Those who are not professional musicians, but who are given responsibility at the piano during the church hour, might welcome a few suggestions toward improving the selection of material for a prelude and an offertory.
A wide variety of opinions exists regarding what is appropriate. Cheap, syncopated music is found in too many places. The dignity of the church service is frequently very much shaken and disturbed, if not completely upset, through the prelude. The propensity for choosing a showy selection is usually met in those who are more efficient, technically. But the church period is not the time for display of piano technique, any more than it is for oratory. Where the oratory exalts the message and is lost in the deep meaning of the thought, it is appropriate.
Music may have a certain amount of "oratory" in its presentation, so long as it does not call attention to itself. Like salt, it improves the dish only until the salt is in evidence. The stronger it tastes of itself, the more destructive it is of that which it was intended to enhance.
In choosing music for a prelude, select numbers which are meditative. This does not necessarily bar the more ponderous passages, for one's meditation need not always follow tranquil lines. A good period of meditation should possess a climax. Endeavor through the music to secure an atmosphere of worship. All true worship definitely subdues self. Hide behind the music; let your aim be less of self and more of music. Ask yourself, How can my contribution from the piano intensify the spirit of worship? How can I help to make this hour more Spirit-filled? Jealously guard your ideals, and they will clarify and crystallize.
The offertory should be of more tranquil character than the prelude. You are providing tonal incense ; see that it is not objectionably strong. Consider the fragrance of a flower, and bank this part of the service with the flowers of melody and harmony, delicately present.
The grade of difficulty in the following suggestive list of preludes and offertories is governed not so much by professional standards as by those of the average training. Those marked "difficult" may not be properly classified for professionals. Such need no assistance. They should be laws unto themselves. Alas, they are just that too frequently!
Very interesting material may be found in gospel songs which are complete in the piano score. Those not qualified to indulge in more advanced music may well find an answer to their problems in the gospel song. In the larger congregations, someone is usually equipped to provide a more complete piano support, with wider variety.
The following list may represent the character of music which is appropriate ; it is offered as a sample for future selection. Each pianist should be absolutely sure that the music he plays is well within his technical grasp. The great danger lies in the choice of material which cannot be handled in a musicianly manner. Remember—it is not what you play, but how you play it, which determines the measure of your musicianship, and the character of your musical contribution.
Of Moderate Difficulty
"Fifty Selected Studies," Heller, published by Schirmer, Boston. Nos. I, 3, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 17, 21, 22, 25, 36, 41, 43, 47, 50.
Of Greater Difficulty
"Etudes," Haberbier, published by Theodore Presser. Nos. 11 (Regret), 32 (Magic Bells).
"Preludes," Opus 28, Chopin, published by Theodore Presser.
No. 4—moderate No. 13—difficult
No. 6—moderate No. 15—moderate
No. 7—easy No. 7—difficult
No. 9—moderate No. 20—easy
The Messenger, of the Evangelical Reformed Church, has the habit annually of recommending to its readers certain hymns that should be memorized. It recommends the following for all its readers for the year 1942, one hymn each month : "Jesus, Saviour, Pilot Me ;" "I Love to Tell the Story ;" "Just As I Am, Without One Plea;" "The Day of Resurrection ;" "Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart ;" "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind ;" "My Jesus, I Love Thee ;" "Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee ;" "What a Friend We Have in Jesus ;" "How Firm a Foundation;" "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing;" "Joy to the World, the Lord Is Come."—Watchman-Examiner.