Prelude, Postlude and All That’s In Between: A Guide for the Church Pianist

Patti Drennan is an active composer and arranger with almost 700 piano books, piano/vocal books and choral octavos published with major publishers.

As a former 28-year high school choral director and then Director of Worship/Music Arts Director for almost 10 years, I have been seated at the piano creating music in so many venues. (Once a musician, always a musician, right?) In both the secular and sacred arenas, the pianist is often the glue that holds together a concert, worship service, wedding or memorial service. This is also the case when accompanying a soloist or small group. Because all music is not usually performed a cappella, a confident, quick-thinking accompanist must be ready to sense the soloist’s tempo and dynamics, phrasing and places for breathing, and the dreaded skipped-the-repeat-and-now-on-the-next-page moment! Fast thinking is a must for the church pianist and the goal is to play beautifully, giving not a hint of the soloist’s “mis-fire” to the congregation! When I was serving on staff, one of my duties as Director of Music was to create a meaningful worship service with inspiring scriptures, hymns, anthems (often two), prelude and postlude, and timing it all to when the pastor returned from a contemporary service a half-block away in another building. There were often times when he had yet to arrive and I needed to walk to the piano and extemporaneously play reflective music under a guided prayer time. For those who do not play by ear, this would be an important moment to have a secondary hymn or piano book in reach to provide that quiet music.

When thinking about choosing prelude and postlude music, I always looked for a variety of styles, including hymn arrangements that prepare the congregant for worship. 4-hand arrangements, festive organ-piano duets and pieces in jazz, gospel, southern gospel were often some of my favorites. Even though many in the congregation consider preludes and postludes as “background music” to cover their own conversation, choosing a variety in styles from week to week will most assuredly catch many faithfully listening!

JoyfulNoelTidingsI love to arrange many of the great standard hymns with fresh harmonies and stylings. One of my brand new piano books for Christmas is entitled Joyful Noel Tidings available from Jubilate Music. In this book you’ll hear a jazz treatment of “What Child is This?”, a festive setting of “Sing We Now of the Christ Child”, a gospel arrangement of “Jesus, O What a Wonderful Child” and much more. I hope as a church pianist you will add this book to your library or gift it to your accompanist as a “thank you” for his/her service!



Listen and follow along with the Joyful Noel Tidings score here:



PattiDrennanAn active composer and arranger, Patti Drennan has almost 700 choral octavos, piano books and piano/vocal books published with Jubilate Music and other major publishers. A former choral music teacher and church music and worship arts director in Norman, OK, she is a noted presenter at clinics and workshops throughout the US and Canada, and regularly adjudicates school choral contests and appears as guest director at composer retreats. She is married and has two grown children: Emily, a musical theater performer in New York City, and Adam, a research analyst in Dallas, TX.

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