Music for church services
Local churches host many of the classical music activities in my area, and as such, musicians tend to be encouraged to repay the generosity by occasionally playing in church services, especially on special occasions (Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, etc.).
This is a little bit different than the usual "play in church" things that adult amateurs often do, because I'm not a member of the congregation. And my presence playing is effectively as a representative of, say, my orchestra, and is therefore also a subtle advertisement for our concerts.
I'm looking for repertoire that is:
- Appropriate for a Prelude or Offertory
- Relatively easy
- Accompaniment sight-readable by a competent (professional) church organist/pianist
- Requires no rehearsal with pianist
"Relatively easy" means that it can be either learned and readily maintained, or is effectively sight-readable -- i.e., can be prepared on a week's notice and casual practice. (Some of the suggestions on this thread are on point: LINK)
The right level is probably Thais, the Rachmaninoff Vocalise, etc. "Too hard" probably includes, say, the Wilhemj arrangement of Ave Maria (far too many double-stops).
Contemporary, lyrical praise music for violin would probably be fine, too. (I know nothing about the genre and can't give any examples.)
How about Ciacona in A-Major by J.H.Schmelzer?
I subscribed to www.songselect.com
Depending on the church, one needs to be careful of any repertoire that has associated secular lyrics, even if one is not singing. Thais Meditation, for example, has lyrics that might be too racy for a conservative church.
Paul, I go to a conservative church and I've thought about that, but honestly I don't think anyone there that would care about the lyrics knows the lyrics (I don't even know all the lyrics, as much of a philistine as that makes me). And we don't perform the lyrics, just the music. And, I'm conservative too myself, and I don't think it's a problem. Beautiful music is beautiful when just instruments, and is fine to play.
I don't think it needs to be totally sight-readable. Of course you'd give the pianist the score and it's reasonable they could look it over and at least listen to a recording to familiarize themselves with the entrances. If I were a church pianist I'd work pretty seriously on whatever a soloist gave me so that I could make a good showing for myself in addition to building useful repertoire. Then next time you can brush it up in a few minutes.
Baroque music often feels church-y to me (in a good way)--I don't have any particular standout suggestions.
Nobody knows what Meditation from Thais is really about. Go ahead and play it if you like.
Mary Ellen, thanks for the great suggestions. I've been casting about for some useful music like that, and those books fit the bill perfectly. Do you have any other similar suggestions?
The Faithful Violinist, vol. 1 (arr. Phillip Keveren) has some really lovely arrangements. Vol. 2 was done by a different arranger and I don't like as many of them, though there are a couple of nice ones.
The Kreisler arrangement of the Gluck Melodie is pretty doable, and I don't think it's anything complicated for the pianist.
"Most of the other books I've come across are cheesier than a fromagerie in Paris."
Mary Ellen yeah I had a hunch the Romances would be too long. I was actually a church pianist/organist my last two years in high school, for a smaller Lutheran church in my hometown, and one of my tricks was to cut pieces down. It can be done cleverly. Sure, a violinist or genuine music lover in the audience might ask, "Hey, did you cut that down?" but you can just give them a wink and they'll feel good because they knew.
Thanks for the suggestions so far, folks!
I also think it's highly unlikely anyone would object to Meditation specifically. Just saying that when you play in very conservative churches, you should find out what their policies are. Something I've seen, for example, is a total prohibition on any secular music, which would probably affect weddings more than anything else.
Meditation is borderline too long, even though it's quite popular.
Kirckkhof sonatas, Mozart, Schubert Ave Maria, or Bach-Gounod.... Many organists have collections of things arranged for treble instrument & organ. One place I play where I'm often a last-minute replacement, has things easy enough to sight read, but that are lush--and elegant, not kitschy. OGA members subscribe for such things.
I think the last movement of Schumann's Märchenbilder is quite suitable (provided you don't get TOO passionate in the passionate embrace following the prince's awakening kiss in the middle - Yes, I know they're written for viola, and that's what I performed them on, but my copy was sold me with a violin version as well).
And if you think solo Bach would be appropriate, but you don't feel like playing a lot of exposed double stops, the cello suites transposed for violin are terrific -- and much easier.
Good idea, Paul. Laurie recommended an edition a while back. Do you have one in mind?
For Christmastime, Fantasia on Greensleeves by Vaughan Williams works well for an offertory.
As one who occasionally "plays in church" but is not a professional, I've had a lot of success playing the descant line that is part of many hymns in a lot of church hymnals. Why do these work? The church keyboard player already knows them, the congregation knows them but rarely hear the descants sung (or sung in tune). Throw in a bit of Bach. Unless the congregation is very sophisticated musically, impressing them with violin fireworks will fall flat.
Violin fireworks are out of place in a church service anyway, in my opinion. Music in a worship service is intended to enhance worship, not impress the congregation with the violinist's technical skills.
Yes, Fantasia on Greensleeves is a bit long. I just played it as an offertory, and we cut out a repeat of the melody in the last section in order to make it fit in the allotted time. In my experience, offertories and sometimes meditations can be a little longer, even up to 4+ minutes. But usually you have to keep your music to 3 minutes or less.
Unless it’s a good sized Lutheran or Catholic congregation-distribution of the elements during communion provides more time. We have between 5-10 minutes depending on whether it’s football season or not;)
I've done Arvo Pärt's "Spiegel im Spiegel" a couple of times and it's gone down well. If it's too long, it's easy to trim it down to size.
One of Bach's easy works, it would fit perfectly with the Christmas season.
I agree, the Last Resort Christmas arrangements are very nice. I have both of the books mentioned (Eighteen Traditional Solos and Twenty Intermediate Solos).
Marjory Lange gives excellent advice: play the treble instrument parts from the organist's hymn book. And George Wells gives similarly excellent advice to play the descant line found in many church hymnals. In most cases, playing in church it is best to stick to liturgical music. As Mary Ellen Goree says, church music is for the purpose of enhancing worship, it is NOT a concert.
This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.