The Reluctant Organist
Making the Transition from Piano to Church Organ
This website contains practical advice for the pianist turned organist. There are plenty of tips and suggestions for those who are just beginning their role as church organist and who are trying to become established in both pedal playing and getting the most from the time available for practice.
Why the term Reluctant Organist is incorrect
The term Reluctant Organist is a misnomer because anyone who is serving in the post of Church Organist will be anything but reluctant.
In fact, he or she will probably be a very generous hard-working soul who receives very little encouragement for the many hours of practice and preparation that is required when learning to play the church organ and having to prepare music Sunday after Sunday.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the pianist turned organist is learning to use the organ pedals. The fact is, it is much easier to play hymns – and a lot of other music too – if you use the pedals!
Walk Don’t Run
Being too ambitious is a common fault – we’d all like to play the big, impressive sounding pieces but realistically, they are too difficult and time consuming for a novice organist who has a lot of material to rehearse and prepare.
Play Easy Music Well
Stick to easier pieces, those that are manageable at your standard, and play them well. Most people won’t recognize that your pieces are easier to play, but many people will recognize mistakes when they happen!
Set Yourself Realistic Goals
Short Term: Develop a repertoire of easy voluntaries and work on some of the most popular hymns.
Pick one or two of the easiest hymns and start learning the bass pedals – don’t avoid the pedals because once learned, they make playing hymns easier!
Medium Term: Learn voluntaries and hymns that are slightly more difficult to play – All Creatures of our God and King for example – you could also change the key from Eb to D to make it easier.
Long Term: Depends on what your goals are. However, the ability to sight-read well and improvise, are two very useful abilities to have.
Getting worse not better
It is possible to be so busy playing that your standard of musicianship gets worse rather than better. When this happens it is often the case that enthusiasm diminishes too – we want to augment, not diminish!
Try to stay ahead of the game rather than allow yourself to become overwhelmed with lots of music that is too difficult to play at your standard. Remember …
Play easy music well – not difficult music badly!
The big picture for the Reluctant Organist
One day you’ll have a large repertoire of pieces of varying degrees of difficulty that you’ll play well and you will sound great playing them. Until then, be realistic and use your time wisely.
Make gradual and consistent progress – over time your ability will reach new heights and your contribution to the church will be greatly appreciated – probably more than you realized!
See Organ Pedal Breakthrough! for getting used to playing the pedals – on hymns and simple voluntaries.