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Excessive Pauses At The End Of Line Of A Hymn


martin_greenwood
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I'm puzzled by the tendency of some choirs/congregations to leave excessive (in my view) pauses at the ends of the lines in certain hymns. Take for example "Breslau". It's in 4/4 with a crotchet upbeat i.e.

 

c | c c c c | c c c, c | c c c qq | c c c, c | c c etc.

 

What I'm refering to occurs at the comma after the 3rd beat of the 3rd complete bar. I've accompanied a service where the choir and congregation insisted on inserting an extra 2 crotchet beats rest after that comma before continuing with the upbeat into bar four. It drove me nuts.

 

Is this situation common? Does it only apply to certain hymns? Is it me being in ignorance of some distant hymn playing tradition which involves sneaking in 6/4 bars in the middle of 4/4 hymns?

 

What's it all about?

 

Grr!

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I'm puzzled by the tendency of some choirs/congregations to leave excessive (in my view) pauses at the ends of the lines in certain hymns. Take for example "Breslau". It's in 4/4 with a crotchet upbeat i.e.

 

c | c c c c | c c c, c | c c c qq | c c c, c | c c etc.

 

What I'm refering to occurs at the comma after the 3rd beat of the 3rd complete bar. I've accompanied a service where the choir and congregation insisted on inserting an extra 2 crotchet beats rest after that comma before continuing with the upbeat into bar four. It drove me nuts.

 

Is this situation common? Does it only apply to certain hymns? Is it me being in ignorance of some distant hymn playing tradition which involves sneaking in 6/4 bars in the middle of 4/4 hymns?

 

What's it all about?

 

Grr!

 

It has a pause in NEH and I would always put in one extra beat here. It's a German Chorale, after all. Would you ignore all the pauses in the Bach chorales?

 

Stephen Barber

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It has a pause in NEH and I would always put in one extra beat here. It's a German Chorale, after all. Would you ignore all the pauses in the Bach chorales?

 

Stephen Barber

Well yes, I would - the mark was often there to show the end of a line not to disrupt the metrical flow.

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Well yes, I would - the mark was often there to show the end of a line not to disrupt the metrical flow.

Friends:

 

I've run up against this kind of thing more than once.

 

As an Anglican-trained organist, I learned my German chorales with all kinds of extra beats that drive the Lutherans mad. Makes 'em foam at the mouth. What seems to us as a natural and musical (one might almost say well-mannered) place to breathe a bit, strikes them as an irritating interuption of the ruthless tread of jack-boots.

 

There is no amount of arguing musical good-sense that will disuade them.

 

emsgdh

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I'm puzzled by the tendency of some choirs/congregations to leave excessive (in my view) pauses at the ends of the lines in certain hymns. Take for example "Breslau". It's in 4/4 with a crotchet upbeat i.e.

 

c | c c c c | c c c, c | c c c qq | c c c, c | c c etc.

 

What I'm refering to occurs at the comma after the 3rd beat of the 3rd complete bar. I've accompanied a service where the choir and congregation insisted on inserting an extra 2 crotchet beats rest after that comma before continuing with the upbeat into bar four. It drove me nuts.

 

Is this situation common? Does it only apply to certain hymns? Is it me being in ignorance of some distant hymn playing tradition which involves sneaking in 6/4 bars in the middle of 4/4 hymns?

 

What's it all about?

 

Grr!

 

Try singing it, rather than playing it, it then makes sense. Even though I have a pretty good lung capacity I can't get through the whole verse without running out of breath.

 

Jonathan :blink:

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Two whole beats extra at every line end? I have never come across anything that extreme. But nothing surprises me.

 

I sometimes think there are as many different views about playing hymns as there are organists. I happen to think that the most vital hymn singing occurs when the beat is absolutely rigid. Any congregation is going to contain a number of people (probably a majority) without much sense of rhythm and who are going to be all over the place if you give them half a chance. The last thing you want to do is encourage them by slowing down at the ends of lines, or by inserting indefinite pauses. They need the dependable framework that a metronomic beat gives. But in this case I suspect you would be up against the "We've done it this way for forty years and we're not changing now!" mentality.

 

Personally I find a steady tread far more musical than flaccidity :blink:, but this does mean setting speeds that allow the congregation to breath properly without gasping desperately for air at the end of lines.

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Two whole beats extra at every line end? I have never come across anything that extreme. But nothing surprises me.

 

I sometimes think there are as many different views about playing hymns as there are organists. I happen to think that the most vital hymn singing occurs when the beat is absolutely rigid. Any congregation is going to contain a number of people (probably a majority) without much sense of rhythm and who are going to be all over the place if you give them half a chance. The last thing you want to do is encourage them by slowing down at the ends of lines, or by inserting indefinite pauses. They need the dependable framework that a metronomic beat gives. But in this case I suspect you would be up against the "We've done it this way for forty years and we're not changing now!" mentality.

 

Personally I find a steady tread far more musical than flaccidity :blink:, but this does mean setting speeds that allow the congregation to breath properly without gasping desperately for air at the end of lines.

You have just said the magic words.

 

Every scholar insists that the point of view expressed by MGP is the correct approach, viz. fermati used to show the end of a line of text and not to be applied in the traditional, musical way. I have no doubt that this is, in fact, correct. But how can it be correct at our modern tempi ?

 

My personal opinion is that the chorales were sung by the faithful in a kind-of rough, hell for leather, deadly slow forte - each note coming out like a hammer blow. In that context, adding extra beats is ridiculous. But nowadays, with our swift tempi applied to hymn-singing, something has to give, there's got to be a pause to collect oneself, in order for it to have any musical sense. It's the ruthless application of rules taken out of context that has been a curse to music making in the whole of the post-war period.

 

Naturalness and the appeal to one's inner sense of musical truth must be our principal guides.

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When I visited a Swiss protestant church I heard the chorales sung very slowly, with a long pause at the end of each line. I think that there was a punctuation mark at the end of each line, so phrases weren't split unnaturally. It all worked very well, and gave me the unusual feeling that the congregation members were actually thinking about the words that they were singing.

 

There are many chorale preludes which separate the lines of the text with long ornamental passages, and I suspect (others will know more about this) that the organists would improvise similar passages in these pauses when hymns were sung; not to the taste of everyone when J S Bach was playing.

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Two whole beats extra at every line end? I have never come across anything that extreme. But nothing surprises me.

 

I sometimes think there are as many different views about playing hymns as there are organists. I happen to think that the most vital hymn singing occurs when the beat is absolutely rigid. Any congregation is going to contain a number of people (probably a majority) without much sense of rhythm and who are going to be all over the place if you give them half a chance. The last thing you want to do is encourage them by slowing down at the ends of lines, or by inserting indefinite pauses. They need the dependable framework that a metronomic beat gives. But in this case I suspect you would be up against the "We've done it this way for forty years and we're not changing now!" mentality.

 

Personally I find a steady tread far more musical than flaccidity :blink: , but this does mean setting speeds that allow the congregation to breath properly without gasping desperately for air at the end of lines.

 

In general I certainly agree. I've certainly found that the maintenance of a steady pulse, unless otherwise dictated by musical sense - as an exception, assists a congregation to sing rhythmically. "They who breathe together, sing together!"

 

It's the treatment of a hymn as one single piece of music from the start of the playover to the end of the final verse which really inculcates that rhythmic singing - the rhythm which one plays informing them subliminally of where it is appropriate to 'gather their strength', and exactly where the next verse is going to start. It will be unsurprising to find that, again in general, I eschew rallentandi at the ends of verses, except possibly the last.

 

Musical and historical considerations can provide variations from this, and those should be accommodated as grateful exceptions - but in most churches, with most 'traditional' hymnody, they are exceptions.

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I put a three beat pause in - as opposed to a crotchet and two beats rest - in that place in Breslau and at the end of the verse. It feels far more musical to me, and gives the congregation chance to breathe, than the ruthless tread of jack-boots mentioned above.

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I'm puzzled by the tendency of some choirs/congregations to leave excessive (in my view) pauses at the ends of the lines in certain hymns. Take for example "Breslau". It's in 4/4 with a crotchet upbeat i.e.

 

c | c c c c | c c c, c | c c c qq | c c c, c | c c etc.

 

What I'm refering to occurs at the comma after the 3rd beat of the 3rd complete bar. I've accompanied a service where the choir and congregation insisted on inserting an extra 2 crotchet beats rest after that comma before continuing with the upbeat into bar four. It drove me nuts.

 

Is this situation common? Does it only apply to certain hymns? Is it me being in ignorance of some distant hymn playing tradition which involves sneaking in 6/4 bars in the middle of 4/4 hymns?

 

What's it all about?

 

Grr!

 

 

==========================

 

 

Just make way for an expert here!

 

No congregation ever dares to cross me or fails to follow me.

 

The reason why things go awry, is to do with a certain pedantic approach to "rests" at line-ends. I had to suffer a choir-school Director of Music who insisted on two beats at line ends; irrespective of any built in rests which filled the last bar of the music, or the time signature.

 

Each and every time, unless the hymn was in 4/4, the congregation were bewildered and left floundering.

 

It's as simple as this. If a hymn-tune is in 3-time, such as "O praise ye the lord," and starts on the last beat of the bar, then it will end with 2 beats on the last note. The breathing space which follows, should be two beats and no more, and on the third beat, you start the next verse. This keeps both the verse and the pause for breath in time.

 

Now if the 3-time tune commences ON the first beat, then the best (and probably only) way, is to have a three full-beat rest after the end of the verse, which keeps everything in time. "Praise to the holiest" is a good example of this.....all the various tunes, so far as I know.

 

I just feel that everything falls apart when breathing space falls out of sync with the music, and when the siad D of M wasn't there, the congregational singing, after a hesitatnt start, fell into place and sounded very much better.

 

But could I tell him?

 

No way....he knew best!

 

MM

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It's as simple as this. If a hymn-tune is in 3-time, such as "O praise ye the lord," and starts on the last beat of the bar, then it will end with 2 beats on the last note. The breathing space which follows, should be two beats and no more, and on the third beat, you start the next verse. This keeps both the verse and the pause for breath in time.

So you end up with a five-four bar? - two beats for the final note, two beats rest and "in" on the fifth beat? No way, José! Make the final note three beats so that a regular 3/4 pulse obtains from the beginning of the first verse until the end of the last and I'll go along with you (though I suppose with this particular hymn, if you're doing the Parry tune, the last verse is allowed to go a little slower if you want).

 

But could I tell him?

 

No way....he knew best!

But of course. If I've learnt one thing over the years about hymn playing it's that every organist is an expert at it and no one ever listens to anyone else!

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So you end up with a five-four bar? - two beats for the final note, two beats rest and "in" on the fifth beat? No way, José! Make the final note three beats so that a regular 3/4 pulse obtains from the beginning of the first verse until the end of the last and I'll go along with you (though I suppose with this particular hymn, if you're doing the Parry tune, the last verse is allowed to go a little slower if you want).

 

Indeed, Vox. The five-four bar makes no sense and is more likely to lead to confusion. It has been my experience that even some choral societies cannot count in five-four (or eleven-eight, either). The chance of a congregation being able to do so are roughly commensurate with their ability to sit quitely and listen to the organ voluntary after the blessing.

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==========================

Just make way for an expert here!

 

No congregation ever dares to cross me or fails to follow me.

 

I don't usually have any difficulty getting a congregation to keep up. There are some hymns, though, where I find the opposite. When I used to play at the local crematorium (before they replaced us with a "box") I sometimes had difficulty in "Abide with me" with congregations who shortened the semibreve in bar 4 to a minim. What can you do? If they carry on while you're still holding the chord you've either got to follow them or make an issue of it, usually not appropriate at a funeral in a small chapel.

 

There's also that extra bar's rest in the verse part of "I, the Lord of sea and sky" - there are always some people in a congregation who carry straight on. The irregular breaks in "Come down, O love divine", can also be a problem, since it seems to be a case of "anything goes" in many churches (not in mine!).

 

Stephen Barber

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I don't usually have any difficulty getting a congregation to keep up. There are some hymns, though, where I find the opposite. When I used to play at the local crematorium (before they replaced us with a "box") I sometimes had difficulty in "Abide with me" with congregations who shortened the semibreve in bar 4 to a minim. What can you do?

 

I find that keeping the bass part moving seems to help them to feel the rhythm rather than just holding a sustained chord.

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There's also that extra bar's rest in the verse part of "I, the Lord of sea and sky" - there are always some people in a congregation who carry straight on.

 

I actually cut out the bar's rest, as it ruins the form of the song, it doesn't make any sense to have that one line a whole bar longer than the rest.

 

Jonathan

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There's also that extra bar's rest in the verse part of "I, the Lord of sea and sky" - there are always some people in a congregation who carry straight on.

Stephen Barber

Our choir sustains the note of the preceding phrase throughout this bars rest, to provide the congregation with a hint that that the next line has yet to come.

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To get back to "Breslau", this is one of a number of tunes where one's idea of how it goes is coloured by whether you grew up in an AMR environment as opposed to EH. In AMR the tune is written out in 4/2 time with the last chord at the half way point actually printed as a semibreve - ie. a 2-beat note. As each line of the tune starts on the ana crusis this makes little musical sense and hence this has generally been treated as either a 3-beat note or a 2-beat note followed by a 1-beat breath. As a child of AMR myself I find this by far the more singable way to play this tune as the congregation do need time to breathe.

 

There are many other examples where AMR printed more singable versions of tunes than the equivalent in EH, even though EH was almost certainly more historically correct. In CP, which I think is a superb hymn book, the EH versions have generally been brought back, but I suspect that there are many organists who, like myself, will stick to the AMR rhythms. The tune "Bristol" (Hark the glad sound) is another good example. In EH and now CP each line starts and ends with a 2-beat note, whereas in AMR all notes are 1-beat except at the end of the second line (the half way point) where a 3-beat notes occurs. I find this far more natural and more fluent to sing.

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To get back to "Breslau", this is one of a number of tunes where one's idea of how it goes is coloured by whether you grew up in an AMR environment as opposed to EH. In AMR the tune is written out in 4/2 time with the last chord at the half way point actually printed as a semibreve - ie. a 2-beat note. As each line of the tune starts on the ana crusis this makes little musical sense and hence this has generally been treated as either a 3-beat note or a 2-beat note followed by a 1-beat breath. As a child of AMR myself I find this by far the more singable way to play this tune as the congregation do need time to breathe.

 

There are many other examples where AMR printed more singable versions of tunes than the equivalent in EH, even though EH was almost certainly more historically correct. In CP, which I think is a superb hymn book, the EH versions have generally been brought back, but I suspect that there are many organists who, like myself, will stick to the AMR rhythms. The tune "Bristol" (Hark the glad sound) is another good example. In EH and now CP each line starts and ends with a 2-beat note, whereas in AMR all notes are 1-beat except at the end of the second line (the half way point) where a 3-beat notes occurs. I find this far more natural and more fluent to sing.

 

As it happens I had to play Breslau last night. I have found over many years of trying all the various ways that 2 beats between playover and start of v.1, and the same between the verses works for most choirs and congregations and most traditional hymns (but not all the more modern ones!). That's assuming you want them to start singing the verse with the organ, not 1,2,2 1/2, or whatever beats after you put the chord down! With tunes such as Breslau I do the first two lines in time; at end of line two play the last note as two beats, followed by 1 beat pause to breathe, and the last note of the verse = 3 beats (+ 2 beats rest between verses). This works if you take the tune at a reasonable speed e.g. 84/96. No rallentandos except on the last bar of the last verse. It makes a real difference if you're a singer how you approach all this! The only way to take a tune like this in strict time is to do it so slowly that everyone falls asleep out of boredom - is that what we want?

 

R.

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To take up and expand slightly upon a point made by MM: one problem is playing at events attended by members of a number of churches - each of which will have "personalised" (or maybe institutionalised) versions of speed, pauses and so on. This has happened to me a number of times. Probably the most infamous example is that ghastly pause between lines 2 & 3 of Crimond, observed by some (not guilty, folks!) and not by others. Then there are those who insist on slowing down towards the end of Cwm Rhondda (and the men in the congregation who try to do the rising broken D7!). There are those who put in the passing E (if you're in G) in Adeste Fidelis just before the O Come bit (though some hymn booksa now seem to include this probably as a concession to those who insist on it).

 

And here speaks a man who has recently played at a Christian Unity Week service!! :D

 

 

Peter

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So you end up with a five-four bar? - two beats for the final note, two beats rest and "in" on the fifth beat? No way, José! Make the final note three beats so that a regular 3/4 pulse obtains from the beginning of the first verse until the end of the last and I'll go along with you (though I suppose with this particular hymn, if you're doing the Parry tune, the last verse is allowed to go a little slower if you want).

But of course. If I've learnt one thing over the years about hymn playing it's that every organist is an expert at it and no one ever listens to anyone else!

 

=========================

 

Humph! :D

 

I didn't put his very well: so much for on-the-hoof thinking without the music in front of me.

 

As usual, I go back to the excellent "Songs of Praise" book, as edited by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Martin Shaw, and not all the other rubbish.

 

On the subject of "O praise ye lord," this is what I do. The tune starts on the third beat of a (one-beat) three beat bar in effect, and ends with a two-beat minim.

 

Mentally, I count the last note as follows:- 1/2/OFF, then allow a further count of 1/2 before starting the next verse on 3.

(I don't actually count at all after 48 years of doing hymns). The interesting thing is the fact that the "OFF" represents a third beat which properly doesn't exist, but which does as far as the singing and psychology are concerned, but what people WANT at the last bar is a waltz-time 1/2/3 followed by a 1/2 breathe in strict time. Played that way, and sung that way, people will never fall out of time and everyone will start the verses together.

 

It's a classic example of how hymns are written to mislead IMHO, and a far better way of writing this particular tune out would be to commence with two crotchet rests, and to end the last bar with a single crotchet rest, which is EXACTLY what I do when I accompany it.

 

If one sticks exactly to what is written, I'm actually allowing a three beat rest between verses; except that isn't, because I'm treating the tune and the line-end as described above: 1/2/OFF,1/2 "O praise etc."

 

Played that way, you will never have a problem, and my justification for this has common-use acceptable precedent.

 

Here is an extract from the Gardner Read book on "Music Notation".....

 

"The final measure of any piece of music (snip)....should always contain a COMPLETE time value. That is to say, the full number of beats should be present, regardless of how the piece began."

 

"Breslau" is a hymn I know, but have seldom sung. However, I scanned through it, and wondered how I might interpret those little eyelids above the last note of each line. (Do your copies show these?)

 

I compared this to another German tune, "Nun Danket" by Cruger, and in the "Songs of Praise" (which tends to be historically accurate or at least sourced differently from other hymn-books and not messed around with), we see something quite remarkable, A MIX OF INCOMPLETE AND COMPLETE LAST BARS WITH LITTLE COMMAS ABOVE EACH DOUBLE BAR-LINE. Instinct tells me what I know should be played and sung, but the actual notation is both inconsistent and misleading.

 

Now go to the usually awful Catholic "Hymns old and new," and the layout of "Nun Danket" makes much more sense to modern eyes, because the double bar-lines have been removed, and the tune is shown in regular 4/4 rhythm. This is NOT, I suspect, the way it is sung in Germany, but for us at home in the UK, it sounds and feels right. Historically, it is incorrect.

 

Back to "Breslau"....oops sorry......(I think that should be Wroclaw nowadays), I can't quite reconcile the music to what I would actually play. Unfortunately, I only have one version of the tune in front of me, with eyelids at the end of each line, and incomplete rhythms in each last bar. This is from "Songs of Praise" again, so I think it is probably how it was originally written in 1625, and then adapted and harmonised by Mendelssohn.

 

This is how I would play it, I think, by musical instinct. At each line-end, I would simply be playing as if I were counting 1-2-OFF, and then commencing on the next full beat. I "suspect" that the OFF represents the additional extension of the rhythm, which I would suggest would be a breathing measure rather than a singing-note measure. I don't know to be honest, but I wonder if THIS was the way they reconciled common-practice with correct notation in those days?

 

I think this clearly demonstrates how MISLEADING hymn notation can be, but I know this, I can do it, I can lead and I never have blips or musical disagreements with congregations, which proves my point that there are academics and musicians in this world, and rarely do the two go hand-in-hand!

 

Hymnody is a very complex subject, and notational practice has changed over the centuries.

 

Anyone for tablatures?

 

MM

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To take up and expand slightly upon a point made by MM: one problem is playing at events attended by members of a number of churches - each of which will have "personalised" (or maybe institutionalised) versions of speed, pauses and so on. This has happened to me a number of times. Probably the most infamous example is that ghastly pause between lines 2 & 3 of Crimond, observed by some (not guilty, folks!) and not by others. Then there are those who insist on slowing down towards the end of Cwm Rhondda (and the men in the congregation who try to do the rising broken D7!). There are those who put in the passing E (if you're in G) in Adeste Fidelis just before the O Come bit (though some hymn booksa now seem to include this probably as a concession to those who insist on it).

 

And here speaks a man who has recently played at a Christian Unity Week service!! :lol:

Peter

 

 

=====================

 

It proves the truth of the saying, "United we stand, divided we fall."

 

Solidarnosk!

 

:D

 

MM

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Mentally, I count the last note as follows:- 1/2/OFF, then allow a further count of 1/2 before starting the next verse on 3. (I don't actually count at all after 48 years of doing hymns). The interesting thing is the fact that the "OFF" represents a third beat which properly doesn't exist, but which does as far as the singing and psychology are concerned, but what people WANT at the last bar is a waltz-time 1/2/3 followed by a 1/2 breathe in strict time. Played that way, and sung that way, people will never fall out of time and everyone will start the verses together.

 

It's a classic example of how hymns are written to mislead IMHO, and a far better way of writing this particular tune out would be to commence with two crotchet rests, and to end the last bar with a single crotchet rest, which is EXACTLY what I do when I accompany it.

Ah, so we do agree then. I thought we might. :)

 

Of course, if you were writing the hymn out in extenso, you would notate it in regular 3-beat bars throughout and the only two-beat bar would be the very last one - to compensate arithmetically for the third beat being at the beginning of the first verse.

 

Here is an extract from the Gardner Read book on "Music Notation".....

 

"The final measure of any piece of music (snip)....should always contain a COMPLETE time value. That is to say, the full number of beats should be present, regardless of how the piece began."

I have some sympathy with this. The convention of making everything arithmetically neat has always struck me a curious. Is there any really compelling reason for it?

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