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Hallelujah! Sing to the Lord a new song; sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.
Psalm 149:1)

By Rev. Paul Wooley

For traditional Anglican churches, congregational singing is usually accompanied by an organist or keyboard player, who is often responsible for leading a choir and selecting hymns.

However, it is becoming more difficult to find organists, and unfortunately, many smaller churches cannot afford the cost of employing a church musician. Many things are contributing to this problem, which includes fewer people formally studying the organ and keyboard, younger people who have no interest in traditional church music, and a host of other factors.

Liturgies without hymns and music seem somewhat lacking. St. Augustine the Bishop of Hippo, famously claimed, “He who sings, prays twice.” So, if your church doesn’t have an organist, don’t despair, since there are other ways to accompany congregational singing. I spent sixteen years in a parish, providing music using many methods that I will present in future offerings of this column. However, I want to make the statement that the best situation is if you employ an organist and put them in charge of the music.

Providing hymn accompaniment without an organist or keyboardist usually entails some form of pre-recorded music. This will fall into a small number of categories:

Recordings of actual instruments: This requires either organ or piano recordings played in a style designated for congregational singing. Absolutely one of the best sources of these recordings is represented by the work of Rev’d Clyde McLennan (1941-2022) a Baptist Pastor and church organist, who in his retirement recorded over 15,000 hymns and songs and made them freely available on the website All of these hymns are played with a proper introduction.

Many hymns are presented with various hymn tunes; therefore you can generally find the hymn tune used in Common Praise 98, and hopefully in the same musical key as the hymn book. Alternatively, you can choose a different tune if required.

However, one of the problems is that different hymn books will use a different number of verses, this is one of the reasons that it is often required to perform some sound editing to either add or subtract verses. This can be done with the free sound editor, Audacity, which is available for Windows, MacOS, and Linux systems. ( This software can also be used for adjusting volumes and as a player of music files. More on using that software and playing hymns in a future edition.

Recordings of MIDI instructions: MIDI is an acronym for Music Industry Digital Interface, a set of technical standards that represent the instructions for playing music. A MIDI computer file is therefore not a music recording, but rather is a digital file, that indicates which notes are to be played, at what volume, for how long, and includes other commands necessary. MIDI files are fairly small, measured in Kilobytes compared to the many Megabytes of sound recordings. The folder on my laptop, which includes most of the ‘CP98’ hymns in MIDI, is a total of 35.5 Mb, in contrast, many full audio recordings of hymns are approaching that size for just one hymn. MIDI hymn files are available from many online sources including

The MIDI standard includes protocols for MIDI computer files and methods of connecting instruments and connecting computers with instruments.

One of my first solutions to the lack of church musicians’ problem was to connect a computer to an electronic keyboard. This is an even easier solution today since decent-sounding keyboards, with a myriad of sampled sounds, can be obtained for a moderate cost. Additionally, the required computer can be an older laptop or tower, since very little computer power is required to process the MIDI files. Newer, keyboards usually connect to a computer with USB.

MIDI with Sampled and Instruments: This needs a separate category since it is among the most powerful combinations. Sequencing software can take all of the instructions of a MIDI file and use the power of a computer to generate sound which uses tiny recordings of real instruments and either play or record music. A Soundfont represents an assembly of very short recordings of each note of an actual acoustic instrument. So for an organ, many notes of each organ stop are recorded, before being combined into a Soundfont file. This is similar to the technology of modern electronic sampled organs that cost thousands of dollars. The greatest advantage of this technique is that you can reproduce the full sound of an organ, without the added reverberation of a standard recording. Therefore you only have the natural reverberation of the church nave, which is a more natural sound.

All of these techniques necessitate a separate amplification and loudspeaker system, which may be at a moderate cost. Future columns will include information on MIDI usage, file editing and other topics.

Rev. Paul Woolley is Priest-in-Charge of Christ Church, Forest. He has 55+ years of experience working with audio equipment of every description for varied venues.