American Guild of Organists, Baltimore Chapter
Enriching lives through organ and choral music

Dear John

John Walker, DMA is Artist-in-Residence at Church of the Redeemer, Baltimore, having served earlier as Minister of Music at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, and The Riverside Church in New York City. He is a member of the organ faculty at Peabody Conservatory of Music and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Organ at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, following previous teaching positions at Duquesne University, Manhattan School of Music, San Jose State University, and the American Conservatory of Music. His active performance schedule has taken him throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. Dr. Walker has recorded frequently on the Pro Organo, Gothic, and JAV Recordings labels. As a student of Herbert Nanney, John Walker earned the Doctor of Musical Arts degree at Stanford University, where he was also Assistant University Organist. He holds two Master of Music degrees cum laude from American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, where he was later a member of the faculty. Dr. Walker was the 1984 alumni recipient of the Professional Achievement Award from Westminster College. A Fellow of the American Guild of Organists, John Walker was elected President of the AGO in 2014, having previously served the Guild in numerous other capacities including several terms as Vice President and Treasurer.

In our "Dear John" series, Dr. Walker answers questions from our Chapter members. An experienced, knowledgeable, and pastoral member, he has graciously accepted the board’s invitation to lead an “advice” column for our chapter newsletter. Many thanks to Dr. John Walker for taking up this challenge. If you have an organ, choral, or church music question, please use our contact form to submit your question to Dr. Walker. He will then choose one question to answer each month.

Global Music in Services (Part 1)

Dear John,

My pastor wants me to incorporate global music into our services. We don't have a piano in the sanctuary and we have limited percussion resources, as well as the limitation of people capable to play them. Can I do these hymns on the organ? Thank you! 

World Music Wonderer

Dear Colleagues,

 At the Richmond Convention of the AGO last June, Doug Brown presented a brilliant workshop on creative ways to accompany global music at the organ. Believing that we must find ways to adapt Latin-American repertoire to the organ, I am delighted to offer the following essay from Doug Brown. 

Dear World Music Wonderer,

The pipe organ is more versatile than we organists think. Let’s start with music from Latin America. At Ginter Park Presbyterian Church in Richmond, we use the chorus Somos uno en Cristo every week to follow the affirmation of faith. The first step with a Latin American tune is to try to find a dance rhythm that might be hiding in the music, and I find it pretty easy to imagine people dancing the tango to this tune. If we put a very basic tango pattern in the pedal, we end up with this:

All that’s left to do is to fill in the left hand with basic harmonies as much as you’d like. Don’t worry about the rules of tonal harmony; in a tune like this, rhythm trumps harmony!

I went to hear the Peruvian singer Eva Allyon a couple years ago. She was accompanied by a band that included a couple percussionists; I was mesmerized by how beautifully they passed between 6/8 and 3/4. The pipe organ is quite capable of doing more than one thing at once, so I thought about these percussionists when leading the Brazilian hymn Cantai ao Senhor from the organ console. It’s a little challenging, but the rhythmic drive is much more exciting when you combine triple and duple meters:

For the Caribbean hymn Si tuvieras fe, I long for the sounds of salsa: brass instruments and piano. I’ve done it before with me at the organ and a second player at the piano. If you’re not coordinated enough to play the melody with the accompaniment, you could try recording in the basic hymn on the organ trumpets into the playback feature of a pipe organ and using a shimmery registration on a lighter manual to play the salsa rhythms.

Next time, we’ll explore hymns from Africa. Good luck!

Doug Brown
Director of Music at Ginter Park Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Virginia, and at Union Presbyterian Seminary, Richmond, Virginia. 

These examples are based on ones used at a workshop for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Convention for the American Guild of Organists. 

Louis Gephardt