May. 17, 2016

Hymns, Part II

(con't from Part I)
A collection of easy to read hymn books is an invaluable resource to an organ scholar.
A familiarity with the fixed melody, or cantus firmus (c.f.) of a number of well known hymn tunes is the first step to learning to improvise [See blog, Improvisation, Parts I-VI].
A collection of various hard bound hymnals, especially older, out of print editions in good condition (photo) with the music printed in 4 part harmony, is also helpful for locating a specific hymn or musical response.
Four part hymn settings are not organ music; they are choral music which the organist arranges for performance on the organ, and these make excellent material for studying voice leading, practicing sight reading, learning hymn playing techniques (there are several), and, of course, improvising in the various ways that a hymn tune can be announced.
Such hymn books might include the Army/Navy Hymnal, the New Hymnal (old edition) and the Hymnbook 1982 of the Episcopal church, the Hymnal of the Presbyterian church, the Celebration Hymnal, the Methodist Hymnal, Hymns of the Saints (RLDS), the Christian Science Hymnal, the Baptist Hymnal, the Lutheran Worship Hymnal, the Pilgrim Hymnal, the Hymnal of the United Church of Christ, and the New Century Hymnal, just to name a few.
Less expensive copies of most, if not all, of these hymnals can be located over time and purchased for nominal cost at any good used book store.
Nowadays there are also various on line hymnals which can be used without charge to locate, download, and print hard to find hymns and songs.
Hymn leading is an essential skill for an organist to develop, so much so that The American Guild of Organists (AGO) considers hymn playing a critically important skill for professional certification [See blog, American Guild of Organists].
The AGO provides for 5 levels of professional certification for organists which are of increasing difficulty beginning with the Service Playing Certificate (SPC) and progressing to Colleague (CAGO) certification, Associateship (AAGO) certificate, and finally to the Fellowship (FAGO) certificate which demands some extraordinary feats of musicianship; a Choirmaster (ChM) certificate in choral conducting is also offered.
Save for the Fellow examination, hymn playing skills are tested for every one of these levels of proficiency.
Again, it's important to realize that, when we're looking at a 4 part hymn setting, it isn't a piece of piano music or organ music.
It's vocal music ... choral music that the organist is expected to interpret and make into an arrangement, to adapt it to the organ, which involves a entirely separate set of skills.
In the hymnal the hymn is printed on two staves; the organist takes the bass line from the bottom staff and plays it on the pedals as if there were a 3rd staff written in bass clef.
The left hand then takes the tenor line, and the soprano and alto lines are supplied to the right hand; sometimes, if the distance between the soprano and alto parts cannot be accomodated by the right hand alone, the alto part is assigned also to the left hand, which is called "hand division."
Hand division is determined when the fingering is worked out.
If the hymn tune is soloed out by the right hand on a second manual using a heavier registration, the left hand would also take the alto and tenor parts.
(con't in Part III)