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.

Effective Sonic Balance Between Voice and Organ (Part 2)

Dear Dynamically Distressed,

Last month I suggested that you locate someone to play so that you could experience the varied sounds and dynamics of the organ from the vantage of the congregation. I hope that exercise may have been helpful for you to understand more realistically the sonority and dynamics of your particular organ in its unique acoustical environment.

Voices can balance larger organ sonorities when those sounds are produced within an enclosed chamber, such as a swell or choir box. This chamber reduces some of the overtones, thereby giving greater advantage to the singers. When employing large combinations of ranks for choral accompaniment, experiment with use of enclosed divisions. Alternatively, when playing on an unenclosed division, i.e. the Great, experiment with more space between pitches, thereby allowing the voices to be more easily heard. Of course during instrumental interludes between choral phrases, fuller resources of the organ can be used to effective advantage.

A large amount of choral accompaniment can be accomplished successfully with these four graduated pistons or variants thereof:

General 1 – Swell and Choir: flutes 8’, 4’ Ped.: soft bourdons 16’, 8’ Swell and Choir to Great 8’  Swell to Pedal 8’

General 2 – Swell and Choir: flute and strings 8’, flute 4’ Ped.: soft bourdons 16’, 8’ Swell and Choir to Great 8' Swell to Pedal 8’

General 3 – Swell, Choir and Great: principal 8’ Ped.: Bourdon 16’, Spitzflute 8’ Swell to Great 8’; Swell to Choir 8’; Swell and Choir to Pedal 8’

General 4 -   Swell, Choir and Great: principals 8’, 4’   Ped.: Bourdon 16’, Principal 8’

Swell to Great 8’; Swell to Choir 8’; Swell and Choir to Pedal 8’

Additional general and divisional pistons may be employed to provide particular sonic color, such as oboe, clarinet, trumpet or French horn when implied in the score.

Next month I hope to suggest some basic organ registrations for hymn playing.

John Walker