Is a cappella the ideal?
  • soli
    Posts: 95
    I suppose there will be different opinions on this issue. Is it better, in the long run, to aim towards an a capella ideal (given the ideal acoustice, of course)? Is it better to phase out organ preludes/postludes gradually? Or does the organ add a special solemnity? In accompanying hymns, should the volume be such as to give the people in the pews a sense of security (rather loud), or rather just enough to support the choir decently so that the choir's words can be easily understood? I seem to understand that the primacy of the human voice in Catholic worship is something important, but am not exactly sure of the practical implications or the ideal. Thank you for any enlightenments!
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Absolutely not.
  • My basic rule of thumb for leading hymns is:
    1) If I can hear the congregation singing, and they seem to be lagging behind a bit, I need just a little bit more organ, probably upperwork, not fundamental.
    2) If I can't hear them, then I'm too loud.
    3) If I can hear them, and we're moving just right, then I can maybe play with the Swell pedal just a bit, or back off a tiny bit in the next verse.
    My rule of thumb for accompanying is:
    1) Similar to the above, but on a much softer scale!
    2) In accompanying chant - no pedal! Play on enclosed division for solo/schola, couple to exposed 8' flute (possibly +4' flute IF NEEDED) with congregation.
    Organ music itself is inspiring for prelude, interlude, and postlude. Volumes and styles may vary. Improvisation on chant is always good for short "filler".
    The organ IS the instrument of the Church, and has been for centuries, virtually through its evolution to the modern form, which DOES include pipe, digital, and hybrid organs. Any organ is superior to the piano for any Liturgy whatsoever.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I will elaborate on my negative above later when I have time, but I must respectfully contradict Steve on a few things:

    "The organ IS the instrument of the Church..." wrong, that honor falls solely to the human voice, the only instrument created directly by God for His glory.

    Also, I disagree with "Any organ is superior to the piano for any Liturgy whatsoever." This is verifiably false, as anyone who has played on a Moeller unit organ can tell you. I'll lead singing at Mass, accompany chant, etc. on a Steinway over any unit, analog, poorly voiced, or otherwise unworthy organ any day.
  • For the congregation to sing behind the beat relative to the schola on hymns is just part of what happens, an inevitability from what I can tell. I find the overall effect very beautiful and inspiring, natural and wonderful in every way. Feels and sounds like the real thing. As for organists who attempt to push and pull tempos in Mass, I can only say that I, as a choir director, would never stand for it. Either the organist would change his/her way, he/she would have to go, or I would go.
  • The organ should alternate with the choir. Occasionally play with the choir with the excellent registrations Steve suggests. Lead congregational hymns, alternately under the choir and then over the choir in full support of the congregation's singing, dropping out totally on a verse once in a awhile.

    The piano should never, never...did I say never yet? played in church. It is a secular instrument, associated that way in people's minds. If the organ is a poor instrument, you may leave it turned off...and sing without accompaniment.

    As far as Möller organs...many churches purchased stock models, just to have an organ, from Möller and often they failed to serve the needs of the church. However they also built some rather magnificent instruments when given the $ and artistic freedom to do so. They, like Wicks and other builders, were willing to serve the masses rather than sending away those who had no commitment to spending the money and effort to purchase an organ sufficient in size to match the building. And many of those less than wonderful instruments could and have been drastically improved by people like Dan Angerstein, last tonal director of the company, who has the ability to rescale and revoice pipework and make it come alive.

    I'm taking off my old "was a sales engineer for Möller and learned a lot from them" hat now, during a time when I was not serving churches as a musician.
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,204
    I've played some Moeller "Artiste" and "Double-Artiste" models, and with a bit of tinkering (revoicing, etc.), in the right acoustic they can be perfectly adequate. For me, I'd rather have a Double-Artiste than a piano any day.

    As for the whole a capella issue, I've had some rather interesting experiences over the last several months. The Sunday 5:30 PM Mass is often left "cantorless" because of a scheduling issue. To cover, I announce and play the opening and closing hymn on the organ (not led with a cantor), chant the psalm a capella from the pulpit and the gospel acclamation (also a capella), and accompany the Mass setting (Sanctus, Agnus, etc) from the organ, no cantor. If the offertory hymn is truly a hymn I'll announce and play it as well. If its one of those contemporary stylings that requires a cantor to make the melody semi-intelligible, I'll just play a voluntary. Communion is always on the organ, and usually I'll use Dupre's "Three Elevations" or something else soft, slow and French.

    The result? On the unaccompanied bits, the congregation sings very well! The Mass takes on a calm reverence that it lacks when there's all that clap trap on the piano and a cantor catterwauling into a microphone. They sing the traditional hymnody lustily as well.

    This goes a long way in dispelling the noise about how the folks at 5:30 want contemporary praise band-style stuff all the time. Quite the contrary, I think the few that like it (most of whom are in the group leading it), are just being noisy. The proof to me is in the reality of what I hear when I play under the circumstances I've described above.
  • If it requires a cantor to make the melody semi-intelligible it does not qualify under the "participation" clause, it shouldn't be sung and leaving it out gains you a blessing....and is a "pastoral" decision that nods to the suggestions of STTL.

    But the nice thing about the organ is that when people hear it they know they art in church. With the piano....they could be anywhere, and probably are. At least we are not facing the Mall Masses popular now in Korea.
  • Jeffrey, the congregation often sounds like it is behind the choir, or organ, or anything, especially if the latter is in a loft, even sometimes offset in the front. It's the time lag. I make up for that time lag by anticipating each note just a fraction - evenly, so that my tempo stays the same - but knowing that, if I wait to hear them, and they are waiting to hear me, WE ARE DOOMED! Mind you, I'm talking very slight anticipation. And it works. It's more in the organist's head than anywhere else. I really do try to lead clearly, not loudly. There are other techniques that I use - and I learned them all myself as I needed to compensate for whatever building quirks there were. So far as I know, none of these are taught organ majors anywhere.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,927
    I have also heard and played some magnificent Mollers. Sometimes all a "deficient" instrument needs is revoicing to suit the building acoustics. In an acoustically live church, such as the one where I play, the congregation always sounds a bit behind the beat. But if one goes out to the middle of the church and listens while someone else plays, it all seems to come together nicely. I don't do much a capella music. Similarly to biblical unknown tongues, my choir can sometimes wander into unknown keys.
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,204
    If it requires a cantor to make the melody semi-intelligible it does not qualify under the "participation" clause, it shouldn't be sung and leaving it out gains you a blessing....and is a "pastoral" decision that nods to the suggestions of STTL.

    Oh, frogman. Frogman, frogman, frogman. 'Round these parts being "pastoral" is measured by how much the DofM absolutely safeguards the cantor's (or any wannabe instrumentalist's) absolute right to sing, sway, croon, flap their arms, toot their flute and strum their geetar during the liturgy. It's all about making sure they feel that they've got a place to "contribute their talent and desire to sing and lead" in the liturgy, not how they can support what the liturgy calls for.
  • Pope Pius X put it quite simply and plainly 100+ years ago: "Although the music proper to the Church is purely vocal music, music with the accompaniment of the organ is also permitted. In some special cases, within due limits and with proper safeguards, other instruments may be allowed, but never without the special permission of the Ordinary, according to prescriptions of the Caeremoniale Episcoporum." (Tra le Sollecitudini, n.15)
  • priorstf
    Posts: 460
    It seems strange that alone among all God's creations, man's song requires accompaniment. I think that a cappella is indeed the ideal. Listen to it at convents and monasteries around the world to discern its beauty and dignity. God did not, however,homogenize us with the Gift of Song at Confirmation, so people are all over the map in vocal ability.

    For the typical church, accompaniment is a help. It is when the instrument changes from being the accompaniment of the people to the other way around that you have problems. Bottom line, my experience is that people will sing just fine without the organ, but with a much more limited repertoire.
  • d.a....

    we feel your pain. just remember I'm called frogman but i am afraid of water. It's unfortunate that we have gone from a YOU MAY NOT DO THIS structure to WANT DO YOU WANT TO DO format....
  • ancilla,

    My organist sits patiently in rehearsals while I hog the keyboard, pounding notes, anticipating entrances, bolstering weak lines while teaching a capella, and then gets to play for a few minutes on the few accompanied things we sing. My goal is to get them to sing everything without accompaniment, even accompanied music so that the organ is an addition to what music that they make, instead of a crutch to fall upon.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,638
    It ALL requires a good balance... organ, a cappella, chant, accompanied hymns, other instruments, etc. No two situations are alike! Pray, experiment with your options and figure it out. Piano in church? If I didn't have an organ, I could certainly make a piano serve the needs of the liturgy and sacred music.
  • soli
    Posts: 95
    Thank you for all your input. Would anyone care to comment on the history of solo organ playing? I know nothing about its history in Catholic liturgy. Or point me to a good link? Thank you very much:)
  • soli
    Posts: 95
    I mean.. the liturgical history.. nothing else. thank you:)
  • Francis,

    I disagree. The organ is a liturgical instrument and people associate it with church. The piano may well be in a bar. It is not acceptable. And that's what the church has said for years and years. Though other instruments were given permission to be played in the excesses of VAT II, that does not change the history, the reasoning, the reality that percussion instruments do not belong in worship.

    And that they are not long for worship.

    Solo organ playing is best explored by by studying the French...organ improvisations and compositions introduce the chant, they echo it after it has been sung, they use it's melodies for toccatas after Mass, for Elevations and Offertories....the organ stands up against the choir. And occasionally adds its voice to the choir, but it does not lead the choir in chant, is sings with the choir.

    Liturgically it is appropriate to play the organ throughout the year, diminshed during advent and lent....with varying opinions on how diminished, but surely diminished enough so that it tells people by how it is used on Easter and after that EASTER HAS HAPPENED.
  • soli
    Posts: 95
    Steve and Jeffrey: thank you for your registration/style/lag suggestions. Do you double the chant line or leave it to your schola and/or congregation?

    CrossReference and Priorstf: your comments ring true. I appreciate the quote from tra le solicitudini - that kind of clarifies the main idea.

    Frogman: I like your rehearsal description - gives me some good ideas - it make perfect sense! Also, thanks for the hint on the solo organ development. I hope to have time to look into it a bit. It sounds very beautiful.

    Thank you to everyone else who contributed. I appreciate your comments greatly.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,638

    You are preaching to the choir (director).

    I, too, am an organist. I studied all the schools of organ playing also. I was simply saying if a church did not have an organ, a piano CAN create beautiful music if that was all they had. I do not condone it as a substitute for the organ and I quite fully agree with you on the importance of the organ. I have lost music positions over insisting on the organ over piano so believe you me, I am totally with you!
  • I don't "solo out" anything - ever. Partly because I never learned how, partly because I see/hear no need for it. I would agree that it could enhance the music performance, but it shouldn't be necessary simply to lead the singers. That's what rehearsal is for.

    I use a legato style for both hymns and chants, but the melody line does break at phrases. At major phrases, when I really want to make sure the singers get a reasonable breath, I break more than the melody, even lifting totally from the keyboard. I do not run one verse into the previous, just because of the time signature. Each verse is a stanza of a poem, and stands on its own as a thought. And the singers deserve a larger breath between verses. If interior cadences are run-on quarter notes, I add one beat to that cadence. (Really, Catholics especially seem to handle this quite well - it's like the free feeling of Chant duple/triple phrases.) On repeated melody notes, I DO repeat them, even marcato some times, but with accompanying voices staying legato, if not actually tied across. At Our Lady of Walsingham, where the entire congregation sang the Psalm verses in Anglican Chant, I occasionally missed pointing the texts under the music - totally by mistake, burning the precious night's midnight oil - and was always able to lead them through the cadences by the techniques described above.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Noel: You can send your Heathen Pipes to me in Michigan, I'll put them to good use. Good luck finding the One Holy Instrument Deigned by God (TM) to use at your church. And if you want to defend the organ further, I've got some Greek Orthodox buddies you can talk to about your parish's wanton paganism.

    And this is the problem with Ancilla's view at the beginning. Yes, chant has pride of place. But why leave it at that? We have so much music, organic (polyphony) and inorganic (protestant hymn and choral tradition), that the Mass is poorer without. The organ is part of that. Yes, it has pagan roots, but so much of its development as we know it is in the church that "church" in our culture is linked with the sounds of Bach's organ music. A capella has great beauty to it, and theological significance as the instrument made by God. BUT the organ also has great beauty, and it should not remain silent as scholas rise; rather the musicianship of organists needs to improve along with the state of church music.

    To sum up, it's just foolish to pit beauty against beauty.
  • BUT the organ also has great beauty, and it should not remain silent as scholas rise; rather the musicianship of organists needs to improve along with the state of church music.

    Could not have said it any better myself. Thanks, Gavin!
  • soli
    Posts: 95
    Dear Steve,
    Thank you. Do you play the chant line at all? I would imagine that if you had a very solid schola, there would be no need - just play the underneath voices. However, in the response sections for everyone, should one play the chant line?

    Dear Gavin,
    I also agree that the organ has great beauty. It has a sublime beauty! I have loved Bach organ works since I was 12. What I am wondering (bottom line) is what the Church's ideal is (i.e. what has been specified in documents), liturgical development and appropriatness of literature for liturgical use and also practical ideas. I am asking people for their more expert opinions (yours included) because I am trying to figure out practically what to do with our schola and also how much I should try and revive my organ skills and prepare certain works for Holy Mass ( I was a piano performance major and did study organ for about a year and a half. So, I really appreciate your comments and everyone else's. Thank you!
  • Yes, I play melody lines for 2 reasons:
    1) while the modal (or hymn) accompaniment provide a good key to in-tuneness, the melody still helps; and
    2) the beauty of either modal or hymnal accompaniment is in how ALL of the notes on the organ pipes (or even through the speakers, preferable many of them with separate channels) is what creates the full sound of the intended harmonies.

    There is a type/style of voicing called "treble ascendancy", wherein each note/pipe of each stop increases just a tad as you go up the scale. To hear this on just one stop, between only a few adjacent notes, is difficult. But the overall effect is that one can ALWAYS hear the melody floating on top of whatever is happening beneath. This includes especially the Mixtures, where upper pitches from an octave below the key played can compete with the actual melody note!

    This voicing can be done on any pipe organ, as well as most modern, digital organs.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I'm not familiar with what exactly is described as "ideal" in the documents (chant is "pride of place", I believe), but to offer something flowery and totally unhelpful, I'd say that the ideal is the singing of the choirs of angels - good luck getting some use out of that statement! Really, my point is that any form of adding beauty to the Mass should be the goal rather than fretting over which form of beauty is better.

    Steve, it was my impression that "treble ascendancy" as you describe is characteristic of French Romantic instruments. is this common in other schools of organ building as well?
  • Gavin, that is correct. And that's maybe why French improvisations on Gregorian themes works so well! I'm not sure how much it was used historically elsewhere, or even now. IMO, in this 21st century with all sorts of negative multiculturalisms, some musical instrument techniques can possibly apply where did not in the past.
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,450
    it'a always interesting to hear all these various comments. We have a new organ, so I experiment as to what works well. From what others tell me, the melody has to be clear - it works well to solo out the melody of a hymn or chant. I sometimes use a cornet combination (or reed for more volume)for this and the congregation seems to sing fine to that - providing they know the tune! It may help to solo out the tune in this way because the people can hear the tune clearly when it is not 'merged' with the other accompanying voices...Thoughts?
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    To the OP: Yes. No. Absolutely. Yes to the former, no to the latter (unless accompanying the choir alone).
  • hello, i have as a home organ a 1954 moller double artiste. (II 6) it is a fabulous and versatile instrument. all organs sound like the sum of their ranks. if you are a purist, you can create an un- unified organ by pulling only single pitches. or add by octaves couplers. it is amazing how no matter what you do, the organ is a sum of it's pipes. but it is nice to decide what pitches are used when. i applaud unification on small organs.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,638
    The organ adds a different dimension to the liturgy and IMHO is not in the same category as the chant. The chant will always have the pride of place because it IS the sung Mass. The organ is simply an embelishment and/or an ornamentation. Orchestral instruments could be considered in the same light, but the church holds the organ in high esteem as the preferred instrument of the RC liturgy. Also, IMHO, there is nothing closer to heaven than the a cappella singing of the living saints. But the organ is a most beautiful and fitting instrument for the liturgy and probably will always be considered so by the church. I certainly am devoted to playing it until I move on to the great pipe organ in the sky.
  • And for us, we hope that your transfer to the new console will not be soon.

    The organ makes people think church. That can't be bad.