand piano even to be able to have a spot. To play PIANO as PIANO in a big hall it designed only to have the desk to be opened! Also I do not know a SINGLE piece of music WRITTEN as a sacred music for a liturgy. I do not take poor composers as pop/rock etc , OCP guild etc, nor I mean Protestants. But even Protestants did not forbid use of piano as strict, I do not see a composition written for PIANO. The arrangement of orchestral music is another situation!
    I was expecting the documents, and was expecting that the cultural level of priests would let them to understand, that piano as upright is no use in Sanctuary, piano as baby grand C,D, or any possible size has a history of developing a CONCERT instrument, has obviously a great sensual quality unless organist playing it:-) and I just have now a dilemma: I am ruining liturgy even if I use it: after Communion; with only classical music selections; as an accompaniment- no matter: I am put in a position to make the distraction from praying and from religion.
    What I am trying:
    1.I will leave stupid priest- hah , where for God sake the intelligent one?
    2. I will better to do it after Communion with classical music- at least to educate the big mall, the big church McDonalds
    3. well, I will IMITATE organ, as best arrangements, I will imitate a harpchichord...
    ALAS: they all saying after Mass: "It was SO beautiful when you played piano, we enjoyed"-
    and I am cursing catholic priests who made me to be an abuser for a privilige to pay rent and bills.
    It is my ESL , do not pick on grammar, i will delete anyway soon.
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,538
    Sigrid,

    We all feel your pain.

    There is a HUGE probem with conformity today. Priests who use the organ and Gregorian chant are heavily pressured by other priests to drop it - causes too many complaints from people who hewar this and then ask their pastor why they can't have it.

    At a Catholic high school graduation Mass, the plan was to do the lovely a capella Gospel Alleluia from Africa the school chaplain from Africa loved and the students were proud to sing it. For more than 6 months thec choir sang (and after the 3rd week, themselves pointed the chanting) of the responsorial psalm in Anglican Chant - choir singing in parts. They were very proud.

    When it came time for this mass the students (who normally are proud and excited about showing what they do that is different and "better") flat refused to sing this music and HAD to sing the poor responsorial psalm and gospel alleluia they sing in their parent's church...

    Absolutely floored me.

    It is not that they do not like the organ - many of them (priests) have never heard one played - or it is played, played poorly. But everyone else uses the piano, so....why be different.

    An entire series of stunnign videos of the Mass with the organ and choir singing chant flooding YouTube would be one way ty educate people...

    The Catholic documents changed over the last 50+ years.

    They used to tell us what we could not do to remain Catholics.

    Today the tell what we can do...and have little to do with establishing a Catholic culture in Liturgy and Music.

    I woudl suggest to anyone in your situation that they sit down and get the priest to agree to one Mass with organ only...one of those vigil masses of early masses...that woudl make you happy (and me) and get the organ back in their ears. That should open the door to using the organ at other masses as well.

    noel jones

    PS: I am writing this as I go to meet with a church whose organ died and should not/can't be resurrected (1970's Baldwin drawknob with a fine walnut drawknob console - keyboards and drawknobs were built by a pipe organ supply house so it's still a great console - taking offers...) but the point of this is that it diad last week and they are working hard to replace it right now. They HAVE to have another organ - they rented a loaner to get them through.

    You may have guessed already...it is NOT a Catholic Church.
  • donr
    Posts: 940
    We have a very small community. We can only fit approx 180 people in the church.
    When we first arrived we used a small Yamaha piano and guitars. Someone donated an organ but no one ever played it.
    For Easter I talked my wife (pianist) to play the organ every Sunday. Now that she is used to the sound, when she does sit down to play the piano it sounds very weak. There is simply no better sound than an organ for Mass. It fills the church with beauty and just makes you want to sing.
    The Organ is a "Lowrey" so its not perfect but it sounds way nicer than the keyboard.
    Thanked by 1Ben Yanke
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,538
    Sustained tone over percussion tone.

    An accordion accompanies liturgical song better than a piano.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,307
    I have a hard time thinking that a Lowrey would be a better instrument than a well played Yamaha (real) piano. Or is the Yamaha an electric keyboard?
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I am likewise skeptical.
  • Earl_GreyEarl_Grey
    Posts: 800
    Perhaps this is the answer. It's got something for everyone: organ, piano, percussion, and it's "upbeat" or "spirited" or whatever other adjective you prefer to indicate non-sacred entertainment:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=LJExKB_0U70
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • ex-user
    Posts: 12
    The problem is clergy who only thinks to please a givers, bigger church, bigger collection is the indicator of Faith! - for dioceses.
    In my experience, parishioners are easy switching to mighty organ even if they are shocked first time,sure,cosmic size of sound,not comparable with any other instrument, thats why it is Organ! but in 2-3 months they start to tell they can not even imagine to hear piano AFTER organ at church.
    Clergy: poor, financially dependable, uninspired creatures.If parishioner "immortalized" his name by buying or donating for parish a piano (hah, why no one donating a pipe organ?!)- then priests are in slavery, they need to please a contributor, so he continue make a fat contributions.
    Also, if some fat contributors just like "piano sound" because it is a nostalgia for youth and church of 70-80th, priests are, again, in slavery, they are saying "those people are a huge givers, we need to please them".
    Priests are completely obsessed with a collection : "you did not obeyed to play piano and collection is down".
    "Ladies told they are switching to another church, where there is no organ".
    Well, I am saying to myself only: God with them, ladies and contributors, who comes to enjoy karaoke singing their trash favourites of 70-80th, let them go.
    But priests are saying : " ..and then you have your check out of what they like, and they will not like that convent/monastery music".
    Sure, why, of course they need sex and drugs, such is a human nature, sure.
  • hartleymartin
    Posts: 1,447
    Much to my disappointment, a local church of mine has a hybrid organ (diapasons from 8' through to mixture and a festival trumpet are real pipes, rest electronic sounds), but the darned thing is nearly never played. I demonstrated my ability to play it and the parish priest didn't want me there because of the risk of turning parishioners away who didn't like traditional music...

    Just going to wait for him to retire, or stick with being in a Cathedral Church choir.
  • donr
    Posts: 940
    Adam, the Yamaha is a keyboard... however the Lowrey does have one setting that is very full and way better than the keyboard and I would assume a real piano as well. I am sure my wife would rather play on the real piano over the organ, strictly because of fact that she is a pianist, but the organ definitely has a nice full sound that any piano just could not produce. Understand that it is not a home model Lowrey it is a commercial version and there is only one setting that appeals out of almost 40 or so.
    Take it for what its worth.
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,895
    "Also, if some fat contributors just like "piano sound" because it is a nostalgia for youth and church of 70-80th, priests are, again, in slavery, they are saying "those people are a huge givers, we need to please them"."

    This strikes a chord (no pun intended). I also support the theory that some people are anti-organ (or anti-anything else inserted here) because they have a preference for something, or as Sigrid mentioned, it reminds them of something else and they would prefer not to have the reminder in their face every weekend. We have a little Hammond organ where I am the music director, and it actually doesn't sound bad, especially with an actual organist playing it (used to be pianist who refused to touch organ but the choir director convinced her to try it). However, I played it two weekends in a row and then Father asked me not to play it anymore: we have a Roland keyboard in the front of the church that we just purchased about a year before I took over as director. Sigrid would also mention that this is also about the money spent on the keyboard ("Why is our director not playing the keyboard we just bought? Didn't we buy that to replace the organ?") This really reminds me of a passage from a great book that I'm reading "Why Catholics Can't Sing" by Thomas Day. Specifically, I'm reminded of the passages on de-ritualization regarding the High Mass: two examples given, both examples included people running in fear from the Latin High Mass. These days, the organ and chant remind some of our older parishioners of exactly that: the "horrors" of the High Mass, and they want nothing to do with it. Therefore, they kick and make a scene because Vatican II was supposed to "do away with all of that" (even though V2 didn't say anything of the sort).
  • ex-user
    Posts: 12
    OK I need really to mention it: to play organ being a pianist means to do wrongs!
    The organ under hands of "pianist" might be somehow at least smoothly played: but the mystery not happened if registration wrong and pedals omitted.
    Even under hands of a concert pianist who never heard about registration and articulation and pedals etcetc,- organ became NASTY UGLY monster,and the unbelievable combinations that pianists set by "hit and miss" can resurrect a Devilishness in Sanctuary!
    but if it is a good pianist, he rather will ashamed by majesty of possibilities and more often will to diminish volume, adjusting it to a weak harp sounds. The feeling of pianist on organ bench are same as a dog on a wall, so they using a swell pedal as a piano right pedal.
    Without Pedals, the low base sound which is a concrete of overtones,is not bring to work a manuals, well, organ can be used without pedals of course (manualitet) ONLY if one who dares to touch KNOWS what to do.
    " choir director convinced her to try it"- common situation. But usually a "pianist" is a "keyboardist", lady who either High School Band and Choir conductor, or - taxi driver and policeman who plays at local bar: the 70th, 80th, Octavo Series and tons of a "sacred " free samples are just the same pitiful 3 chords with arpeggio as accompaniment (and choir proudly saying, we sang sacred music " God So Love The World by Stainer "- Geezzz, it was in arr. Leavitt of however did it- POP chords- all of that is keyboard arrangements for a taxi drivers at best.
    Thats why congregations afraid of organ: ONE needs to be organist! Piano skills are not a help: organ is nothing about piano. The organ registration is everything, it has a code, it has a chip of Holiness once it right. The transformation of parish follow immediately, i swear.
    Even digital organ can pipe organ imitate well, if used well!
    But still somehow there are ...church rednecks, who wants saloon piano and banjo, alas.
  • hartleymartin
    Posts: 1,447
    Just to comment on the above post, I often tell people that the difference between playing organ and piano is like the difference between playing tennis and squash. Both games involve hitting a ball with a racquet, but the technique is very different.

    I particularly make the point that the way the piano and organ sustain sound is different. Sustain pedals do not exist (well, not on church/classical organs anyway), and it isn't just a matter of loud/soft, but of tone colour (ie registration).

    Another way to put it is that it's like watercolours and oil paints. Both involve using brushes to put paint onto a surface, but the techniques are very different and you can make a real mess of it if you don't understand this!
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  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,895
    I'm often asked the question of the difference between organ and piano. Sometimes, I am unable to adequately answer the question, especially when someone is complaining about the organ sound. Father has asked me why I insist on playing the organ, and I stated that the technique was different, and that the use of pedals makes the bass parts more effective. As you can see, I didn't really have a good answer for him.
  • We just fired our Music Director who insisted on using an electric piano on virtually everything and only used the organ when threatened with their position. This MD had NO concept of organ registration and apparently had no feet. The 4th grade level piano parts were taken over directly from piano to organ and occasionally the "Manual to Pedal" coupler was used. This MD also rode the transposer control like American Pharaoh. No wonder the organ was not better received.

    I was pressed into service as organist to fill the gap until a permanent organist is found. My first act was to help haul the piano out of the church.

    At our first 'organ only' choir rehearsal there was a little pushback, the choir wanted to use some of the 'canned' piano accompaniments, but I said "just try this, I'll win you over." For all the reasons some of our distinguished commenters brought up previously, the choir AND the congregation found the organ much easier to sing to. The organ's sustaining, 'breathing' like the voice, and lack of percussive attack were all apparently factors. Our deacon, reportedly the parish's most severe liturgy critic, said that it was the best music service he had ever heard at our church. Of course a lot of this had to do with the heroic efforts of our young stand-in choir director, but the switch from piano to organ made a huge difference, and comments from the congregation after the masses bore this out.

    It is my personal opinion that a piano makes a church sound 'small.' The mass, or any service of any denomination, sounds like a grade school play. The piano has many revered places in the world of music, the church just isn't one of them. The organ is such a versatile instrument that it can roll with any of the punches, you just have to know how to use it. It can be subtle with Salicionals and Celestes or Dulcianas, or majestic with full Diapason choruses up to the mixtures and chorus reeds. Contrary to many people's thinking, it can be used with traditional or contemporary music equally well. You just have to know how to do it.

    The use of the organ with traditional settings in the Catholic Church such as chant and old-school hymns is well known, and is a musical no-brainer. The best chant and small congregation registration is the old standby Great 8' Flute and 4' Principal (thank you Virgil Fox). You can build from there.

    I detected some negatives in this thread about some of the newer 'pop' hymns introduced into the church, and I guess this is a matter of taste which I would not criticize, each to his or her own. What I would say about the use of organ for this music is to play it more like a Theater Organ. If you have some large Flute ranks (especially with a good tremulant) and sharper Strings, use them in theater style registrations and change from single manual playing to a two-manual approach with block chording as is a common Theater Organ approach. We have also very successfully integrated the use of a more 'traditional' organ with guitar by using very neutral registrations as well as sustained, non-melody-driven accompaniments similar to those that a keyboardist in a pop band would play. Pedals come in handy when a bass player does not show up. These can always be MIDI-ed to a synth producing an electric bass sound if need be.

    Another argument against the organ appears to be cost. In recent years, technology has helped to solve this with computer programs such as Hauptwerk which can turn ANY MIDI-equipped keyboard into as large or small an organ as you would like. With a keyboard or two, MIDI pedals if you are so inclined, a moderate computer and the church's existing sound system, you can have a good sounding organ of any time period for your services, even switch-'em-up during your services if you want. Last Christmas, I played most of the mass in our auditorium (used for additional masses-church was full-happens every Christmas and Easter!) on a beautiful traditionally voiced English 'pipe organ' of some 25 ranks. During the more 'sappy' Christmas carols, I used a Mighty WurliTzer! If you want a good all-around service-playing organ, that comes with the Hauptwerk software, there's even a FREE version. Those who favor the Baroque have an entire palate of organ programs (called sample sets) to choose from. There are magnificent French Romantic organs available as well, all stored within a computer and available for less than the cost of an electric piano normally used in saloons.

    We are blessed with an organ with some modest resources, definitely not an Allen or a Marshall & Ogeltree, but a workable service-playing instrument, fortunately with MIDI capability. Our sister parish 20 miles away is considerably more wealthy as indicated by the contents of its parking lot on Sundays. They have the same brand of organ as we do, but a 3-manual drawknob console version with about 5x the resources. I talked to them recently and they pretty much looked down their noses at our modest instrument. My comment to them was "It's not the size of the locomotive, but the engineer at the throttle!" So be it for ANY organ used in worship. In capable hands, most all, INCLUDING HAMMONDS, can be made to be musical.

  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,052
    I think a lot of this comes down to having musicians who know what they are doing, and why. There are too many out there who are not real musicians. They play, they sing, but they essentially have little formal training. They are also lacking the years of real experience that can make or break a musician. Salaries are not good enough in many places to attract qualified people. It is a case of, you can pay for the higher level of music you want, or get the low level of music you are paying for.
  • In our church, one of the directors for another choir was pushy and can't even read music. It is important to have adequate experience to run a church choir, and with proper style music. Also, I like Noel's statement "sustained sound over percussion sound". It works well when we have organ sound and we had more attendance when we started because we used organ.
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,003
    At Our Lady of Walsingham, before moving into the new church (now the parish hall) we first had a two-stop US Army field organ. Then we used my own Hinners 6-octave, 8-stop, 1-manual reed organ (with electric vacuum blower). It easily lead up to 100 people. When we moved into the church we were given an Allen. After letting my in-laws' church try to use my Hinners (the didn't - preferring amplified piano) I sold it the Shepherd School of Music at Rice U. where it is kept with other historic, specialized instruments, and is used for historically correct performances. There is no excuse for using a piano because a church doesn't have room or money for an organ.
  • Some in my congregation tell me they like the piano essentially because they can't hear the piano, and like to hear the vocal harmonies alone. I don't argue with them, and then I do more stuff a capella. They appreciate this, as well.

    (And yes, I register the organ modestly when it is just choral numbers, but recall that many Catholics treat congregational hymns as choral numbers, as well, which is the group from which, I think, this comment comes).