Organ Registration for Chant
  • Assuming one wants/needs to accompany chant are there any standards for organ registration?

    Set aside the prejudice that chant is ideally sung without accompaniment and that organ registration is subjective and depends on the instrument, room etc.

    I tend to use mostly 8' soft stops flutes/strings and perhaps a 4' flute. I must also confess that I tend to like a soft celeste in the mix (flute or erzahler), but never a tremulant (unless perhaps if soloing out a melody, but not when accompanying singing).

    The reason I ask is that while I would assume most people here would be opposed to using a tremulant for accompaniment (in any situation) and probably detest the Hammond sound in general (at least for sacred music), there seems to be an old school (mid-20th century) of thought that actually taught to always use temulant. I assume this comes from the theater organ folk who happened to also hold a church job (and perhaps many churches did in fact have a Hammond), but still I found it odd when this came up in a conversation I had recently.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,374
    Well, I speculate he practice may in part come from praxis in large spaces where the tremulant/dissonance provided a more audible edge. Kinda like the reason why the Sistine choir may have developed its practice for the acoustical nightmare of St Peter's Basilica.
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  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I would suggest avoiding the use of the celeste altogether. The goal of accompaniment should be to support the pitch, and the celeste defeats that goal.
  • I would recommend highly accompanying chant with all the stops pushed in. This will do wonders for the chant. (And, if one wishes, he may use the tremulant to great effect with this registration!)
  • Well played, MJO. Well played.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,279
    I use a flute 8' with a softer principal 4' for a cantor. When the entire choir and congregation are singing, I use a more substantial registration, as I would for hymns. I don't do much unaccompanied singing, because my choir isn't good at keeping pitch for any length of time. Also, I am not that fond of it, and a little goes a long way.
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  • jpal
    Posts: 365
    A great thread on chant accompaniment is here.

    From Noel:
    The registrations should be subdued 8' with possibly soft 4'...maybe a flute. The organ should be soft, under the chant. The organist may best accompany by leaving out the melody notes.

    It should be like walking on an expensive oriental rug. It should not be like walking through a cornfield or the jungle.

    The organist should imagine grasping not a tennis ball, but a cotton ball...when accompanying chant.

    Subtle signs need to be worked out between the organist and director that the director can use to tell the organist to play softer. Subtle so that it does not become a matter that singers observe. Keep it between yourselves. No one can expect an organist to know how loud to play since they are usually not in the center of the group.

    And from Steve Collins:
    I find accompanying from NOH so easy. I wish more people would try it. It's no more "tricky" than any other system - and that's the beauty of it: its system. And, of course, I always chant along, whether I'm it (i.e. one man band) or with others. It IS possible for an organist to learn to play with complete rhythmic freedom and follow the flow of the melody, and still provide a foundation for whomever else is singing along. I've had people ask me who all I have singing with me up in the loft. The only answer I can think of is the stop I'm using: Voix Celeste!

  • NOH?
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,115
    Nova Organi Harmonia, some of the best chant accompaniments ever written. It's the style Jeff O often follows, so if you've heard Jeff's work, the sound will be familiar.
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  • 8' soft flute or stopped diapason with a string celeste actually works rather well. Couple a 16' bourdon on the pedal and it has a nice warm bass feel.
  • Hood
    Posts: 1
    while I would assume most people here would be opposed to using a tremulant for accompaniment (in any situation) and probably detest the Hammond sound in general (at least for sacred music), there seems to be an old school (mid-20th century) of thought that actually taught to always use temulant

    Does anyone have a source for this ? As much as I like the romantic sound, I would hesitate to use a tremulant in congregational accompaniment. It would be interesting to know more about the history of registration for accompaniment.
  • I hope you won't mind if I answer several questions while answering yours.

    1) If accompanying the Ordinary, I have two sets of stops ready, so that during the Gloria and Credo I can change at each double bar.

    2) Reeds, celestes, tremulants, nazards, and others in similar veins should be avoided, because they draw more attention to the organ and the organist than to the text and the notes being sung. Usually, when singing hymns (such as Hyfrydol, Lauda Anima Mea, Lasst uns erfreuen) mixtures are appropriate, and reeds, too, but celestes and tremulants are more distracting than helpful in these situations.

    3) Assuming that one intends to accompany the Propers ( inhale, everyone: I'm trying to take OP's premise) and assuming also that the congregation will not be singing these, play quietly enough that you support but do not overwhelm the schola. Furthermore, use the general principle that restraint is called for, not block-headedness. You're accompanying singers, attempting to be helpful, so proving that you studied composition, improvisation and modal music isn't your goal. Like concert black, your goal is to go un-noticed.
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,279
    There are no general rules, since no two instruments are alike. What you use depends on the voicing of the instrument.
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  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,115
    Exactly charles. That being said, I usually use flutes (all times) and quieter reeds or even principals (usually only if accompanying a congregation, if there's a lot of them).
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,279
    My principals are unenclosed and are too loud for chant accompaniment. Actually, they are too loud for many choir pieces. I use the Swell flutes 8', 4', and 2' along with a 4' string principal for the choir most of the time. Sometimes I pull on the 2 and 2/3 mutation. Great principals and trumpet are for full organ accompaniments, and everyone is singing then.
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  • Palestrina
    Posts: 338
    The purpose of the organ in accompanying plainchant is normally to sustain pitch (in a schola) or keep a very large group of people singing together. Given that it has no other purpose and is effectively an intrusion, there should be enough of it to do what it's supposed to do - and no more! To this end, I think that an 8' flute is more than enough for a schola. For a congregation, things are a little trickier and it really depends on the scaling of the organ's pipework. I'd like to think that in a well built instrument, the 8' diapason on the main manual, and a single 16' on the pedal (with the diapason coupled through) should be enough. If the diapason isn't enough, I'd go for the 8' and 4' flutes on the main manual. If you have a Romantic organ with a very nicked diapason, maybe adding an 8' flute with better speech will round out the sound and provide enough. I cringe at the thought of adding the 4' principal, because then you're venturing into hymn registration territory - where the organ has the functions of leading and providing harmonic stuffing.

    In short: less is more.
  • Allan DAllan D
    Posts: 43
    For chant accompaniment, I normally use just the Swell 8' flute and pedal 16' with the Swell coupled to the Pedal. If the singers are having trouble hearing the organ or staying on pitch, I will generally add an 8' string for a men's choir or a soft 4' flute for women or mixed choir. I try to keep the volume to the minimum necessary to keep everyone on pitch.

    Regarding celestes, I rarely use the one on our organ to accompany the choirs; I'll occasionally use it with a male cantor for some of the Guimont psalm tones. On other organs, though, I think a string celeste could be useful for accompaniment if the string tone is somewhat muted and the celeste doesn't beat too quickly. There are also flute celestes; I've never played one, but I've heard that the Ludwigtone was allegedly invented for chant accompaniment.

    As for tremulants, I've read that in organs of about 1920's vintage, the tremulant was seen as a way to make stops blend that wouldn't otherwise sound good together, and as a way to conceal out-of-tune pipes. I never use it for accompaniment except once a year when we sing "On This Day, O Beautiful Mother"; the old ladies in the choir love that.
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  • 8' flutes
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  • PhatFlute
    Posts: 219
    Dear @Liam are, you an organist?
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,911
    I tend to favor the flutes on the swell as they are normally less intrusive. Of course much of this depends on the instrument you have. Diapasons can be effective provided they are not overpowering. Sometimes flute 8 and 2 is what I use and it works well.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,060
    Choir/schola chanting alone? 8' Flute
    Chant ordinary with congregation: 8' plenum (+4' occasionally)
    Mass VIII: (hymn registration)
  • henry
    Posts: 221
    How does one avoid the melody notes when accompanying chant?
  • Henry,

    That depends. The simplest thing I can think of is to work out before-hand where the melody would fit in your accompaniment, and then let it sing. This approach may be distracting to singers if they're expecting you to double their part.

  • henry
    Posts: 221
    In other words bury the melody in the inner voices?
  • I wouldn't have "buried" it, merely "disguised" or "decorated" it, but yes, that's what I thought might work. Most people can't do this on the fly, so it's a good idea not to try unless you're already really good at this.
  • Who said a plenum for the ordinary (we are speaking of chant, aren't we)? 'Chant', when accompanied by a plenum is no longer chant. I have heard this done at Notre Dame in Paris and it is hideous.
    For a congregational ordinary, if accompaniment is needed, it should not exceed eight and four principals, with a very questionable two foot thrown in only if it is absolutely necessary. More than this is just noise.

    If we are speaking of a non chant ordinary the registration should vary according to the sections of text.
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  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,577
    8' fl for choir, 8' prin for cong (with optional 16' prin in ped) no more is needed and will only overcome the primacy of the chant
  • I confess I find some of the comments pseudo-derogatory and a bit baffling. I understand there are chant purists here. I love chant and I introduced it at my parish two years ago and there has been at least one sung chant at every mass since. During covid I’ve been exclusively using the Palmer-Burgess (N.O. Land so I have to sing in English most of the time although I still sing in Latin during communion). I love chant. Our parish also sings Latin ordinaries during Lent/Advent and we sing the seasonal Marian antiphons in Latin at the end of every mass. I also put special chants in front of the choir.

    That said, we all know that most parishes are NOT adept at singing chant. Two years on with the same two settings people still tell me it feels awkward, and I review it every season and have laminated worship aids in modern notation to help them.

    Organ accompaniment, simply put, is NECESSARY in many circumstances. And I understand that it is not ‘ideal’. But let’s be real: pure, monastic chant is not in the reach of the average parish. I use whatever accompaniment feels necessary given the circumstance. For the ordinary, I use a cornet because it’s the only thing that helps keep the congregation (and sometimes the cantors...) on cue. Soft flutes just wouldn’t cut it. Plain and simple.

    I also don’t understand the disdain for Celestes in this context. Yes, the pitch is sharp on the celest, but it actually just complements the fundamental tones and broadens the sound slightly (assuming your strings aren’t sharp and overly keen). So I see absolutely no issue in using a string (or flute) and celest for the basic harmonies in the left hand with a solo sound in the right to play the melody.

    I really don’t like the idea of falling into the trap of rigorous rules on “how it ‘must’ be done”. I’ve played in many, many parishes as a professional organist and know first-hand that what works in one parish doesn’t necessarily work in another.

    In addition to my comments above—
    We know that not everyone sings in tune (or even close to it) so the congregation is its own form of “natural celest” anyway. Also, every organ is different and while “soft flutes” might sound great on one organ in one room, they might sound boomy, or anemic, or muddy on a different instrument in a different room.

    As such, I think it’s dangerous to make edicts about how it “should” be done. Ironically, there are as many opinions as there are people on this forum, which is in itself an indication that there is great room for (reasonable and polite) disagreement. While the œvre of chant is relatively codified, its interpretation and accompaniment are not. (End of rant, lol)
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  • sdtalley3sdtalley3
    Posts: 216
    Usually when I accompanied chant, our chapel and choir's method was split between the cantors and the Choir/Congregation for most of the chant ordinaries. I in turn would accompany the cantors in a softer tone using our organs swell manual only, and the congregation in the great with pedals. It was a pretty nice effect and works even better in large churches. I generally shy away from using any tremolo, but that's just my personal preference.
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  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,577

    Don't let the people convince you they are as ignorant or dumb (musically) as they think they are or hope you will believe. Sadly, there are usually other 'reasons' that they will not mention, but simply say that it is not 'musically possible' to do what you ask. I think it is more a hoodwinked ploy of Hogwash.

    I have lead children in a cappella chant for years. They have not yet developed the prejudice that it is beyond their humanity (human ability) to do so... adults, however, will not rise to the level of mediocrity and EFFORT unless challenged. We are a sad bunch.
  • Francis, I don’t. I schedule music for the sake of the liturgy more than those in attendance. That reads haughty but I mean it in the sense that: I schedule music that is holy and dignified and within reasonable grasp of those who are coming to sing it. I don’t choose dumb hymns, for instance, just because people know it. I choose good music under the assumption that if the people can learn to sing every verse of “On Eagle’s Wings” with their differing rhythms, then they can learn to sing a classic metered hymn they’ve never heard before. Same with chant. If you can sing some of the modern dribble, you can certainly sing simpler chants!
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,577
    under the assumption that if the people can learn to sing every verse of “On Eagle’s Wings” with their differing rhythms, then they can learn to sing a classic metered hymn they’ve never heard before. Same with chant. If you can sing some of the modern dribble, you can certainly sing simpler chants!

    Point is, IMMHO the organ makes no difference really. I use it only for support and keep them all on pitch. If one is putting out the chant melody on a mixture or solo, they will become dependant on it in the wrong way.

    Yesterday I played my recently composed accomp of the Salve Regina which I believe you have seen on the forum... (without melody and only an 8' prin). No one got lost, no one complained and they chanted up a storm.
  • I think it all comes down to exposure/repetition. The more they sing it and hear it, the more natural it becomes. That’s the travesty of what happened post VII: chant left the collective memory. It was no longer the familiar story told from one generation to another, so now we have to learn it the hard way all over again. Many people cannot recite the Credo unless everyone else is saying it around them, and then suddenly they can remember the sequence and that one spot where they trip up is covered by the others. It would have undoubtedly been the same way with chant. Now most parishes don’t have that safety net to fall back on. That’s why we laminated our pew cards with Missa XVII; we will keep using them until they wear out at which point people should know the chants well enough.
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  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,577

    A travesty at best... demonic, is a more apt description as you described in another thread. I salute you. Keep the Faith.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,728
    let’s be real: pure, monastic chant is not in the reach of the average parish
    Glenstal Abbey seems a reasonably flourishing community of 32 monks. They sing much like any other bunch of guys aged 20 or so to 90+, but they spend time at it every day. Mass is mostly unaccompanied, the Offices accompanied AFAIK. You can see and hear the effect here, scroll down [I am not getting service at the moment, but it usually works]
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,279
    I would say use what works best for you using your organ, in your building acoustics, and for your singers, which you know better than anyone else. It's all relative and there is no standard that will work for everyone.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,577
    Well, I disagree with CharlesW on that one... I have played dozens of organs, electric, pipe (baroque, romantic, french, etc.), and the basic 8' flute and prin are always just about the same, some louder maybe, some more nasal maybe, but basically the flute is the flute and the prin is the prin., and in my experience, it is always the best for the chant (of course there are always severe exceptions, perhaps in Charles church.)
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,279
    There are always exceptions. I have heard in my day, some seriously muddy flutes. I have also heard some grating principals. Use your own best judgement. It probably is more accurate than any opinions offered by outsiders unfamiliar with your unique situation.
  • Felicia
    Posts: 68
    For accompanying the schola I use 8 and 4 foot flutes on the Great; for a cantor 8' and 4' or 8' only) flutes on the swell, closing the box if necessary. I'll add an 8' Principal on the Great when accompanying something members of the congregation will sing along with, like the Credo III. The 8' Salicional can add a little body or color to the sound as long as it doesn't overpower the voices. I don't use pedals when accompanying chant.

    as mentioned above, I try to play "under" the voices without plaing the melody, but find that a challenge when neither the schola nor Iare familiar with the chant.

    That said, during Tenebrae the schola sings a setting of the Magnificat that they they like fuller sounding--8,4,2 Principals and flutes coupled to Pedal (with a 16' Bourdon in the Ped.).
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  • Felicia
    Posts: 68
    Sorry for the typos. That should red (or 8' only) in the first paragraph and "playing" and "nor I are" in the 3rd paragraph.
  • GerardH
    Posts: 229
    I sometimes like to be a bit subversive...

    Like with the Easter Vigil Alleluia: starting with 16' and 8' reeds on closed Swell, gradually building over the repetitions to a full pleno, dropping it back to Swell 8' up to Mixture for Confitemini by treble voices, and then pleno again for the final repetion of the Alleluia. It's so dramatic. I love it!

    (Naturally this is special occasion stuff. I usually keep things more regular.)
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  • Ted
    Posts: 186
    I have to take issue with some here. Organ accompaniment for chant is necessary in certain situations. We have a volunteer choir composed of non-musicians from the faithful, but with nice voices. There is no way they can sing every Sunday all the propers from the Graduale Romanum without the organ which we had been doing until this Covid-19 circus came around. But with the organ they can with regular practice. This is much better in my opinion than singing the Rosinni propers or the texts to psalm tones which we would otherwise have to do.

    For the choir I use 8' soft flute on the Swell. When alternating with the faithful in the pews for the ordinary, I will use 8' and 4' principal on the Great and a soft 16' on the pedals for them, to encourage them singing their parts: it makes for nice antiphonal chanting.
  • Flor Peetrs, in their "Practical method of Plain-chant accompaniment" say about this (p. 24):


    In general Plain Chant should be sung in a smoothly flowing legato style. The style of the accompaniment should be closely interwoven, in order to avoid the occurrence of discords that are hars and disagreeable to the ear, discords being used merely to obtain a greather unity of rhythm.

    For registration preference should be given to 8' stops of neutral tone-colour, e. g. Bourdon 8', Gemshorn 8', Cor-de-nuit 8', Clarabella 8', Flute à cheminée 8', Soft Flute 8', (not the Harmonic Flute 8') or a soft old-style Principal 8', with a Bourdon 16' on the Pedals, all this nicely adapted to the strength of the choir thai is to be accompanied. For the accompaniment of children's or women's dhoir, a soft 4' stop may be added, which is also advisable for a small Mixed Choir. For a large body of singers (congregation) or for a large Mixed Choir the organist may add, according to the strength of the voices, the position of the organ, and the size of the building, strong 8' and 4' stops, as well as 2', even Mixtures on the Great ans sometimes also a soft 16' stops. Stops of a pronunced strings quality should not be employed in the accompaniment; they sustain less successfully, attract too much attention, and lack the dignity and reverence proper to this essentially Sacred music.

    A soft 16' Pedal with a discreet 8' added best sustains the voices, and thus maintains pitch. Perhaps it is preferable in the case of the more elaborate melismatic melodies not to use the Pedal, or at least with great restraint. if chanters alternate with de Choir it is well to use the Pedal only at each entry of the Choir.

    In the case of big organs and big Choirs the Tempo will be slower, in which case also less sobriety of chords is permissible. On small organs or a harmonium, and for a very small Choir a very sober accompaniment with a single stop sufficies. As to the intensity of registration, and adequate minimum should be the aim, so as to avoid undue submerging of the Chant.


    (Complete text and spanish translation here:ñamiento-con-el-órgano?authuser=0#h.p_4oHHTccfXHB7)
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  • sdtalley3sdtalley3
    Posts: 216
    I think that for what settings/stops that are used is ultimately up to the organist's discretion to use. Most of the accompaniments that I see organist use for the Ordinaries is the Achille Brager's accompaniment to the Roman Kyriale. I use a slightly older set published by a French company, which does not employ so much full chords, but rather focuses on the main melody and simple harmonization with enough room for the organist's improvisation.
    In my opinion what sounds are generally used are as particular as the organist playing the instrument.
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  • GambaGamba
    Posts: 350
    For smallish choirs (scholae): I prefer to always have some open (not stopped) ranks in the sound, because the stopped flutes (gedeckt, stopped diapason, Bourdon, whatever) largely lack the even-numbered harmonics. These give the singers less information about where the center of the pitch is than an open flute, which contains all harmonics of the fundamental. So if there’s a nice melodia or gemshorn or other such gentle open 8’, I love that. If not, then I use stopped+dulciana or some other such combination, with the stopped flute providing most of the sound, and the small open stop giving the missing overtones. I don’t like to use 4s because then I’m doubling the melody an octave above the singers and it sticks out.

    For congregation, when they’re not being drowned out by a cantor: as for choirs above, alternating with as much 8’ foundation tone as I have, plus whatever 4s/oboe are needed to support. Mixtures, big reeds, man. 16’ only for extraordinary cause (Ascension Day “Et Ascendit” or whatever). Always with plenty of 16’ in the pedal to anchor the pitch and make breathing and phrases clear.

    For a cantor chanting formulaic psalm verses in English, on-mic, a city block away, then....whatever. I treat this like Anglican chant and use the whole organ and text-paint: they’re unnaturally loud, singing full-voice, their ability to emphasize and declaim largely taken away by the sound system, so one or two stops isn’t going to be enough for them to hear, or to provide something other than a monotonous wall of sound.
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  • A soft 16' Pedal with a discreet 8' added best sustains the voices, and thus maintains pitch.

    Bingo. The pedal is what does the heavy-lifting as far as sustaining tone and pitch are concerned. Everything is grounded in the pedal. This means, in a certain sense, that you are afforded a certain flexibility in manual registrations if you're worried about keeping people on pitch.
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  • Felicia
    Posts: 68
    Hmm. Maybe I'll try using pedal the next time I accompany chant.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,577

    IMMHO a Soft 16 is good and avoid the Principal.
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  • GerardH
    Posts: 229
    Maybe I'll try

    I think this is the key. Experiment! You never know what fantastic combinations you may come up with.
  • henry
    Posts: 221
    I like what Gamba said: "I don’t like to use 4s because then I’m doubling the melody an octave above the singers and it sticks out." I used a 4' last Sunday on the Missa de Angelis, and when I listened to it on livestream it really did stick-out. I'll try to stay with soft 8' stops. Thank you.
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  • Henry, do be careful. Recordings can be deceiving. Mic placement and room resonances can play with things; you hear things in recordings that you don’t hear in real life, and vice versa. (Of course, you don’t want your live streams to sound terrible either... but if you have a playback sequencer on your organ this would be a great use for it to test the balance.)