Let me talk about playing hymns. If you have a student who can’t read music, and you wonder what you should teach first, you can always start with a hymn! It’s important to me that whoever I am teaching, everyone learns to play hymns at
all levels. In Scandinavia, the organ is still the most important and most used instrument in the ceremonies in church. This is connected to the use of hymns in church, and consequent need of having the players skilled and able to play hymns, and not only
being able to play organ repertoire.
Based on my experience I have concluded that four-voice chorales require a form of intellectual awareness that youngsters develop first at the age of 16-18. I have reached this conclusion because it is at this
age the motoric skills and ability to read the scores are successfully combined. This will, of course, vary widely from individual to individual. However, as we all know, it`s up to the player how the four voices should be divided between left and right hands
and feet. This is often quite complex and difficult, so I usually arrange hymns as a trio that is with one part at each hand and the pedals. In this way, the student also gets a better understanding and knowledge of the melody and its structure and form.
In addition, I underline that playing hymns will probably allow for the following to occur:
- Interplay practice, between the congregation, the leader and the listener.
- An introduction to improvisation.
- A process
of inculturation, where behaviour is influenced through knowledge of our common cultural heritage.
- An introduction to the art of practicing organ registration according to the text.
- An introduction expanding knowledge of church music
Let me explain:
As we know, to lead the congregation through service playing requires the development of leadership skills. One must be a leader and listen at the same time. This is the opposite to solo playing.
It is very important
that the conditions for playing the hymns are established in a fun and passionate way. I often meet technically well-developed students capable of playing challenging solo pieces, who do not show the same skills and ability when it comes to a “simple”
hymn! This is one reason why I see this aspect of organ playing as important to musical development. Playing hymns gives the opportunity to teach improvisation, both through the chorale prelude and in the accompaniment of the various verses. Hymns also allow
for the inclusion of small doses of information about the church, such as rituals, ceremonies and the church year: Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, weddings, baptisms, and funerals all have their own requirements. Strategic decision may be thereby made to introduce
different styles and forms through the year, according to the calendar and the individual lives of the students.
My way of teaching hymns follows these opportunities:
- As interaction, where the pupil only plays the tune (together
- The pupil then plays the hymn tune as a duo with a figured (general) bass(alone)
- The pupil plays trio arrangements for manual(s) and pedal.(alone)
- The pupil plays three voices for manuals only. (Here the teacher also
may play the bass)
- Finally, the chorale as a whole is undertaken!