April 9, 2002
Vol. II, No. 12
"Spotlight On a Professional Concern"
As church musicians, our rewarding work is frequently punctuated by some professional struggle that we encounter in our weekly routine. At BACHorgan.com, I hear from many of you about these struggles, and while they vary widely, there is one issue I hear about more than any other. Fortunately, I recently came across the following essay that addresses this topic and I believe will relieve much of the anxiety that exists about the subject.
"Are Your Postludes Loud Enough?"
by Joe R. Ganist
Among the multitudinous tasks of the church organist, none could be considered more important than the setting of an appropriate volume level for the Sunday morning postlude. Understandably, most organists are uncomfortable with this tremendous responsibility and experience a great deal of anxiety on a weekly basis. The nagging self-doubt during the performance of the postlude, "Am I playing too softly? Am I playing too loudly?" tends to distract the organist and adversely affects their proficiency. Additionally, it has been shown that these negative effects actually increase in intensity in direct correlation to the length of the postlude.
Of course, attempts have been made to relieve organists of this untenable mental burden. Throughout the last century, highly-touted methods were periodically introduced to the organist community, each claiming the definitive technique for determining Appropriate Postlude Volume Levels (or APVLs). Despite publication in professional journals, these methods generally failed to fulfill their promise, many based on flawed technical data and at least one, a clever and elaborate hoax. So, for a large portion of the organ's history, organists have had to survive without such a tool, surviving on their own resourcefulness and "true grit."
What are the problems in establishing an APVL-setting method? Much of the difficulty is due to the very nature of APVLs themselves, however the main impediments to developing such a method are (1) the sheer quantity and variety of organs and (2) the equal quantity and variety of installations. Stated another way, APVL = Oqv/Iqv. Those with a mathematics background will immediately recognize that, in this equation, as the number of Organs approaches the number of Installations, regardless of variety or size, the variable APVL quickly approaches a value of 1. This simple equation, it turns out, is the solution to the APVL problem, pursued yet elusive for so many years.
I used this equation as a basis for my Dis-Unification Theory of APVLs, which in turn enabled me to develop a Scale of APVL Indicators. The scale will greatly assist organists now and in the future by simplifying their job, reducing their stress, and ultimately improving their job satisfaction in general. What follows is a brief discussion of the Scale of APVL Indicators, beginning with the problem areas requiring the most immediate attention:
-If, while playing the postlude, you are able to hear the minister greeting church visitors and inviting them to the coffee hour, you must take immediate steps to set your APVL higher.
-If a church member approaches you after your postlude and goes on about how much your postlude reminds them of that great elevator ride at the mall, you may have more issues to address than simply your APVL. In any event, you have failed to set your APVL high enough.
Having a usable technique for determining your APVL eliminates the primary source of "postlude frustration," making it much easier to tell if your APVL is set correctly. The following are indicators that you are working at the correct end of the scale spectrum:
-If the congregation engages in "duck-and-run" maneuvers at the start of the postlude, your APVL is most likely in the correct range.
-If the choir shows up wearing professional airport ear protectors, your APVL is probably the envy of others.
-If the minister appears in front of the organ, motioning toward you with orange safety batons, saying things like, "Roger, Hymn Leader One, you are cleared for your final cadence.... Well, I think you get the idea.
MAINTENANCE - From an organ maintenance standpoint, APVLs are important for keeping the pipes clear of dust and debris. In this regard, a correctly set APVL pays for itself.
HEALTH ISSUES - Once an APVL is determined, it is important to achieve it regularly. If your APVL is reached only sporadically, the consequent sneezing and coughing during the postlude could prove not only distracting but also unhealthy. (See Maintenance above.)
FALSE POSITIVES - If the paint is peeling in your sanctuary, it is possible to incorrectly diagnose this as a correctly set APVL. However, this situation probably has more to do with the quality of the paint job and less to do with you so don't allow the church board to deduct repair costs from your salary (although under most circumstances the costs would likely be tax-deductible).
LIFE'S EMBARRASSING MOMENTS - One of the more serious problems that may occur during the postlude is not even within the organist's control. An organist may approach the end of the postlude and realize that there simply aren't any more stops to pull out. This results in a most embarrassing situation commonly referred to as "premature finale." If these symptoms persist, I recommend consulting an organ builder and beginning fundraising immediately for a new set of pipes. (HISTORICAL NOTE: A related type of this condition was documented early in the development of the organ when on hot summer Sunday mornings, water organists were unable to complete their postludes due to the unavoidable effects of evaporation.)
IN CLOSING - Please remember that due to the extreme number of factors that may affect the sound of an organ, there is no perfect APVL. In reality, success can be aspired to but never completely achieved. However, through the use of the Scale of APVL Indicators, you should be able to achieve a much more satisfying postlude experience and ultimately more happiness in your life as well. As a rule of thumb, the best indicator is the one I use myself. It's the huge, ear-to-ear grin on my face after I finish playing the postlude. Only then do I know for sure that I've achieved the perfect balance between volume and pain.
(The views contained in the essay above are not necessarily shared by BACHorgan.com. BACHorgan.com bears no responsibility for damage to any sanctuary inflicted by your Sunday morning postlude. In all seriousness, protect your hearing; it may be your greatest asset.)
FEEDBACK: I'd like to thank everyone that responded to last week's Rampage for their excellent suggestions. You may read them and add your own comments here:
Sheet Music Feature
I just noticed these two anthologies today that I think you'll find very useful. The first is "The Complete Lord's Prayer for Every Busy Accompanist." The title's a bit much but you get 12 different arrangements of the classic Malotte "The Lord's Prayer," all in one volume. The arrangements are for voice with either organ or piano accompaniment in five different keys (E-Flat, D-Flat, C, B-Flat and G), plus solo organ and piano versions.
The second book is called "The Complete Ave Maria" and offers piano and organ arrangements of both the Schubert Ave Maria and the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria, each in three different keys and each of those with a choice of a piano or organ accompaniment. Solo piano and solo organ versions are also included for a total of sixteen versions in all.
Talk about being prepared for any situation! If that's not enough, the books are only $10.95 each and 2+ Teacher Pricing is available; buy 2 or more copies of the same title and save 15%. I wish I'd known about these books years ago. See for yourself - you'll be tempted:
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