Tuesday, September 7, 2010

An instrumentation experiment

So who was playing the piano?  I got asked that once after services this Sunday.  For the second communion hymn, the first verse was played on the organ and the rest on the electronic keyboard.  Well, the answer is that I was playing both of them from the organ console.

I've mentioned it before, but I know there are still many people who don't know about the integration of three different systems at Bethany - the pipe organ, a set of Ahlborn "electronic pipes," and the Roland keyboard.  They are all linked together with a Midi system that allows me to play sounds from any of them on the organ keyboards.  So even though you don't often see me sitting at the keyboard, you are actually hearing sounds from it almost every week.

I decided this week to make the shift a bit more obvious, partly to show off the technological capability and partly because the particular hymn we were singing was quite pianistic.  It had plenty of rolling eighth notes in the interior voices, which can sound strange and disjointed on the organ.  It was composed by Marty Haugen, who was born in 1950 and is known for composing lighter, modern fare that can be played on a variety of instruments but are particularly well suited for piano (and even guitar in some churches).  He composed the liturgy that we were singing over the summer before switching back to one of the "old settings" this fall.

In my opinion, this particular experiment was only semi-successful.  I had the keyboard volume set too low at first service, for one thing.  It was also a relatively unknown hymn so that the congregation seemed to struggle with it a bit.  (The choir will be singing next Sunday, which always helps provide a solid core sound to any hymn!)

But the whole issue reminded me of the flexibility of some composers and some music.  Early keyboard works were often composed for harpsichord or organ or piano or whatever keyboard instrument you had aruond.  Bach's Well Tempered Clavier (ostensibly a keyboard work) has famously been played by string quartets and recorded by the Swingle Singers.  This coming Sunday, we'll be hearing one of Mozart's oboe concertos played on an alto saxophone.  The variety lets us hear familiar pieces in a new way, and the change of sound helps keep our attention lest we get lulled into complacency during worship.  In that sense, I think the hymn was successful this past week, as well as the change in liturgy.  I hope you enjoyed both!

1 comment:

  1. I am so glad you are back. I missed you and was worried you would never blog again - so thank you! I look forward to your blogs in the next months.