Organ and Praise Band - Have you had success with a blended worship style?

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I graduated from Calvin two and a half years ago.  At Calvin I was a part of the worship teams for LOFT and chapel (piano and organ).  At those services we regularly used the organ as an "orchestral" instrument to supplement the rhythm instruments of the praise band.

I am now the director of music at my church in New Jersey.  Ordinarily, we just use the organ on the "traditional hymns" and the praise band on the "contemporary songs".  (I really hate that lingo, by the way.  But that's a conversation for another post).  I am trying to convince the worship coordinator and praise band coordinator to include organ on a regular basis.  Everytime I bring it up, it is essentially "laughed off", essentially saying that it can't be done.  I have been able to include organ with praise band in two services in the last two years.

Our church strives to have a blended worship style.  But I'd like to try to blend the instrumentation as well as the types of worship songs.

Has anyone had success in their own congregations?  Any tips on convincing leadership to try it on a more regular basis?

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Hi John,

It sounds like we're in similar situations.  I graduated from Trinity in '09, and have been serving at Visalia CRC in CA for 2 years as well.  I feel extremely blessed to have 'inherited' some really good organists who have been doing what you're talking about for some time now.  So, while I haven't had to really work very hard at getting the organists to play along I think I might have a little bit of perspective. 

One reason leadership might be having a hard time understanding is all of the functions of the organ.  I think most people hear the words 'organ' and 'praise band' used in the same sentence and they picture an overpowering pipe-organ/brassy sound on top of the guitars, drums, etc... Whereas it really helped me when one of our organists showed me all the Midi functions, and different pads they can use as background support rather than the typical pipe organ-hymn leading sound we're 'used to' hearing.  I know it helped me when I realized that an organ can be used much like a keyboard - which obviously is a widely accepted addition to a praise band.

I think it is also highly dependent on who exactly the organist is.  Some organists may not be willing to explore these other functions, and uses.  Our organists really enjoy the opportunity to contribute to the 'contemporary' songs, and I often get very positive feedback from the congregation when we're able to incorporate the organ into those songs.  For one, it can certainly enhance the overall sound when done well, and secondly, many members appreciate us trying to get as much use out of the organ as possible.  Another possible reason to encourage this is our ever-present need to use our volunteers' time well - having an organist play for a service, but only on 2 hymns is asking a lot of them for really a minimal level of participation.

Lastly, I think song choice is key.  There are some songs that an organ just isn't going to be able to 'keep up with' due to the nature of the instrument.  I find a lot of the older "Praise and Worship," Maranatha/Vineyard types of songs are easier for the organ to jump in on, as well as some of the newer hymns by  the Gettys.

Hopefully some of this helps.

Hi, I am an organist at the same church for more than 40 years now, we used to have a praise team once a month, no organ. The last couple of years the praise team is leading the service and I play with them on the organ and the keyboard every service (no MIDI). The organ is ok with all the songs, sometimes the organ only provides a base sound, some songs just sound better on the keyboard, and of course you can play different sounds on them, from flute or violin to trumpet or bagpipes, we are having a great old time with it. We just moved the organ console from the rear balcony to the front so that I am with the team, the keyboard is placed so that I can play it from the organ bench, even play organ and keyboard together. So, don't let them say it don't work before you give it a chance for a while, to me that is a reverse of us oldies who didn't want praise songs. And of course the band could not play during a praise song and let the organ do it if it is one that is written more in a hymn like way, that is a difficult one 'cause they would be just standing there, just singing. Good luck, God bless your efforts, John.

I have been the Worship Leader at our church for the past 6 years.  Initially we too used the organ for hymns and the keyboard for praise songs.  This meant that I would schedule a keyboard player and have an "on call" organist to be ready if the music led itself to organ. Three years ago we had a fire in our sanctuary and the organ was destroyed.  This allowed for the - replace the organ or not discussion.  Many in the congregation felt the organ was not used enough to replace it, however since the insurance money was a "use it or loose it" we purchased a new organ with a Midi.  Once the new organ was installed we strongly encouraged our keyboard players to learn to use the Midi and within 6 months the keyboard was packed up and moved to storage.  The organ is used every week and for every song either with organ sounds or Midi sounds.  Worship band stays primarily the same each week:  guitar, brass, flute, piano, vocalists, organ and bass.  There are some of the organists who use the foot pedals and some who do not, and it's ok either way.  Weeks the organ player is not strong on bass sounds we have a strong bass player.  Even our die hard "worship band" players realize that the sound quality of the organ and the Midi is far better than the keyboard ever did.  A normal worship service includes 3-4 hymns and 5-6 praise songs.  Even our most senior organist will play "fill" on the praise songs as long as there are a few hymns that the organ can really be used.  Replacing an older organ is too costly for most churches, but checking to see if your current organ can be retro-fitted with a Midi would be a good investment.

It is great to hear from churches that are working with what they have and bringing new sounds out of "old" instruments.  It seems like a unique form of stewardship to reimagine what we can do with what we already have!

It's hard to say a definite "yes" or "no" on whether or not to use the organ for some of the more contemporary sounds because each organ is so different and, more importantly, (as Jeremy has already noted) the organ players differ so much.

At our church we have a old Wurlitzer.  As the story goes, it once accompanied silent films!  It sounds pretty good as "bed" of chords for other instruments, ie, keyboard, guitars and the rest of the band.  We also like including our trumpets or violin or flute or other "band" instruments when available.

Several things to consider.

1.  The most instruments that are playing, the less each has to play.  Aim for a total of 100%, not having each instrument playing 100%.  Recently, I heard an organist accompanying a trumpet playing the melody line.  The organist also played the solo line, disrupting the solo.  Like a good jazz combo, all the players need to learn to listen to each other and know when they featured and when they are the back up to someone else.

2. Rhythm.  I think it is really important for the instruments to feel and communicate a clear beat and rhythm together.  Typically, organists (and some pianists) rely on melody and a strict silent beat to keep everyone together.  But playing with more instruments requires a more obvious beat.  And in my opinion, a rhythm (from a djembe, shaker, bass, piano or many other choices) is a great way to help the congregation sing well.