The Art & Craft of Playing Hymns
with Sue Mitchell-Wallace, F.A.G.O.
An instructional videotape (almost 3 hours of instruction) that will make you a more confident organist and let you help your congregation sing.
Cheaper than a few private organ lessons
More information than in many workshops
Both volumes contain interviews with prominent church musicians, instruction right from the organ console, and excerpts from an exciting hymn festival. Also comes with a 32 pg. workbook.
Presented by Sue Mitchell-Wallace, F.A.G.O.
Length 170 minutes on one DVD
Price $80.00 (U.S.) Released 12/96 (DVD released 6/03)
Catalog no. 710-229 (DVD)
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Reviews of The Art & Craft of Playing Hymns
"I've had the privilege of singing in a congregation with Sue Mitchell-Wallace at the organ. In these helpful videos, she offers a resource that will provide any organist-or pastor or congregational member-a stimulating and challenging view of the high calling of leading God's people in congregational song at the organ.
I suggest that churches invest in this resource, ask their worship committees and organist(s) to watch it together, and use it as a basis for discussion about encouraging and improving congregational singing in their own situation. Watching this video together may help not only organists but all worship leaders, who need to work together to encourage their congregations to sing with heart and voice to the Lord.
The first video (ninety minutes), filmed at Calvin College on the Lynn Dobson organ, begins with comments from a variety of denominational perspectives from a number of leaders throughout the United States and Canada. George Black (Anglican), Carl P. Daw, Jr. (Executive Director of The Hymn Society), Carol Doran (Episcopal), Nancy Faus (Church of the Brethren), Hugh McElrath (Baptist), Kenneth Nafziger (mennonite), and Paul Westermeyer (Lutheran) join Sue Mitchell-Wallace (Presbyterian) in offering very insightful perspectives in several sections: The Importance of Hymnody, Hymn Playing Considerations, Leading Hymn Singing, and Registration. Each of these people are artists in their own right, whether organists or song leaders, composers or hymn writers, and each has become well-known to those who attend Hymn Society conferences. Only the last two sections get somewhat technical, and even then non-organists would benefit from an introduction to the specific demands of good organ playing for congregational singing.
The second video (eighty minutes) could stand alone; after a repetition of the introduction from the first video, she introduces sections on Technique, The Pastoral Roe, Enhancing Hymn Playing, Introducing New Hymns, and Self Evaluation.
Sue Mitchell-Wallace has concertized all over North America and Europe, but is probably best known for her worship leadership at the organ in the many hymn festivals and conference workshops she leads. She is currently Councillor for Education for the American Guild of Organists, and resides in Atlanta, George, where she is director of music at St. Luke's Presbyterian Church, Dunwoody (Atlanta)." Emily Brink in Reformed Worship 45 (September 1997)
"The subtitle of this two-volume set reads, "An instructional videotape that will make you a more confident organist and let you help your congregation sing." Under the guidance of Sue Mitchell-Wallace, a composer, practicing church musician, and leader of countless hymn festivals, these tapes go beyond the art and craft of playing hymns and deal with many issues of great importance to organists who are leaders of congregational song.
I was immediately struck by the amount of care and thought that went into this project. The parts of the tape narrated by Sue Mitchell-Wallace are well organized and seem to be memorized or read from a script. Stressing the need for "absolute accuracy," clarity, and careful preparation, she deals with the most basic skills required of an organist accompanying the singing of hymns, e.g., strong rhythm, sensitivity to text, thoughtful articulation, and careful preparation for the space between stanzas. Her discussion of organ registration includes basic information about the families of stops on the organ and the manner of choosing sounds to accompany a congregation. Volume II includes a fine summary of manual and pedal technique, including demonstrations of hand position, attack and release, position of the feet, and exercises for strengthening legs and ankles. Sue Mitchell-Wallace, who possesses a beautiful, highly refined technique, demonstrates all of this on the Dobson organ at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A practical workbook accompanies both volumes.
While the title of this video will lead one to believe that the nearly three hours of tape will focus on the actual playing of hymns, other important aspects of musical leadership in worship are addressed as well. Seven articulate colleagues, including George Black, Carl P. Daw, Jr., Carol Doran, Nancy Faus, Hugh McElrath, Kenneth Nafziger, and Paul Westermeyer, were interviewed for this project, and their input adds spontaneity and freshness to the tapes. These experts speak from rich experiences as teachers, preachers, and practicing church musicians, and their words ring with deep conviction. I found the comments of each of these people to be inspiring and uplifting. Although Sue Mitchell-Wallace is not shown in the interviews, she draws from them answers to such questions as, "What is a hymn?" "What can inspiring leadership at the organ do for the hymn-singing of a congregation?" and "What is the role of hymnody in worship?" Their answers are words that church musicians will find refreshing. Here is Paul Westermeyer: "Worship is at its heart not spoken. It is fundamentally musical." Hugh McElrath states that "congregational singing is the most important form of church music," and Kenneth Nafziger suggests that we need a fine organ technique which can be pushed into the background " so the soul of the music can take over."
Of particular interest is the section entitled "Enhancing Hymns." Hugh McElrath talks about ways to encourage congregational singing, Nancy Faus speaks about the tasteful, sensitive embellishment of hymns, and Carol Doran comments on the introduction of new hymns to a congregation.
At the end of Volume I, the thought occurred to me that the basic explanatory material about the playing of hymns, the organ, and organ technique, demonstrated on a large three-manual instrument, might be confusing to a real beginner or to a musician playing on a limited instrument.Although mention is made of a two-manual instrument near the end of the first volume, I found myself wondering to whom these videos were addressed. Aside from that reservation, I feel that the basic information provided by Sue Mitchell-Wallace can be an excellent guide to pianists or musicians with little formal training. Her careful narration, the many quotations which are included and interspersed throughout both volumes, (i.e., words of Healey Willan, W.A. Mozart, Martin Luther, and many others), and the interviews of her colleagues will also give new insights to students of church music, to pastors, to those planning worship, and to all those who are engaged in the "awesome experience" of leading hymn singing." Marilyn Keiser in The Hymn, January 1998.