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Palm trees of unknown species. Identification ...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Yesterday was Palm Sunday!

Our service began with the Proclamation of the Entrance into Jerusalem, delivered outdoors by the minister, followed by a spoken congregational response, also outdoors.

The route

And then everyone, including the choir, the congregation, and the pastor, processed into the sanctuary and down the aisle to the front, placing palm branches at the altar as they sang All Glory, Laud, and Honor. The choir proceeded to their seats in front, and the congregation to their pews.

Preparation

Playing for a procession involving so many people was something completely new to me! So there were many things to keep in mind while practicing:

  • The organ had to be heard outdoors.

  • 8′, 4′, and 2′ stops were needed for clarity at that distance.

  • Everyone needed to sing together if possible.

  • Finding a comfortable walking tempo was crucial.

  • Any variations in tempo could cause a breakdown.

  • When was the best time for the choir to start singing in parts rather than unison?

I have to say, I practiced the first hymn a lot, more than anything else in the service.

The pastor’s ideas

  • A copy of the hymn was included in the bulletin.  Without a heavy hymnal in their hands, the congregation was free to focus on singing.
  • At first, he had toyed with moving the digital piano outdoors so everyone could hear me. But then I would have been stuck outside for the entire hymn!

  • Plan B was to mic the organ and have speakers outdoors.

  • Plan C was to leave it alone. I happened to be practicing the processional when the pastor arrived on Sunday morning. He could hear me outdoors just fine.

So we opened all the doors and went for it!

Finding a tempo

While practicing on my own, my main concern was finding the most appropriate tempo. Even though no one was asked to walk in rhythm, that meant:

  • Ensuring that there was always forward motion in the music.

  • Giving people time to breathe so they could sing well.

  • Feeling the walking tempo in my body.

  • Listening to the 8th notes. I was a little too fast at first. Everything needed to be clear.

  • Perhaps choosing a slightly slower tempo than if there had been no processional.

The choir’s leadership role

  • The choir would enter the sanctuary first.

  • I demonstrated how to feel the hymn in 2/2 rather than 4/4, especially since people would be walking in 2, not marching in 4.

  • We agreed that the choir would lead the congregation most effectively by singing in unison at least until they reached the choir pews. At that point, they would be facing the congregation, so hearing them would be easier.

  • I relied on the choir to make the decision about when to sing in parts. They based their decision on listening to the congregation. If the congregation was singing well and together, then parts could work.

  • I made sure that the choir would listen to the organ and stay with me. If the congregation had started dragging and the choir went with them, the whole thing could have fallen apart.

The wonderful result

The processional went very well! Not only was everyone together at all times, 5 verses provided exactly enough music! It could not have gone better or been any more exciting even if we had rehearsed with the entire congregation.

Have you played or conducted a large processional? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below!

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