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Rhythmical Organists.


A serious fault in organ playing is quite prevalent. Having frequent opportunity of hearing organists perform, it has been forced upon me that the performance often possesses a deficiency which destroys the enjoyment to a listener. The fault referred to is a lack of rhythm. Now what is rhythm? Widor says, “It is the constant manifestation of determination, or will, upon the periodical recurrence of the accented beats. It is only by rhythm that one wins attention. Particularly in the case of the organ, all accents, all effects are dependent upon it. You may bear upon the keyboard with the weight of pounds, with all the strength of your shoulders—you will gain nothing by it. But delay by a tenth of a second the attack of a chord, or prolong this same chord the very least fraction of time, and judge of the effect produced! Upon a manual not provided with a swell-box one may obtain a crescendo without the aid of a mechanism of any kind by the simple augmentation of the duration allowed successive chords or detached phrases.

“To play upon an organ is to deal with chronometric values. Woe be unto you if your tempo is not absolutely regular, if your will does not manifest itself at every breathing-point of the phrase, at every ‘lift,’ if you unconsciously permit yourself to ‘hurry’!”

This does not mean that the organist should play like a machine. Let us rather compare the rhythm to the pulsations of the human heart; it beats quickly or slowly, following the emotions of the soul, yet always with the same regularity.

To play in this manner it is necessary to be absolute master of one’s self; to sit firmly and well balanced upon the bench, making no superfluous motions of the body. How distressing it is to see some organists rocking and swaying like a ship in a storm! Changing of stops often causes a break in rhythm. This should not be the case. It is much better to play a whole piece without change than to pause every now and then, or hold a chord with one hand while the other is seeking stops. What would you say of an orchestral performance where the conductor stopped occasionally to allow the violinists to adjust their mutes, or the trumpeters to change their crooks?

With the organist nothing should be left to chance; do not plan the stop changes too frequently. Plan them at points where rests occur, or at ends of phrases and cadences. This is an art worth cultivating, for upon the neat changing of stops much depends.

In hymn playing good rhythm is essential. We often hear the final note of a line, especially if it be a whole note, shortened. By so doing the rhythm is lost. This is very disconcerting and tends to discourage congregational singing.

Rhythm is the life of music, giving it power to arouse emotions and feelings. As this is the prime requisite of an organist, careful consideration of this feature will repay the time spent upon it.

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