Help Yourself: Filing Templates

I struggle with keeping all my music in order and knowing how to file it.  Should I combine hymn arrangements and free harmonizations?  Should Leo Sowerby’s arrangements go under ‘art music’ or ‘hymn settings’?  If I am not careful, I am going to waste one of my five questions when I get to heaven on something like, “Where should I file an anthology that has some hymn arrangements, some art music, and is mostly Christmas repertoire, but has a few Easter pieces in there as well?”

At any rate, I’ve settled on the following categories for my music filing.  Using this system, I can file and access all of my library with ease.  It takes a while to get things organized, but it streamlines the process of being music librarian.  The following link is a pdf of my labels that can be printed out on a standard mailing label (1″ x 2 5/8′) sheet.  Hope it helps!


Taking an Honest Look

My husband and I are friends with a Methodist pastor.  He’s an incredible guy – always thoughtful and deliberate.  While visiting over Christmas, he described the music situation in his parish, and made the following comment: “This may offend you, but I really don’t care if we have a regular pianist or organist.  After all, worship is the people’s gift to God, and if the people play the accordion and the spoons, then that is what we should use in worship.”

As a professional musician, it is so easy to jump into a defensive mode about my role within the church.  But then it occurred to me: how many organists don’t have the time or willingness to prepare?  How many church musicians merely do the minimum in a week-to-week role?  (Especially in the context of a minister who is laissez-faire about the music.)  How am I to defend the importance of organ music when so many organists are unengaged with their tasks?

So here we are, with a rather odd cycle, which has no good outcome until someone (ahem….like the church musician) re-engages.  It’s why I made my “Being Better” series.

There are some careers where the world will constantly tell you how important your work is (hello, firefighters).  Unfortunately, church organist isn’t always on that list.  And it is up to us to find within our musical souls the push to perfect our offerings to God and the church with renewed creativity, determination, and grace.

Being Better: Set up the Instrument

Part I of in the “Being Better” series – an attempt to find discrete ways to engage fully with the job of church musician while perhaps, getting the side results of efficiency and wisdom.
1.  Preset a generic level.
I can’t say that this is a particularly novel idea, but the return-on-investment is tremendous.  There are likely a limited number of combinations that you need, and if you have the available levels, it is invaluable to be able to sit down at the instrument and have the basic registrations immediately prepared.
Method 1:  Think about volume.  If I have 6 general pistons available, then
piston 1 is pianissimo
piston 2 is piano
……and so on…..
piston 5 is mezzoforte
piston 6 is forte.
You don’t need to preset fortissimo – you have that with the crescendo pedal and sforzando.
Method 2: Kind of the same as method 1.  Think about specific stops.  I heard Joyce Jones present this idea in a workshop.
piston 1: all 8′ flutes
piston 2: + 4′ flutes, 8′ strings & small principles
piston 3: + 2′ flutes, 8′ principle, 4′ octave
piston 4: + 2′ octave
piston 5: + mixtures
piston 6: + reeds
Method 3: This is for divisional pistons. I started this when I was playing a memorial service at an unfamiliar church and didn’t have the time to set up registrations for each piece.
Divisional pistons 1-3 are accompaniment stops – strings, flutes, soft things.
Divisional pistons 4-6 are solo stops – small reeds, solo principle, gentle cornet (8, 4 ,2, 2 2/3)
At this point, you can combine each solo sound with each soft accompaniment and always have the possibility of a new, gentle registration available.
This is probably the single thing that you can do to make your time at the instrument efficient. If you have an extra memory level, help yourself so that you can save time in the future.

Being Better: Introduction

At any rate, most organists work in isolation.  There is no daily interaction with a group of similarly-trained colleagues, no opportunity for a promotion within the company, no environment bolstered by interactive creativity.  At the core, an organist pursues daily tasks of work and study in a vacuum.  Enthusiasm, especially of the unbridled kind, must be sustained purely by an inner drive; in fact, it must be produced and distributed in prodigious amounts to congregants and clergy.  And in this environment, it is simply too easy to plod along, doing the same thing as last week, doing as little as possible to squeeze by in one more week, with a promise to try harder next week.
My intention for the “Being Better” posts is to suggest a checklist of concrete action items.  For most church musicians, it has been a long time since we’ve had regular instruction, and these checklists are intended as a check-up.  I’ve done most of these things; some are on my to-do list.  Here are a list of upcoming topics which reflect the variety of areas which we combine to do our job:
–  instrument checklist
–  practice discipline
–  organization
–  congregational relationships
–  pastoral relationships
–  institute new weekly habits
–  rethink the role
–  professional standing
–  know thy repertoire
–  talk it up: announcing programs