Friday, July 04, 2008

A really serious questions that NEEDS some answers!

what do other organists do in those old hymns where the congregation adds long breaths/fermatas and pauses that aren't written?

I am speaking of two hymns in particular, they are both very old, which would make sense that they have had a lot of development/changes over the years. Have others actually seen them notated as people sing them?
I have actually come to dread playing these two hymns since I don't quite know what to do with the rhythm!

Let me try and describe it here:
Nun Danket Alle Gott:
"Now that we all our God (dotted half note, which is natural to sing,) with hearts and hands and voi-CES" the "CES" is where there is only a quarter note written, but everyone wants to make it a dotted half note! A similar problem after "in whom his world rejoi-CES." It would make perfect sense to give it three beats, (not necessarily in our modern 4-4 rhythmic notation, but certainly for when Nun Danket would have been written!) but also since all the other places resembling a cadence or half cadence in the song get three whole beats!

Old Hundredth:
exactly a four phrase hymn, however, all of the ends of the phrases are notated as only a half note (two beats,) while the congregation wants to give them 4 whole beats. ("All people that on earth do dwell--and I end up cutting them off to come in with--Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice", etc.)

After doing either of these songs I occasionally get comments like, "there's something about the rhythm/way you play that song that makes it hard for me to sing it..." (of course people don't know how to properly musically describe things.)
SO this is my dilemma! I DO actually know exactly how these songs should sound to be sung naturally/comfortably, BUT I am so attached to doing things exactly as notated! Are these two songs somewhat mis-notated? (Or have we lost some of those possibly misunderstood, ancient fermatas?) Or have other people seen other rhythmic notations?

WHAT DO OTHER ORGANISTS DO IN THIS CASE? These two hymns in particular?


Fr. Rob Johansen said...

What to do?

I'm not an organist, but I'm a parish priest and musician, and I'm afraid you're probably going to have to just get used to the way people sing it.

I've tried, and my former organist tried, with other hoary old hymns (such as Holy God we Praise Thy Name), to get people to sing them the way they were written rather than how they were used to singing them. It was a complete failure each time, and only succeeded in annoying people.

If you were in a musical vacuum with a congregation starting from scratch on a hymn, it would be different. But you're not going to get a large group of people, such as a parish, to change their singing of something that's been reinforced by decades of experience.


Gavin said...

A couple things in my toolbox come to mind:

- Good "breathing". That is to say, on the Old 100th, play the final note of each phrase as roughly a quarter note and quarter rest. It both makes the organ "louder" for the beginning of the next phrase and the silence indicates the phrase is ended.

- Ritardando. There's some controversy over at NLM on this right now, but I think some hymn tunes benefit from a sliiight slowing down at the ends of the phrases. That way you can make the "CES" just a LITTLE longer. This will make the congregation feel like they got their familiar length and they'll move along well enough. And besides, this is just plain good technique for hymns with phrases which end in a short note (IN BABILONE is another example) Same thing for the OLD 100th.

I disagree with Father that one should just give in to what the congregation does. I ask, should this be done with pitch as well? It would be quite silly to play octave leaps in hymns as 7ths just because "that's how they sing it"! And an organist should have their hands and feet cut off should they fall behind on tempo because of the congregation! The key is TASTEFULLY correct. Both of the mentioned tunes would sound terrible if one just played them without breathing in extremely strict rhythm! One would not sing NUN DANKET with no pause between phrases, so why lead a congregation that way? I'd say take some time to figure out what works best singing and playing. Try a lot, and then STICK TO what works! If it sounds good, people will catch on.

What's with the fermatas? As you'll remember from playing Bach, a fermata didn't always indicate a hold! It indicated the end of a phrase. Unfortunately, someone somewhere saw a fermata on an old copy of NUN DANKET and thought "oh, you're supposed to hold there!" And now most congregations can't sing it right. Personally, I don't find that too horrible of an error; it probably would have been held out in the Baroque era. But like I said, find out what works and sounds good and then do it!

Finally, whatever you do, if there's some sort of variation in how people sing a piece, ALWAYS PLAY THE WHOLE TUNE THROUGH!!! That way visitors will know what to sing, and if your congregation's paying attention so will they :P

Cantor said...

Nun Danket: I add two extra beats for the breaths in the first two phrases--which makes sense, in light of that the breaths in the rest of the phrases are 3 beats long. So, I do the dotted halfs, too.

Old 100th: I play it as written (with breaths). I’ve never heard it sung the way you describe, actually.

Puff the Magic Dragon said...

On the reverse, what is the congregation to do, when our organist plays too fast. BTW , ther is no choir at the SUnday mass we attend, the Organist cantors our mass.

Anonymous said...

In disagree with Fr. it without any pauses, and let the bastards catch up. Most hymns are played way too slow in parishes I've been to.

Gavin said...

It isn't a matter of the organist being too fast. People can sing fast. It's a matter of proper phrasing. No one would say "NowthankweallourGodwithheartandhandandvoiceswhowondrousthingshasdoneinwhomhisworldrejoiceswhofromourmothersarms...." so why play it to be sung that way? A pause between phrases is absolutely necessary to catch the breath.

Bear-i-tone said...

Thank you Gavin for the correction, but unfortunately it doesn't change the fact aht the congregation doesn't sing because what he plays doesn't match the hymnal.