Hymn Playing Masterclass, 2019

Dr Christopher Anderson

On Saturday, 23 February, 2019, about twenty organists met at Zion Lutheran Church in Dallas to play for each other and to learn hymn playing techniques from Dr Christopher Anderson, Associate Professor of Sacred Music at Southern Methodist University. Eight organists played one hymn each, after which Dr Anderson advised them both about their particularly strengths and suggested some means for improvement. The organists played the beautiful three-manual Schlicker/Sipe in the balcony of the church.

Dr Anderson recommended that the aim of every organist is "competence, not profundity," meaning that they should aim for a simplicity that leads rather than confuses. He suggested to spend time knowing one's congregation and how they are best led.

He also suggested "no marshmallow music or tone poems," meaning that an organist's music should be purposeful, communicating a melody, tempo, and theme, rather than simply being abstract wanderings. Click here for the handout.

He equated the organist's task to that of the orator, quoting Cicero in his encouragement of organists to be aware how they communicate: "No single style is fitting for every case or every audience or every person involved or every occasion … when choosing a type of speech — a fuller or more slender one, or indeed the middle type — we should see to it that it is adapted to the problem at hand … the capacity to do what is appropriate is a matter of art and natural ability, but to know what is appropriate at each time is a matter of intelligence." Organists were encouraged, then, to develop their "musical intelligence" as they seek to enliven their congregation's song.

Church Music Institute's next workshop will feature British composer Alan Bullard on Sunday, 7 April, at 2pm.