The following conversation, in response to Part V of this series, took place on Facebook:
- Contributor Hi Gretchen, what’s your suggestion making sure the congregation doesn’t get thrown off when using alternative arrangements to accompany congregational singing (as opposed to using them when the choir is singing a hymn as an anthem)?
- Gretchen Saathoff Hmm… I’ll think about it! At Riverside, it’s not a problem. Have the choir sing the melody, disperse the choir throughout the congregation, try the Hymn of the Month approach, Try practicing the alternative arrangement for 2 minutes with the congregation, then use it in the hymn. Use the traditional harmonization for all verses except the last. That way, the congregation has been singing the tune for several verses already.
- Gretchen Saathoff And try not to go too far afield with the alternate harmonization. The green Lutheran hymnal that replaced the red one had so many funky arrangements, they made very little sense. So why would anyone want to sing them.
- Contributor Thanks, Gretchen. Good advice here. There is a new red Lutheran hymnal, the ELW, that kept some of the old arrangements from the green LBW, and has lots of new hymns without harmonization, just melodies. So that helps. (But they left off the time signatures, which leads to confusion.) But if the hymn is new, even if only the melody is printed, the alternative arrangement still challenges the ear. And about the funky arrangements, people who can sing parts, oftentimes can sing even the funky ones, and some need to do that, because the melody is too high for them. I like the idea of practicing the alternative arrangement with the congregation – hadn’t thought of it as a possibility before!
- Gretchen Saathoff No time sigs? Not especially helpful, I’d think.
Also, there is no need to use only the arrangements in the book. Change it so it works. Keep some parts and not others. Write a new one. If the melody is too high, something needs to change, such as trasposing down or maybe singing the melody an octave lower. The congregation needs the choir to sing the melody in unison on alternate harmonizations. When they can hear it, they sing better.
- Contributor Great advice!
- Gretchen Saathoff There are lots of alternative harmonizations out there: volumes of hymns for organ, choral anthems, hymnals from other denominations, AGO website, etc. Plenty of hymn improvisations can be heard on YouTube.
- Gretchen Saathoff Free association, you understand… and now it’s time for dinner! Back later.
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And a followup Facebook Message from yours truly:
During services in various denominations, I sometimes would play an alternative harmonization from a funky organ collection (The Sunday Morning Organist, I think). Just leave out the whiz bang awful parts when they don’t work.
Similarly, there are plenty of anthems that work, for the most part, but also have spots that don’t. One example is asking the choir to hold the last note for 8 bars. Does this make the ending better? Does singing a high note improve the message? That all depends on the choir, what else is going on (i.e. the keyboard part might be just fine on its own). Sometimes a “festive” ending will be tacked on that isn’t really needed. When the rest of the piece works well, I omit the parts that don’t work.
There may be one stanza of an anthem that splits into 8 parts, for example. When you have 6 people in your choir that Sunday, you have to think on your feet and find something that works. What do you have to keep? The melody and the bass line? Is the alto part more interesting than the tenor, or vice versa?
If one stanza is too elaborate for your circumstances, then sing the rest of the anthem and omit that one.
If the printed introduction is too long or too short, or is confusing to your choir/congregation, then by all means change it!
Thanks so much to my contributor, who prefers to remain anonymous.
Which approaches have the most success in your church?Comments and suggestions welcome!
Please see previous posts in this series.