The person telling you this is full of prunes.
I have a question re: playing hymns in church. I always thought it fairly straight-forward: You play them as-written. Quarter-notes are quarter-notes, half-notes are half-notes, etc, etc. By playing them as they are written, they are easier to follow for the congregation and makes singing much easier on everyone.
However I have someone telling me that that is wrong: That hymns should be sung by the congregation with the organist basically taking their lead (seems completly backwards to me!) And that at the end of each verse, one should hold the last chord for 8 beats, regardless of how long it's marked.
So now I'm doubting myself, and was hoping for some insight from some professional organists here!
The person telling you this is full of prunes.
You play the music as it is written.
My personal exceptions to that rule are the last note of the last verse (on most hymns) I do tend to hold on to a bit longer. And, of course, there are a few hymns where my congregation (seemingly) refuse to sing a certain note as written, so I bend (ever so slightly) to their desire.
As the organist, it is your duty to set the tempo for congregational hymn singing. If you happen to be accompanying a soloist, you should try (within reason) to let the soloist "take the lead", but certainly not for congregational hymn singing.
I agree, other than I tend to hold on to the last note of each verse, but certainly not for 8 beats. If I play a hymn that is new to a congregation or that I foresee a problem singing the rhythm correctly, I review it with the choir before the service so that they can help the congregation. Then, during the service, I introduce the hymn by playing through the first verse using a solo stop for the melody. This usually does the trick.
And that at the end of each verse, one should hold the last chord for 8 beats, regardless of how long it's marked.
I've never heard of that. In any case, that's going to be a policy for the individual church. I once had a substitute job where I was asked to proceed to the next verse almost immediately. Otherwise, depending on the metre of the hymn, I'll generally hold for 3 or 4 beats... but again, that would depend on the tempo of the hymn. Sometimes two beats would be sufficient.
Thank you everyone!!! It's nice to know I'm NOT crazy!!
I don't play now, but used to and this stupid lady tried to convince me that the hymns are not to be played in strict-time, and that the minister's husband who has a Ph>D in MUSIC agreed with her. Utter BS as I'm glad to be re-assured!
This might just be a case of lost in translation. The reference to holding a last chord for 8 beats may have been toward a specific piece - main idea being the articulation that indeed that is that last note of the verse, and secondly the differentiation between verses of a hymn. There needs to be a concrete integration within the music of phrase endings and piece endings - music isn't finished just because the sound stops, we have to make endings sound intentional. This is probably what the person was wanting to get across.
I've been wondering about a related topic. At the end of the last chord before the first beat of the first measure in the next verse, should there be a pause? What is the smoothest way to get from one verse to another?
I always try to give a noticeable "breath" between hymn verses.
A couple of comments, one on the "hold" at the end, another on "playing as written" --
My practice at the end of a stanza is to linger very slightly on that last note, as if a tiny ritard had been introduced. So, if the final note is a whole note in 4/4 time, I'd count to four, but just a tad slower than I'd been counting during the hymn. I certainly would NOT add any beats because that would detract from the rhymic pattern of the hymn and surely confuse the congregation.
And, as Mench says, "breathe" after the stanza by allowing a moment of silence before launching into the next stanza. How long? Hard to say, just what feels right in a given hymn. Also, if the room is very live acoustically, a longer pause is probably good, but in a dead room the tiniest pause can seem huge. I suppose an organist and a congregation learn to work together on this, with each knowing quite instinctively what the other will do after they've made music together for a while.
As to "playing as written" -- I think it's quite important for the organist to play the notes on the page as they are because it's not our job to re-write the harmony or revise the melody or rhythmic structure to suit ourselves. Hymns are written on the page so that everyone can sing them together, and we defeat the purpose if we regularlyimprovise and re-arrange on the fly.
That said, I'm not above altering a tune when the congregation has always sung it a little off from the notes on the page. For Baptists out there, you may know that "When We All Get to Heaven" is famously mis-sung in the last line "When we all SEE Jesus" -- the SEE syllable supposed to be on C, but so many congregations sing a D passing tone. I gave up years ago trying to enforce that note and now play the passing tone that everyone is singing!
AndI'm not saying we should never re-harmonize a hymn -- last stanza reharm's are often a joy to do and to sing with, providedthey are tasteful and do not clash with the melody, and provided the pianist and organist are doing the same thing in churches where both are used together. But reharm's are like dessert and should not take the place of the main course -- the genuine form of the hymn.
Finally, a major exception to playing as written -- when notes are repeated in the melody line they should be detached. That is, if the melody in a given measure is 3 G's followed by an A,(all four notes being quarter notes in 4/4 time), the first two G's will be played as if they were eighth notes followed by eighth rests. This inserts a space between these identical notes, so that the melody can be discerned. Otherwise it will sound like a continuously held 3-count G (dotted half note).
This detachment of identical sequential notes is essential to clean, easy-to-follow organ playing. IMHO, failure to understand and practice this technique is one of the most common and most irritating characteristics of bad organists. My cousin Yvonna is the world's worst at this,having been told by Aunt Minnie when she was just a little girl that she must imagine theorgan keys are covered with molasses and that she is never to let go of them entirely!
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