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Thread: your hymn playing

  1. #1
    Seaman, Mezzoforte
    Join Date
    Apr 2009

    Question your hymn playing

    Hello Everyone:

    I have had the pleasure of visiting a few churches over the last few weeks and I discovered a method of hymn playing I want to share.

    The last note of the given hymn (organ, piano and band all playing along) is held for almost the full value, with a half beat lift and the accompaniment begins for the next verse immediately and precisely. For example with the hymn tune NICAEA (Holy, Holy , Holy) the organ/band hold the final chord for 3 beats, breathe on 4 and come in precisely on beat 1 to start the next verse. Ok… now consider…. EASTER HYMN (Jesus Christ is Risen Today)….hold the last chord 1 ½ beats, lift for ½ a beat and come in precisely on beat 1 for the next verse. Consider your favourite hymn. Would it work?

    Now, I maybe old fashioned, but up until now I have held the last note of hymns to my own taste – always the same for a given hymn – but a definite pause between verses. For example.…EASTER HYMN (Jesus Christ is Risen Today)….I would hold the last chord 2 beats, lift for 2 beats and then start the next verse (all in time, no ral.).

    (please let me know if my description isn’t clear enough – it can be a challenge to put these concepts into words)

    How do you play hymns? Are both methods used? Is one more musical? Is one more poetic? Please share your thoughts.


  2. #2
    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Tucson, Arizona
    Hi Logan30,

    I always use the 3 beat, breathe on 4 method. Serving an older congregation where the median age is 68, they need that good break between verses for our 'traditional' worship services.

    At our convergent worship service the lead musician prefers much shorter breaks between verses. Recently we did Onward Christian Soldiers and the lead musician (who plays the piano and I 'fill' in on organ) allowed only one beat for the last chord, one beat pause and right in to the next verse - a bit too hectic a pace for my liking.

    I suppose it mostly depends on your congregation. I have always prided myself on my hymn playing abilities - and always sing along on at least the first verse, if not all of them - In my situation it helps as the organ console (and pipes) are in an upstairs side gallery in the church.
    Kh ~~.

    Amateur musicians practice until they get it right ...
    fessional musicians practice until they can't get it wrong ...

  3. #3
    Ensign, Principal
    Join Date
    Feb 2009
    Worcestershire UK
    Logan30, sounds like good advice to me. To follow on from krummhorn's idea of singing, getting the organ (or indeed any instrument that is not woodwind or brass) to 'breathe' can be that subtle difference between a mechanical performance and a musical one. I accompany a really good amateur choir, but they have driven me to distraction sometimes when they insist on holding a note for its full value and then breathing on the first beat in the bar when the next phrase should begin GRRRRRRRR!

    back in the day, when I sang in choirs, we had these odd things called pencils, which allowed us to mark in breaths, just like woodwind/brass players.

    my second tutor would notate my organ music with rests to ensure clarity of phrasing and to make the organ breathe. Seemed rediculous at the time, but it is probably the most important single lesson I have ever learnt.

  4. #4
    Captain of Water Music JONESEY's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    Logan30 - I tried this at the morning service yesterday and for 3 out of the 4 hymns it worked really well.
    The exception was the 3rd hymn of the morning which ended on a minim, so dropping a beat wasn't really an option there, but on the whole it's a good idea and one I shall certainly be using again.

    Thanks for the tip!!

  5. #5
    Recruit, Pianissimo
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    South Africa (Durban)
    Thanks for hat beautiful advise. i will certainly try it on Sunday. Tell me my friend, can you give me advise on tonic slfa software. in need it immedietly for a choir thats sings in tonic solfa.

    [email protected]

  6. #6
    Vice Admiral Virtuoso wljmrbill's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2009
    Taylors, South Carolina, USA
    I use a sing along method to acheive the breathing as well as timing of notation that occur with hymns. I tend to follow the vocal requirments ( breathing etc, phrasing 0ther than the notation as such.) I believe the words are as or more important than the harmonies involved. Much like chanting I follow the words and Phrases: but try and keep a uniform rthym also. Just my thoughts.

  7. #7
    Midshipman, Forte
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    ..I would have to agree that if you simply sing to yourself, you won't have to have some formula to know when to stop/start...I do agree, in the hymns you mentioned, that what you do will definitely work well... glad you're feeling my opinion it is strictly a musical issue, and certainly a rhythmic one at all times... it's the space that you leave that cues the congregation to take a breath... it's of course important to have plenty of breathing places during the stanza as well... here's where knowing your congregation helps... I'll often encourage additional breaths for a congregation that I wouldn't do if it was just the choir singing...

    I've heard so many organists over-hold the last chord of a verse; then everyone is left in the lurch wondering when to come in. I wonder if this practice has it's roots in cathedral playing, where the wonderfully reverberant space requires more time for rests to be felt... certainly tempos of repertoire pieces need adjustment when you play in these big spaces.

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