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Who Choses Your Hymns?


Peter Clark
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I get the impression from reading many messages here that the choice of hymns and maybe settings is down to the priest/minister/vicar or whoever is leading the worship. In my own case I have so far successfully resisited this on the grounds that the organist is most likely to know what works and what doesn't for any given liturgy and any organist worth her or his salt wil be almost intimately familiar with the demands of the liturgy in general. I've never attempted to tell a preacher what to preach about (though reckon I could make a better job of it than some I've heard!), so I would not welcome a preacher/minister laying down the musical content of a service. I'm all for discussion and collaboration of course but to each her or his own area of expertise.

 

Peter

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I get the impression from reading many messages here that the choice of hymns and maybe settings is down to the priest/minister/vicar or whoever is leading the worship. In my own case I have so far successfully resisted this on the grounds that the organist is most likely to know what works and what doesn't for any given liturgy and any organist worth her or his salt wil be almost intimately familiar with the demands of the liturgy in general. I've never attempted to tell a preacher what to preach about (though reckon I could make a better job of it than some I've heard!), so I would not welcome a preacher/minister laying down the musical content of a service. I'm all for discussion and collaboration of course but to each her or his own area of expertise.

I have meetings every couple of months with a member of the clergy where we consolidate our choices of hymns for the next two months. It makes a significant difference to my involvement in a service if I have participated in its planning. Of course clergy have much to offer even if their musical knowledge is limited; they can often give a "bloke in the pew" point of view.

 

Michael

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Coming from an Anglican background, where the organist drew up music lists on a quarterly basis, I found it quite a shock when I moved over to a Methodist Church. I’m lucky to get 48 hours notice of the hymns.

 

This causes a number of frustrations. Its difficult to prepare appropriate choir anthems as many of our preachers refuse to follow lectionary themes, so we have to maintain a repertoire of theme neutral anthems. Also, it means that we have a significantly reduced variety of hymns – they all like to choose their favourites.

 

Some of the preachers will make changes if I point out that we have had a particular hymn within the last week or two. Most wont! And one in particular will insist on providing hymns and tunes that are totally unknown to the Church or choir

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At my local church the vicar’s wife chooses the hymns. She likes her happy clappy and dislikes older hymns. Not a week goes by when we don’t get a printed sheet with either words or words and music. Just to show how much thought goes into the choice of evensong hymns, last year we had “Awake, awake, shake off the night”.

 

:blink:

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I do. We have no permanent Vicar/Priest in Charge at present, and the wardens have enough on their plate, so it's down to me. We also have a visiting Organist once a month, and he chooses the hymns he wishes to play. Saves me a job, though I don't always agree with what he's chosen!

 

Regards to all

 

John

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I choose them, and all the music, six weeks in advance of the beginning of the monthly scheme in which they are to be used.

 

Then send them, with a stipulated deadline for suggested alterations of four weeks prior to the start of the month, etc., to the clergy.

 

Schemes published then about four weeks in advance. (Emergency alterations, for good reasons, can then be accommodated as they arise, but this is rare.)

 

I choose all the tunes, chants, etc..

 

I would not take on a post if I did not have this arrangement, since I think it is a component of DoM status. It is also only fair to all members of the deputy rota who should be given good time to prepare for their playing of them.

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are you implying that people don't just sight read hymns? apart from the first few i ever played i always have,

 

Hello Davidb,

 

I'm sure that drd is indeed implying this. I can think of several reasons why people wouldn't sight-read hymns.

 

Firstly, I was taught several years ago to play hymns from the words (and hence the tune should be known by heart at the time of accompanying; this also means that the "which tune" question should be resolved in advance). Sight-reading may be okay if you're given the hymns at the last minute and have little alternative, or you're a highly-skilled professional (I am not!), or you're happy to play the notes as printed for every verse, on the same registration.

 

Secondly, there are players (and I don't just mean beginners) who would have difficulty playing many hymn-tunes at sight because so often the notes do not lie terribly well under fingers or feet without a few minutes' preparation. I think many teachers of the organ will say that it is not just those with almost no keyboard skills who find playing hymn tunes difficult. I have not forgotten what it was like when I first started playing for services and it could take me two or three hours to learn a new hymn tune. (It doesn't take me anything like that long nowadays, thankfully!)

 

Being given the hymns in good time also allows the organist to select (and prepare) appropriate opening and closing voluntaries such as a postlude related to a hymn sung during the service. For those with limited practice time, the more advance notice the better.

 

Nick

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I choose them, and all the music, six weeks in advance of the beginning of the monthly scheme in which they are to be used.

 

Then send them, with a stipulated deadline for suggested alterations of four weeks prior to the start of the month, etc., to the clergy.

 

Schemes published then about four weeks in advance. (Emergency alterations, for good reasons, can then be accommodated as they arise, but this is rare.)

 

I choose all the tunes, chants, etc..

 

I would not take on a post if I did not have this arrangement, since I think it is a component of DoM status. It is also only fair to all members of the deputy rota who should be given good time to prepare for their playing of them.

 

Amongst the recurrent themes in this forum, two are neatly illustrated here: one is the managerial relationship between the musical and clerical functions; the other is the administrative implementation of that relationship. Is the managerial relationship to be one of master and servant or a partnership between professionals, each heeding the other's proper interests and concerns? Either could be arguably appropriate. What is nonsensical is for there to be any doubt or potential for misunderstanding that is not resolved at the time of appointment and set out in the letter of appointment. Employment law (which I assume applies to the appointment of a church organist) requires a written statement of the terms of employment.

 

On the second issue of administration, and on the assumption that the managerial relationship is a partnership, I would urge that good (half-decent) practice is for scheduled regular meetings at which, inter alia, the programme of music should be agreed, recognising that both partners have a legitimate input, and rolled forward well ahead of time, to allow for preparation. The same meetings should provide for routine stock-taking and any management issues could be brought forward for resolution, rather than dealt with by the crisis-(mis)management that seems to be the ecclesiastic norm. If the organist offers to take responsibility for writing a note of the meeting and promulgating the service lists ... . In the last resort, if it's impossible to maintain a reasonable relationship, the choice is to fight or leave or knuckle under. The basis of due process for a fight that is not to be self-destructive should be set out in the terms of employment and will depend on a paper record that shows you to have behaved reasonably and correctly.

 

My experience has been that those who behave with no regard for good management and administration (and they seem to be disproportionately well represented in ecclesiastical circles) either respond to instruction by example (doing things the right way actually makes their life easier) or can be frightened into submission when they realise that they are heading for trouble. Neither approach is easy. And on the occasions you are dealing with a psychopath, get out or, better still, don't get in in the first place.

 

It's a pity that there seems to be no professional body that represents organist's interests in the assertive, even aggressive, way (say) the BMA routinely scares the pants off the other side. Perhaps, if the issues could be taken seriously, this forum might be a launch-pad?

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...

I'm sure that drd is indeed implying this. I can think of several reasons why people wouldn't sight-read hymns.

 

I am indeed implying that.

 

In my view, as DoM, I should not expect any deputy to have to sight-read any of the music, including hymns. Indeed, if they do so as a matter of course, and the results are not as good as those they are capable of, then I might have a quiet word in private.

 

The point is, though, that part of the role of DoM is to try to inculcate in all the people providing music that adequate preparation is a requirement. Furthermore, we should make it clear to all that expecting a musician to provide an adequate musical input at a moment's notice is not a reasonable way to proceed. The structure of choosing and negotiating the music in advance enables that point gently to be made I think. There is still plenty of scope for those of us who wish to indulge our sight-reading capabilities!

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We are in an interregnum period so I choose the hymns and tunes. For each service I look at the prescribed psalm(s) if there is one, OT lesson, NT lesson any relevant Saint's Day and Collect and taking into account the season of the year I hopefully choose appropriate hymns.

 

I find this a pretty safe way of getting things mainly right and give the congregation something they and the preacher can relate to, but it takes at least an hour to sort out each service. Occasionally I get asked to change the last hymn to suit a stupid sermon with an equally stupid hymn - usually a `clap happy one'. I simply say, with my usual charm and tact "we don't b....y well do clap happy, but we do have a lynch mob in the congregation if you insist on having it"- what is on the printed music list is usually then accepted.

 

FF

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We are in an interregnum period so I choose the hymns and tunes. For each service I look at the prescribed psalm(s) if there is one, OT lesson, NT lesson any relevant Saint's Day and Collect and taking into account the season of the year I hopefully choose appropriate hymns.

In theory I draw up a monthly music list, including all hymns & psalms, and present it to the vicar for review. In practice I'm afraid to say that its usually too last minute for their to be much prospect of review but the vicar places great trust in my judgement and there's not usually an issue.

 

As Frank suggests, its more or less essential to look up the readings set in the lectionary and try to find hymns that are relevant. The RSCM 'Sunday by Sunday' booklet is a great help and shortcut with respect to the parish eucharist, but doesn't cover evensong or any other services.

 

I do have fairly regular discussion meetings with the vicar, but choice of music is not normally one of the topics that gets discussed. This is not to say that he might not suggest an anthem that he'd like us to add to our repertoire - but he'd never insist if his suggestion was either not to my taste or if I thought it too difficult or too 'big' for us.

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In theory I draw up a monthly music list, including all hymns & psalms, and present it to the vicar for review. In practice I'm afraid to say that its usually too last minute for their to be much prospect of review but the vicar places great trust in my judgement and there's not usually an issue.

 

As Frank suggests, its more or less essential to look up the readings set in the lectionary and try to find hymns that are relevant. The RSCM 'Sunday by Sunday' booklet is a great help and shortcut with respect to the parish eucharist, but doesn't cover evensong or any other services.

 

I do have fairly regular discussion meetings with the vicar, but choice of music is not normally one of the topics that gets discussed. This is not to say that he might not suggest an anthem that he'd like us to add to our repertoire - but he'd never insist if his suggestion was either not to my taste or if I thought it too difficult or too 'big' for us.

Like Frank, we're in an interregnum so its entirely down to me at present.(as are the intercession themes, but that's another story). In practice I've been choosing the hymns for the last five years - based on an established 'repertoire' of about 400 with 350 'slots' in the average year. Unusually our previous vicar kept a clear track of what had been used, and when, so we neither 'lost' a hymn nor had it too frequently.

 

I use the RSCM Sunday by Sunday booklets, though its not infallible (and does repeat some hymns quite frequently). Any discussion before the Vicar retired was at my instigation if I wasn't sure of the theological implications (which is their 'field' after all). On reflection I think I'd have preferred a bit more involvement from him on this. He always gave us our head on matters musical and stoutly defended us (in public at least!) and perhaps we didn't always give him the same courtesy.

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