Organ or Piano—Which?
H. B. Hannum
Both vocal and instrumental music have had an important part in the history of the church. During its long history the church has made use of various musical instruments to assist in the worship service. In the Bible we read of timbrels, harps, drums, cymbals, trumpets, flutes, viols, dulcimers, and other instruments. Percussion, string, and wind in¬struments have been used for religious services. Then there are some branches of the church which do not admit the use of instrumental music at all in the church service.
In choosing musical instruments for use in worship services today, we must take into con-sideration traditional usage, association, and appropriateness of tonal qualities. For example, tone colors and qualities which are today asso¬ciated with theatrical or dance music are cer¬tainly inappropriate for church. Some instru¬ments are more suggestive of religious emotions than others; this makes these instruments of greater use to the church.
The traditional instrument for the church is the organ—either the pipe organ or the smaller reed organ. When the piano became a popular instrument and found its place in nearly every, home, it became popular also in Sunday. schools and even in the church service. But today there is a strong trend back to the use of the organ as a more appropriate church instrument, even for the smaller churches. This undoubtedly has been brought about by an increased appreciation of organ tone for religious services, and by the, large number of inexpensive reed and pipe or¬gans now on the market.
Churches wishing to improve their services are returning to the use of organ music and the superior tonal qualities of the organ.
The reasons for this are not hard to discover. The piano is primarily a secular instrument, and most of the music written for it is either for the home or the concert. It is a convenient and valuable instrument, adaptable to many uses, but its method of tone production is per¬cussive, which is more stimulating to the nerv¬ous system than organ tone. Many of the greatest composers, such as Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Brahms, and Debussy, wrote effectively for the piano. A knowledge of the piano and its music is basic in the training of all church musicians.
Until recently the organ was found princi¬pally in the church, and sometimes in large auditoriums, but in recent years it has become an instrument for the theater, the radio, and the home. While there is a vast difference in tonal quality between organs used for these various purposes, there is associated in the minds of most people a definite relation between organ tone and religious service. The tones of a church organ seem to arouse the religious emotions in a way not done by other instru¬ments. This makes the instrument very useful for worship services.
Some musicians attempt to play the organ in the same style as the piano is played, with dis¬astrous results. Others attempt to make the organ sound hauntingly sweet and gushy, imi¬tating the theatrical style heard so frequently over the radio. Those who attempt to play the organ for church services should realize that there is a definitely religious style and a dis¬tinctly organ approach which must be learned.
The church organist should seek for smooth¬ness, or what is known as a legato style of playing. He should make his hymn playing sound as connected- and unbroken as a string orchestra or a trained group of singers. He should cultivate this style, which is by no means easy, seeking the help of a good instructor until he masters the elements of the organ touch. Then he should seek to select the qualities of tone which are beautiful rather than pretty, which suggest the emotions of reverence and awe rather than of sentimental love and earth¬liness. The beautiful tone qualities of a good organ are much more restrained and delicate than the gaudy, obvious tone qualities of the theater organ.
Hymn Playing an Exacting Art
Some students seek the help of a teacher with the remark, “I just want to learn to play hymns,” little realizing that the art of playing hymns correctly and beautifully is by no means a simple matter. Hymn playing in churches would be greatly improved if the organists sensed their responsibility and their need for careful practice and diligent study in this ex¬acting art. A period of organ study would also be a boon to any pianist who has the privilege of playing for church.
When played beautifully and with expression, hymn tunes are more beautiful on the organ than on the piano. But even though a pianist can play difficult classics, this is no indication that his playing of hymns on the organ will prove acceptable unless he masters the basic principles of expressive and smooth organ playing.
By all means, let our churches investigate the possibilities of purchasing some type of organ suitable to the size of the building and the finances of the church. The cost would prob¬ably be no more than is usually spent for a piano, but the musical results would be far better.
H. B. Hannum, Professor of Music, Emmanuel Missionary College
The above article, “Organ or Piano – Which?” was written by H. B. Hannum. The article was excerpted from www.ministrymagazine.org web site. September 2017.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”