In today’s blog entry I have the pleasure of sharing an article written by one of my exceptional students. Walter Borden’s insightful and inspirational article on transforming your organ practice into a devotional experience is a beautifully written article full of creative and thoughtful ideas for turning your practice sessions into something more than routine. Read on to be inspired!
Enriching Organ Practice: Transforming Practice into Devotional Experience
“Effective organ practice can be difficult to maintain on a consistent basis. Music practice may be approached too casually. At times, organ practice may seem to get monotonous with technical exercises and boring repetition. We may spend too much time playing what we like to focus on or enjoy but neglect those important technical exercises or compositions that will help get us to the next level. I am certainly guilty of that. Finding time is another factor that can impede a disciplined habit of practicing the organ. Modern life with excessive hours spent working, family obligations, social engagements, and church leave little time leftover to practice the organ.
Adding an element of the sacred into your practice may spiritually enrich your experience with practicing the organ. Recently, I spoke with an individual with a ministry as a spiritual director (Episcopal tradition) who recommended incorporating spiritual devotion into my organ practice rather than adopting additional spiritual practices or setting aside more discretionary time for devotional study. This is not only practical given the limited discretionary time available but an opportunity to become more disciplined with practice. It is also an opportunity or gateway into enriching the spiritual dimension of playing the organ. In this regard, practicing the organ becomes a devotional act and spiritual practice. Something you could consider doing regardless of whether you were taking lessons or not. It is also not dependent on how accomplished a musician you may be.
There is a rich treasury of devotional lyrics that can be found in Catholic and Protestant hymnody. Many of the lyrics are based on scripture so also incorporate a biblical element when used as a source of devotion. There have been a number of recent books and resources published to support using hymns as a source of devotional practice. These include Open Your Hymnal- Devotions that Harmonize Scripture with Song by Denise K. Loock, The One Year Book of Hymns by Robert Brown, and Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth Osbeck. These resources provide devotional readings based upon classic hymns of the Christian faith.
Adopting contemplative or meditative aspects into organ practice may contribute to experiencing the music more deeply. By doing so, the organist may enhance his or her ability to play musically rather than intellectually. Another benefit is the positive psychological associations that may occur when organ and devotional practice are blended. An aspiring organist may gain more confidence, resolve and commitment to improving organ skills. Organ practice becomes much more than tackling the assignment from the prior lesson and assuring oneself of being prepared or appearing prepared for the next lesson with Jeannine.
Some ideas for incorporating devotions into organ practice include entering into the practice with a short prayer or moment of silence to center yourself. Being mindful to review in advance what you would like to focus on or accomplish with the practice session. Then begin warming up with the technical exercises first. Demonstrate self-denial (sacrifice) by first getting to those least favorite pieces that you may like to avoid, save for last, or sometimes skip altogether. In the middle of your practice, take a break from actually playing and read a Psalm, the lyrics to a favorite hymn, or a devotional reading from one of the resources mentioned earlier (or similar resource). Meditate a few minutes focusing on what you have read. Resume your practice with a gracious attitude while reflecting on how incredibly awesome the organ is at expressing musically the lyrics, theme, mood, and/or sentiments from a hymn or repertoire. Always end a practice session on a positive note and with gratitude. One options is to close your organ practice with a “postlude” – something you can play musically with confidence that brings you joy. This may even be a simple composition with a beautiful soundscape that is not even technically complex. Of course, these are just some simple suggestions and the creative possibilities are endless for connecting contemplative spirituality or devotional meditation with organ practice.” Walter Borden
Dr. Jeannine Jordan’s studio includes organists of all ages and skill levels. Some are working to learn the basic techniques required for playing the organ while others are accomplished organists looking for ways to enhance the worship experience for their church parishioners. Each has a distinct talent and skill, each brings creativity and thoughtfulness to their work, and each is a joy to assist in their learning.