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Barry Baker The "Hymn Player" Feature on Kawai's CA51 & CA61 Pianos

Years ago, I had a steady gig playing pop music where I became acquainted with many "regular" listeners. It wasn't long before I began receiving offers to be a resident musician at nearby churches. Trouble was, I already held a church post. And it was more than just a few invitations that I had to turn down.

In my pop gig, it wasn't that I was doing something musically special to encourage such ego-stroking offers. But, resulting from these invitations, I became aware that churches were experiencing increasing difficulty in securing a regular musician for their services. And, as I traveled professionally, it became evident that this need was not just a regional phenomenon.

Some ecclesiastical institutions without a "steady" player rely on a system of rotation--certain church members take turns with musical duties, and (or) various local musicians are called on to furnish music as needed, and as their schedules allow.

What a precarious situation, though! I'd loathe being in the shoes of a music coordinator at a church where the only available musician for a service might be a herd of crickets. Scary!

This shortage of church musicians is precisely the reason for Kawai's development of a feature that's available on the Kawai Concert Artist series models CA51 and CA61 digital pianos. Not only are these pianos attractive musical instruments--physically, from their cabinetry, to their acclaimed concert grand piano sound (playable from a wooden key action that has received rave reviews throughout the industry), but the CA51/61 models are also equipped with an exciting feature called Hymn Player. This feature is capable of addressing the pressing need to secure a musician for a service in the event that no one is available.

You see, anyone can lead a congregation in hymn singing from the CA51/61's keyboard! And it's not just a recording. Go to Hymn Player.

Before we go further, I want to acknowledge Kawai's resourceful Owner's Manual as my guide for the operational points and descriptions in this blog entry. In fact, as we progress, I'll be using language that directly parallels the manual, although in "blog-land" we'll keep the tone conversational. I'm just giving credit where it is certainly due--and thanks for allowing me to take such liberties, Mr. Manual, my muse!

Built into the CA51/61 are 88 classic hymns that can be "conducted" by rhythmic tapping on the instrument's keyboard (by someone with or without musical knowledge). Or, if you prefer, the same hymns can be played automatically (without using the keyboard) by just pressing the "play" button...it's your choice.

Here's what I know about playing for church services: When leading a congregation in hymn singing, there needs to be leadership from the person at the instrument; that is, someone who is "in the moment" and experiencing the sound of the congregation's participation in "real time." That's why feeding a stagnant recording of hymn accompaniment into the sanctuary and expecting success from the congregation's "live" voices could be tricky. The congregation yearns for a leader who can participate in the give and take of hymn playing. And, with the CA51 and CA61, the leader does not need to be a trained musician.

With Kawai's Hymn Player feature, you'll select from one of the 88 built-in hymns, then tap on any of the 88 piano keys with a steady rhythm and tempo. Hymn Player will then sound the correct melody and accompaniment notes, regardless of which keys are pressed. In short, anyone can lead with Hymn Player. No lessons. No homework. It just takes a little rhythm...something that everyone is born with.

Why don't I give you a crash course? Like I said, it's simple:

To turn on the Hymn Player mode, use the CA51/61's "Menu" buttons to the left of the display screen to get to option number 16, which says "Hymn Player" in the screen. The "Value" buttons to the right of the display screen allow you to turn the feature on or off (as also displayed in the screen). When Hymn Player is on, it replaces the 88 built-in Concert Magic songs with 88 classic hymns. So, now when the "Concert Magic" panel button is pressed, these 88 hymns will be available for selecting and playing back (or for you to "conduct" using the piano keys).

"Concert Magic?," you ask? Okay, if you're unacquainted with Kawai's unique and brilliant Concert Magic feature, you might want to check it out here:

http://kawaius.com/main_links/digital/concert_magic.html

The Hymn Player's 88 hymns are assigned to each of the 88 piano keys (one hymn per key). This makes access quick and simple: To select a hymn, just press and hold the "Concert Magic" button while pressing one of the 88 keys. The display screen will then show the hymn's title. There's a descriptive sheet that comes with the instrument, showing the 88 hymn titles and which keys are to be used to select those hymns.

(An interesting sidenote: To makes things straightforward for addressing the year-round needs of church services, the 88 hymns are actually classified in six categories: Classic, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Patriotic, and Wedding.)

After selecting a hymn, you can either hear it by pressing the "Play" button on the right side of the instrument's panel (and adjust the playback tempo by using the two "Value" buttons while holding down the "Tempo" button), or you can "conduct" it yourself, giving you complete control over the hymn's performance. That is, you'll have control over its tempo, volume (each tap of the keyboard is touch sensitive, like a traditional piano), and any liberties you want to take in pauses or elongating certain note values, or creating a slowing or speeding of the tempo during your playing.

To "conduct" the hymn yourself, make a hymn selection, then tap any one of the 88 black or white keys on the piano's keyboard with a steady beat. This will start the hymn and continue it in the direction you are "conducting" it. (It can be helpful to sing the words to yourself or hum the melody as you play.) Therefore, the accompaniment and melody parts to the hymn will be played automatically in time with the tempo you tap. As you tap faster or slower, the tempo will follow accordingly, just like regular piano playing.

Now, try tapping at varying touches (by playing lightly, heavily, etc.). As you tap harder, the notes will get louder--then softer by tapping lighter. The control that you have is quite an experience!

Furthermore, the balance slider on the panel allows for control over the volume balance of the melody versus the accompaniment: As the slider is moved to the right, the sound of the melody becomes louder and the accompaniment becomes quieter. The balance changes in the opposite manner as the slider is moved to the left.

Here's another nifty feature while the Hymn Player mode is engaged: The "Demo" button on the left side of the panel accesses a special "Prelude" feature, in which 32 specially-selected hymns (from the group of 88) will play back repeatedly for use as prelude music. Each time the "Demo" button is pressed, one of the 32 hymns will be randomly selected and played back. Then, when that hymn finishes, the prelude hymns will play back in order.

All of us at Kawai are excited about the Hymn Player feature! And while not intended to be a total replacement for the church musician, we hope it'll assist the many churches who find it difficult today to secure dependable music each week.

As any congregation member knows, the day of a service is no time to be faced with a silent sanctuary! So we're glad to be of help!

In closing, I'll pick up my megaphone and further champion the virtues of the CA51 piano by noting that it has already been lauded by those in the church community: In the October 2008 edition of Worship Leader Magazine, Kawai's CA51 was named a "2008 Editor's Pick" and made it to the magazine's "Best of the Best" list. And, only one digital piano--the CA51--was selected by the 16-person editorial team. We're complimented.

— Barry Baker

P.S. You can use the following two links to take a gander at the specifications of the CA51 and CA61 pianos:

http://www.kawaius.com/main_links/digital/CA_09/ca51-09.html
http://www.kawaius.com/main_links/digital/CA_09/ca61-09.html

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