Baltimore Chapter of the American Guild of Organists
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.

Shorter Organ Masterworks

Dear John,

I would like to introduce my congregation to organ masterworks during the service; but to accommodate the limited available time for prelude and postlude, I feel compelled to select shorter and less substantial works. What might I do?

—Stacey Stymied

Dear Stacey,

For more than 400 years musicians have encountered the question which you have raised: how best to provide the finest musical offering within liturgical time constraints. As a complement to chorale preludes and individual movements of sonatas and suites, there exists an historic and honorable tradition of performing abbreviated sections of longer masterworks.

As early as 1615 Girolamo Frescobaldi wrote in the forward to his first book of toccatas that the player may conclude each work at any convenient cadence (doubtless to tailor the piece to the time available for its use in the mass):

I have seen to it not only that [these works] are rich in varied sections and moods but also that one may play each section separately, so that the player can stop wherever he wishes.

Twenty years later (1635), in the preface to his Fiori musicali, Frescobaldi, the quintessential liturgical musician, wrote this similar advice:

My main purpose is to help organists….(who) may use these verses as they please. Canzone and Ricercari may be concluded at the cadences when they are too long.

Numerous large works of other composers may also be tailored for liturgical use in similar manner:

Bach, Pièce d’Orgue, BWV 572 The central section (Grave) may be excerpted as a standalone composition for a Lenten prelude, postlude or for a stately procession. The last two-anda-half measures of the final section (Lentement) might be a helpful resolution to the diminished-seventh chord at the end of the Grave section.

Franck, Grande Pièce Symphonique The Andante which begins the second section of this large composition is effective as a quiet service prelude. The concluding section (Beaucoup largement) works well as a service postlude.

What other ways have you discovered to adapt longer masterworks to service use? Might you be willing to share those discoveries with your colleagues in the Baltimore Chapter? I invite you to send those recommendations to me at Let’s help each other to find ways to present organ music of the greatest value to our congregations! More ideas to follow!

John Walker

Louis Gephardt