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handsoff

Music That We'd Rather Not Play

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To set some background, I am currently deputising at a small parish church in a village near my usual church because the the organist is incapacitated for several weeks. The service times are fortunately fine to allow for travel between the two.

 

The hymns have been picked for the next 3 months and I was given a list at the beginning of last week for the coming period. I have never played "Shine, Jesus Shine" and vowed many years ago that I wouldn't unless under great duress, say if required for a funeral, so was less than chuffed to find that it was scheduled for the end of yesterday morning's service. The hymn book used is that huge orange tome, "Complete Anglican Hymns Old & New" which I was "amused" to see has hymns about elephants and smelly feet. Hmmm.

 

Anyway, I decided to try to avoid S, J S and so picked a more traditional alternative, turned up a few minutes early and spoke to the churchwarden. His relief to my suggestion was palpable and he almost ran to the numbers box to change the boards. The choir were also delighted as, as one of them said, "It's just embarrassing to sing". They said that as I'm currently their organist I should feel free to change anything I wish except the mass setting as everyone likes and knows it.

 

My wife said that I was wrong to change the hymn as it showed arrogance and elitism on my part but I feel that it was justified as the choir and congregation were pleased to not sing it. Had they asked to play it rather than make a change I would, of course, had acceded.

 

 

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Stainer’s Crucifixion.

 

I think if we’re getting paid to perform a service for a church we should do our best to provide what has been asked of us. If you’re a volunteer helping out then you have more “leverage” to call the tune. Getting the choir on-side is obviously an astute political move but who knows how many of the congregation might have been looking forward to the original choice.

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Hi

 

There's far more to choosung church music than personal preference. Maybe it had been chosen for a very good reason. IMHO you should have checked with the person responsible for choosing the music before changing it. I repeat - personal dislike is rerally not a good enough reason for rejecting something, and nor is musical elitism. If the music helps the congregation (or a part of the congregation) to connect with God, then it's fine.

 

Personally, I don;t have any great problem with "Shine Jesus Shine" where it fits the them of the service - and I can think of far worse songs!

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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That's a good point, thank you innate. I judged the response from the churchwarden and choir to reflect most views but may have been wrong.

 

There are 2 distinct congregations at St. P's. The 09.30 service, for which I play, is the traditional communion service with by and large the older villagers who have been attending that service for years. The 11.00 service is a more evangelical event with a music group consisting of piano, flute and guitar and sometimes drums. They have their own quite separate attendees not just from the village but from the surrounding area too and although sometimes using the same hymn book, along with Mission Praise and various other odds and ends, sing those which are, to my mind, more worship songs than what I regard as hymns. I should have thought that S, J S fitted more easily into their services. I will though happily admit to being a bit of a fossil in my musical tastes...

 

Tony, I did speak to the incumbent organist, who picks the hymns and who is also a friend, earlier in the week to ask her opinion. She told me that I should feel free to alter anything I wanted and that S, J S probably wasn't the best choice for the 09.30 - on a previous occasion the congregation didn't sing it all leaving the choir to perform almost as an anthem.

 

I choose the hymns for my own church and always use a lectionary as well as the "Hymns suggested for Sundays" index to ensure their relevance to the service.

 

Stainer's Crucifixion? A real Marmite of the musical world. I'm a fan!

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Stainer's Crucifixion? A real Marmite of the musical world. I'm a fan!

 

Marmite is a good analogy. It scarcely needs to be said that the various numbers comprising The Crucifixion vary widely in quality and that its libretto is largely awful. However it does not necessarily need a conductor if the choir is reasonably competent (maybe except in 'God so loved the world') and indeed it was written for average choirs. Unfortunately this latter factor can serve to emphasise the more insipid examples of the writing when the choir is less than average. Personally I find the inclusion of the congregational hymns one of its most attractive features, and 'Cross of Jesus' is quite beautiful in my humble opinion. It has brought a lump to my throat on more than one occasion.

 

Olivet to Calvary is, I suppose, much the same. However I was surprised to find that both works are apparently valued elsewhere, with Olivet having been performed in places such as Leiden and New Zealand in recent years.

 

CEP

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Hi

 

Pleased to see that I'm not the only fan of "The Crucifixion" on here. That, & Olivet to Valvary serve a purpose. They may not be the greatest music, but there are many people out there who don't connect with "great music" (however you define that!) Such presentations help present the gospel message to many - and that's what the church is all about.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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I played S, JS for the first time earlier this year - not one of my favourites but even the oldies (I.e., older than me!) in the congregation seem to like it, What did surprise me was the way it's laid out in the alleged 'Organ Edition' of the new A&M with a page turn between the verse and refrain. I reset it with Musescore and it fits very nicely on one side of A4.

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Regarding The Crucifixon (Stainer), for me, like any piece of music, it much depends on the performance. I completely understand why a lot of people wince at the mention, but when you listen to a performance such as Guildford Cathedral Choir with Barry Rose (late 1960's I think), it seems to elevate itself from the mundane to something rather special.

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There is the legendary story of the gents toilet in a certain music school where someone wrote "What do you think of Stainer's Crucifixion" and someone else replied underneath, "It would be a good idea".

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I quite like 'Shine, Jesus Shine', although such trendy modern children's songs as the one about "elephants and smelly feet" mentioned by the OP (yes, I know which you mean!) just make me cringe.

 

I believe modern authors and musicians are desperately trying to make Christian music appeal to modern children, but I think that things like that must come across as rather patronising, with the possible exception of the youngest infants.

 

When I was a young child in the olden days, I remember many hymns designed for children which were pleasant and uplifting without the need for 'dumbing down'.

 

Just call me a miserable old git.

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When I was a young child in the olden days, I remember many hymns designed for children which were pleasant and uplifting without the need for 'dumbing down'.

 

Just call me a miserable old git.

 

................... and some of them were incredibly beautiful, written by absolute masters of their hymn writing craft. The words might not, particularly, be suitable for 21st century life but some of the music is, just, totally excellent.

 

I remember quite a few hymns I sang as a child:

 

"I love God's tiny creatures" - set to music by Gordon Slater - (Bilsdale - one of the most beautiful tunes I know!)

"Little drops of water" - music by Martin Shaw (Camber)

"Gentle Jesus, meek and mild" - again, music by Martin Shaw (Gentle Jesus)

"Daisies are our silver" - music by K.G. Finlay (Glenfinlas)

"Jesus, friend of little children" - more Martin Shaw (Westridge)

"Glad that I live am I" - Geoffrey Shaw (Water End)

"God, who made the earth" - Evelyn Sharpe (Platt's Lane)

 

add to that all those tunes by those two famous composers - 'trad' and 'anon'

 

"Jesus, gentle shepherd - (Shipston)

"God, whose name is love" - (Haslemere)

"Sing to the Lord" (St. Hugh)

,

and, later, beautifully written tunes like St. Botolph (Gordon Slater) , Kingsfold ('trad'), Dundee (Scottish Psalter) - the list is endless!

 

Singing these hymns/tunes in assemblies as a small child, I remember thinking, even then, how beautiful they were. I remember looking at the hymn board before assembly and looking forward to singing one of the above. I'm sure that they had something to do with me becoming a musician and I'm not sure that some of the music that is put before children today would have had the same effect.

 

................................. but, perhaps, I'm just a miserable old git!!

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SL's views and experiences (#11) coincide so closely with mine that I could have written his post myself, including the miserable old git bit. Yet I could not have been a 'normal' child because the majority of my peer group were certainly not drawn towards church and 'classical' music as I was. Even my parents did not attend church, so my experiences of that were with my grandmother, a staunch churchgoer. And it was she who arranged for me to have a go on the organ, after which I was hooked for life. I didn't think much of church services themselves (and never have), what with all that sitting down and standing up and incomprehensible sermons from people dressed in funny clothes, but there was a magical draw towards things like the array of organ pipes and the sounds which emanated from them.

 

Therefore I do wonder whether it's something to do with the way we are wired - nature rather than nurture. If so, then no amount of dumbing down and trying to be cool and trendy will much influence people of all ages who aren't predisposed to it in the first place. But if they are so predisposed, then they will probably have an inbuilt appreciation of the quality of the material being fed to them.

 

CEP

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I think an organist, choirmaster/mistress, director of music has every right to make their views known regarding the musical content of a service. In fact, the Canons of the Church of England state that the incumbent should consult him or her, although the minister's word is final. Highly trained musicians are precisely that: experts in their field. Not many ministers of religion are these days, and would be wise to listen carefully to the expert they are paying to deliver the musical content of the service. Otherwise you might just as well put on a CD. It has nothing to do with elitism.

 

Having said that, a very good musician should be able to take a song and make it better, to partially quote the Beatles. If I were asked to play Shine Jesus Shine I would consider whether the arrangement in front of me was suitable for the liturgical context, congregation, instrument and any other singers/ musicians involved. Perhaps consider showing the congregation how the melody could be used as the basis or theme for a high-quality improvisation, or prelude, or voluntary. It should also be borne in mind that renaissance composers of masses and motets wove popular tunes, such as "L'homme armé" into their works.

 

And finally, there's nothing that can disarm the narrow, blinkered, musically illiterate brigade more than an allround musician who knows their stuff both in relation to classical music and modern band-led worship songs. There's a lot of dross out there, but there are also some very good worship songs, by writers such as Paul Oakley, Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin and, yes, Graham Kendrick. I don't think Shine Jesus Shine is one of his best songs, and it's become hackneyed through overuse. But even this song, played well, at the right tempo, using the full resources of the organ, in a good arrangement, can be effective. What is far worse is good music played badly.

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There's a lot of dross out there, but there are also some very good worship songs, by writers such as Paul Oakley, Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin and, yes, Graham Kendrick.

 

Thanks for this, Z. I could do with some help identifying some good worship songs and wonder if you can possibly make a few suggestions and indicate where to find them. There is one song by Matt Redman in the new Ancient and Modern called Once again, but otherwise I'm not sure where to look. (I'm bound to add that a quick survey of Once again didn't thrill me to my core!) My own experience of Shine, Jesus, shine is of use in school with pupils aged between 8 and 18 in a school where hymn singing and corporate singing generally was greatly encouraged and enjoyed. The 13-18 year olds would be happy to sing Ye holy angels bright and Who would true valour see, for example, with aplomb, but they would love SJS particularly. There were other less formal hymns, for want of a better way of describing them, that they enjoyed too - I, the Lord of sea and sky, Be still, Lord Jesus Christ, you have come to us. In the end, if the organ played convincingly, they would go along with most things. Mind you, I have to remember that they sang from a hymn book specially made for the school which had avoided all the dreary hymns in the first place - there were about 160 hymns in it not including Christmas ones - (not included as we always sang from service papers and special sheets at that time of year.)

 

[i think we've discussed the new Ancient and Modern before in the forum. I am struggling to be a great fan of this as I find it almost overwhelming. It is so large and the paper so thin for a start and then you turn page after page and there are so many 'new hymns' that it becomes difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. I wonder if many churches have gone for it? It's in use in a church where I play regularly - (the organ edition is in two volumes, by the way) - but we haven't ever sung anything 'new.']

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By some coincidence the hymn list at St.P's for this Sunday has Lord, Jesus Christ, you have come to us, scheduled. I don't find this at all offensive and actually quite like the harmonies. I must conclude that something within me finds S,JS to be junk. It's all subjective.

 

What has caught me whilst playing the hymns over at home is that the big orange book has many hymns in lower keys than those to which I'm accustomed. After heaven knows how many years of playing "Richmond" in G Major it took an effort of will over muscle memory to play it in F. Fingers crossed, figuratively at least...

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How things come home to roost. I played for a wedding** yesterday at which the hymns were Morning Has Broken, Jerusalem and Shine. I clearly couldn't object to the latter's use so had to grin and bear it but was pleased enough when the congregation really belted it out; so much so that I had to use the rather loud 2' Fifteenth in the final choruses to support them.

What has amused me about Shine this time around is the way that it installed itself as an ear worm while practising; to the extent that I have caught myself humming it out loud in public.

As my wife is fond of saying, "God always gets his own back..".

** The highlight of the event was the departure of the bride and groom in a hired Lamborghini Aventador convertible - and watching the bride getting into the passenger seat in full meringue and heels. ?

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I am very fortunate in being delegated the responsibility for choosing the hymns in my church. I am, however, forbidden by the incumbent to include “Shine, Jesus, Shine” in the mass. This doesn’t bother me. I like a lot of Graham Kendrick’s songs, but not that one. One of my favourites is “Rejoice, Rejoice” which I find goes very well on the organ, and lends itself to post service improvisation if chosen as the final hymn. 

I am very fond of “Abide with Me”, which is set for next Sunday, but for the second year running I have been approached by one of the Church Wardens who says several members of the congregation have asked me to change it, because the emotions it summons up in relation to loved ones who have passed away become almost unbearable. I have resisted doing this, although I have offered to meet with them to explain why I feel we should include it. It is interesting that traditional hymns can be as controversial as “worship songs”.

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I always find it difficult to understand why incumbents do not choose there own hymns,  preferring to leave it to someone else to do this. Hymns should be chosen to comment on or expand the theme set by the readings, sermon etc. Without this continuity they become merely 'gap fillers' & often irrelevant to the rest of the service imho.  I would like to think that  there is some discussion between interested parties when hymns are chosen, but in my experience this rarely happens.  Perhaps playing in one of our 'dissenters' churches has spoilt me!  Am I out of touch with what happens in the 2 mainstream establishments?

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I choose the hymns for my church and use both an online lectionary and the "Hymns Suggested for Sundays" in the indices; this helps ensure their relevance. We use the BCP and New English Hymnal which in turn discourage and completely preclude worship songs.

 

 

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which in turn discourage and completely preclude worship songs

What a shame that you dismiss a whole genre of music! There are great hymns and awful hymns. There are great worship songs and awful worship songs. Surely the duty of a church Director of Music is to be discerning.

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I'm flattered to be described as a Director of Music which although strictly true I suppose, does over-inflate my role as organist of a tiny church with a tiny organ on the point of total failure and no money to fix it. I suspect too that the church will close within 2 or 3 years thanks to the ridiculous amount of money demanded each year by the diocese.

The church is in a minute village of perhaps 15 homes and has a congregation of between 8 and 15 souls, all of whom with 2 exceptions come from outside the village solely because of our usage of the BCP and NEH; one family of 3 travelling 20+ miles from Coventry. The mean age is probably 70 and we utterly rely on retired priests to perform the services. I have no objection to some worship songs; there are indeed soome very good examples, but I do know that they would not be accepted at All Saints'. I know this because the Benefice of 4 churches has a Benefice service on a rotating basis on 5th Sundays and in 2 of these, for which I sometimes play, these songs are scheduled. The faction from All Saints' always say that they don't like or want them (or the music group which also accompanies them) when it's our turn.

I regularly introduce unfamiliar hymns to them, sometimes to a well-known tune rather than the one set and this seems to go down well. A recent example was "Thee we adore, O hidden Saviour Thee" to the tune of "Abide with Me". This went down really well and I've been asked to repeat soon. (The exercise reminds me of the BBC comedy, still thankfully extant, "I'm sorry I Haven't a Clue" in which my favourite tune swap was "A Whiter Shade of Pale" to the tune of "My Old Man's a Dustman").

It is absolutely true to say that there are some dreadful old hymns. I had to play the tune of "I Vow to Thee" (to alternative words for a wedding last week) and used my school days copy of "Songs of Praise". Some of the dross in there is beyond belief...

 

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13 hours ago, Zimbelstern said:

which in turn discourage and completely preclude worship songs

What a shame that you dismiss a whole genre of music! There are great hymns and awful hymns. There are great worship songs and awful worship songs. Surely the duty of a church Director of Music is to be discerning.

When handsoff posted the message from which you quoted, I did not read it as implying that he "dismissed" anything, nor that he was not "discerning", and I am consequently a little surprised that you felt able to make these remarks about him.  As far as I was concerned he was simply making a statement, either of fact as he saw it, or perhaps just expressing an opinion.  Everyone is entitled to do this on this forum as far as I am aware.

CEP

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I sympathise with your predicament. I am familiar with country churches, having grown up in various villages in Sussex, where I was a boy chorister. The area of London where I am active now could not be more different. Our traditional Anglo-Catholic church with a reasonable sized congregation is next to a busy mosque and a stone’s throw from a thriving Pentecostal church with a brand new building, and a very active Baptist church. They are full of young people. The main Roman Catholic church, also not far away, is always full on Sundays. A number of members of our congregation attend several churches, because they enjoy different styles of worship. What I see is a community hungry for spiritual food and guidance. Music seems to have the ability to cause conflict in churches, something I find very sad, but I think it can be avoided if all involved are determined not to let that happen, and remember why we have music in church. I always have the words of Psalm 150 in the back of my mind.

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2 minutes ago, Colin Pykett said:

When handsoff posted the message from which you quoted, I did not read it as implying that he "dismissed" anything, nor that he was not "discerning", and I am consequently a little surprised that you felt able to make these remarks about him.  As far as I was concerned he was simply making a statement, either of fact as he saw it, or perhaps just expressing an opinion.  Everyone is entitled to do this on this forum as far as I am aware.

CEP

If I have caused offence, I heartily apologise. I certainly did not intend to do so. 

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I have certainly not been offended in way or form at all. It takes an awful lot to do that and nothing here has come with a light year of it!

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