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