Dr. Waldo Selden Pratt, Professor of Music and Hymnology in Hartford Theological Seminary, has just issued, through the house of Fleming H. Revell Company, of New York, a small volume entitled “Musical Ministries in the Church,” which should be in the hands of every organist, choirmaster, minister, and member of a Music Committee. The subject-matter of the book is divided into chapters on “Religion and the Art of Music,” “Hymns and Hymn-Singing,” “The Choir,” “The Organ and the Organist,” and “The Minister’s Responsibility,” to which are added a list of books on church-music, hymns, and church-hymnals.
Dr. Pratt has treated the subject dispassionately, showing a keen sense of the two sides of his subject, and has introduced in the various chapters numerous vital facts which are often overlooked and which are too weighty to be set aside when the subject is being considered with any idea of justice.
The following, from the chapter on “The Organ and the Organist,” concerning the organ-prelude and postlude, will give an excellent idea of the general character of the book:
Value of Music in Church-Service.
Many of the peculiar tonal effects that are producible from the pipe-organ have special potency in evoking a stimulating religious feeling… . The organ-prelude is the most important device by which it is sought to turn this value to liturgical account. The congregation, as it comes together, is made up of various classes—young and old, rich and poor, happy and sorrowful, serious and heedless. Every experienced public speaker is profoundly aware of the exceeding heterogeneity and the comparative inertia of such an assembly. The first great needs are some degree of emotional unity and the establishment of some mental momentum in the congregation as a whole.
Among the many possible means to these ends the organ-prelude is certainly one of the most useful. To do its work, it needs to have enough obvious tonal beauty and strength both to command general attention and to attract sympathetic delight. It should be positive and confident enough in technical presentation to exert a kind of magnetic control over the listener, whether or not he is able to follow it in detail with a connoisseur’s interest. And obviously it should have such a character as to help those who hear toward a healthy and hearty elevation of spirit, toward a state of mind where the offering of worship is easy and where the receiving of spiritual instruction and guidance is welcome.
the style of the prelude.
It is doubtful whether the exact style of prelude that shall do these things can be defined with any exactness. I rather believe that many useful styles are possible, varying with the player, with the congregation, and with the occasion. But a few practical points may be suggested. The length of the usual prelude should be between four and eight or ten minutes. Its style should rarely be so ornate or florid as to attract special attention to the player’s dexterity or the composer’s ingenuity. It should be more emotional than learned, more sweet and solemn than fanciful or merely pretty, more meditative than boisterous and loud, more noble than
amazing. Its themes and harmonies and rhythms should be kept from anything that would recall the more popular concert or the theater. Usually it should be something written for the organ and for church use rather than an adaptation from other musical literature. Its technical presentation should not be contrived so as to show off either the player’s versatility or the resources of the instrument, except as mere incidents. All these things are obvious.
the prelude a personal expression.
But something more needs to be said. The prelude, like every dignified piece of instrumental music, is not only a thing, but an expression. It is a means whereby the organist, following in the track of the composer, can bring himself to bear upon the congregation. His general character is probably more or less known, but in his preludes he has an exceptional chance again and again to declare himself somewhat intimately and to join the force of his personality to the other personal forces of public worship. For every earnest organist, whatever be his artistic capacity, this truly ministerial function may be a great and inspiring one. One has but to know organists to find that into the fulfilment of this week after week often goes a wholly incalculable amount of the choicest desire and intention. And even those who are not conscious of such high purposes realize that they are not without obligation to keep them in sight.
It is nothing less than shameful how often both ministers and congregations hamper and defeat these efforts at self-expression by their habitual treatment of them. The prelude usually receives but scant courtesy, if not actual disdain. The minister is fussily busy over his little preparations in the pulpit and outside. Many of the people are still straggling in, settling themselves and their wraps, perhaps talking more or less. Oftentimes the air is full of the noise of movement and evident inattention; so that neither the player nor those who are minded to listen are given the help of even passable decorum. Thus, instead of recognizing the prelude as a personal utterance, the notion is fostered that it is something wholly outside the service proper, a piece of sumptuary elegance, or an empty and senseless foolishness.
The same things may be said even more bitterly about the postlude, that musical meditation or commentary at the end of the service, which practically universal customs of discourtesy have reduced to a condition of utter and disgraceful uselessness in ways that need no description.
Respect Should be Accorded.
These things ought not so to be. Either the prelude and the postlude are significant because they are personal utterances and personal appeals, or they are not worth an organist’s working upon or worth counting as parts of public worship. Either they should be treated fairly or given up. I am well aware of the objections that may be lodged against the way in which certain organists themselves have debased these exercises—objections that surely have sufficient provocation; but, after allowing for such cases, it must be said that here, as so often in the whole system of our church-music, a special stress of blame for unworthy habits and standards of action falls on the ministers and congregations. They have too frequently made it clear that they do not respect and do not care to learn to respect these instrumental exercises in their own services. And yet they have the presumption to ask a self-respecting organist to supply, Sunday after Sunday, what they thus make of no account.
In the presence of facts like these it need not seem strange that sometimes high-minded musicians are forced to say, with genuine regret, that they do not care to have anything to do with the practical handling of church-music in some of our churches.
Etude Magazine. December, 1901