Nov. 19, 2020

Sight Reading, Part IV

(con't from Part III)
The ability to handle new music quickly and easily is an important part of an organist's training, and many times this new music will be in the form of a song for voice with piano accompaniment.
Printed accompaniments for soloists and choirs are generally for piano, not organ.
Let's say that one day you're in a music store seated at a large electronic organ when someone grabs some sheet music at random from the display, places it on the rack, and says, "Play this."
Let's further presume that this piece of sheet music happens to be an arrangement of a popular song for voice and piano that you've never played before.
This may seem like a sight reading test, and that's certainly part of it, but there's something else from the skill department involved -- something very important that's closely related.
An organist needs not only to be able to sight read 4-part hymns from the hymn book and simple organ music on three staves but also to rearrange sheet music for voice and piano accompaniment on the spot while sight reading it so that it comes across on the organ.
Usually this means simplifying it.
Every beginner at the organ who comes from the piano quickly learns that it's not necessary to strike the organ keys more or less hard to produce changes in volume.
The biggest difference they notice between organ sheet music and piano sheet music however has to do with the piano's sustaining (damper) pedal [See blog, What About The Piano].
PIano music features octaves, octave chords, arpeggios spanning many octaves, long jumps from bass to treble, etc., usually with the sustaining pedal depressed; this creates an effect that's impossible to perform note-for-note at an organ because the organist must sustain tone by depressing keys.
This means that passages of piano music having octaves, long jumps, arpeggios, and sustained chords, octave chords, and repeated chords, when performed at the organ, all need to be simplified so that they sound musical.
It's a matter of "changing the manuscript mentally" to get clear what's written on the page, an extension of that same idea.
This is a study in itself, but some general tips can be offered to help the organist handle new music when confronted with a voice/piano arrangement.
1. Long Jumps -- the bass note is shifted from the left hand pinky finger to the left foot. This frees the bottom chord to be played by the left hand and sustained. The top chord is played with the right hand.
2. Octaves -- only one of the notes is played. When playing the top note a full 16' and 8' tone is used. A suboctave coupler might also be drawn to get the lower note of the octave to sound even though it's not played.
3. Long Arpeggios -- these notes are kept inside one octave so that all the notes lie under the outstretched fingers of a single hand.
4. Sustained Chords -- notes written too low on the bass staff, i.e. notes written below the 16' low C two lines below the staff, are moved up an octave. Extreme upper range chords are played in middle range.
5. Big 4-note Octave Chords in the Right Hand -- these can be played by dropping the bottom note to produce a thinner 3-note chord, by dropping the bottom note and one other note of the chord as a duet, or by playing only the top melody note.
6. Repeated Chords -- reiterated chords can be played by sustaining the top note of the chord and repeating the remaining notes. By moving the left hand bass note to the feet, the harmony in the reiterated right hand chords also can be sustained by holding the same chord in the left hand.
When converting this to an organ solo, close attention needs to be paid to the voice line printed above the piano part so that these melody notes can be included in the rearrangement and made clearly evident to the listener; generally this means playing it by the right hand, either as single notes or as the highest notes of chords.
When performing an organ transcription of any well-known piano work (such as Claire de lune from Suite bergamasque, by Claude Debussy) there is less liberty to exercise these same general principles, but they still apply.