Evansville AGO Pipe Logo
Evansville AGO
Newsletter of the American Guild of Organists 
Evansville, Indiana Chapter

February 2007


Pedals, Pipes and Pizza on Presidents’ Day on February 19, attracted over 20 young people who spent a busy morning at St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church seeing, hearing, and above all playing a wide variety of organs.  Some of the group were from as far away as Lawrenceville, IL and Washington, IN.  This annual program is filling a regional need for educational enrichment activities in the arts.

As always, many people worked hard to make our event a success.  Thank you to all the following folks (and apologies to anyone I’ve missed!)

 Tom Drury and St. Mark’s Lutheran Church for facilities and help with materials
 University of Evansville for use of the Schreiner portative organ
 Neal Biggers and David Motz for use of the Estey field organ
 AGO National Headquarters, Robert Nicholls and First Presbyterian Church for packet materials (the best yet, including a CD for each participant)
 Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana, Mary Biever (homeschool newsletter) and Roger McBain (Evansville Courier & Press), publicity
 Registrar:  Jenni Taylor
 Name tags:  Tricia Clark
 Demonstrators:  Robert Nicholls, Matt Vanover (UE AGO), Tom Drury, Neal Biggers
 Food Service:  Carolyn Adams
 Photographer:  Larry Adams, who saved the day when my camera froze up
 Special thanks to Dennis Carr for bringing his grandson and staying all morning to help out, and to Dean Parker for financial support.
 Thank you to every one of our members who encouraged someone to attend, hung up a poster, or otherwise spread the word!
 -Helen Reed, Education Convener

It happened again last Sunday. I attended a church in a major metropolitan area not far from Evansville. The hymn singing was wonderful…when unaccompanied. But when the organist/pianist and the praise band were playing, it was like a tug-of-war between instrumentalists and the congregation. Rather than the “one voice” that we are encouraged to create “with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven,” everyone seemed to be going each to his/her own way and creating a “babel” of un-unified words and tone. Perhaps it’s evidence of an ultimate “independence,” promoted by secular society, having found its way into the Church. Perhaps not.

For this “special” service, the organ was used only for the prelude. The organist played the piano, and an ensemble consisting of violin, double bass, and one or two other instruments accompanied the hymns. “Well, that’s right up to date,” you might say. “How nice to have some relief from the pipe organ!” “Variety is the spice of life…and worship, too!”  I would agree with almost all of those statements, but there are a few issues that need to be thought about a LOT more by those who advocate abandoning or side-lining the organ for supporting congregational hymn singing or who think it’s “cool” to use violin and flute to accompany the singing.

There are solid musical and practical reasons why the pipe organ has a 400 year history of accompanying, supporting, and leading hymn singing:

1. It is a wind instrument. Like the human voice, its sound is produced by air. For centuries, pipe organ builders have voiced the hymn-accompanying sounds of pipe organs to be vocal.

2. Like the voice, the pipe organ is a sustaining instrument. Unlike the piano, whose sounds immediately start to decay once they have sounded, the organ features vocal-like, sustained sound which continues to support the voice at the same volume as long as a pitch is sustained.

3. In addition to unison pitch, the organ plays pitches above and below unison which cut through the sound of unison singing. Adding the sound of a flute or violin playing the same pitch being sung by the congregation does little if anything to support or lead the singing. Rather, the flute or violin tone blends into the unison of the singing or is masked by the singing. “Well, amplify the violin! Just turn up the volume!” some would say. The issue of amplification is big enough to be addressed in another “From the Dean….” Let me say here that bombarding un-trained singers with amplified sound is not a good solution. There is an issue of justice here; if the musicians get a micro-phone to make their instruments or voices loud, then everyone deserves to get a microphone.

4. While it is possible for an instrumental ensemble to play so well that their rhythm and phrasing match and adjust to the words of a hymn and to the natural pace of the congregation, this is an extremely challenging proposition which is very rarely, if ever achieved. Rehearsal time is a basic issue. It is much easier and practical for the single player of a pipe organ to listen, adjust, respond, push ahead, hold back, and breathe with the congregation.

In actual practice, how often are the pipe organ’s extremely positive benefits for supporting congregational singing actually realized? Regrettably, I would have to say “not nearly enough.”  What I have heard leads to my firm conviction that organists in general need to get back to basics re hymn playing:

1. Rhythm and tempo, especially as they relate to how untrained singers sing, need to be of paramount importance in the organist’s approach to supporting the singing.

2. Organists need to be able to sing and breathe with their own playing. Being able to get through a typical phrase in one breath should be a prime guide to tempo. Metronome marks which appear in some hymnbooks are of very little value.

3. Good rhythm for congregational singing is often set by the congregation with help from the organist. The organist’s job is NOT to impose a tempo on the congregation and then stick to that no matter what. That results in the tug-of-war which I experienced last Sunday. This scenario is the exact opposite of forming the unity of “one voice” which is one of the most basic goals of congregational singing.

4. The organist’s primary job in introducing a hymn is to set up a good rhythmic pulse. This involves not only getting into the ball-park of a good tempo; it also involves the rhythm of the phrase, the big rhythm of how one phrase relates to another and how one phrase gets to another phrase.

5. If a hymn is notated in 4/4 or ¾ time, the pulse is usually NOT the quarter note; it is almost always the half-note (4/4) or dotted half (3/4). A metronomic approach to the quarter note or concentrating on the quarter note tends to defeat singing because it defeats the larger rhythmic sweep of the phrase.

6. Registration is a decidedly secondary factor. Rhythm and phrasing are of the utmost importance. If registration (mixtures, different sounds for every verse, soloed out melodies on the party horn) is so important, how did people manage to sing hymns in colonial America or during the first half of the 20th century when such sounds were very rare on American organs? If a strong, musical, singing tempo is set, a single, vocal, Open Diapason can often do the trick in encouraging the singing. Another way to put it might be, “Get out and stay out of the way of the singing.” The organist’s fiddling with registration should never call attention to itself.

7. Playing faster is one of the worst “solutions” to a congregation’s “dragging” on hymns.  I have heard this approach even by highly-acclaimed organists. It can lead to a horrible, even painful experience for the singer. Conversely, having the tempo and phrasing just right can be a freeing, liberating experience for the untrained singer.

8. Too often there is far too much emphasis among organists, especially these days, with “fiddling” with the harmony and using free accompaniments. While it is a good thing to encourage unison singing, esp. from the standpoint of creating “one voice,” constantly tinkering with the harmony not only soon calls attention to itself and becomes irritating to many people, it virtually prevents four-part hymn singing which is an important and legitimate tradition of the Christian Church going back at least 400 years. The exciting effect of a free-accompaniment comes from less use rather than predictable use. Less is more.

9. The temptation to over-register and create the “shattering climax” can be a dead end which often calls attention more to the organist’s skill than it does to the text of the hymn, the most important reason we sing hymns.  Some organists think that if they play louder, the congregation will sing better, or that the “grand climax” will heighten the congregation’s religious experience. While there are instances when both may be true, there are many times when such approaches to hymn playing are simply habitual and predictable. The need to have it LOUD often begets the need to have it even LOUDER. This very wide-spread habit and expectation has led to the highly erroneous assumption that a “climactic” tuba or Trompette-en-chamade is absolutely essential equipment on even the smallest two-manual organ while other far more important issues such as beauty of singing organ tone get short-changed.

10. Getting the tempo, phrasing, and rhythm right or at least in the ball-park…for the untrained singer…needs to be the first order of business. This does not happen automatically by opening the hymn-book and starting to play. It requires thought and practice even if the organist “knows” the hymn and has played it for years.

Let us remember that the most important part…by far…of our jobs as organists is accompanying congregational singing.  Let us resolve to promote (according to the stated purposes of the Guild) the role of the pipe organ in its historic role of supporting congregational hymn singing. This noble tradition can best be continued by our being completely prepared to play hymns rhythmically in the largest and best sense of that word. Only then can the congregation sing with one voice and be completely immersed in paying attention to the words of the hymn.


On Saturday, April 14, 2007, the Evansville AGO will sponsor two events for young organists.  Both events will take place at St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 2300 Washington, Evansville, beginning at 2 PM.

As in previous years, we will hold a Dufford Scholarship Audition for organists who are high-school age or younger.  New this year will be an advanced division, for organists under the age of 23.  The winner of the Evansville competition will advance to the final round of the AGO/Quimby Regional Competition for Young Organists, to be held at the Region V AGO Convention on June 25, 2007 in Columbus, OH..  More information about the AGO/Quimby Regional Competitions is available on the national AGO website, www.agohq.org, or in the April 2006 issue of The American Organist.

The deadline for the AGO/Quimby competition has already passed.  The deadline for the Dufford Scholarship Audition is Monday, April 9, 2007.  If you know any young people who are studying the organ, please encourage them to investigate this opportunity.  For more information, requirements, and application forms, call or email our Education Convener, Helen Reed (812-476-0673; hsr@evansville.net).

at Redeemer Lutheran (Lincoln Avenue) on Monday, May 7, 2007

5:30 Registration/Social
6:00 Dinner
6:30 Business Meeting
7:00 Service

AGO Regional Convention in Columbus, OH  June 25-28


Kimberling Sacred Concert: On February 25 at 3:00 pm Dr. Clark Kimberling and his wife Margaret will be honored with a sacred concert consisting entirely of music composed by Dr. Kimberling. The program includes hymns, introits, descants, and anthems for adult and children’s choirs, bells, flute, recorder, organ, and trumpet. The concert at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 301 S.E. First Street in Evansville will be directed by Benjamin F. Boyer. Joining the Choir of St. Paul’s will be the Evansville Children’s Choir, the Choirs of the University of Evansville, Tim Smith on trumpet, Lisa McCarty on flute, and daughter Amy Kimberling Natzke on violin.  A reception will follow the free sacred concert.

The Choir of St. Thomas Church, New York City, John Scott, Director of Music, will perform at St. Francis in the Fields, US Hwy 42 at Wolf Pen Branch Rd., Louisville, on Sunday, March 4th at  5 pm. Admission is $15.  For additional information on the concert, contact Jim Rightmyer at 502 228-1176 or jimrightmyer@stfrancisinthefields.org

Shepherd Brass Quintet from UE at Eastminster Presbyterian Church on Sunday, March 18th at 3:00 PM

David Briggs at First Presbyterian, 609 SE Second St., Evansville on Sunday, March 18th at 4:00 PM.

Andrew Kolyto at First Presbyterian on Friday, March 23rd at 7:30 PM.

Tom Drury at St. Mark’s on Sunday, April 22nd at 3:00 PM.

Kirk Rich at First Presbyterian on Sunday, April 29th at 4:00 PM