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Hymn Playing

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Just curious. The man who started me playing the organ was born in the 1880s or thereabouts and belonged to the old school that tied all repeated notes in hymns (he even tied them in the melodies, which made for some distinctly odd results in St Andrew of Crete). No one these days would tie notes in the melody, but many of us will have been brought up to regard tying notes in the lower parts as good practice.

 

Recently while listening to broadcast Choral Evensongs I have noticed organists reiterating all repeated notes. There is even a book that advocates this, the rationale being that it makes the rhythm more overt and thus keeps a congregation better under control. I confess I have not listened often or keenly enough to know how widespread or otherwise the practice is. Is it now regarded as the norm? What do you do?

 

For the record I tie some and repeat others, depending on what best projects the rhythm of the hymn and the words.

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Guest Patrick Coleman
Just curious. The man who started me playing the organ was born in the 1880s or thereabouts and belonged to the old school that tied all repeated notes in hymns (he even tied them in the melodies, which made for some distinctly odd results in St Andrew of Crete). No one these days would tie notes in the melody, but many of us will have been brought up to regard tying notes in the lower parts as good practice.

 

Recently while listening to broadcast Choral Evensongs I have noticed organists reiterating all repeated notes. There is even a book that advocates this, the rationale being that it makes the rhythm more overt and thus keeps a congregation better under control. I confess I have not listened often or keenly enough to know how widespread or otherwise the practice is. Is it now regarded as the norm? What do you do?

 

For the record I tie some and repeat others, depending on what best projects the rhythm of the hymn and the words.

 

I was taught to tie notes, although I remember hearing organists doing this in my youth on muddy organs that might just as well have been accordions! I now do the same as you - repeating notes in the melody and often in the lower parts - especially where a lead needs to be given. In past generations where choirs led and organ accompanied the former practice may have worked, but today the organ is often both leading and accompanying, and the verdict is that the organist needs to use common sense (maybe even varying technique in the same hymn.

 

Of course, this all falls down if the console is in a place where the singing cannot be properly heard...

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For the record I tie some and repeat others, depending on what best projects the rhythm of the hymn and the words.

 

Me too - keeping in mind also how much the congregation needs 'encouraging' and the general acoustic of where I am playing.

 

AJJ

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I learnt to tie notes, except in the melody, but I think it can depend on the circumstances and this opens up the much bigger question of 'what is good hymn accompaniment?

 

I've always felt over-articulated , over-loud and over-bright (too many mixtures) playing can actually discourage congregations from singing when they feel they're being beaten around the head in a one-sided battle, whereas the opposite - rich, full, legato playing (with lots of 16s and 32s and no mixtures :) ) can actually be more encouraging, particularly if this sounds as if a lot more people are singing - particularly men!

 

Gary Cole

Regent Records

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I was also taught to tie all notes except in the melody, it is a good discipline, and it certainly made me practice hymns as a youngster much more effectively. Its much easier to 'untie' having learned to tie. As has already been mentioned, it depends on a number of factors, most importantly; acoustic of building, organ, and whether or not you're trying to chivvy the singing along a bit (though I think we can all relate to Gary's 'being beaten around the head in a one sided battle')!

 

Interesting you should mention St Andrew of Crete, I know of one organist north of the border who actually only played the melody of the first line as a playover (which if you don't know the tune, involves a lot of repeated Gs).

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I learnt to tie notes, except in the melody, but I think it can depend on the circumstances and this opens up the much bigger question of 'what is good hymn accompaniment?

 

I've always felt over-articulated , over-loud and over-bright (too many mixtures) playing can actually discourage congregations from singing when they feel they're being beaten around the head in a one-sided battle, whereas the opposite - rich, full, legato playing (with lots of 16s and 32s and no mixtures :angry: ) can actually be more encouraging, particularly if this sounds as if a lot more people are singing - particularly men!

 

Gary Cole

Regent Records

This is very true, I think.

 

Talking only about the situation, where the organ is the only guidance for the congregation (no conductor visible or leading choir audible):

 

Articulation is important and has to be adapted to the acoustuical needs. It is the first mean of control, before using any extreme registrations - for "poor" congregations (talking about the number of attendants and/or the quality of their singing) the sonic atmosphere has to be balanced to a result that they feel covered ("I hope nobody can hear my poor singing in detail...") but not overwhelmed ("If I sing or not, it makes no difference, as the organ makes it alone...").

So, using a broad 8' range, lightened up with something, also soft reeds or "boxed" reeds serve very well. Lining out the melody with a treble or tenor solo line can be helpful at less known hymns.

Using narrow 2' stops or powerful mixtures without any softening/damping device can really lead to that "organ solo" effect, where one refuses to sing, and should be avoided (expect full church at christmas or easter night services...)

But when you have a somwhat dark registration, the only way to control the singing in reverberant spaces is to make differences between strong and weak beats - like in baroque music.

For me, the principle is never in question, just the grade applied is the issue. In a small room or with a perfectly self-floating congregational singing, one may easily return to tied notes in whatever voice, and, as mentioned, the style may vary within one service, one hymn or even the same verse.

 

In Germany, the art of applying articulation to hymn playing is not highly developed. And if players articulate, the music sometimes just sounds cut into slices, as one can hear in concerts, too, because they have "learned" to play short, but do/did not feel the music within this practice.

 

For me, the art of grading articulation in general (much/little reverb/articulation) and in peculiar within the musical particles (upbeats, strong and weak beats) is a key ability - to organ playing, be it for hymns or written/improvised music.

Saying this as somebody who really dealt much with playing in smallest and largest rooms and trying (mostly succesful) to overcome limitations which were said to be there, but where at last revealed as limitations of the resident organist and not the instrument or building itself...

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Just curious. The man who started me playing the organ was born in the 1880s or thereabouts and belonged to the old school that tied all repeated notes in hymns (he even tied them in the melodies, which made for some distinctly odd results in St Andrew of Crete). No one these days would tie notes in the melody, but many of us will have been brought up to regard tying notes in the lower parts as good practice.

 

Recently while listening to broadcast Choral Evensongs I have noticed organists reiterating all repeated notes. There is even a book that advocates this, the rationale being that it makes the rhythm more overt and thus keeps a congregation better under control. I confess I have not listened often or keenly enough to know how widespread or otherwise the practice is. Is it now regarded as the norm? What do you do?

 

For the record I tie some and repeat others, depending on what best projects the rhythm of the hymn and the words.

 

 

A distinguished and influential lady teacher working from the Barbican area of the city of London strictly advocates NO ties whatsoever. Legato in all parts, except for repeated notes.

 

And between verses, strictly two beats' rest, with preceding chords lengthened/shortened accordingly.

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Yes, I've seen the book. :angry:

 

Is there a book?! Crikey. I suppose a book might be easier to contradict than the real thing... :lol:

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Guest Lee Blick
A distinguished and influential lady teacher working from the Barbican area of the city of London strictly advocates NO ties whatsoever. Legato in all parts, except for repeated notes.

 

And between verses, strictly two beats' rest, with preceding chords lengthened/shortened accordingly.

 

Hark! Who is this fair maiden...?

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She's also against any rall at the end of the playover, which I think is necessary to let the opposition know it's coming up to audience participation time.

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I've never really been taught on 'hymn playing' but more had pointers... definetly nothing with re: to tieing notes. As a rule, i play the pedals as written, wiht the A/T parts tied where appropriate, unless it is rythmically important for them not to be

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Guest Lee Blick
She's also against any rall at the end of the playover, which I think is necessary to let the opposition know it's coming up to audience participation time.

 

Personally, I usually leave a whole bar between verses. I try not to have a rall at the end of the playover but might hold the final chord of it a fraction longer.

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I agree with Lee. If you're not authoritarian about tempo, you can't really expect the congregation to obey. Don't give 'em an inch (except at the end of the last verse, of course).

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I've always felt over-articulated , over-loud and over-bright (too many mixtures) playing can actually discourage congregations from singing when they feel they're being beaten around the head in a one-sided battle, whereas the opposite - rich, full, legato playing (with lots of 16s and 32s and no mixtures :lol: ) can actually be more encouraging, particularly if this sounds as if a lot more people are singing - particularly men!

 

Gary Cole

Regent Records

 

I absolutely agree with this - I think that, particularly in small buildings, too much upperwork does little to stimulate good congregational singing, and a good broad foundation tone can work wonders.

 

Regarding articulation, I find that clearly articulating repeated notes while maintaining legato for moving parts can give an overall legato effect but still communicate the rhythm. This is the method taught by the aforementioned lady organist. Perhaps we should call it the "Barbican" method? :angry:

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She's also against any rall at the end of the playover, which I think is necessary to let the opposition know it's coming up to audience participation time.

But what speed do you expect them to sing at - that of the 'playover' or the speed at the end of the 'rall' and how would they know??

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She's also against any rall at the end of the playover, which I think is necessary to let the opposition know it's coming up to audience participation time.

 

I'm with mgp and AMT on this. The purpose of the playover is to establish the melody for the congregation and its tempo. A rallentando is a sure recipe for a confused start to the hymn - precisely at the moment when momentum and character have to be established.

 

It's also regrettable that you view your congregation as "the opposition"...

 

Oh dear!

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She's also against any rall at the end of the playover, which I think is necessary to let the opposition know it's coming up to audience participation time.

 

 

I disagree with this. You have absolutely no hope of establishing a forward situation if you are going to rallentando at the end of the playover. What speed will resume?

 

Try this technique in a large building and you will fall on your sword.

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I disagree with this. You have absolutely no hope of establishing a forward situation if you are going to rallentando at the end of the playover. What speed will resume?

The right speed?

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Can we add to this, no rallentandos at the end of any verses, apart from the last one? Places where this is done, you end up starting the next verse at the speed you finished the last one, and invariably the hymn gets slower and slower.

 

Anyone like to make any other points on playovers? e.g, there are one or two hymns where I play the last line rather than the first one/two as the tune modulates to a distant key? I'm thinking Woodlands and Michael where I normally play the last line.

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Guest Patrick Coleman
Can we add to this, no rallentandos at the end of any verses, apart from the last one? Places where this is done, you end up starting the next verse at the speed you finished the last one, and invariably the hymn gets slower and slower.

 

Anyone like to make any other points on playovers? e.g, there are one or two hymns where I play the last line rather than the first one/two as the tune modulates to a distant key? I'm thinking Woodlands and Michael where I normally play the last line.

 

Agree wholeheartedly on rallentandos. There's nothing worse than being unsure of the speed. Things that might work for effect when music is being conducted don't always work when people have to listen to the organ and each other and are getting conflicting signals.

 

Playovers - much better to use final phrases to run in than just the first couple of lines - although sometimes a full verse can work, especially with a piece only recently learned by a congregation!

 

As for the comments made earlier on 8' foundations and rich backgrounds - that's fine when a congregation is being led by a choir or by individuals who know what they're doing. But where the organ has to lead then fewer tied notes and brighter registrations make a huge difference.

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