Vidas: Let’s start Episode 135 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Listen to the audio version here. This question was sent by Mike, and he writes:
“When and When NOT to play the "Amen" of a Christmas Song/Carol? This has been a discussion. Some Christmas songs have an Amen at the end of them, some don’t. When playing one during a regular Church service, that has it at the end, I believe you play it. However, if you are playing this as a Christmas Carol, say for a choir to sing, then you don’t play it. Is this correct or not? Thank you very much.”
Ausra, do you think that this question applies to any hymn or chorale--not just a Christmas song with pedal?
Ausra: I think you may say so, because often, church songs/hymns have “Amen” at the end of them. But I think it’s sort of a broad question, because I think it depends on the denomination that you’re playing in; it belongs to the tradition.
Vidas: What do you mean?
Ausra: Well...the more liberal churches are, I think, the less they use the word “Amen” at the end of any hymn.
Vidas: Oh, that’s right. Remember, we played from the Lutheran hymnal that is in the Missouri Synod, right--
Vidas: --From the 1940s, I believe. This hymnal always had “Amen” at the end of every hymn.
Ausra: Yes. But that’s because the Missouri Synod is sort of, you know, of the conservative lot.
Ausra: Not the most conservative, but on the more conservative side.
Vidas: And what about, for example, more liberal Lutheran hymnals, like ELCA?
Ausra: I think they don’t have Amen at the end of...at least of Christmas carols...so…
Vidas: Yes, you’re right. It depends on the tradition of your congregation.
Vidas: Normally, I would say, more and more denominations don’t use Amen at the end. I would say.
Ausra: Although I don’t see anything wrong with this word; you know, it’s a nice word. It doesn’t mean anything bad; it just confirms whatever you said before.
Ausra: It’s like confirmation of what you sang, what the words were about. And that’s it.
Vidas: It’s like at the end of the prayer, we would say, “Amen.”
Ausra: Yes, yes.
Ausra: So I don’t think it’s a word that you need to avoid; but in order to do things right, you just need to figure out what the tradition is in your particular church--your denomination--and how people accent it. So maybe just talk with your priest or pastor, and find out about it.
Vidas: And this is true when you play hymns for, let’s say, concerts, or other non-liturgical occasions. Then you don’t actually need “Amen” at the end.
Ausra: Yes, and if you sing an original composition with choir, for example, even if it’s based on a Christmas tune, then just look for what the composer suggests; if there is no Amen at the end, then don’t add it.
Vidas: Let’s say there is a situation when you have no Amen at the end in your hymnal, but you would like to add it. Do you know how to do it?
Ausra: Well, yes, that’s very simple.
Vidas: What chords would you suggest?
Ausra: Dominant and tonic. What about you? Could you suggest something else?
Vidas: Dominant and tonic...On which scale degree in the melody would those two chords go?
Ausra: On the fifth scale degree.
Vidas: So, if the hymn ends on the fifth scale degree, you normally use dominant and tonic. But if the melody ends, let’s say, on the first scale degree, what would you do then?
Ausra: Then you would use subdominant and tonic.
Vidas: Subdominant and tonic. Do you know any hymns that end on the third scale degree?
Ausra: No, I don’t recall.
Vidas: So most often, still, it’s either tonic or dominant in the melody.
Ausra: So, if the hymn is a Christmas carol that’s more from ancient time, and based on modal harmony, then you probably want or need to use subdominant and tonic. But if it’s more modern, then probably dominant and tonic would fit better.
Vidas: And depending on the mode, too.
Ausra: Sure, of course.
Vidas: If, let’s say, the hypothetical mode is in C, but ends on G, which is the dominant note, it’s actually not C Major mode, but G mixolydian, I would say.
Vidas: Right? So then, dominant G Major chord, right…
Vidas: And the tonic chord, C Major, would not even be considered, I think, as a dominant in that mode.
Ausra: Yes, it would be more like subdominant function.
Vidas: Subdominant. In any case, look at the mode, and choose the chord or two chords which have one common note in them--usually it’s like a perfect fourth or a perfect fifth apart.
Vidas: Good, guys. So try this in your practice, if you want to add your own Amen at the end of any type of hymn.
Vidas: What kind of position would you usually do: closed position or open position, in those chords?
Ausra: I think I would do closed position. It’s easier, and I think more convenient, really. What about you? Would you play it in open position?
Vidas: I would say...I would look at the range of the melody. If it’s a high note, let’s say first scale degree but one octave higher, then I would use open position. And if it’s a low first scale degree, then closed position. Would that be ok, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, I think it would be excellent. But now, thinking about that--if you would do Christmas carols with choir and maybe the congregation would join you, I don’t think the sopranos would sing so high that you actually need an open position.
Ausra: But that’s probably just my way of thinking, because I am an alto voice.
Vidas: Most of the hymns end on the low first scale degree.
Ausra: And when I was doing that workshop for church organists, hymn harmonization seminars, I looked closely at the ELC hymnal; and what I discovered was that most of the hymn tunes are written either in F Major or in G Major. I found some in D Major, but basically F Major and G Major--these are the two main keys that hymnals use.
Vidas: And what do you want to say?
Ausra: Well, that it’s a very comfortable range to sing, in these two keys. Sort of middle range.
Vidas: Especially if you end on the lower first scale degree.
Ausra: Yes, on the F or on the G of the first octave.
Vidas: And no congregation member would sing higher than…
Ausra: I think so, yes.
Vidas: Higher than, let’s say, triple C or D.
Ausra: Of course, if it’s an original composition written for a choir, then of course it might be high. But in that case, you probably would not add an Amen at the end of it.
Vidas: Ah, I see. If it’s a congregational hymn, then yes; but if it’s a choir setting, then probably Amens are not necessary.
Ausra: But yes, and of course it’s always a good idea to consult your clergy about these things; because some may not even think about it very closely, but for some it might mean a lot. So you better check it out.
Vidas: Thanks, guys! We hope this was useful to you--right, Ausra?
Ausra: I hope so.
Vidas: And send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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