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More Organ Music in the Church Service.

Probably no one but the church organist himself fully realizes the difficulties under which he plies his art. The average Protestant church service makes no provision for undisturbed organ playing per se, and thus loses a powerful aid in deepening and enriching devotional influence. It generally fills the part of an accompaniment to other things which take precedence. No matter how inspiring or uplifting the opening voluntary may be, its chief office in most eyes is to cover the entrance of the congregation. The tender melody which is customary at the offertory is punctuated by the tread of the alms-takers and the chink of the money as it is dropped on the plate. Even the postlude, in which a traditional custom allows the organist to let loose the dogs of war, in which mixtures and trumpet may blare forth their unharmonic overtones—even this robust assertion of all the power of the instrument—is hardly strong enough to distract the members of the congregation in their cheerful social greetings or to deaden their far from noiseless exodus.

Then, too, the player is obliged to adapt himself to the varying exigencies of these occasions. He must mete out his music by Procrustean measure. If the clergyman is late in entering, the voluntary must be extended. Yet it must not stray too far from the principal key, since the player may be obliged to finish at a few seconds’ warning. Even the best of clergymen grow impatient if held back by the organist in beginning the service. The offertory must be accommodated to the tour made by the collectors. The postlude, to be sure, is the organist’s own, to end when he likes; but it is not inspiring, to say the least, at a brilliant climax to glance over one’s shoulder and discover an empty church.

This lack of opportunity for legitimate organ-playing within the limits of the service has led in many cases to prefatory organ recitals. These, however, do not meet the point at issue. Such recitals may harmonize with the hour and the place, but still remain a thing apart from the service itself. There seems to be but little idea that anything can be gained by the direct incorporation of the organ, not as accessory, but as principal, into divine service. A few churches have taken a step in this direction by admitting a brief instrumental response instead of an Amen after a prayer. This, if skillfully managed, has a beautiful and truly devotional effect. It requires, however, no little tact and sensibility on the part of the player. Any attempt to exploit his own personality, or to introduce false or mawkish sentiment, is fatal. It should seem a continuation of the prayer—a continuation in which the thought is carried beyond the power of words into the sphere of feeling awakened by the petition. This directly touches the mission of music: the expression of what is inexpressible by ordinary modes of expression. It should not be so long as to break the chain of thought by its weight, nor so short as to forbid all musical development and give the impression of abruptness. From eight to twelve measures would seem a fitting length.

In only one church that I know has it been proposed to introduce an independent organ solo as an integral and uninterrupted part of the service. Granted the requisite tact and judgment on the part of the organist, it is certain that his could be done, at least on special occasions, with excellent effect. Why might not the choir on festival days yield one of their anthems to a strong and characteristic utterance from the organ? Or why, on a day of penitence, might not the organ breathe out for itself notes of contrition and repentance?—Fred. S. Law.

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You are reading More Organ Music in the Church Service. from the March, 1900 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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