Tuesday, September 23, 2008

bulletin article

I have been turning over in my mind for several weeks, a possible bulletin article.
This particular one will be in response to the occasional comment that I get:
"Mara, I really appreciate everything you've done here, but sometimes the songs are just so high, I can't really sing along..."

I know that some of my organ friends will have a lot to say on this issue...
I am going to now use this space to formulate my thoughts.

Objectives in writing this article:
-Demonstrate that it's not my fault that the songs seem high, but apologize that they seem that way for many people
-Explain why they seem high
-Explain what I as the organist occasionally do to lessen this burden upon the congregation

How I will do this:
-Explain how the SATB system of hymn writing works, and how we as Catholics in the congregation just sing the "melody line" which is actually for the sopranos
(at which point I can make a shameless plug for people to join the choir-- so they will always be singing a part that is comfortably in their range!)
-Point out that since people do have different ranges of singing (as demonstrated above) what is "too high" for one person is "just right" for someone else--perhaps I could even give examples, like Fr. G as opposed to the Deacon! tee hee. Or perhaps that would be unnecessary/innappropriate... :-)
-Explain how I often deliberately play the hymn in a lower key, either one that is written out somewhere besides the hymnal, or I spend hours practicing transposing it by sight. (ok, well, maybe not quite hours...but, what I would give for a little knob on my organ! Oh well, let's call it my "ongoing musical education.")

Sometimes I'm not sure exactly what people mean when they say things like, "your voice is too high to sing with," but I kind of wonder if they mean it just sounds high, (because it is usually men who say things like that,) or if they mean something other than that. I mean, because like if a man was singing from the choir loft, would they feel more comfortable singing with him?

What I might want to avoid:
-Discussing how much of the complaints about music being "too high" actually is just a result of people being either lazy or having untrained voices.
But maybe if I told them they had untrained voices, I could offer a class on how to sing better, and they might come! (or not.)


Gavin said...

Most people have large ranges. The case I always cite is the Mass of Creation Gloria, which has a high Eb people always belt out. And then they complain about a B in another hymn. So I suspect the issue is mainly psychological - something people don't KNOW they can do, they think they can't. Something they've done over and over, they can. That generally isn't something I'd put in a bulletin though... I'd also stay away from jokes about the priest. It's all in good fun, yes, but still one should avoid anything that can lead to offense being made at the clergy.

And I LOVE this point: "at which point I can make a shameless plug for people to join the choir-- so they will always be singing a part that is comfortably in their range!" DEFINITELY put that in there! And of course there's Ralph Vaughn Williams's quote I always use: "No man would go to church in his wife's hat, so why should he sing her part?"

Gavin said...

And I should add that my thesis stands up to testing - next time you have an ULTRA familiar hymn, take it up to just where you think your congregation can't sing. They'll sing it just as loud as ever. My experience has shown that you CAN get their range improved quickly. Just make a point to stretch the range. Spend a year with the highest note juuust a half step higher than what you think is the top. Then next year crank it up another. Soon they won't strain at Ebs, which is where I would put the top of the universal range. E is for the Christmas, Easter, and Marian hymns that everyone sings.