Global Music on the Organ (Part 2)
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?
World Music Wonderer
Dear World Music Wonderer,
One of the most important things to remember about the pipe organ is that, really, it’s just a bunch of flutes and reeds. I had that in my head when I was practicing the Cameroonian hymn, Louez le Seigneur!. I did a quick internet search for Cameroonian flute music and turned up this wonderful website: http://en.cezame-fle.com/liste_titres_album.php?id_album=1310
After listening to the flutists in the first example, I transposed their music:
and used it as an ostinato under which I could play the hymn tune during the hymn introduction and during an interlude before the last verse. It turned out to be a nice way to include a wider variety of Cameroonian musical material. For the hymn itself, I played it pretty much as written, on reed stops, with a very steady and deliberate pulse.
I love the Tanzanian hymn, “Gracious Spirit, Hear Our Pleading”, but I find that playing the parts from the hymnal leaves you with a hymn that sounds more like a Genevan Psalter tune than something out of East Africa. I thought back to a standard bell pattern from Ghanaian drumming (I know that Ghana isn’t really all that close to Tanzania, but it’s closer than Geneva!). I crafted a nice pedal ostinato out of the pattern,
and I used it underneath the hymn tune. For the first few verses, I used only that ostinato and the melody; coordinating it is a little tricky, and it’s nice to have the tune stated clearly for congregations not familiar with it. Remember that rhythm can trump harmony. In later verses, I might fill in some chords with my left hand.
Sometimes I don’t need to adjust what’s on the page too much. The fantastic Zimbabwean hymn Uyai Mose has a rhythmically active tune, so it can be quite effective to play what is on the page with the organ’s trumpet stops. Reeds can make rhythms clearer, and I like to think that I can approximate the sound of a Zimbabwean brass band (I did a quick internet search to determine that Zimbabwe actually has brass bands). Again, a very steady and deliberate pulse is in order; never rush music from Africa.
For our final hymn, let’s travel further east to Taiwan. Ever since I opened a copy of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God, I have been intrigued by the Taiwanese hymn “The Rice of Life.” But, what can an organist do with a hymn that has slides in the melody? It’s a quadratonic melody, so I wondered about setting up a recorded pattern of randomly played notes from the melody over a pedal of the final pitch; if you don’t have a record function on your instrument, you can even mark the keys with stickers and have a member or two of the congregation play the organ. With the organ set up to play a steady stream of pitches from the scale, I stood in front of the congregation and sang the melody with them, very slowly and deliberately, complete with bits of portamento. It’s a hauntingly beautiful hymn, and it’s terrific to support it with the organ.
Next month, we’ll look at recent American hymns composed in a folk style.
Doug Brown is Director of Music at Ginter Park Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Virginia, and at Union Presbyterian Seminary, Richmond, Virginia.