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.

Organ Masterworks During Services

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 Stymied,

Over the course of many centuries we find helpful indications from composers who suggested abbreviations and other modifications of their compositions to tailor them to liturgical requirements. Jean Titelouze (1563-1633), organist at the Cathedral of Rouen and composer of the earliest known publications of French organ music, in the Preface to his Magnificats writes that the organist may shorten any verset during the service by substituting the printed cadence with one on the final (i.e. tonic). According to his prefaces, Titelouze was concerned with making his pieces easier to play and playable by hands alone. He goes as far as suggesting, in the preface to Hymnes, to alter the music if it is too difficult to play!

Many other opportunities exist to extract portions of larger works for liturgical use. Thanks to Tom Spacht for his helpful suggestion that, “…probably almost too obvious are movements from any of the Mendelssohn organ sonatas, as well as the preludes and fugues which can be separated as prelude and/or postlude. Some shorter movements from Messiaen works may be selected.”

One such portion is the toccata which forms the second half of Messiaen’s Dieu parmi nous (God among us). Since the composer himself regarded the first half of this work as an introduction, the toccata, beginning in measure 60, might function as a brilliant postlude to a Christmas service. (Start to prepare it now for next December!)

Likewise with sets of variations, we might choose certain movements for particular occasions. From Marcel Dupré’s Variations sur un Noel, the concluding fugue and finale make a rousing postlude during the Christmas season.

Other French compositions which may be abbreviated successfully include Eugène Gigout, Grand Choeur Dialogué, in which one may make a cut from measure 44 to measure 67; and Louis Vierne, Carillon de Westminster, in which a cut may be effectively made from measure 34 to measure 60.

In the spirit of Titelouze and Frescobaldi, I encourage each of us to discover creative ways to present organ masterworks to our congregations within localized time constraints. Doing so will fulfill our paramount role as music educator within each of our parishes.

- John Walker

Louis Gephardt