Accompaniment of Services
Grasmere Church, 29 November 2003

Review by Tracker

This event consisted of three lectures: Traditional hymns and psalms by Andrew Seivewright, Music and the liturgy by Father Stephen Jones and Mission Praise hymns on the organ by Chris Price.

Although the topics were separate the messages from each were the same; namely the task of the music is to carry the liturgy along and involve the response from the congregation. This vital aspect was very much the theme of Andrew's talk and he demonstrated how the organ accompaniment should vary in such a way to maintain momentum by, for example, varying harmonies or even occasionally modulating to a higher key. Perhaps we could have considered much more mundane matters such as the use of articulation, what to do with the dotted minims at the ends of the line or commas, pause marks etc. However, Andrew put across the importance of the enthusiasm of the organist in conveying the spirit of the hymn or psalm by judicious change of registrations.

Father Stephen, being an anglo-catholic priest considered how the various parts of the mass could be sung including responsonal psalms and he produced examples for us to try, making the point that such music must be suitable for congregational singing, assisted by a choir. The task of the organist is to help the congregation rather than merely accompanying the choir. A key feature of his music is the sung dialogue between priest and people.

Chris began his talk about Mission Praise by commenting on the difficulties involved with many editions being produced over the years. More importantly he summarised the main faults in many of the hymns including over-long notes, absence of harmonic rhythm, and over indulgence in syncopation which congregations find difficult to cope with. Also many of the included traditional hymns have strange harmonies. Chris then demonstrated how the organ could mitigate its lack of rhythmic beat by adding passages of quicker notes in the form of arpeggios or added upper parts. In other words to keep many of these hymns moving improvisation is the name of the game to enable the organ to replace the piano or band which are generally more suitable. Then we looked at some hymns suggested by the audience to consider possible ways of using the organ. Regrettably, Chris's talk was brought quickly to an end to enable us all to retreat to a cafe where Andrew had considerately organised afternoon tea.

As is often the case with events such as these, what we heard was only an introduction to further more detailed sessions. So, many thanks to our speakers and Grasmere Church but particularly to Alan White for staging such an enjoyable multifaceted event.


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