It was Advent, and praise team leader Mark Roessing led the congregation into the first verse of “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” Using just guitar for accompaniment, he gave this ancient hymn a contemporary beat. In verse two, an electric guitar, a keyboard, a bass, and drums joined the accompaniment. Then came verse three and a nowadays unusual instrumental addition: the organ! What? With a key change for verse four, the intensity increases, and now there’s full organ with all praise instruments. Near the end, Roessing signals that the final phrase will be repeated:
… as with ceaseless voice they cry,
Alleluia, Lord Most High!”
Full organ! Drums throbbing! All instruments lead the congregation into this emotional high point. On the final chord, a 32-foot pedal reed rattles the room. And then silence. Some are in tears. People have been touched by this moving interpretation of a hymnbook classic.
This article could be just for encouraging churches not to abandon their organs. But it’s deeper than that. Organs can enhance the sound of praise bands, enrich congregational singing and praise, and, not least, offer pleasing sounds to our Lord!
Not only can playing the organ bridge the gap between old-timers who lament the lack or loss of organ music and the younger generation who wonder why we ever used it in the first place, but it also can give new vitality to a blended service.
At my church, Ferrysburg (Mich.) Community Church, praise leaders have opted to include classical organ with all styles: ancient classics, such as “Let All Mortal Flesh” and “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended”; favorite hymns like “Nearer, Still Nearer” and “Not What My Hands Have Done”; and, yes, even more recent praise songs. The organ never leads, never dominates, and usually sneaks in almost unnoticed. But it provides an amazing depth and richness not only to the sound, but to the experience.
Granted, how well the organ can be integrated depends on many factors, especially the location of the organ, the abilities of the organist, and the type and quality of the instrument. I’m blessed to work with a 30-rank custom Allen organ boasting such features as a festival trumpet and two 32-foot pedal stops.
Including the organ has been a winning proposition: Praise musicians appreciate the supplement, singing has improved, and the congregation loves it.
Don’t throw out the organ!
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- Feature: Tending God’s Creation
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- Book Review: Something’s Not Right