The Etude
Name the Composer . Etude Magazine Covers . Etude Magazine Ads & Images . Selected Etude Magazine Stories . About

"Giving Out" the Tune.


Playing over the tune before the congregation rises to sing would seem to be such a simple matter as to leave nothing to say about it; but, indeed, it is not a simple matter, or, perhaps, I should rather say that its apparent simplicity leads too often to its being done in the most slipshod and inartistic way. Some organists are not at all particular about strict time in the matter; others seem to regard the playing over as a species of puzzle for the congregation to find out what the tune really is; while still another class have the notion that the softer and therefore more inaudible playing over is made the better.

This latter practice is quite a modern fancy. The late Mr. W. T. Best used to describe it as the “I-hope-I-don’t-intrude” method. The swell diapasons, or even a dulciana alone, are perhaps used, with the swell shut so that the sound fails to penetrate any distance into the church. It may be as sweet as a summer zephyr to the organist and those near enough to hear it, but it does not inspire a congregation to join with “heart and voice” in the coming hymn. In fact, more than half of the congregation are often unable to make out the tune at all, and sometimes do not get as much as a clear idea of the key. In these circumstances, how can they be expected to stand up promptly and begin singing? The effect is that the choir sings the first line or two alone, and the congregation gradually drops in as the tune unfolds itself to them.

The main essential of all “playing over” is that it should be done clearly and at the speed at which the singing is to go. There should always be sufficient tone to penetrate to every corner of the building. Beyond that, the amount of tone and the general character of the “giving out” should be in keeping with the hymn about to be sung. Obviously, it will not do to give out Onward, Christian Soldiers and Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee in the same way. In the first case, one might, for example, “solo” out the melody in octaves (melody note and octave below) on the trumpet stop, or, as I once heard it done by Dr. Peace, on the pedal trombone; in the other case, the swell diapasons, with or without pedal, would be appropriate. A noisy style is never to be commended for its own sake, but a good effect may often be gained in preluding a grand jubilant hymn by using a loud and striking combination which will arouse listless hearers and awaken some enthusiasm in the choir and congregation.


So much for general principle: let us look now at some details. “Giving out,” says Mr. Dudley Buck, “is susceptible of a great variety of treatment, only limited by the size of the instrument and the taste, the invention, and the skill of the player.” The simplest method is, of course, to play the tune over, as written, on the manual, with or without pedal. But an organist of taste and technical resource will seldom use that method more than once at a service. If the tune is at all unfamiliar, it is generally wise to give out the melody as a solo on one manual, with a subordinate accompaniment on another manual, and a soft pedal bass.

The choice of the particular solo stop will (or should) depend on the general character of the tune. Some tunes will suit the clarinet, some the oboe, some an eight-foot flute, and some the trumpet. Of course, a combination may be used, such as an eight and four-foot flute, or an eight-foot flute coupled to oboe, or even a soft sixteen-foot and eight-foot on the great. Further the melody can often be very effectively “soloed” in the tenor octave, that is, an octave below the written pitch. The swell oboe, or horn, if of good quality in this part of the register, is suitable in this way for plaintive tunes; while tunes with broad melodies come out well on the great open diapason. Of course, in this method there is the disadvantage of having to adapt the left- hand part from the upper and lower staves of the short score, involving often some rearrangement of the two individual parts. A knowledge of harmony will considerably help here, and a player who cannot trust himself to work from the printed score can easily make a manuscript arrangement for himself. Practice in this way will gradually lead to expertness.

Tunes with repeats should, as a rule, have the repeat portion played over in a different way from its first giving out. Haydn’s Austria (the Emperor’s Hymn) is a good example in this department. It has been “registered” for giving out by a well-known London organist, as follows: First and second lines (of words): solo clarinet, accompanied on soft swell; third and fourth lines (repetition of lines one and two): swell diapason, without pedal; fifth line: great diapason, coupled to swell reeds, with pedal open diapason; sixth line: gradually increase great and open swell; seventh line: full organ; eighth line: gradually reduce organ, and conclude with soft eight-foot on great. Of course, there are plenty of other methods, but this may be taken as sufficiently suggestive of the variety that is to be obtained in giving out a tune.


Special tunes and special classes of tunes require special treatment. As regards the latter, the German chorales and most broad, massive tunes of the St. Ann’s and Old Hundredth type, come out perhaps best when played over in pure four-part harmony on the great eight-foot diapasons, uncoupled, but with pedal coupled. Again, the full swell (closed) is very effective in extended chords by playing the right hand an octave higher, with pedal coupled, in such tunes as Smart’s Regent Square and Croft’s Hanover. For slow minor tunes, such as St. Mary, the great diapasons and manual sixteen-foot, with pedal coupled, are usually suitable.

Special tunes can be treated in a variety of ways, according to their character. Several of Dyke’s familiar tunes fall under this head, such as St. Aëlred for Fierce Raged the Tempest, and Vox Dilecti for I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say. In St. Aëlred the first and second lines demand totally different treatment from the third and fourth, though I have sometimes been amazed to hear the whole tune played over on the same combination. On a good organ, a striking effective treatment would be something like this: Lines one and two: great to mixture (without reeds), coupled to full swell, open, with pedal sixteen-foot coupled to great; line three: great soft eight-foot coupled to swell diapasons and oboe, without pedal; line four: swell diapasons only, a soft sixteen-foot pedal coming in only at the last chord.—The Choir Leader.


Since Liszt incorrectly thought Bach of Hungarian ancestry, in his fugue on B-A-C-H, he introduced a section full of Hungarian peculiarities. He remarked to a pupil of his that this “represented the whole Bach family with twenty-four children clambering around on the trees.” — (F. S. L.)


<< Pupils' Recitals     The Light That Failed. >>

Monthly Archives


The Publisher of The Etude Will Supply Anything In Music