Cameron Carpenter - Changing the Organist Paradigm
Written by Donald Moro   
Tuesday, 25 September 2012 08:24

Cameron CarpenterI recently viewed some videos of a young, talented organist named Cameron Carpenter.  Then, coincidentally I saw him on Good Morning America.  What a fine musician and showman!  He is very talented, good looking, outgoing, and his performances are full of style and fun.  He plays everything from Bach to Back Street Boys and really coaxes some sounds out of the organ that I never thought possible.

Some people criticize Cameron for his undignified performances, what with the sequins, sparkle, and arm-waving.  But I say bring it on!  If Cameron can do to organ playing what Tiger did to golf, then we'll all be better off.  Cameron has the style, talent, and obvious marketing skills to call attention to this most precious king of instruments, and his continued efforts to expose organ-playing as a true art form are welcome in my book. 

If you haven't seen this remarkable performer, check out this YouTube video.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 25 September 2012 08:42
How Should a Substitute Organist Tame the Beast?
Written by Donald Moro   
Friday, 14 September 2012 16:31

I am not sure of the creator of the instrument at Three Chopt Presbyterian but as a substitute organist there I am finding it a challenge to tame this tiger!  As you can see, the organ's pipes are contained behind two ear-level screens to the left and right of the sanctuary.  Most of the great pipes are exposed, and the swell is behind shutters. 

This organ was obviously voiced to lead congregational singing because it has all the necessary foundations.  As a solo instrument, however, it is lacking.  There are a few raspy horns, a 1/3 Quint and a 2/3 Quint that is out of tune.  Some of the swell stops are shared on the great so volume control is fun.  The instrument is so powerful that I can probably blow out the stained glass windows if I hit the tutti (I have never done this). 

The previous organist must have liked to "put the pedal to the metal" because her presets were all on the loud side.  I have worked and re-worked the presets to find a combination that leads the congregation while at the same time allows them to hear their own singing.  I certainly have received some comments about how different the organ sounds.

As a substitute I bring my own tastes and style to the service.  But playing on this organ has really challenged my ability to find a combination of stops that I approve of and the congregation approves of!

Last Updated on Friday, 14 September 2012 16:58
Should a Substitute Organist Change Presets?
Written by Donald Moro   
Monday, 10 September 2012 19:15

PresetsAn electronic organ usually has presets or "pistons" that control certain combinations of stops.  Most organists set the presets to the way they want them, expecting to find the presets in the same configuration week after week.  In this way, the organist personalizes the organ to his own tastes.

Sometimes it's very diffficult to play certain pieces without the use of presets.  For example, if a piece requires several stop changes in the middle, and the organist isn't familiar with the locations of all the switches and knobs, it can be nearly impossible to play the piece correctly.  Presets are the only solution.  But should a substitute organist change them?

Some newer organis provide a solution by offering several different memories so that each organist who plays the instrument can have his own configuration.  But even then, sometimes the regular organist uses all of the memories!

My opinion is that the substitute organist is just that - a substitute.  He should leave things exactly as he found them and should not change anything in the presets, the layout of the organ area, or the surrounding area.  When the regular organist returns it should be as if the substitute was never even there.  If a piece can only be played by the use of presets, then the substitute should find another piece to play, or ask permission to change the presets.  And if permission is not given, the substitute organist should pay careful attention to the preset settings before he changes them, so he can be sure to change them back.

The Golden Rule, treat others as you would want to be treated, applies to the world of substitute organists!

Last Updated on Monday, 10 September 2012 19:28
Substitute Organists Who Conduct from the Bench?
Written by Donald Moro   
Tuesday, 04 September 2012 11:06

I am currently the substitute organist at a church that employs both an accompanist and a choral director. While it's obviously a better experience for everyone if the church can afford to employ two people, most often I find that I am called upon to act as both director and accompanist in the service. My experience over several years has taught me to do a pretty darn good job conducting from the bench (if I say so myself!) while also being able to organize the music, lead rehearsals, and play competently. It seems to me that in these difficult financial times, churches that pay two people to do the job of one are spending money on an unnecessary luxury.

Organ Substitutes Shouldn't Play Hymn Harmonizations?
Written by Donald Moro   
Friday, 31 August 2012 18:11

Today I read an article written 20 years ago, but the content still rang true:  the writer was pointing out that many congregations do not like hymn harmonizations.  Especially in situations where there are choirs, the hymn harmonizations are often seen as putting a focus on the organ and organist, rather than on the singing of the hymn.

This made me think about my recent experience playing for the Church of Christ Scientist.  The assembly of that church truly enjoys singing hymns and really focuses on the words of the hymn.  When I once asked them how they would feel about my playing a hymn harmonization, the response I received was that it was OK only if it didn't detract from the hymn and its words.  I chose not to play the harmonization.

In the Catholic church I sub at, we rarely sing more than two verses of a hymn, so there really isn't an opportunity to harmonize the hymn.  The one time I tried to do it, people just stopped singing because the familiar support of the organ notes had changed!

I like to harmonize on hymns when there are more than three verses.  If there are four verses, I often play an interlude between the third and fourth verse just to give people a chance to catch their breath.  If there are more than four verses, I'll usually play the last verse in a harmonized way, not sticking strictly to the notes as written in the hymnal.  Sometimes I'll play the melody with a solo stop, other times I will employ a harmonization from a book.  Either way, I do this to break up the monotony of hearing the same notes played verse after verse after verse.

Reading this dated article has given me pause for thought on the subject, and in the future I will probably ask the church I am subbing for how they feel about hymn harmonizations before I actually play some.

Last Updated on Friday, 31 August 2012 18:23
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