The Organist's Summer

by Sarah Hawbecker

What to play?

Were you hoping for leisurely summer practice time, but in reality, you are gone for conferences and vacation? What happens when we get back in town on Saturday and must play for worship on Sunday? Of course, we always want to be prepared to lead worship, so zero practice is not recommended, but making allowances for limited preparation time is wise. Schedule prelude and postlude music that you know well, without “dumbing down” to the congregation. Consider playing music traditionally played at weddings. The music that might feel old and tired to us can feel familiar and beautiful to those who hear it on Sunday. Why not play Bach’s “Arioso, ” Vaughan Willams’s “Prelude on Rhosymedre,” or a trumpet tune less familiar than Clarke’s “Trumpet Voluntary,” like one by David N. Johnson, or “Prelude to Te Deum” by Marc-Antoine Charpentier?

Caring for your substitute

No one likes surprises during the service. Send your sub the hymns and liturgy setting as soon as you know what they are. Arrange to meet with your substitute to go over the service. Even if he or she is familiar with Lutheran liturgy, each congregation does little things differently. Go over what pitches to give the cantor, the kind of introductions you usually give, and even your typical hymn and anthem registrations. Will the psalm be sung? Think about every little detail. Are the hymns announced, or does the organist jump right in? Are there things that happen in the service that aren’t listed in the bulletin, like announcements? Will the organist be expected to be at a choir warm-up or mid-week rehearsal? How many are expected to attend each service? (This affects hymn registrations.) Arrange for payment before you leave town. Your substitute will appreciate your attention to detail, and when worship goes smoothly in your absence, you have served the congregation well.

Learn something new

For those summer weeks when you do have more time to practice, set a goal. Go ahead and learn that big piece for the fall or winter. For motivation, schedule a performance date. Do you play one of Bach’s preludes on “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland?” Learn one of the others now, and you’ll have something new ready for Advent. Organists of all levels can benefit by exploring new music. Tackle the music you bought last year but haven’t had time to learn. Explore a composer new to you. Summer is a great time to work on technique. Practice pedal exercises, work on your sight-reading, or set aside ten minutes a day to practice improvisation. (An excellent resource is “Improvising: How to master the art” by Gerre Hancock.) As the beginning of the academic year approaches, now is the perfect time to commit to further study. Check out the Leadership Program for Musicians or the certification program of the American Guild of Organists .

The summer takes us out of our regular routine. It can be both relaxing and productive. Make the most of it!

Posted on Jul 18, 2011 11:34:11 AM
Filed Under: Instruments and Ensembles,

Sarah Hawbecker

Written by Sarah Hawbecker

Sarah J. Hawbecker is a graduate of St. Olaf College and the Eastman School of Music. Since 1996, she has served as Organist and Director of Children's Music at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Atlanta, GA, overseeing a program of two children's choirs, three handbell choirs, a summer music camp, and a concert series. She has performed for and presented workshops at regional and national gatherings of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, and of the American Guild of Organists, and has served as adjudicator for several organ competitions.