Let the Organ Sing! Many hymn stanzas beg for musical word painting:

When people reflect on the organ's role in worship, they think first of all of the music for preludes, offertories, and postludes. And, of course, everyone knows that organs accompany the hymns.

Fewer people may be aware that the organist plays specially composed introductions (sometimes called "intonations") for some hymns, or that some hymn stanzas are enriched through a free or alternative organ accompaniment (meaning that rather than playing the notes on the page, the organist plays a composed or improvised accompaniment, often to support a climactic final stanza). Those free accompaniments give the organist an opportunity to interpret the text of a particular stanza, and provide welcome variety from simply repeating the same notes for every stanza. (See the article in Reformed Worship 15 on free accompaniments, "But I Like to Sing Bass...").

There is yet another use of the organ in worship: the organ can actually "sing" a hymn through musical .ord painting. Here the congregation meditates on a given stanza while the organ "sings" it. This approach should only be used rarely, since a hymn is first of all the voice of the congregation. But just as free alternative accompaniments help us lift our praise with greater joy so letting the organ play a solo stanza on occasion can highlight and intensify the meaning of a hymn for the congregation.

Not all organists are able to improvise an interpretation of a hymn stanza. But some published resources can fulfill the same purpose. For example, many partita movements work well, since they often were composed to interpret different musical ideas derived from the text. Some hymn introductions, alternative accompaniments, intonations, and short chorale preludes can also serve the purpose very well. And several composers have recently provided interpretations of specific stanzas, either for accompanying or playing "solo" stanzas.

Congregations will find new life in singing psalms and hymns if their organists are dedicated to using whatever means are at their disposal to make every part of congregational song meaningful. Sometimes this will mean playing the hymn straight from the hymnal; sometimes using a creative hymn introduction or accompaniment; sometimes not using the organ at all, but letting the people sing unaccompanied or accompanied by other instruments. But sometimes it may mean letting the organ sing!

So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.
—1 Corinthians 14:15

The following examples provide a few detailed ideas. Many more suggestions are found in the resource list included with this article (pp. 44-46).

'All Creatures of Our God and King"
[PsH 431, PH 455, RL 4, TH 115]

This well-known hymn summons all of creation—everything from flowers and fruit to the sun—to join in praising God. Stanza 3 begins "Cool, flowing water, pure and clear ..." and ends "Fierce fire, so masterful and bright. . . ." John Ferguson's LASST UNS ERFRUEN in Hymn Harmonizations for Organ, Book III (Ludwig Music Publishing Company, 0-10, 1986) provides a setting that captures both the cool, flowing water and the fierce, burning fire.

Introduce the hymn with joy, perhaps using Ferguson's introduction. For stanza 3, play alone using Ferguson's setting, while the congregation meditates on the text. Register the first half of the setting using a smooth, rounded flute tone, with a balanced solo pedal. For the second half of the setting (that matches the change in text to "fierce fire...") switch to the swell division, as Ferguson indicates, adding the swell reeds for lots of fire.

"Children of the Heavenly Father"
[PsH 440, RL 585, TH 131]

Stanza 3 speaks of life and death and of how God's grace can turn sorrow into healing. Play this stanza alone, using a quiet registration; but play the chorale in minor instead of major. This is easy to do if the organist just thinks of a different key signature than the one listed (e.g., thinks B-flat and C-sharp [raised seventh] if the hymn is in D major). Then for the last measure of the chorale, use a pi-cardy third to bring the key back to major. This tonal change from minor to major will effectively interpret the words "turning sorrow into healing."

"From Heaven Above to Earth I Come"
[PsH 339, PH 54, RL 207, TH 220]

The second stanza of this Christmas hymn speaks of earth's joy at the birth of Jesus Christ. The third stanza shifts the mood textually with a reminder that the Christ child became our Savior and set us free from sin. These two successive stanzas are musically portrayed in settings II and III of Ernst Pepping's "Vom Himmel Hoch" (Kleines Orgelbuch, Schott, ED3735; Medium).

Introduce the hymn with a bright, clear registration, perhaps even using the first setting of Pepping as the introduction. Continue the same mood for stanza 1, playing directly out of the hymnal. For stanza 2, play the second setting of Pepping alone, keeping the same bright registration for this scherzo movement. For stanza 3, use the third setting, switching the registration to soft strings or a flute tone.

One warning: Pepping's arrangement is in D; many hymnals set this hymn in C. Be sure to transpose the chorale to D (or use the chorale from Rejoice in the Lord, which is in D).

"I Come With Joy To Meet My Lord"
[PsH 311, PH 507, RL 534]

This hymn text shifts focus from the individual to the communal celebration of the Lord's Supper. "I come" in stanza 1 becomes "together met" in stanza 5.

Most hymnals set this text to the lovely tune LAND OF REST. But "Blest Be the Tie that Binds" (DENNIS) is very similar to this hymn in text, melody, and, most often, even key.

For stanza 3 of "I Come with Joy" the organist might want to have the organ "sing" by starting with the LAND OF REST theme, improvising into DENNIS, and then going back to LAND OF REST.

"O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How
[PsH 364, PH 83, RL 342, TH 155]

The fifth stanza, "For us he rose from death again ..." stands in contrast to the end of the previous stanza, ". . . for us gave up his dying breath." This shift to resurrection joy is aptly portrayed in Paul Manz's setting of "O Love, How Deep" {Ten Chorale Improvisations Set IX, Concordia 97-5556, p. 22; Medium).

Accompany the fourth stanza quietly. You may want to add a dark 16' using the Manz setting, while the congregation meditates on the text. Play at the spirited tempo indicated by Manz and be sure to observe the crescendo markings at the end of the piece so that the organ ends full. This will appropriately lead directly into the last doxological stanza, 'All glory to our Lord and God...."

"O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" (HER-ZLICH TUT MICH VERLANGEN)

[PsH 383, PH 98, RL 300, TH 247]

The second stanza of this Lenten hymn speaks of deadly pain and suffering. Pain, sharp arrows, and ugliness are musically portrayed in Alan Stout's setting of "Herzlich Tut Mich Verlangen" (Eight Organ Chorales: Contemporary Settings by Alan Stout, Augsburg Publishing House, 11-9159; Easy).

Accompany stanza 1 from the hymnal with a broad principal tone, being careful not to rush the tune. For stanza 2, play Stout's setting by itself. Be sure to use Stout's registration suggestions; they are the key to presenting his musical ideas. For stanza 3, go back to the same registration as stanza 1, perhaps adding additional upper work when the congregation sings the commitment, "Lord, make me yours forever...."


Key to Terms

E = Easy, M = Moderate, D = Difficult


Johann Sebastian Bach, "Savior of the Nations, Come"

These three chorale settings make a wonderful Advent prelude, offertory, and postlude, respectively. The first and second are reflective, portraying the mystery of the incarnation. The third is doxological. Some organists, if daunted by the difficulty, may wish to look at the settings by Pachel-bel and Buxtehude in the Organist's Golden Treasury.
[Barenreiter BA 1572; Three settings from the Leipzig Chorale Preludes; M]

Johannes Brahms, "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming"
Brahms constructs a very chromatic setting for a very diatonic melody. The melody is "entangled" in a rocking theme—perhaps suggesting the rocking of the Christmas cradle.
[from Eleven Chorale Preludes, Op. 122; E]

Michael Burkhardt, "Variations on Puer Nobis"
Burkhardt arranges one variation per stanza, musically interpreting the text.
[Morning Star MSM-10-005; M-D]

John Ferguson, A Christmas Triptych
[Morning Star MSM-10-113; E]

_____, A Christmas Triptych: Set 2
In Set 2, Fergusons "Lo, How a Rose" expresses the mystery of the incarnation.
[Morning Star MSM-10-116; E]

Hal Hopson, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"
A fresh idea on an old theme. The tune is treated with warmth and sensitivity, effectively capturing the plaintive cry of the text.
[Belwin Mills GSTC-1015; E]

Jacobus Kloppers, "Wachet Auf"
Written for use in the Reformed church of South Africa, this setting of "Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying" reflects the mystery of Advent.
[in Five Chorale Preludes, Concordia 97-5733; M]

Gerald Kremner, "Veni Emmanuel" and "Rosa Mystica"
Accompanying the rhythmically free Plainchant of "O Come, O Come
Emmanuel" are slow unfolding strands of harmony punctuated by markedly contrasting rich harmonies where the words "Rejoice, Rejoice" would be sung. In "Lo, How A Rose," the notes of the ending syllables of each line are given the same rich kinds of harmonies as the "Rejoice" chords of "O Come." They are glosses on the otherwise traditional setting of Praetorius.
[in Holiday Fantasies on Familiar Hymn Tunes; White Harvest Music Corporation, Box 1144, Independence, MO, 64051; M]

Dennis Lovinfosse, "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming"
A thoroughly modern treatment;
works as a nice contrast to the lush
Brahms setting.
[Out of print, but rail Karen Merrick at Augsburg: (612) 330-3344, est. 398 for copies; E]

Max Reger, "Weihnachten, Op. 145 No. 3" Each movement in this often-overlooked opus is based on a season of the church year, and in each one Reger weaves an ingenious collage of hymn tunes appropriate to that season of the church year. In this movement, Reger uses STILLE NACHT and VON HIMMEL HOCH simultaneously.
[Breitkopf 4159; M]

Herman Schroeder "In Dulci Jubilo" Schroeder ingeniously superimposes the theme of VON HIMMEL HOCH as a countersubject in the pedal.
[in Sechs Orgelchorale, Schott 2265; M]


Samuel Barber, "Chorale Prelude on 'Silent Night'"
Like Barbers famous shape-note variations on WONDROUS LOVE, this setting also captures the simple beauty of STILLE NACHT.
[from Die Natali, Op 37, G. Schimer; M]

Marcel Dupre, "In Dulci Jubilo"

Gentle treatment of this tune, which is often treated exuberantly.
[in 79 Organ Chorales HW Gray; E]

John Ferguson, "Silent Night"
[in A Christmas Triptych: Set 2, Morning Star MSM 10-116; E]

Jacobus Kloppers, "Three Christmas Hymns"
Three variations of "O Come, All Ye Faithful" match the text of stanzas 1, 2, and 3, respectively.
[Morning Star MSM-10-105; M]

Gerald Kremner, "In Dulci Jubilo"
A delightf ul offertory for Christmas morning. Kremner uses an echo effect that is exploited throughout the piece, with a brief canon section.
[in Holiday Fantasies on Familiar Hymn Tunes; E]

Austin C. Lovelace, "Away In A Manger" This short setting uses the two hymn tunes associated with this text: AWAY IN A MANGER and CRADLE SONG. The first tune appears in canon, followed by a clever modulation and transition to the second tune. Then both tunes appear simultaneously.

[Concordia 97-5915; E]

Ernst Pepping, "Von Himmel Hoch" A set of delightful variations, with each variation describing different aspects of the text. The scherzo is a spritely variation reflecting the joy of the incarnation.
[from Kleines Orgelbuch, Schott ED 3735; E]


Michael Burkhardt, "Partita on 'O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright'"
Burkhardt sets each of the six variations to a particular stanza of the hymn text.
[Morning Star, MSM-10-202; M]
_____, "Partita on 'Deo Gracias'"
Another excellent set of variations on the Epiphany hymn "O Love, How Deep." Thoughtful settings for each of the six stanzas of the hymn.
[Morning Star, MSM-10-844; M]

Max Drischner, "How Lovely Shines the Morning Star"
Some musicologists suggest that Drischner, with his left-hand scale figures, is painting the hills over which the magi rode following the star to Bethlehem (as does Buxte-hude in his setting of the same tune in Organist's Golden Treasury).
[in Choralvorspiele fur Dorforganisten, Schultheiss 123860; M]

Paul Manz, "Three For Epiphany"
A bolero-like "We Three Kings," a whimsical "As with Gladness Men of Old" (DIX) and a fughetta-like "O Morning Star" with cantus in pedal.
[Morning Star, MSM-10-203; M]

Christian Henrich Rinck, "How Lovely Shines the Morning Star"
Each chorale in this collection contains 3-6 variations written in a mixture of styles.
[in Six Chorals with Variations Op. 55, Ars Nova 1380628; E]


Johann Sebastian Bach, "O Sacred Head Now Wounded"
[Organist's Golden Treasury]

Samuel Barber, "Wondrous Love: Variations on a Shape-note Hymn"
Based on the pentatonic hymn from Southern Harmony (which was subscripted with the text of John 3:16), Barber captures the awe of this text in a very devotional and meditative style.
[Schirmer; D]

Johannes Brahms, two settings of "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" and "Ah, Holy Jesus"
Beautiful, profound settings by Brahms.
[in Eleven Chorale Preludes, Op. 122; M]

David Cherwien, "Toccata on In the Cross of Christ I Glory"
A nice toccata on a familiar hymn tune; a good postlude for Lent.
[Morning Star MSM-10-303; M]

_____, "Five Lenten Hymn Settings for Organ"
Sensitive treatments of familiar lenten hymn tunes that work well for preludes, offertories, and postludes.
[Morning Star MSM-10-302; E]

Raymond H. Haan, "Passacaglia on the Passion Chorale"
Haan calls for many registration changes in this passacaglia. This is, in part, to capture the line of the text "What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend?" Haan uses the language of the organ.
[SMP 59; M]

Sigfrid Karg-Elert, "Oh God, Thou Faithful God"
A musical picture of God's faithfulness. Karg-Elert uses an echo effect throughout, each lingering phrase suggesting God's faithfulness hanging on.
[Belwin Mills M 152; E]

Ronald Perera, "Five Meditations on Wondrous Love"
[Schirmer 4145; M]

J.C.H. Rinck, "Seven Lenten Pieces" Rinck treats seven familiar Lenten hymn tunes in various styles.
[Concordia 97-6066; E]

Herman Schroeder, "Beautiful Savior" Based on the chorale tune SCHOEN-STER HERR JESU, this setting is stunning in its simplicity.
[in Sechs Orgelchorale, Schotts 2265; E]

Alan Stout, "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded"
Stout, in this modern setting, covers the cantus firmus with dissonance and painful chord clusters. Though jarring to the ear, it is appropriate to the text.
[in Eight Organ Chorales, Augsburg 11-9159; E]

Helmut Walcha, "Ah, Holy Jesus" and "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"
Walcha's "Ah Holy Jesus" uses a recurring pedal motif—some suggest it portrays drops of blood falling from the cross. 'A Mighty Fortress" may seem like an unusual selection for Lent, but the lectionary calls for Psalm 46 (the Psalm that inspired Luther's writing of the text). It is a call for God to uphold us in our struggle, and an appropriate postlude for Lent.
[Peters; E]


Johann Sebastian Bach, "In Thee Is Gladness"
For a contrast to the many bombastic registrations that organists like to use for this setting, try playing in a renaissance dance style, perhaps using only 8' and 2' flutes with a zimbel-stern.
[in Das Orgelbuchlein; D]

Paul Bouman, "This Joyful Eastertide"
A partita with variations in different styles on this Easter hymn.
[Concordia 97-6060; M]

John Ferguson, "Partita on At the Lamb's High Feast"
Each variation is inspired by a stanza of the hymn. Included are useful, detailed instructions for using as a solo organ piece, or as an accompaniment for singing the hymn with choir and congregation.
[Morning Star MSM-10-400; M]

Hermann Schroeder, "Christ Ist Erstanden"
Schroeder's pedal-march insists that the resurrection information is real.
[in Sechs Orgelchorale, Schott 2265; M]


Johann Sebastian Bach, "Veni Creator Spiritus"
Bach's first setting is found in the little organbook; the setting from the Leipzig collection is Bach's recasting from the first, with the cantus firmus in the pedal.
[in Das Orgelbuchlein and The Leipzig Chorale Preludes; M]

Edwin T. Childs, "Breathe on Me, Breath of God"
A quiet, lovely setting of a hymn appropriate for Pentecost.
[HW Gray GSTA 1001 ; E]

Maurice Durufle, "Prelude, Adagio, and Chorale Variations on 'Veni Creator'"
Beautifully written variations on this Pentecost hymn.
[Durand; D]

Piet Post, "Phantasy on the Hymn 'Holy, Holy Holy'"
A wonderful set of variations that aptly captures the awe and mystery of the hymn—and of the Isaiah text that inspired the hymn writer.
[Ars Nova l63-O0033; M]

Hermann Schroeder, "Now Come Holy Ghost"
The rush of the Pentecost wind is heard in the busy sixteenth notes of the left hand.
[in Sechs Orgelchorale, Schott 2265; M]


Alfred Fedak, Fantasia on "Oh God Our Help in Ages Past"
This improvisatory-style piece interprets each of the music phrases of this well-known hymn in an exciting work for organ.
[Selah 12-001; M]

John Ferguson, "Partita on At the Lamb's High Feast'"
Each variation is inspired by a stanza of the hymn. Included are useful, detailed instructions for using as a solo organ piece, or as an accompaniment for singing the hymn with choir and congregation.
[Morning Star MSM-10-100; M]

Jacobus Kloppers, "Pastorale on the Twenty-Third Psalm"
The registrations of an 8' flute with tremblant on the manual against a 2' flute with tremblant in the pedal suggests the warm, lilting setting of this Afrikaanse tune by Jannasch, and at the same time this setting creates a pastoral mood appropriate to the twenty-third Psalm itself.
[Concordia 95-5734; E]

Gerhard Krapf, "Fantasy on the Genevan Psalm CL (150)"
A commissioned piece occasioned by the installation of the Casavant pipe organ of Dordt College. Calls for all the tonal colors of the organ—appropriate enough for Psalm 150.
[Dordt College Press, Sioux Center, IA; Ml

Paul Manz, "Partita on 'O God Our Help In Ages Past'"
Now republished by Morning Star, this new edition contains two variations not present in the old Concordia score. Several variations—vintage Manz—interpret the stanzas of the hymn.
[Morning Star MSM-10-838; M-D]

Wim van der Panne, "Variations on 'Wie Maar de Goede God Laat Zorgen'" ("If You But Trust in God to Guide You")
A set of variations by a contemporary Dutch composer and improvisator. The different variations— especially the last—portray wondering figures finding rest.
[Musiscript MR 122; M]

Rudolf Zuiderveld, "Variations on 'This Is My Father's World'"
This unique set of six variations demonstrates all the families of organ pipe sound with each one simultaneously reflecting a verse from Psalm 150.
[Morning Star MSM 10-881; E]

Phone Numbers
Augsburg 1-800-328-4648
Concordia 1-800-325-3040
Morning Star 1-800-647-2117
Selah 1-800-852-6172

The hymns in this resource were selected from the most recent editions of the following hymnals: The Psalter Hymnal (PsH), The Presbyterian Hymnal (PH), Rejoice in tlte Lord (RL), and the Trinity Hymnal (TH).

Randall D. Engle (randyengle@aol.com) is pastor of North Hills Christian Reformed Church, Troy, Michigan.

Reformed Worship 29 © September 1993, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.