Posts Tagged 'Organ'

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 After his death, Dale Grotenhuis’s family authorized Dordt to make his extensive collection of unpublished sheet music available on the internet .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 The physical collection includes over 500 unpublished music scores composed or arranged by Dale over the course of his career and is housed in the Dordt College Archives.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 »



Featured Recording: Psalm 79 and Young Organists

Featured Recording

I’m always immensely encouraged to meet a fellow young musician who is learning, or desires to learn, how to play the organ.  When I mention my interest in the “king of instruments” to friends who aren’t familiar with Reformed worship, they usually respond, “Oh, really?  I thought that was a lost art.”  I have to admit that organists may have been a dying breed in the recent past, but from the many encouraging conversations I’ve had with other young people, it seems that organ-playing is once again on the rise.  And while I’m not about to argue that the pipe organ is the only instrument worthy of the worship of God (or that instruments are an essential part of worship at all, for that matter), I can only hope this renewed interest points to a renaissance of other elements of historic Reformed worship as well.

That’s why I was thrilled to discover the videos and website of Gert van Hoef, a virtuosic 18-year-old Dutch organist.  His bio page notes that he was introduced to the organ at the age of thirteen, but had no formal musical training until 2008.  To everyone’s surprise, he quickly began winning an incredible number of young organist competitions, and his YouTube videos went viral—well, at least as viral as recordings of Dutch psalm improvisations and classical organ music can get.

As far as I know, Gert is now in college and planning to attend conservatory after he graduates.  He serves (or served) as organist for the Reformed Church of Voorthuizen.  Since that is the Hervormde Kerk as opposed to the Gereformeerde Kerk, however, it may be Reformed in name only.

One of the most important characteristics of a good musician, which Gert clearly has, is the ability to put one’s whole heart into the music.  This aspect comes out especially well in his renditions of Dutch Psalter improvisations.  Today’s Featured Recording is his improvisation on Genevan/Dutch Psalm 79, based on W. H. Zwart.  Interestingly enough, this tune appeared in the red 1934 CRC Psalter Hymnal as “Thy Land, O God, the Heathen Have Invaded,”  but it was sadly omitted from the blue 1959/1976 edition.  I recorded my own piano improvisation on Psalm 79 including this gorgeous tune a few months ago, though of course Gert’s rendition is better in every way.

It ought to be mentioned that Psalm 79 is a particularly poignant lament calling for the restoration of God’s people to the Promised Land—analogous perhaps to the tribulation the New Testament church faces in this world.  In a powerful climax the psalmist cries:

Do not remember against us our former iniquities;
let your compassion come speedily to meet us,
for we are brought very low.
Help us, O God of our salvation,
for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and atone for our sins,
for your name’s sake!

–Psalm 79:8, 9 (ESV)

Then in confidence he declares, “But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise” (v. 13).  The promise of restoration gives hope to God’s afflicted people, no matter how great the trials they face.

Now, here’s Gert van Hoef rendering Genevan Psalm 79 in the Dorpskerk in Voorthuizen.  (Watch for a pretty funny blooper around the 6:45 mark.)  For your added enjoyment, I’ve included the English lyrics of this psalm setting below the video.

Thy land, O Lord, the heathen have invaded;
Thy holy heritage they have degraded.
Jerusalem, the temple and its altars
Are ruthlessly defiled by the assaulters.
Thy land in ruin lies,
And cries for vengeance rise
To heaven for all this evil.
Our foes have given to beast
And vulture, for a feast,
The bodies of Thy people.

Recall no more the sins we have committed,
But may they all in pity be remitted.
O Lord, make haste; O may Thy mercy tender
Now strength and help unto Thy people render!
To us salvation show
In all our grief and woe,
O God, forsake us never!
Free from the tyrant’s chain,
Purge from all sin and stain,
For Thy Name’s sake deliver.

Incline Thine ear to all in bondage sighing;
Those doomed to death, on Thee alone relying,
Preserve, O God! Lift by Thy mighty power
The awful scourge of this relentless hour.
O Lord, our foes restrain,
Avenge Thy servants slain,
Thou Lord of all creation.
By those within Thy fold
Thy Name will be extolled,
Through every generation.


(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!


(Click here for last week’s Featured Recording)

Psalm 122

My heart was glad to hear the welcome sound,
The call to seek Jehovah’s house of prayer;
Our feet are standing here on holy ground,
Within thy gates, thou city grand and fair.

Ever since Psalm 122 was sung as the opening selection at Synod Nyack 2012, it’s held a special place in my church-musician heart.  Its praises of the holy city and its Builder are wrapped in a beautiful package of corporate praise and personal emotion.  It declares the glory of God’s house and the psalmist’s lifelong devotion to its service.  And the fact that Psalm 122 is a Song of Ascents, meaning that it was sung by Israelites on their yearly journey to Jerusalem, gives it all the more significance.

So, without further ado, let’s plunge into the riches of Psalm 122 as adapted for the Psalter Hymnal.

262, “My Soul Was Glad”

“My Soul Was Glad” is the Psalter Hymnal’s contribution to Psalm 122 from the Dutch/Genevan Psalter.  Its text, set by Dewey Westra in 1931, is a little beneath the songbook’s typical standards for accurate versifications (for instance, there is no correlation to v. 8 in this setting, although many other passages in the psalm are unnecessarily elaborated).  Nonetheless, it’s certainly a workable versification and a great selection for an adventurous congregation.

(Above: Psalm 122 from the Dutch Psalter)

Although JERUSALEM’S PEACE isn’t the easiest of Genevan tunes, it’s extremely rewarding when played properly.  The version in the Psalter Hymnal is quite similar to the original arrangement, although its rhythm was tweaked in a few places and its harmonization updated in 1954 by Henry Bruinsma.  Nevertheless, for modern congregational singing, I think this version will prove to be the least problematic.

A few stylistic comments, however, may be helpful for the thoughtful accompanist.  First, take note of the melodic pattern in the second and third, fifth and sixth, and eighth and ninth measures.  Each pair is melodically identical, but should never be played identically—this kind of musical error is often what gives the Genevan psalms a reputation for monotony.  Bruinsma’s shifting harmonies will prove to be quite helpful in adding variety here.  In addition, consider slight dynamic changes or different focal points in each line.

Second, to assist the singers in determining the end of each line, I would highly recommend treating each whole note as a dotted-half note with a quarter rest (as is indicated in the 1984 Book of Praise).  This will provide a powerful hint to the congregation regarding where to breathe; just make sure you breathe along with them!

Third, there is the matter of tempo.  Although speed can usually be a major problem in renderings of Genevan tunes, I believe an unexpectedly wide range of tempi could be appropriate here—but only if each musical line has a clear direction and a strong half-note beat.

With regard to organ registrations, I wouldn’t shy away from using some reeds, maybe even festival trumpets in a few spots.  After all, this is an absolutely exuberant psalm!  Some well-placed 16’ stops in the manuals (or a soft 32’ in the pedal) can help to emphasize the references to Jerusalem’s “securely knit” foundations.  A constant crescendo is undoubtedly justifiable in the final stanza, and the very last phrase should be unequivocally thunderous.  A solid organ accompaniment, combined with a competent congregation, is all that’s needed to make this Genevan tune shine.

263, “With Joy and Gladness in My Soul”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“With Joy and Gladness in My Soul,” from the 1912 Psalter, is in some ways an entirely different interpretation of Psalm 122.  In contrast to the brilliance of number 262, this setting is soft and meditative—yet no less appropriate to this psalm’s theme.

Number 263 falls more or less within the realm of literal psalm settings, although it takes some very justifiable liberties in elaborating on worship and interpreting “the thrones of the house of David” as “Messiah’s kingly throne” in stzs. 2 and 3.

Chant-like tunes like this one can pose trouble for accompanists in keeping their tempo consistent.  It’s easy to hold the opening note a bit too long, rush through the six following quarter notes, and then cheat the whole note at the end of the line.  Instead, HARVEY’S CHANT should have a reasonable tempo (a little quicker than one half note per second) and a subdued but ever-present beat.

264, “My Heart Was Glad to Hear the Welcome Sound”

Although it is perhaps the most literal of the three settings of Psalm 122 in the Psalter Hymnal, “My Heart Was Glad to Hear the Welcome Sound” possesses some exquisite poetry.  Where it departs from the exact wording of the Scripture, it is still clear and accurate in meaning; and the rest of the text, as far as human compositions can go, is flawless.

(Above: Number 264 sung at Synod 2012)

Among the Psalter Hymnal’s renditions of this psalm, number 264 also has unquestionably the most familiar tune.  MORECAMBE, commonly associated with “Spirit of God, Dwell Thou within My Heart” (number 394), can convey both quiet meditation and heartfelt passion.  Be sure to emphasize the interaction of the inner voices (especially the two-note slurs in the tenor part) and the crescendo built into the constantly rising melody line.  In the version sung at Synod 2012, the very last phrase—“To thee my love shall never be denied”—was rendered so passionately as to leave no doubt of the worshippers’ sincerity.  Their hearts, like David’s, were truly glad to seek Jehovah’s house of prayer.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
‘May they be secure who love you!
Peace be within your walls
and security within your towers!’
For my brothers and companions’ sake
I will say, ‘Peace be within you!’
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
I will seek your good.

–Psalm 122:6-9 (ESV)


“The Organ Portfolio”

Along with the electronic organ I have in my basement came a file box packed with organ music.  The previous owner of this organ, an accompanist for at least forty years at West Sayville Reformed Bible Church, had been a subscriber to Lorenz’s The Organ Portfolio since 1963.  This bi-monthly magazine contains about a dozen organ arrangements for prelude, offertory, and postlude in each issue.  Needless to say, I probably have enough organ music to last me well into my old age.

Over the past few years I’ve gotten a bit more familiar with the contents of this magazine.  Besides the musical entries, each issue usually includes an article on some aspect of organ playing—from technique to humor.  Especially in the earlier volumes, there are so many helpful tips and tidbits that I could probably find an entire college course in organ performance between its pages.

Since Lorenz is by no means a Reformed music company, the selection of The Organ Portfolio is sometimes weak when it comes to the psalms.  However, our organist made painstaking notes on the front pages of many of the arrangements, in which she marked instances of Psalter Hymnal tunes and included directions for adapting the music to our worship services, along with the dates on which she had played each piece.  On one page I found this formidable assortment (click to enlarge):

As you can plainly see, this is quite an extensive set of notes—and I didn’t even include the pencil marks within the score!  I’m so grateful to have not only this valuable set of organ music, but also the heritage and expertise of a seasoned organist at my disposal.  I’m sure it will not go to waste.

“So,” you might ask, “are you recommending that we all purchase subscriptions to The Organ Portfolio now?”  Perhaps not, but I’d still like to at least mention this resource.

After a bit of research on Lorenz’s website, I’ve come to the unfortunate conclusion that the quality of their music has generally waned over the past few decades.  From a glance at the 2011 Organ Portfolio index, one can notice that the publication’s selection of hymn tunes is limited and predictable—“Fairest Lord Jesus,” “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna,” “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” &c.—while the magazine’s editors are fond of including myriads of virtually unknown pieces from modern organ composers.  (I consider this kind of music undesirable for reasons I explained in a previous post, “The Significance of Service Music.”)

On the other hand, if you’re willing to sort through the reams of music The Organ Portfolio entails, it’s entirely likely you’ll find some gems for preludes, offertories, and postludes.  For instance, you could repurpose “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna” as “Jehovah Reigns in Majesty” (Psalm 99) and “Crown Him with Many Crowns” as “Within Thy Temple, Lord” (Psalm 48).  Some of the Bach chorales based on psalms or hymns could serve as exquisite “special occasion” service music.  And regardless of their suitability for corporate worship, all of the selections are excellent practice pieces.

My recommendation, then, is simply this: Check your organ bench or the music storage area at your church for back issues of The Organ Portfolio or some of its sibling publications, The Organist and The Sacred Organ Journal.  If you can find a few, you’ll probably be able to mine some valuable treasure from their depths—especially if they’re older issues.  I close with an excerpt from an essay by L. N. Porter in the April, 1965 issue of The Organ Portfolio, entitled “Feeling Versus Technique.”

Music that the members like and understand may be the right kind, but what feelings does it stir up?  If it is aspiration, exaltation, contemplation, or other such notable attitudes that lend themselves to worship, well and good.  If on the other hand, it is earthly sentiment, physical ease, associations with nonreligious experience, then the music is not fulfilling its function as an inspirer of worship.  Yes, this is a very difficult line to define; no wonder that some of our austere denominations frown on any music with ‘feeling’!…

Technique does have its place, and an important one it is!  If our fingers and feet are not well enough trained in organ technique to play correctly service music such as hymns, anthem accompaniments, and organ solos, we shall make mistakes, we shall fumble, and what will be the result?  We shall make the congregation conscious of the music as an end in itself instead of as a means of leading people to worship.  One might go so far as to say that the best church music is that which the congregation never hears, for it has served to elevate their thoughts to heights above our present level, beyond our senses.  Poor technique, with its inevitable mistakes and slovenly style, will keep the congregation earth-bound.

So, I still urge you to work to improve your technique, for it is when these routines are mastered that we can best fulfill our function as a church organist—the all-important function of leading the congregation to worship.


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