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Organist and Choirmaster.

How does an organist become an expert choirmaster? Dr. Gerrit Smith, in a paper read at the New York State Music Teachers’ Convention in Troy, the past summer, and printed in the Musical Leader and Concertgoer, replies as follows:—

“In only one of two or three ways. He may have been brought up in a choir and have absorbed ideas, he may have acted as assistant organist under some good conductor, or he may simply be a born conductor, such as we often find. The absolutely highest requisite for an organist of to-day is capability in choir-training. It will be a weak man who is willing to be organist under some other leader, and the results can never be so true and spontaneous for church purposes. Whereas, to assume the leadership oneself and to have an assistant organist is unnecessary (with proper experience) and is only effective for festival purposes. Large choirs can be perfectly controlled from the keyboard with very slight suggestion (physical or hypnotic), provided the necessary preliminary work has been done beforehand in the choir-room and later at the organ. Furthermore, a practical, or at least theoretical familiarity with vocal methods and voice-blending is imperative. Without this there can be no proper wielding or control of tonal masses in whole or in part.

“Rhythm, nuance, dynamics, phrasing, effects of all kinds, are established in the drill-room, merely to be recalled at the organ when necessary. All of this depends upon the organist’s being autocratic and serene in the confidence of his own ability. For this reason many a practical, hard-headed man of business, with a smack of music, becomes the more valuable leader and choirmaster. Perfect familiarity with the keyboard and facility of playing with the right hand and pedals permits of the necessary occasional signal for tempo or shading. A readiness and dexterity of adapting orchestral or piano scores or arrangements to practical organ coloring is almost absolutely necessary.

“The importance of proper control of a choir both collectively and individually is not to be underestimated. Firm belief in one’s own methods, quickness in grasping a difficulty, discernment in correctly placing an error, knowledge of what to omit, strictness in rhythm, insistance (sic) in carefulness, watchfulness for sloth, or lack of zeal, demand of attention, perseverance in enunciation,—these and many other contentions will soon serve to develop both the personnel of action and the artistic value of its performance.

“The work will be greatly facilitated, moreover, if the choirmaster shall take the pains to know his choir well as individuals and shall occasionally appeal to them as such. It is not, however, the object of this paper to give suggestions as to the manner of such work though many important points might be urged. I have spoken of the command of even inanimate things. These as being the most exasperating and incomprehensible, may be the sooner passed over. Reference is made to the assiduity of a thermal temperature which will compel one to patient and consistent practice in a cold church, or, what is even more essential, upon a pedal piano, or what is more annoying, without a motor, or what is still more annoying, when the church is locked. But these are only the beginnings of the demands of art.

“Bad weather, poor attendance, sickness, low temperature, a cranky organ,—these are what reduce rehearsals to an affliction, and an art the highest grade of which is reached when one can drill a choir which is not there and still present a reputable service. Such things are not uncommon. The leader must become either philosopher or maniac. One last thing of importance is the care of the music. No director should be burdened with this. Some one should be paid for the duty of properly indexing and distributing the music according to any desirable method.”


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