To My Listening Ears: A children's introduction to the pipe organ

Children in your congregation know what an organ is. Most of them see and hear one every Sunday. They may even have walked up close and examined all of its keys and knobs and tabs. But that's not really the organ; that's only the "console," where the organist sits. For those churches that have a pipe organ, the real organ—or the parts that actually make the sounds—is the pipes.

Sometimes the pipes we see are also the ones we hear, and the organist "plays" the pipes directly from the keyboards. But at other times the pipes we can see are only for display. The real pipes that make the sounds are often hidden in a room of their own, called an organ "chamber." And most children, or adults for that matter, have never seen them and know very little about how they make all the different sounds we hear during a worship service.

The children's message that follows originated at the First Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Illinois. For the examples, I played variations on the hymn "This Is My Father's World," which were later expanded and published by Morning Star Music. That hymn came to mind not only because it is so singable and familiar to children and adults, but also because of the poetic musical imagery—"to my listening ears all nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres."

Discovering that the tune works as a canon, I sketched a set of variations on the first two lines of the hymn. The variations were conceived for the different types of pipe-organ tones, and I arranged them according to the characteristic musical sounds listed in Psalm 150.

As you plan your musical "children's time," consider beginning with a short talk about the unique place of the pipe organ in the Christian church. Help the children understand that the organ is first of all a singing instrument—a kind of "mechanical choir" for accompanying, leading, and substituting for singing.

To demonstrate your point, you may want to remove (carefully!) a few of the organ pipes. Take one diapason or principal pipe (good-sized for an effective prop) from the organ; blow into the toe of the pipe, allowing the children to hear the singing sound that emerges from the pipe's mouth. You may also want to demonstrate other basic pipe shapes that imitate instrumental as well as vocal sound: a reed (flared trumpet pipe), a flute (stopped—covered on top a fat pipe), and a string (thin, open pipe). (See illustrations on p. 33.)

After the demonstration, proceed to the responsive reading of Psalm 150 and the organ responses that are excerpted here from the larger work. The organ variations use the basic types of instrumental and vocal sounds listed in the Psalm, culminating with the concluding verse: "Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD."

Following the reading, invite the congregation to join in and sing the hymn. On one stanza, consider using the arrangement in canon on this page, with treble voices leading (women and children), followed a measure later by the men singing an octave lower. (The accompaniment is derived from the Variations.) This approach is especially appropriate for stanzas 1 and 2 and could be sung by congregation, choir, or a pair of soloists. The Morning Star publication of Variations (see credits) also provides a big, festive accompaniment for unison congregational singing, appropriate for a final stanza.


Responsive Reading of Psalm 150
for Leader, Organist, and Congregation

Useful for a childrens sermon orpr an organ dedication service.

Leader: Praise the LORD.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.

Organist: Variation 1, played smoothly with the singing diapason or principal stops:

Leader: Praise him with the sound of the trumpet.

Organist: Variation 2, played brilliantly on a trumpet or other reed combination:

Leader: Praise him with the harp and lyre.

Organist: Variation 3, played delicately and lightly on arpeggiated flute sounds (the left hand may be a soft reed or principal):

Leader: Praise him with tambourine and dancing.

Organist: Variation 4, played in strict time with a scintillating staccato touch on high-pitched, percussive pipes (originally written to be played with organ bells—a "Cymbelstern."):

Leader: Praise him with the strings and flute.

Organist: Variation 5, played on the beautiful, lush, celestial strings found on most American organs:

Leader: Praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.

Organist: Variation 6, played on juxtaposed principal choruses, with sharp, brilliant mixtures of two manuals:

Leader: Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.

Organ and Congregation: Sing stanzas 1,2, and /or 3 of the hymn from the hymnal (PsH 436, PH 23, RL14, TH 111), accompanied by the full organ.

The organ examples were excerpted from Variations on This Is My Father's World by Rudolf Zuiderveld, Morning Star Music Publishers, 2117 59th Street, St. Louis, MO 63110-2800, (314) 647-2117. Used by permission of Morning Star Music (MSM-10-881, published 1992).

Rudolf Zuiderveld is professor of music at Illinois College, Jacksonville, Illinois, and organist at First Presbyterian Church in Springfield.


Reformed Worship 26 © December 1992 Worship Ministries of the Christian Reformed Church. Used by permission.