Hymnspiring Your Congregational Singing

Hymn-playing is the church organist’s bread-and-butter task. We do it every week usually without thinking much about it. In this workshop, we help you hone your congregational accompaniment skills. If you’re just beginning, the tips demonstrated will open your eyes to a vast array of techniques that await your exploration and incorporation into your tool bag; if you’re a seasoned pro, you’ll enjoy reviewing a thorough list of hymn treatments to refresh your approach to this weekly task. Note that most all of the tips presented can be implemented by any organist with basic keyboard skills—we are not suggesting advanced improvisatory accompaniments, but rather simple recipes that you can occasionally use to spruce up those early Sunday mornings.

Congregations are inspired to sing more enthusiastically when accompanied/led by confident and unambiguous organ accompaniments, skillfully registered and articulated to match the church service context and acoustics. Organ hymn playing is not a recital, but rather a foundation and encouragement for robust and spiritual singing.

In this workshop, we explore basic aspects of successful hymn accompanying on the organ. "Problem" hymns are identified and tips/solutions explained and demonstrated at a high-level (enough to convey the concept)—most topic areas could serve as the main theme of an entire workshop just focusing on that single aspect.

Related reading online:

- Miriam Duncan's Hymn Playing Lecture – Oberlin College 7/1992 (Hymn Society workshop)
      "… the shortage of organists is such that almost anything will be tolerated in organ playing,
       at least in some churches, in some situations"

Most Popular Hymns as Found in Common Hymnals ("Hymns That Last" - Christianity Today 2011)


(click thumbnails below to download/view/print PDF files)
(These will be available hardcopy at the workshops, enough for those who RSVP'd)

hymn playing workshop        hymn playing tips

hymn playing for organ



After 45+ years “in the industry,”  Will Sherwood has picked up a few tips along the way for the thing that church organists do most often: hymn playing.  Known for his innovative service playing techniques and improvisations, it’s always exciting and invigorating to sing a hymn accompanied by Will, or listen to his postlude improvisation on a hymn from the service.  Although he loves fanfare-like introductions, interludes, and altered harmonizations, he is equally comfortable, and brings fresh ideas for, hymns that are more meditative. “The organist is there to lead the singing intuitively and not give a concert during a congregational hymn.”

Will has enjoyed a diverse concert career alongside his positions as organist and director at churches where he has been known for his creative musical endeavors. He has produced three choral CDs while in his current position of 25+ years at First Unitarian, Worcester, and a separate holiday CD with Maria Ferrante: Christmas Memories.  He was a senior engineering manager at DEC and Intel for 30 years in VLSI Microprocessor Design. Now in addition to his music career, he owns his own web & graphic design, web hosting, marketing, and commercial photography businesses.  He is currently Dean of WorcAGO.

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