“Tips for Beginning Organists,” Ensign, Sept. 2002, 72
Our ward has five organists who alternate playing for sacrament meetings. How is it that we have more than the usual one or two? The answer is that we encourage our pianists to learn to play the organ.
Competent pianists who want to play the organ can learn basic skills that will quickly enable them to play in church. Following are tips for playing the organ and a quick introduction to the instrument:
Pedal board and volume (expression) pedals: The beginning organist should not worry about using the pedal board. Proper pedal board technique can be learned later. Keep the volume steady when an appropriate level is established with the volume pedals.
Manuals (keyboards): Most meetinghouse organs have two keyboards, called manuals. The lower manual is called the Great; the upper manual, the Swell. Play hymns with both hands on the Great.
Fingering: There are many fingering techniques for playing the organ, such as legato, finger substitution, and glissando. Beginning organists can improve their fingering by practicing on a piano, trying to play smoothly without using the damper (right) pedal. Moving parts should be played legato. When the fingering becomes awkward, sacrifice the legato of the alto and tenor parts first. It is sometimes desirable to tie frequently repeating notes, particularly in the bass and tenor parts. Use a precise attack and release of the keys. An experienced organist can suggest fingering that could be marked in a personal hymnbook.
Tonal families: There are four tonal families on an organ: Principal (Diapason), Flute, String, and Reed. The individual sounds are marked on stops and activated by either tabs or draw-knobs.
Pitch: The stops are marked with numbers that indicate pitch, such as 8′ (same as the pitch written on the music), 4′ (octave higher), 2′ (two octaves higher), and 16′ (octave lower).
Couplers: These allow a stop for one manual to be heard from a different manual or pedal. For example, if the “Swell to Great” coupler is on, the organist can play the Great manual and hear stops from the Swell division. The pedal board Bass coupler, if available, offers an improvement to the performance of an organist who is not yet using the pedal board.
Registration: The registration refers to the stops selected for a particular hymn. The stops can be manually selected or, with some organs, programmed. For hymns, 8′ and 4′ Principals and Flutes can be used for the manuals, with 16′ and 8′ stops selected from the pedal division. For clarity and brighter sounds, 4′, 2′, and mixture stops could be used. Strings also add clarity. Reeds add power and brilliance. Each stop has a unique quality, volume, and pitch. Beginners can experiment with the stops until they feel confident using them.
Vibrato, tremolo, tremulant, and crescendo pedal: These controls are not recommended for congregational hymns.
Hopefully, many beginning organists will pursue formal training. In addition to building musical skills through practice and training, accompanists should remember to pray to contribute to the spirit of the meeting.—Paul R. Howarth, Quail Ridge Ward, Las Vegas Nevada Green Valley Stake