Posts Tagged 'Instruments'

TODAY: Virtual Organ Concert to Benefit Geneva College

The Welcome the Morning Star Alumni Benefit Concert featuring Michael Kearney ’17 is a virtual format organ concert to raise funds and awareness for Geneva’s COVID-19 Project Fund. The benefit recital will feature old and new compositions, highlighting psalms and hymns in a variety of styles, and will conclude with the monumental Allegro from Widor’s Sixth Organ Symphony.

This special event will premiere tonight, Friday, December 18, 2020, at 7 p.m. EST. It will broadcast simultaneously on the YouTube channels of URC Psalmody and Geneva College. The URC Psalmody stream link is below.

Donations through an online free will offering will help the college weather the significant financial costs of carrying out its mission under pandemic conditions through the $1 Million COVID-19 Project Fund. Visit Geneva College’s website for more information about this historic Reformed Christian institution of higher education and to support the college.

The concert will also be available to watch on YouTube after the broadcast has ended.

–MRK

Abraham Kuyper on Church Music

9780802863935The Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) knew how to poke where it hurts when it comes to Reformed church music. But his words are an important reminder for church musicians in a variety of settings and styles:

The congregation had to sing, but in the north of Europe, where Calvinism was especially strong, the people as a rule sing neither in tune nor with accuracy, and neither do they excel in melodious voices.

They tried to correct this shortcoming in two ways–by introducing the organ, and by using a choir or precentor. Of course, it would have been most desirable if they could do without the organ. The pure singing of only human voices is far superior to organ music; the organ comes in to lead only when the singing falters. Leading of congregational singing can also be done by a choir or a precentor with great vocal power. Such precentors, however, can only rarely be found, and should they be found, they often exude their personality too much and thereby become a diversion. A choir is easily assembled, but a choir usually concentrates on the art, seldom on the spirit and contents, and soon the congregation, seduced by the beautiful choir, will keep silent in order to better listen to the singing of the choir. For that reason churches gave preference to organ music . . .

There is nothing objectionable about this organ music, provided that the church council makes sure that the organists do not try to push themselves to the fore. Their task is to lead, support, regulate, and promote the singing; the organ should never assume the right to let itself be heard. It has to serve the singing of the congregation and be dedicated to improve it, to elevate it, to inspire it, and to enter into its spirit. The organ must not overpower the song, but the song must be rendered all the more gloriously because of the organist’s support. When the organist seeks to serve himself and not the congregation and tries to attract attention to himself, the congregation is offended. Our great organists have always been able to avoid this evil; it is only the half-baked organists who, understanding neither the requirements of art nor the sacredness of the worship service, continually try fancy tricks for their own promotion.

Abraham Kuyper, Our Worship (Onze Eeredienst), edited by Harry Boonstra, translated by Harry Boonstra, Henry Baron, Gerrit Sheeres, and Leonard Sweetman (1911; repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 56-57.

–MRK

NEW Grotenhuis Music Collection Released!

Are you a Reformed church musician who struggles to find musical resources related to the blue Psalter Hymnal? For the 1912 Psalter, there are accompaniment tracks, choral arrangements, and even entire conferences produced by members of the Protestant Reformed Churches. And an entire section of the publishing house of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Crown and Covenant, is devoted to selling their own psalm-singing resources. But for us in the URCNA, besides the occasional MIDI track that reaches our computers through the internet grapevine, there isn’t much beyond the bare sheet music of the blue Psalter Hymnal.

Except for the work of the late Dale Grotenhuis.

Choir Settings by Dale Grotenhuis

Choir Settings by Dale Grotenhuis

Painfully aware on my own part of this great need for Psalter Hymnal resources, I discovered some of Grotenhuis’ choral settings fairly soon after beginning URC Psalmody. As I listened to his versatile and varied arrangements on Dordt College’s 6-CD set Be Thou Exalted, LORD, I fervently wished I could somehow get my hands on the sheet music. Since most of Grotenhuis’ music was never formally published, however, it seemed a fruitless task.

Just this week, however, a reader sent me a link to a new database in Dordt’s digital collections. After his death, Dale Grotenhuis’s family authorized Dordt to make his extensive collection of unpublished sheet music available on the internet . . . for free! Here’s what the database home page says:

The Grotenhuis Music Collection was deeded to Dordt College by the Grotenhuis Estate in 2013. The physical collection includes over 500 unpublished music scores composed or arranged by Dale over the course of his career and is housed in the Dordt College Archives. Choral and instrumental pieces make up the majority of the collection with the instrumental category being further subdivided into band, brass, and keyboard compositions and arrangements. Most of the scores are undated. The few dates specified range from 1973 to 2002. All scores were scanned in their original state to preserve the primary format of the works.

The Estate assigns a Creative Commons Attribution/Noncommercial/No Derivatives (CCC BY-NC-ND) license to all of the material in the Grotenhuis Music Collection. Individuals who wish to publish materials from the Grotenhuis Music Collection must secure permission from both the Estate and from Dordt College in its capacity as the owner of the physical property.

It would take days, if not weeks, to even scratch the surface of this exhaustive collection, but here’s a tiny cross-section of the wonderful resources it contains:

Whether you’re a pastor, an accompanist, or just a musically-minded member of a Reformed congregation, this collection of Grotenhuis’ works just might become your new standard resource for sheet music related to the blue Psalter Hymnal. I’m thinking especially of small churches which, in the absence of pianists or organists, often need congregational accompaniment from whatever instrumentalists happen to be on hand. With access to a library like this, finding a trumpet transposition or clarinet arrangement of a Psalter Hymnal tune becomes a manageable, maybe even easy, task. Reformed musicians owe the Grotenhuis family a huge thank-you for making such a valuable resource available to the church at large.

As more and more people become acquainted with Dale Grotenhuis’ collection, I’d love to see the development of a topical index or search function to make locating a particular piece or instrumental part more efficient. For now, though, this incredible library of music for Reformed churches is all there, ready to continue its service for God’s kingdom—just as its composer had always intended.

Visit the Grotenhuis Music Collection »

–MRK

Featured Recording: Analyzing Accompaniment

Featured Recording

Even with URC Psalmody’s 187 videos on YouTube and hundreds of other psalm-related videos from other channels, picking a Featured Recording each week can be surprisingly difficult.  Usually I try to pick a recording from which I can make a related point, or at least offer some helpful thoughts for reflection.

The candidates for today’s post included a video I just put up yesterday of my home congregation singing “Be Thou My Helper in the Strife” (Psalter Hymnal 60, from Psalm 35).  I was unconvinced; it’s a six-and-a-half-minute long video, much longer than the average congregational song, and it’s far from perfect.  For my own part, I wasn’t too confident about the way I had played it, or the merits of the recording in general. But I did start to think about some of the challenges and unique aspects of a song like this one, and came to believe it could make for a thought-provoking Featured Recording post after all.

My pastor had chosen this song from Psalm 35 to accompany a sermon on Luke 20:45-21:4—and it was a very appropriate choice, I think.  He also decided to split the psalm setting in half, having the congregation sing the first four verses before the sermon and the last four after it.  I combined the two halves on the recording for continuity, but you can still pick out the splice.

As I mentioned, the challenges inherent in this case were many.  Our second service is slightly smaller than the morning service (which isn’t large either), so the entire congregation usually sits on one side of the sanctuary.  When I’m scheduled to play, I tend to prefer the piano for this smaller group.  This gives me more musical freedom, since I’m still no master of the organ, but it also means I have to work extra hard to musically lead the congregation.  Thankfully the tune of this psalm setting is that of the familiar hymn “He Leadeth Me,” so they were able to hold the melody line without much trouble.

Then there was the interpretation of the psalm itself.  Psalm 35 is one of the most violent imprecatory songs in the entire Psalter, alternating between exultant highs and the darkest of lows.  Reflecting this in my piano playing was incredibly difficult; while I should never dominate the congregation or view the piece as a performance, I try to at least reflect the overall mood of each stanza for their benefit as I play it.  (It doesn’t help that “He Leadeth Me” is a generally uplifting tune in the bright key of D Major!)  To accomplish this I used a few techniques such as melody in octaves, changes in register, or limited harmonization tweaks.

Finally, there was the typical variety of technical obstacles to overcome.  Settling into the right tempo can be challenging, and if anything, I usually tend to speed when I’m playing piano.  The phrasing of this Psalter Hymnal arrangement also threw most of the congregation for a loop; unlike number 463, this setting includes only one fermata, at the end of the second line.   And through it all I had to rein in my urges to improvise and keep one and a half ears on the congregation.

Were my attempts at properly accompanying #60 successful?  Honestly, I’m still not sure.  At the very least I think my amount of musical communication with the congregation was deficient, as evidenced by the fact that I managed to throw them off on nearly every stanza.  I haven’t yet made up my mind whether piano or organ works better for congregational accompaniment, especially for a small group like this.  And I’m not sure what level of musical freedom I should allow myself.

So, although this Featured Recording lacks a thesis or points of application, perhaps it can still serve as a springboard for discussion.  Fellow musicians, how do you accompany your home congregation?  How do you bring out the themes of the songs you play?  What solutions could you offer to the problems I’ve mentioned above?  Your thoughts will doubtless be valuable to me and anyone else eager to learn how best to assist the church in singing praise to its Lord!

–MRK

(Click here for last week’s Featured Recording)

Featured Recording: Dunnville Sings

Featured Recording

Although most of our Featured Recordings here on URC Psalmody have focused on particular mechanics or nuances of church music, today’s video is simply for your listening pleasure.  But along with it comes an opportunity for some reflection as well.

Here in the United Reformed Churches in North America, many of our congregations are small, some are constrained to worship in subprime acoustical areas, and a growing number are composed of first-generation churchgoers who are still learning how to use their voices in praise to God.

Especially for these young churches and church plants, the problems associated with establishing good congregational singing are numerous.  Organ or piano accompaniment (or guitar)?  Blue Psalter Hymnal, Book of Psalms for Worship, or some other collection of psalms and hymns?  What about “contemporary music”?

I don’t believe there is a universal answer to any of these particular questions.  Perhaps organ accompaniment, while useful for a large congregation, will prove overpowering and ugly in a small urban sanctuary with a whiny old electronic instrument.  Depending on a church’s background, the songbook of choice may vary as well.  It may even be necessary to use some form of “contemporary music” in a newly reforming congregation for a time.

Despite these widely varying circumstances, however, I believe there is a universal and attainable ideal for good Reformed church music.  Its primary instrument is a congregation of any size that knows how to sing, why to sing, and what to sing.  Its primary material is composed of the psalms and Scriptural songs, whether or not uninspired hymns are included.  Its accompaniment (whether piano, organ, guitar, or some other instrument) serves only to support the singing of the congregation, not to dominate it.  In short, it satisfies all of the requirements of Biblical, sincere, and beautiful worship.

This complex preamble brings us to today’s Featured Recording, which I believe is an excellent example of good church music.  The congregation which provided the recording is one of our own sister churches, in fact: Grace Reformed Church in Dunnville, Ontario.  As a fairly large church with a strong Dutch Reformed base, they use primarily organ for accompaniment and sing out of the blue Psalter Hymnal, like most of our federation.  And they excel at it!

This particular selection, “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah” (Psalm 146, Psalter Hymnal #301), is sung with gusto and skillfully accompanied by Scott Lindeboom.  The tempo is not so slow that it drags, but allows ample time to think about the words as they’re sung, while the broadly exultant affect of the psalm is perfectly reflected in the music.

Are there any particular strengths or weaknesses you’d like to point out in this recording?  How would you suggest applying these criteria for good church music to other worship settings?  As always, the comment section is open!

–MRK

(Click here for last week’s Featured Recording)


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