Bugger me! I play the Electone!

INC_Temple_PipeOrgan

When I was in kindergarten, I used to attend one of the hippest and newest parishes in the North District. In this modern parish, with a modern building, and a modern take on the Mass, I used to listen to the organist with great admiration and wished that I too could one day play with such finesse. Percussions, cosmic sounds, Drum synchro fill-ins, melodic appregio chords. The full works that would make Yamaha proud. This parish even owned the Yamaha FX-1 *drool* !!!

fx-1-a1

And so my parents enrolled me into the Junior Music Course (JMC) with secret hopes that one day I would be able to do the same. And I did! I played at various Masses with the same gusto as did my “idol” with slick rhythm box maneuvers and voice-banks.

Fast forward to 1999, I came face-to-face with the Viscount Protege at the Church of Sts. Peter & Paul and thought to myself: “what a behemoth, old-fashioned looking thing!”carousel

I struggled to make it sound uplifting enough with the chord structures and patterns that I’ve been brought up with. At best, it sounded like carousel music. I massacred the hymns week after week. But that was the best I could do, because I knew no better. Until a kind soul showed me how she played the pipe organ and that enlightened me with some ideas I could use.

For most of us, the piano would have been the starting point of our music education. And there would also be a significant number who had gone through the Electone route. This is my sharing on how to cope with accompanying the music for the Mass if we are not trained on the pipe organ, or if you’re a pianist but the church you’re playing at only has an Electone (thanks to Yamaha’s shrewd marketing plan to conquer the world!).

Please forgive me if my notes may not apply on certain models or on other brands like Technics, Roland or the Hammond (if your church has the Hammond, please email me. I’d REALLY love to try it!). I will try my best to share from what I know (which is unfortunately feebly little) to help your situation.

Voicing

Most Electones would have categories of sounds and grouped into Upper Keyboard, Lower Keyboard, Pedal. You may even see terms like “Lead Voice”, “Combi. Voice”, or “Ensemble”.

Start by looking at the digital panel for voice selections (usually found on post 2000 Yamaha models) and move the page to show Flute/Reed voices. You will find that there may be 16′, 8′, 4′, 2′ numbers. These try to simulate the length of the flues of the pipe organ (I emphasize… “try to simulate” so I don’t tick-off the die-hard pipe organ aficionado).

yamaha-organ-flute-2

16′ would give the lowest pitched, bassy sound. While the 2′ or 1′ would produce the highest pitched whistling sounds.

Odd numbered levers (mutations) 5-1/3′, 2-2/3′, 1-3/5′ would help to add “colour” in the tone and this usually helps to highlight the melody so that the combination of flutes would not mash up to a wall of sound. Playing the Electone (or Organ) in a large hall (church) with a muddy sound would not aid the congregation in hearing the melody.

Go ahead and create a few registration memories for the Upper Keyboard (Swell or Manual II), Lower Keyboard (Great or Manual I) playing with a combination and intensity of each flue. I would recommend that we build the sound based on having 4′ and 8′ flues first, as these often provide the basic sound you can use for most hymn playing.

I would also suggest that the Upper Keyboard use higher intensities of 4′, 2′ and either 2-2/3′ or 1-3/5′ to colour the tone if you are playing a solo piece (i.e. preludes, interludes or postludes). You may do better to colour the tone with Reed voices (Clarinet, Oboe, Bassoon) or Strings (Violin, String ensemble, cello) if you are accompanying the congregation. So that the mutations don’t confuse them. While the Lower Keyboard use higher intensities of 8′, 4′ and maybe 16′.

For pedal sounds, if your Electone allows you to program voices into the pedals, you may opt for Bassoon, or Oboe, or Clarinet (Reed type of voices). Some Electones may allow you to program a combination of flute sounds too. You may apply the same ideas as discussed for the Upper/Lower Keyboards.

Playing Technique – Right Hand

It may seem weird if you are Electone-trained, but I would suggest that you play both hands on the Lower Keyboard – like a pianist. You might do well to play most hymns this way.

Sometimes, if you would like to accentuate a certain verse, or the chorus, or give more enthusiasm for the peoples-parts in the Mass, you may play your Right-Hand melodic chords (or melody line) on the Upper Keyboard. Then come back down to have both hands again on the Lower Keyboard.

If you recall your improvisation lessons from the Yamaha school, you would be familiar with playing block chord patterns with your right hand while still carrying the melody. Practice it with some hymns and see if you can do the same. Nevertheless, the old adage “less is more” is good advice to keep in mind.

Playing Technique – Left Hand

If you are Electone-trained, you will also be familiar with Left-Hand “block chords” (C: do-mi-so; D: re-fa#-la; E: mi-so#-ti etc.). Attempt appregio patterns, or “walk down” the scale or some other chord patterns that encourage you to break-up the “block chords”. If you are a pianist, you would have no trouble with this. But if you were trained to play contemporary rhythm chords on the Electone, check out material on counter-point, or Fugue on the internet to get some idea. Breaking-up the chord pattern is a loooong way off from an actual Fugue, but at least it’s a start.

You can opt not to play the pedals and play bass-line patterns with your left hand. This would work well if you increase the intensity of the 16′ lever on the Electone for the Lower Keyboard. Then play your right-hand melodies on the Upper Keyboard. It is unlikely you can play on the higher end of the Lower Keyboard because of the limited number of keys on the Electone.

You may also opt to play the major-7’s, minor-7’s, sus2, sus4 chords with your left hand before resolving the chord to the major/minor.

Playing Technique – Pedal

Most pianists would not be comfortable playing with the pedals and it is ok if you prefer to use your left hand do the bass-lines on the Lower Keyboard. Nevertheless, I would encourage you to try.

I would suggest you try to play the pedal as legato as possible, and set-aside the style of emulating the “bass-guitar” while accompanying the Mass. The pedal sound would most likely be a Reed or Flute, so try to consider how these instruments would play in smooth transitions between notes.

You need not play the pedal from the start of the hymn for all 3 verses, and all 4 choruses *gasp*.

Putting it all together – Hymns & Responsorial Psalms

Consider this:
4-bar intro LH, RH, Pedals (usually the last 4 bars of the hymn, or the chorus)
Verse 1 with RH melody and LH bassline, both on Lower Keyboard
Verse 2 with RH block-chord melody and LH bassline, both on Lower Keyboard
Verse 3 with RH on Upper Keyboard, LH appregios on Lower Keyboard, Pedal

Or,
Verse 1 with RH melody and LH bassline, both on Lower Keyboard
Chorus with RH block-chord melody on Upper Keyboard, LH appregios on Lower Keyboard, Pedal

Verse 2 with RH melody and  and LH bassline, both on Lower Keyboard
Chorus with RH block-chord melody on Upper Keyboard, LH appregios on Lower Keyboard, Pedal

Or (for Responsorial Psalms):
Play the Response line – RH melody on Upper Keyboard
Cantor sings the Response – RH melody & LH bassline, both on Lower Keyboard
Congregation sings the Response – RH block-chord melody on Upper Keyboard, LH appregios on Lower Keyboard, Pedal
Cantor sings the verse – RH melody on middle-octave & LH bassline both on Lower Keyboard

Putting it all together – Ordinaries or Chants

Usually, finding the minor chords may help. Sometimes, the chants may resolve in the final bar in the major key. You could experiment and see which sounds better in accompanying the chant.

If unsure, it is completely all right to give the first notes for intonation and the choir can sing in accapella.

I would suggest keeping a low-profile as you play for chants. Nothing fancy, no embellishments, and allow the choir/cantor to lead the singing of the text.

RH melodies and LH basslines on the Lower Keyboard work very well for chants.

Whew! Finally….

Thank you for reading this verbal diarrhea *blush*

Most of the sounds you’d be playing on the Electone to emulate the pipe organ would be Reeds or Flutes. Articulate the ends of phrases, or transition between verses or verse/chorus by allowing the organ to “breath”. Lift up both hands and/or the pedal at these points to hint to the congregation to transit with you as well.

I hope this may give you some ideas on how to accompany the Mass while keeping to the appropriateness of accompaniment for the hymns and chants you may sing. Rhythm boxes, creative voice-programming and all that hi-tech fanciful stuff would be great for Star Wars… but it may not bring dignity to the Holy Sacrifice 😉

Lastly, do find a teacher if you can. Or someone who is trained on the pipe organ to give you more tips. Learning to play the pipe organ is a kinesthetic exercise. Proper technique and growing in repertoire will grant you many years of fulfilling musicianship.

Unfortunately, as well as they are marketed, the Electone is not a proper organ. It is a synthesizer with pedals *gasp*

I do hope you will one day find the joy in Bach as much as you might love your Bach Kut Teh’s or Bach Kwa’s (sorry… I couldn’t resist!). It is a delightful new universe to enter into the world of the great Organ composers!

You may find out more information about classes from Sonata Music, Methodist School of Music or the Singapore Bible College (for Catholics, this may be slightly challenging due to their policy of swearing-in Conservative Protestants only).

You may also look for other experienced organists on the Singapore Catholic Organists Face Book group to seek help and further advice to learning the pipe organ.

God be with you as you do your best, so He too will encourage you through his providence 🙂

%d bloggers like this: