The Organ and the Praise Team

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I have been organist at our church for 40 years, add eight more in Holland, about 35 of these years it was organ only, things started to change when the Praise team came into the picture. For about ten years we were "legally" separated, they had their once monthly service, the organists did the rest. The situation changed again, now we had the "Team" on stage every week, still separated from each other until after we installed our new (used) organ, we invited an organist from the city to come and play during a service, together with the "Team", it worked and so we were joined together, over time the organists lost their "highest" position of the church, the organ is on the balcony, and are now part of the Praise Team. Does any organist or praise team member have any suggestions on improving the way we present our musical offerings in the Worship services? 

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Hello John, It must have difficult to watch your role change at church. Yet, I sense a positiveness in you to truly make it work. God bless you my friend because that requires faith and humilty. I think the organ should remain where it's always been. It is such versitle instrument that it it is timeless.  Thanks John

Thanks Ken, yes it was difficult and it still is to see the glory of the organ sound fade away or at least get pushed to the back ground, many older folks miss it when it is not played much. But, is it my "role" or my "false god" if I get so upset about it? I play the keyboard a bit now, even try to play it at the same time I play the organ, perhaps, like the swinging pendulum, things will get better again and by working with the youth who knows what results will come of it years down the road. As you very well have discovered, the Lord leads where He wants us to go. (sometimes like to tell Him where that should be in my opinion, I presume that I am not alone in that).

Amen John, that is a great way to put it!

Hi John,

As music & worship director for my church, I wear many hats including head organist and worship/praise team leader. I hope I can offer some helpful advice.

I see from your post that you have lamented the change in your church's worship style, but that you are seeking to make the best of the situation now even if it's not what you personally prefer. I think this is very important because as worship leaders, it is okay for us to be voices for the instrument of our choice, but we must also be ready to ascribe value to the worship styles that we may not always prefer. I visited your profile and there found your church's website which provides your orders of worship online. Based on what I read, it seems the organ could still be featured as a prominent "solo" accompanying instrument. In the service that is currently shown online, there are nine songs/hymns for the congregation to sing. Of these, five are straight out of the Psalter Hymnal. In my church, the hymns do not require assistance from the song leaders. However, if they are accustomed to singing every song, there is no reason the band can't take a break during the opening hymn, the hymns for confession/reconciliation, or the hymn following the sermon. The opposite though is also true. That is, if the band is willing to take a break for some hymns, the organist should also be willing to do the same for the songs that are not suitable for organ accompaniment. On the other hand, the organ is versatile and can be used much like a synthesizer playing chords while using foundation stops in the manuals and pedal and using the pedal to play the same notes as the bassist. 

One of the best combinations I have ever experienced in worship was when a praise team/band led us in the song "God of Wonders" and, after the first two verses and choruses, they transitioned seamlessly into "Holy, Holy, Holy". I believe they were playing the two songs in the same key, so as "God of Wonders" found it's way back to the tonic chord, the organist picked up there with a strong but short intro to the hymn using full plenum (mixtures and all). The band (instruments only) cut out for the singing of two stanzas of the hymn but picked up again at "blessed Trinity" and brought us back into the refrain of "God of Wonders". The organist at this point reduced the registration slightly and merely played the chords (no melody) to the song's end. Now it doesn't always require such creative energy and engineering to use both praise team and/or organ...though it is wonderful when it is done well. I'm curious what kind of service music is played during your worship (prelude, offertory, postlude). That is an opportunity to feature a wide variety of musical offerings each week (piano or organ solos, vocal solos accompanied by piano or organ, the band, other instruments and organ, etc.).

If your congregation just recently purchased your organ, they made an investment in and a value statement on their worshiping voice. I can't say too much more without knowing more about your church. I will say though, that if your church is seeking a balance in their "blend", or whatever that ratio might be (my church is about 60% traditional, 40% contemporary), then be very intentional about that blend, pick the best from a variety of styles, do them as authentically as your resources allow, and do them well. To God be the glory!

Our church has many older members who are capable of reading a little music and learning new songs with words only projected is difficult.  Any suggestions?

Hi Paul,

My congregation is similar. They are more comfortable singing with some sort of musical notation than without, at least when learning new songs or hymns. My first suggestion is to take a look at Faith Alive's Contemporary Songs for Worship. You will find music to many of the songs our churches are singing today. They are condensed and reduced, but it works as a general guide. Since it is condensed to 2 or 3 small pages, it can be easily reproduced. Just make sure you have the license to do it.

In our church, I have taken on the role of creating PowerPoint slides with music and text. We comply with copyright in this case because it is done in house using our own notation software and is not distributed. Much of my time when first in this position was creating these music slides. It has its weaknesses, but it has helped us in so many ways.

I am also a big fan of using the choir indirectly as a tool to teach the congregation new music. Have the choir sing through the new songs together in rehearsal, then when the song is introduced on Sunday there will be dozens of voices spread throughout the sanctuary that can help carry the new tune along. 

We are one of the Greying churches and some problems with words only on screen, and also not being able to see the "writing" on the wall" (screen) is another. I am not well versed in this copyright issue, but what I have picked up from the visual/sound crew is that we are licensed to display the words, but not the music when we are singing Praise songs. We have been at it for about 15 years and even the older generation is learning the songs and getting used to the style. If we would put the music on the screen it would, at least with some of the songs, cause great difficulty because of how the Team decides to sing the song. Frequently we repeat, skip, return to the beginning or somewhere else in the song, I don't think that many, even the younger generations would be able to pick up where they are supposed to look. So, firstly, as far as the notes are concerned, they will (have to) learn the songs eventually, unless you are constantly putting in new songs this will happen. Secondly, a really old, but wise woman said just last Sunday, that she has a problem with being able to see the words on screen, so she and her husband have moved from "their" regular seats to Isle seats where they have a better line of sight, problem solved, at least for them. You know how important one's seats are, The last time when I was in my home church in Holland, I recognized people from where they were (still) sitting after having been gone for 30 years, an uncle of mine would walk out if someone was in his spot when he came to church, so, it might be hard, but so would having to use a walker be, but you want to walk?, there is the solution, you want to see the words? there is the solution. Hope this is helpful.

Participant

Some good thoughts and ideas for transitioning and the use of organ.  I have a wonderful organist in my church who is 83 and is commited to the transition.  She is innovative and willing to stay in the back by padding and playing bass notes with the organ then piping in with some accents during other verses.  Other times she sits at the keyboard.

The truth is that most contemporary music is not organ friendly, especially guitar led pieces.

I do some of what my wee bit older colleague does, or skip playing if it really is not organ friendly, but sometimes you just have to get in there, the song has to be shouted from the rooftops so to speak. Next question, we don't do this, but I would like to play a Praise song, without the team sometimes, one that is suitable, we can differ in our thoughts on suitability, as in Celtic based songs, I happen to think, using the right stop settings, it sounds great on the organ, but yes, even while being new on the keyboard, there is some great stuff on it which enhances the songs, I am getting there.

We moved away from regular use of the organ about 15 years ago, adopting an entirely "contemporary" style. Now we have found ourselves reintroducing a number of hymns, though still presented with praise band instrumentation and style. I've found myself increasingly wondering how we might integrate at least occasional use of the organ in some of our songs. I'm not an organist, although we have one keyboard player who plays the organ (we still use it for weddings). I'd be interested to hear from any others who have gone the whole way to contemporary worship and then backed up and reintroduced the organ. How did you approach it? What has worked, and what hasn't?

Hi Graham, nobody seems interested in "going back" it seems, we are going the other way from yours, so I can't really help you, however, Chad Meeuwse wrote a letter above, he has some interesting ideas there, he is from Modesto Ca. I don't know if that is close to you or not, I am sure he can give you some good advice. We are working to go to Intergenerational from blended, which is great, all ages involved in the planning and participation in the services. The idea behind it is that we do not use hymns or organ because some people like it, or to try to keep them happy, but because they fit with the theme of the Worship that day. What I am a bit unsure of is if this also goes for the contemporary side. Also, go to the Worship Forum, there is a post about Intergenerational services, it may be of help to you. One question, where did the desire to reintroduce the hymns, and the use of the organ come from, is there some support for it? Blessings on your effort, John.

John, thanks for your response. I'll check out the Intergenerational worship posts and also reach out to Chad. I think there are a couple of things that have led us to think more about reintroduction of hymns in particular, and also (for me) the organ. Firstly, we have always missed the richness of the words of the best hymns. Secondly, the contemporary worship movement has increasingly embraced hymns (writers like Christ Tomlin have gone further, by adding some very effective additional choruses or bridges - The Wonderful Cross for example, or more recently Joy To The World), With regard to the organ, it is simply a powerful, versatile and impactful instrument when used in the right way at the right time. This isn't a matter of hymns vs contemporary songs - it is a matter as with any instrument of determining where it adds value and where it doesn't. The addition of the organ at this point is my thought and needs to be discussed with others before we go anywhere with it. But the gradual reintroduction of hymns in a way that doesn't interfere with our musical abilities, flow, general service style, etc is something I think we've made some good progress with.