Jun. 29, 2016

Hymns, Part V

(con't from Part IV)
If an "Amen" is sung at the end of the hymn (when it's written into the hymn book and the celebrant wants it), it should be sung in tempo and, in most cases, with no reduction in volume.
We extend the final note at the end (before the Amen) when playing in a large edifice.
A hymn must finish tidily; this generally means that all notes come off together unless an acoustical release is employed [See blog, Acoustical Release].
he practice of allowing a pedal note to hang on is deprecated.
Organists should do anything they can to show the people where the pulse, or beat, is.
When the harmony stays the same. though the beat has gone on, there are several possibilities of showing the body of people where the beat is:
One way is by altering the harmony a little.
This is potentially dangerous; it must be done with an artist's (composer's) authority, but if the harmony changes, it will pull the people with it.
Another way is by changing the pedal note.
You can also play octaves in the pedal, and do it on a strong beat.
You can also vary the touch; e.g., you can play the soprano line and pedal legato and play totally broken in the chords (i.e., chop all the inner voices).
You can also hold the soprano line legato and break everything else, including the pedal.
You can even break the right hand and pedal and hold the left hand chords legato, or, reverse it and play the right hand legato and break the left hand and pedal.
Any touch device you can use to show where the beat is, is wonderful.
Not every hymn should end loudly; depending upon the words, it can be very effective, at times, to finish the hymn quietly.
Untrained voices have a range of perhaps as little as an octave and a third, whereas a trained singer should manage at least 2 octaves of range.
Most hymn book editors pitch hymns so that no note goes above top E (10 diatonic scale degrees above middle C); this means that hymns will rarely go below middle C.
This is as near as the hymn books usually come to keeping the singing in a range that suits most untrained voices.
The organist should always play loudly enough to provide sufficient support for a strong accompaniment without being so loud that it drowns out the choir, swamps the congregation, or otherwise distracts from the words.
Light 16-foot manual tone should always be drawn with the other stops in hymn playing, for gravity; ordinarily, this means the 16-foot Bourdon in the Swell (not the best stop for this but sometimes the only manual 16-foot stop the instrument has) or, if there is one, the 16-foot Diapason in the Great if it isn't too big; in a smaller instrument, where there is no 16-foot manual stop at all, the only way to get it may be to draw a mild 8-foot stop in the Swell (such as a Gamba) and couple it to the Great at sub-pitch.
We do whatever we can to provide it, because without it you don't have that "grab" that gets people singing.
The volume of the organ in the body of the building may be different from what the organist hears at the console.
The only way to deal with this for certain is to play something on the organ and then ask someone else to play it on the same stops while we go to the body of the building
We will then learn whether we need to play on the loud or quiet side to get the correct volume in the building.
Congregations typically sing louder if the organ plays louder, up to a point.
We should NEVER reduce the volume to compensate for quiet singing by a congregation, which might cause them to take alarm at hearing their own voices and stop singing.
Modern songs and choruses are supplementing the traditional hymns of the old hymn books; this is a normal evolution of hymnody, as everything that is now traditional was once modern.
It's often noted that "modern hymns are not as good as traditional hymns," but this often is not comparing like with like.
A look at any 19th century hymn book will show plenty of examples of banal words set to forgettable tunes.
This rubbish of the 19th century died out in the 19th century.
The material that has survived from then to today is the best, whereas collections of 21st century music have yet to be sifted by time.
There is good 21st century material, but it needs to be selected; doubtless many contemporary hymns and songs will last, and if history is any teacher (and it is), then most will not.
A practical problem we run into is that many modern songs and choruses are unsingable by congregations.
Traditional hymns and all forms of songs to be sung by a crowd have very simple rhythms; often they only use crotchets (quarter notes) and minims (half notes).
Songs with syncopations and tied notes may be fine for jazz pianists and cabaret singers, but are simply unsingable by a congregation.
Even when the rhythm poses no problem, the arrangements in books are not intended to be played on the organ, or even the piano; an organist often needs to edit the arrangement.
Hymns are very effective on the organ when the bass line is played on the pedals with 16-foot tone and light 8-foot tone drawn; this means that the bass line is usefully duplicated one octave lower than written.
If the organist cannot play the pedals, or if the instrument has no pedals, the organist can still play with both hands, with each hand taking 2 parts of the 4 part harmony, exactly as the hymn is written.
In this situation it may be preferable, however, to play the soprano, alto, and tenor parts all with the right hand and leave the left hand free to play the bass line all by itself, possibly one octave lower (in so-called "keyboard style").
This may mean moving the tenor part up one octave.
After all the hymn singing is finished, if the only thing we organists hear back is how nice the organ sounded, we might feel like we've fallen a little short of the mark.
But if everyone is raving about how good the singing was, we can know that both the organist and the instrument have done their job.
(con't in Part VI)