Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 492 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Ruth, who is our Total Organist student. She wrote:
“I wonder what are the best ways for teaching new hymns. I am also the pastor. So, I have had some choice in the hymns. I wonder, though, how others teach new hymns. And, which ones have been loved by your congregations? Have some choices been a surprise?”
I guess it would be wonderful for our community to jump in and leave some feedback about hymns; how they teach new hymns, and what the communities/congregations love the most.
A: I think this is, in general, a very important question, and I think it touches many church musicians, because it’s a number one issue, about how to choose hymns, how to sing hymns, how to teach new hymns.
V: I had an experience in teaching new hymns at our St. John’s Church, but a long time ago, when we were both regular organists. You would play the organ…
A. True. And you would conduct the congregation from downstairs.
V: It’s a two person work, then, like a teamwork.
A: But, if you know you don’t have such a large church building as ours and as St. Johns’, and maybe you have some sort of keyboard downstairs. You could use it. I think that would be an idea. Maybe your organ is upstairs, but maybe your piano is downstairs.
V: Yes. And the piano, maybe, is in the visible place where people could see you. Some places you could even move the piano closer to the center during the rehearsal. I just had this podcast conversation with Andreas Spahn, organist from Germany. He is a church musician. But, as I understood, he has these organ or choir rehearsals with the congregation, but they’re not long. They are just three or five minutes long, before the service starts. I thought, “Why is he doing them so short? Why not 15 minutes, like we would do.” It appears that people are gathering at the church at the last moment, and there are not many people 15 minutes before the service.
A: Sure, time is money, so… everybody is counting.
V: Everybody is making money on Sunday morning.
V: Yeah… well, hopefully, this approach is really applicable for a lot of situations. Not only for new hymns, but maybe old hymns that have been forgotten and need to be resurrected. How would you, Ausra, conduct this rehearsal, if you had to choose.
A: Well, I would just go through each line.
V: How many hymns?
A: Well, I think for such a rehearsal you may do only one thing. So, basically, if you are leading a service, I wouldn’t choose all new hymns. You can only introduce one new hymn per service.
V: Why not two?
A: It might be too difficult—too much new information.
V: You’re right. Does it matter where this new hymn comes in the service? In the beginning? Middle? End?
A: I don’t think it’s so important. But, of course, if you just rehearse before the rehearsal, then it really would be an opening hymn, right from the rehearsal to performance.
V: Is it okay if I did a rehearsal when I first sang the first verse, and then asked them to repeat phrase by phrase, line by line?
A: Yes, I think it’s nice. It should work. But, I think it’s also important that you would sing all verses that you are intending to sing during the service, because for me, the biggest problem is to do the second, the third and the other verses. Because usually, what you have in some hymnals, at least in Lithuania, is that you have the first verse written underneath the score, and it’s very convenient, because you see the music and the words together. But other verses, they are written below the page after the score is finished. So, it’s not so comfortable to do it, because you have to still look at the music, especially if you are accompanying yourself, and then to be able to follow the words.
V: You’re right. I think in Western hymnals, they have three or four verses written under the notes.
A: But still, it’s not as comfortable to see them, to follow them as the first verse.
V: Yeah. That’s right. So, basically, go through each verse, and then this melody will sing by itself, probably, into their memory.
A: True! Plus, I think a lot of success also depends on the meter of the hymn. If it has a regular meter, strong beats in every measure, then it makes life easier. But if you choose something based on Gregorian chant, or sort of modal, also based on modes, that might not be as easy to sing for a congregation, because I think rhythm is crucial for congregational singing. So I would suggest maybe just to avoid such hymns.
V: I think this might work, too.
A: You also need to include your choir into your rehearsals. That might be a big help for you and for your congregation. And I remember that what else you could do, of course, the choir might show an example of that unfamiliar hymn for a congregation, but later on during the service, you might spread your choir throughout your congregation. Let’s say you have 20 choir members, and you have a hundred rows in the church. You might divide your choir members between those rows, that you might help your congregation to sing better. I think this might work, too.
V: This is really a clever idea, and it has been done before, and usually the congregation feels more confident when there are people around them singing with confidence.
A: So you might try that, as well.
V: Do choir members have to be dressed like civilians or in robes?
A: I don’t think it’s important. It’s up to the tradition, so…
V: Concealed! They have to conceal themselves.
A: Not necessarily, I think.
V: If they are members of the congregation, people will recognize them, anyway.
A: But anyway, I think it’s a wise solution to listen to the service from downstairs, even for an organist or music director, because that way, you might notice and listen to members of your congregation who sing very well, and that might be a possibility to choose new members of the choir. So, anyway…
V: Good idea. Ok guys, we hope this was useful to you. Please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice,
A: 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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