Tag Archives: Hymns

MIDI project

Among my regular activities as a musician, I was hired to work on special MIDI project.

I thought you might be interested to hear some of the details.

There are a number of churches that have organs but nobody to play them. Many of the organs are midi capable but the midi files they can find online are, let’s face it, not the greatest. Most them sound like they weren’t played by an organist (or for that matter anyone with any accompanying experience). Others consist of only one verse of a hymn or they don’t have introductions. Others are only on channel one. Many organs don’t use channel one as their ‘Great’ manual and this leaves out the pedals, always on a different channel. Yes, one could create their own midi files, but that’s a lot of work. They could edit the files they find off the internet, but generally speaking, they would require too much editing to make them ideal.

So, I was hired to travel to the Orlando, FL area to record some hymns on an organ with midi capability. The organ in question uses channel 12 for the great, 13 for swell and 14 for the pedals. That is not typical for organs, but this unit (an older Rodgers organ) was designed to be supplemented with an external sequencer/sound module that uses channels 1-10 for general midi sounds. The organ also used sysex codes to change the pistons and stops. I recorded one hymn at a time onto a Roland external sequencer (an RD-70).  Rather than try and set tempo on each hymn, we just recorded at the default tempo of 120. A so-called ‘free form’ recording.

We were able to capture the sysex codes to be able to use when editing sequences on a computer. In total, I recorded about 100 hymns and a few ‘service’ pieces. The client the midi files will eventually be used with is an Episcopal church so we focused on them as well as some hymns that span all denominations. The session took about 2 full days with plenty of breaks. I used my iPad where I use the app forScore to view the PDF files of the hymns.

It would have been helpful to have people singing, not so much to adjust to their singing as a good accompanist would, but rather to help me remember which verse we were on and not to forget to include an introduction. There were several titles that I forgot an introduction or I played one less or one more verse than was in the hymnal. I did some post-production on the computer to take care of those issues.

Since most organs use channels 1 for the Swell, 2 for the Great and 4 for the Pedals, it is an easy thing to edit the hymns I did so they can be played on any organ with midi capability. (Channel 3 is used for a Choir or Positiv, if present). Unfortunately, every organ manufacturer and every model within their companies use a different method for selecting stops or picking pistons (aka presets). Since different organs have different stops to choose from, it is impossible to do midi sequences of hymns that automatically select appropriate registrations unless I know the midi implementation and stop list of each organ that wants to use the sequences. However, if someone is willing to sit at the organ console and select a piston or stops just before each hymn plays, then it is quite possible and very realistic to provide high quality hymn accompaniments.

There is a great deal of discussion in some churches about how terrible it is to use the organ and how old-fashioned it is. I say nonsense. Most likely those churches have suffered at the hands of an accompanist who really doesn’t know what they are doing (even if they think they do). Or the instrument itself was the wrong instrument for the auditorium. When the church I play for recently got a new organ with a top notch speaker system – a pipe organ was out of the question for such a small facility and the musical needs the church has – I had one person tell me they never really liked the organ, until now. Now they really like it. Most people just thought it sounded much better. The point is, if you want good music in a church, you need a great accompanist and a good instrument. You’ll be surprised at how many people really do like those ‘old-fashioned’ hymns when played by someone who knows what they are doing and how much they really don’t like drums, synthesizers and guitars playing a bunch of music that stylistically is 20 years behind the times and is being attempted by a bunch of amateurs.

If you’d like to read more about how to be a good accompanist, visit the Amazon Kindle store and check out my book In the Shadows but still in the Spotlight.  It gives some good tips on how to be a better accompanist.

So, loaded with these sequences, it was time to put them to test in the real world. A small church too far away for me to play there and make it to my current church has a midi capable organ similar to the one I recorded on. The church has its 5 general pistons setup from soft congregational accompanying (1) to loud festival hymns (5). The church emails me a list of the pieces for the coming Sunday. If it is one of the ones I already recorded, I double check it to make sure it has the right number of verses, an intro and the right piston changes at the start and, if needed, between verses. If it isn’t one I’ve already recorded, I get the hymn into my computer sequencer – I use the DAW Reaper for my recording work – add piston changes and make sure all is correct. I then email the church the sequences. The person on that end copies the .mid file to a floppy. (And yes, they still make 3 1/2 inch floppy disk drives and drives). He puts it into the sequencer, hits play and that’s it. For special situations, like an upcoming patriotic choir accompaniment, I utilized the sounds on the sound module (strings, winds, drums, etc) in addition to the organ.

The results? The vicar of the church, who I know and who regularly hears me play for services, says it is just like having me there playing the organ. The breaks between verses, the breathing spots, introductions and stop changes are exactly like if I were there. I’m very pleased with those results.

For you? Even if you do contemporary music, if you have any instrument or sound module that is midi capable, it is possible for me to create a high-quality midi accompaniment sequence of your music. Just insert the disk (or usb memory stick), select the piece and hit play. For those with midi capable organs, I can provide the hymns just like described above.

That’s why I’ve not been doing much here on the blog.

I have posted a few new videos on my YouTube channel. Do check them out when you get a chance.

If you are on Spotify, here are some playlists you may want to check out:

http://open.spotify.com/user/jlg-gnv/playlist/5amPipKSeCefguofXXbtJV

http://open.spotify.com/user/jlg-gnv/playlist/4COYvc3upBFoabQy6nfwJ8

http://open.spotify.com/user/jlg-gnv/playlist/1LrdQ4tq9BRwyN8rVMJim8

http://open.spotify.com/user/jlg-gnv/playlist/64gzlDm2FIgX693FBAZG7T

http://open.spotify.com/user/jlg-gnv/playlist/0sG01jRAD22KlYO6j7PIcV

Enjoy.

(edit: removed some redundant text 6/29)

Using pre-1611 music

The title page to the 1611 first edition of th...
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Pre-1611 music service

On November 20, 2011 the Church of the Mediator Episcopal church in Micanopy, FL ( held a service that focused on the 400th Anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. To try and keep the service as much musically like what people may have heard in 1611, we tried to select appropriate music.

The scripture was, of course, from the King James version. We used the original edition, complete with the different spellings used in 1611.

Hymns

In researching hymn tunes and lyrics that were written prior to 1611, we discovered that few English language hymns exist. It was about 100 years later that English language hymnody really took off with such authors as Isaac Watts. Although there are numerous foreign language pieces (eg. German) that were possibilities, but the translations, such as A Mighty Fortress, were written long after 1611 so we did not use those titles.

We could only find about 7 hymns that would work. Of those, the following were chosen. Even with these, some of the translations or harmonizations were done after 1611.

  • Jerusalem, My Happy Home (Tune: Diana)
  • Psalm 23 metrical version (Tune: St. Flavian)
  • The Lord Descended from above (Tune: Moravian)
  • All People That On Earth Do Dwell (Tune: Old 100th)
  • I Call On Thee, Lord Jesus (Tune: Ich Ruf Zu Dir)

The hymn I Call on Thee was written by Miles Coverdale (1487-1568) who is probably best known for his Coverdale Psalms, a translation of Psalms. The hymn tune dates to 1533 but was harmonized in 1928. It is found in the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal as hymn 634.

All People That On Earth Do Dwell is set to the tune Old 100th, best known to many as the Doxology. The words by William Keth (d. ~1608) and is a paraphrase of Psalm 100. In this case, the lyrics and music are all written pre-1611. The music is from 1551 and harmonized prior to 1561. This is probably the oldest hymn with lyrics and music commonly used by congregations today.

Jerusalem, My Happy Home was written in the 16th century. The melody, tune: Diana, is a traditional English melody from the 16th century. The setting we used was harmonized in 1939.

The metrical Psalm setting of Psalm 23 we used was to the tune St. Flavian, sung often to the lyrics Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days. This tune dates from 1562.

The Lord Descended From Above is another Sternhold Psalm. The tune is Moravian from pre-1611. The edition we used was from an 1882 Church of Christ/Presbyterian hymnal.

Organ Music

Presbyterian Church, now Episcopal Church of t...
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I do not have access to any original edition organ publications pre-1611. I did have several arrangements or adaptations of pre-1611 organ music.

For pre-service music, I played the following:

  • Pavane, by William Byrd
  • Salmodia para el Magnificant by Antonio de Cabezon, arranged by E. Power Biggs
  • Dialogo per Organo by Adriano Banchieri, arranged by E. Power Biggs
  • St. Flavian (tune)

During communion I played the following titles. In the E. Power Biggs edition I had, they were grouped together as one piece, in two sections:

  • 1. Pavana – The Earle of Salisbury from Parthenia or The Maydenhead (1611) by William Byrd
  • 2. Galiardo also from Parthenia or The Maydenhead (1611) by William Byrd
The Pavana in this piece is the same as the pre-service piece, but arranged quite differently. I suspect, but have no way to know, that this edition is more accurate to the original.
For the postlude I played Ayre of Four Parts by John Dowland.
(Added 11/21)
If you’d like to see the sermon that focuses on the KJV, visit:

New sheet-music

Four new titles are now available in the music catalog at the website.

These titles are for solo organ, solo piano, instrumental solo with piano accompaniment and an organ hymn accompaniment/alternate harmonization.

O Day Of Radiant Gladness
jamesgilbertmusic.com/catalog.php?sid=OR22
This arrangement is based on a German folk tune, also known under the hymn tune name ES FLOG EIN KLEINS WALDVOGELEIN. This is for solo organ. It was written with a postlude in a church service in mind. It is a contrapuntal arrangement, almost like a fugue. The pedal part is not difficult. This piece makes for a great postlude. An organ teacher might also find it useful as a supplemental piece to regular lessons.

Episode
jamesgilbertmusic.com/catalog.php?sid=PN15
An original piano composition. It is a slow, thoughtful piece. An episode is similar to an interlude.  It is designed to be played between other (perhaps non-musical) activities. It would be a great piece for an intermediate piano student to learn for a recital. It could be used as part of a concert program where you need a slower piece between faster pieces. For church use, it would work quite well as an offertory or communion (Lord’s supper) piece.

Jesus Loves Me
jamesgilbertmusic.com/catalog.php?sid=IS10
An arrangement of the well-loved hymn for solo instrument with piano accompaniment. This setting is an adaptation of the solo organ title already a part of the music catalog. Rather than the typical 4/4 or 2/4 meter found in the hymnal, this setting is in a slow 6/4 time. This slows the piece down from its typical sung speed and allows for more expression from the soloist. I didn’t have any particular solo instrument in mind when writing this, but violin or oboe would work well with this. Parts are provided for C, Bb, Eb and F treble clef instruments making it playable by a wide range of instruments including: Flute, oboe, Clarinet, Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, French Horn, Trumpet, Violin, Guitar, Recorder and a solo keyboard (eg. a synthesizer lead). If you play bassoon, cello, trombone or viola and can read treble clef, you could easily adapt this for your use. French horn players may find this a challenge due to its high range, but feel free to transpose down an octave.

GROSSER GOTT
jamesgilbertmusic.com/catalog.php?sid=ORA37
This is an organ alternate harmony to this hymn tune. I use capital letters whenever mentioning tune names. Since so many hymn tunes have multiple titles, if I list the most common title, in this case “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name,” I end up leaving out other titles, so that’s why the tune name. This accompaniment is best used on the last verse of the tune. This accompaniment has a number of harmony changes that will require the congregation to sing in unison (as they would typically do to begin with). The piece does not always play the melody as the highest note and does a bit of a descant. But, it is not so different that the congregation will lose its place. When first used in a service it received good comments from those singing and a few were surprised at one or two of the harmonies.