Some Thoughts On Leading Congregational Singing...

The organist serves as both the leader and interpreter in the singing of hymns by the congregation. Along with this role comes both authority and responsibility.

It is the task of the organist, therefore, to study each hymn in advance to determine the appropriate tempo, phrasing, key (not always the one in which the hymn appears in the hymnal) and suitable organ registration for each of the hymn stanzas. Other decisions might include using a special prelude to introduce the hymn, interludes between stanzas and when they should occur, modulations and re-harmonization.

The problem on which we will focus here is that of "dragging" tempo. The following suggestions and considerations might help:

    • Decide on the tempo that you believe is accurate and appropriate by physically singing the hymn yourself after studying the text.
    • Play the hymn introduction in that tempo and do not retard or broaden the tempo on the final phrase of your introduction.
    • Expect a normal "push and pull" with the singers when they begin to sing and learn to ignore it. It will disappear in time as they get used to your leadership role. Maintain YOUR tempo.
    • Use a registration that incorporates as much 2' and Mixture sound as the hymn interpretation will allow.
    • At the end of hymn text phrases, release the chord at the end of the phrase a beat short of the written note duration (filling the time with a rest), encouraging the singers to phrase and breathe with you. If you enjoy a longer acoustical reverberation time in the room, this concept is even more necessary.
    • Learn to play the soprano and bass lines legato while playing the alto and tenor lines detached. This is especially appropriate on hymns that demand a "marcato" or rhythmic interpretation. Since bass notes reverberate longer acoustically, playing the bass or pedal line staccato does little to help the problem.
    • Organ volume must be strong enough to lead and yet not overpower. The organ does not merely accompany in hymn singing. A special advantage exists here with a digital instrument. Even the most colorful and powerful stops (even in the Great division) can be used to achieve a full, rich sonority (sometimes called an English "Full Swell") and yet be adjusted in volume with the expression shoes to accommodate and inspire a small congregation. NOTE: If a member of the congregation offers a comment about your organ volume being too loud for the congregation's singing, request that "next Sunday" he or she be seated in the front pews of the church and sing (not listen) during the hymns. This should alter their perspective significantly, since they will hear the voices of the congregation as a whole in relation to the organ, as well as experience their own voice "joining" with the total sound.

We hope you enjoy this little performance tip. We'd also be interested in learning other ways in which you've found the features of your Allen organ make life easier for church musicians. If you have an idea you'd like to share, send us an e-mail at: Allen Organ Company and we'll consider including your tips in future issues of this newsletter. Happy conducting, playing and registering! And, remember, smile while you're at it!