Happy Easter: ‘Festival Alleluias’

The Archaeologist spends a lot of time in choir, and never more so than in the Easter season, with its abundance of beautiful music. One piece that practically screams Easter (well, sometimes it just screams, if you aren’t singing it right), is ‘Festival Alleluias’, a choral arrangement by William Ferris (1937-2000) set to a famous toccata for organ by French composer Charles Marie Widor (1844-1937).

First, you take this awesome organist’s tour-de-force:

The Famous Widor Toccata (5th Symphony in F)

On The Righteous Organ at Notre Dame, Paris:

Add a pinch of percussion and a troop of choristers proclaiming “Alleluia” at the top of their respective ranges, which gives you:

2. Lots. Of. Singing. Oh, And Organ Too (Finale):

Judging from some of the comments on YouTube, many instrumentalists are outraged at the intrusion of vocals into this intricate piece. I can’t hate on them for it. Here you have this fantastic display of the organist’s art, and for what? To have all that beautiful ornamentation battle against a gale  of choral singing?

Yeah, a pretty thankless proposition if you’re an organist. And a lot of us choristers aren’t always thrilled by it either. The challenge of singing and not screaming those Alleluias at the end of a marathon week of choral services does not always … appeal.

But audiences love the choral/organ mashup. In the end, I do, too. There are always people standing around with smiles on their faces listening for the last echo of that last note at the end of the Easter Sunday service.

I can’t help smiling back.

That’s probably one reason why you’re always going to have non-organists who can’t resist this toccata. For instance, these determined percussionists at the University of Utah:

3. Chimes! Tympani! Xylophones! Sorry, Organists! P.S. Happy Easter!

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4 Comments on “Happy Easter: ‘Festival Alleluias’”

  1. Jennifer says:

    I love listening to the choir and organ battle on Easter morning. :) Our service was so beautiful today, even if it was a bit louder than usual. My 2 yr old wondered what on earth was going on. :)

    • Thanks for the comment! And LOL about your 2 yr old. I still remember the time a poor little baby was sleeping on his dad’s shoulder near the soprano section just when we had to explode into the descant for “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”. Talk about a rude awakening :)

  2. jimlynch9999 says:

    Re video 3: I think the organ in the background is laughing.


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