Current Pedagogical Methods

“Successful accompaniment is of infinitely greater importance than brilliant solo playing, and it can only be successful if it is the subject of serious thought and patient study.”1

Of the pedagogical methods now or recently in print concerning the study of the pipe organ, very little space is devoted to the collaborative discipline of choral accompaniment. This brief sketch of available methods sheds light on the dearth of written resources.

Organ Technique: Modern and Early, by George Ritchie and George Stauffer, discusses accompanying in only four out of 382 pages. Of those, three consist of musical examples. Only one page, 368, mentions general ideas related to accompanying such as the necessity to practice and mark the score.2 No attempt is made to address ideas such as soloing out melodies, how to prepare the organ, or how to prepare for rehearsals. Also popular, the Method of Organ Playing by Harold Gleason covers a smaller number of issues than Ritchie/Stauffer, but goes into more depth on one of the trickier aspects of accompaniment: namely, that of adapting piano accompaniments to the organ.3

Although written for pianists, Janette Fishell’s book, But what do I do with my feet?, contains advice pertinent to the organ accompanist at all levels. 4 Fishell covers the topic of score adaptation as Gleason does, but the bulk of her prose focuses on organ registration. Fishell raises an important consideration not just for pianists, but for trained organists: namely, that the registration of organ accompaniments warrants investigation apart from the registration of organ solo repertoire.

In his Complete Organ Method, John Stainer treats choral accompaniment with few words.5 The bulk of his writing, however, focuses on registration, as did Fishell. In a brief instructional book for amateur organists, Tutor Book for Volunteer Organists, Robert Fielding mentions one important aspect of accompanying singers: the use of the swell box.6

A few modern organ methods that do not address choral accompaniment include, but are not limited to, the following: Introduction to Organ Playing in 17th and 18th Century Style by John Brock; King of Instruments: Organ Teaching Method by Joyce Jones; and Organ Music for the Church Pianist by James Southbridge.

  1. George Gardner and Sydney H. Nicholson, editors, A Manual of English Church Music, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1936), 145.
  2. George H. Ritchie, and George B. Stauffer, Organ Technique: Modern and Early (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 368.
  3. Harold Gleason, Method of Organ Playing, 8th ed., ed. Catharine Crozier Gleason (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996), 285.
  4. Janette Fishell, But What Do I Do With My Feet? (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 59–64.
  5. John Stainer, Complete Organ Method, ed. F. Flaxington Harker (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2003), 79–80.
  6. Robert Fielding, Tutor Book for Volunteer Organists (Lexington, KY: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012), 19.