Playing Hymns

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Fishsta, Nov 17, 2003.


Your method for playing hymns?

  1. Four-Bar Phrases

  2. Staggered Breathing

  1. Fishsta

    Fishsta Active Member

    All bands play hymns differently. I'm not sure there's a right and wrong way, but I'd be interested to know how you play them:

    1) The four-bar phrase
    Whereby all the band breathes together at the end of every four-bar phrase (or whatever length the particular phrase is)

    2) Staggered breathing
    Whereby the band breathes in such a way that the bars are filled out to the end, giving the written notes their full value, without leaving big gaps in the music.

    Some say that (1) is the correct way, as when you're singing a hymn, you would breathe in at the end of a phrase. I've always been taught to play to method (2), and personally feel that this is the best way, keeping the sound alive.

    Your opinion?
  2. Keppler

    Keppler Moderator Staff Member

    when you're singing a hymn you usually use words as well though..

    I tend to prefer method 2, although we use method 1.

    All phrasing together is more useful for warming up purposes (for us anyway)

    I think it depends on the hymn in question. Some will sound better withsound continuity, some with definate phrase breaks
  3. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    When Dick Ridings took over as MD of my old band, he was very keen on the continuous sound approach, and I think it is the best way, providing it is coupled with a conductor who is following the words. That way, you can stretch things out at those points where the singers are taking a breath, whilst still keeping a continuous flow.

    If following other phrasing, this may well vary from verse to verse and be more open to interpretation - either way, it is vital that the conductor is on the ball and that the band are watching him :!:

    Another question with hymn-tune playing is whether or not to play an introduction. In our own meetings we tend not to, but they are usually expected when we are playing for united events. If we do play an intro, we normally try to make it the last few bars. At least with a band the singers can normally then come straight in without the extended first note favoured by some organists.
  4. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    I Think it depends on the context; if you are using the Hymn Tune as a warm-up, or as a technical exercise in rehearsal, then both methods are equally valid, both being good exercises in developing different aspects of band technique.

    If, on the other hand you are playing to accompany congregational singing, there are other considerations. It is not necessarily true to say that a congregation will always breathe at the end of a "natural" musical phrase; a good church choir will often breathe mid-phrase, according to the punctuation of the words. Often, this will vary from verse to verse, so it can be a bit of a minefield. It used to be said that a good SA bandmaster would always conduct hymns (or songs, as they would call them) with both the tune book and the song book on his stand. (probably still is the case)

    The real question in my mind is what to do at a Hymn Tune contest? I would be most interested if we could see the results of a poll directed solely at adjudicators.........



    [Edit: Amazing! every time you think you've come up with a good point, someone else beats you to it! (sorry, Peter; BTW Stewart sends his regards)]
  5. andyp

    andyp Active Member

    I think hymns should be played as they would be sung (and that applies to all songs, not just hymns), but I prefer staggered breathing, with phrasing made to fit the words. For me, the "all breathe together" approach leaves too big a gap in the music. Church organists don't usually take their fingers completely off the keys/pedals at the end of every line (however you can tell if the organist is usually a pianist, the notes tend to be all short as the technique is different).It is good if your conductor can have the words in front of him as the phrasing may be different from verse to verse, a good example is the last verse of "Abide with Me", where the last line has two extra phrases in it.

    I would always do a "last line" intro where people are singing, generally it's what they're used to, and it gives them an idea of the key, which may well be different from what they're used to (more band versions are in flat keys, more organ books are in sharps, generally.)

    Couple more potential questions on hymn playing;

    When playing for a congregation to sing, do you follow them, or make them follow you?
    Would you make a rall at the end of each verse, or just the last one?
    Do you like to share the tune around (maybe flugel/euph)? (I do cos it gives us cornets a rest :) !)
  6. geordiecolin

    geordiecolin Active Member

    Ithink that when being performed, hymns should be played as sung, but don't a lot of bads use them for improving technique as well?

    If you play the phrases, you HAVE to watch the conductor and you have to listen. I remember when Mathew Knowles was MD at Dronfield and he used to have us playing hymns backwards, cornets starting at the beginning, everyone else at the end, changing the key sig for some people and not others, transposing them up and down..... the combinations were endless. I doubt very much they were entertaining (they sounded terrible!!) but they certainly made you listen and improved pitching!!

    Was great fun too!
  7. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    As to whether the band follows the congregation or vice versa I think it sometimes has to be a bit of a compromise, occasionally made more awkward if the meeting leader has his own idea of the tempo he wants the song to be taken at. To my mind, either as a player or a singer, there is nothing worse than rattling through a song that you prefer at a more dignified pace. Ultimately, though, the band's role is surely to enhance the worship and assist the congregaton to sing the words, so a battle between the two can only be detrimental; that being the case, an experienced band under a conductor is more able to change than the congregation.

    Personally, I dislike ralls in hymn tunes, apart from the occasional slowing up in the final verse, and then only if it is appropriate.

    I think it is good to share the melody around, particularly if there are a number of verses being sung without a break. We normally use the euphoniums on the tune to provide a contrast, sometimes with the cornets re-entering for the chorus if it is a bright song. We also use the trombones in unison on the melody for a change. With the more modern arrangements of choruses and songs such flexiblity is not so easy, as the arranger will quite often give the melody to the horns, using the solo cornets for decorative or answering figures or fanfares.
  8. andyp

    andyp Active Member

    Another good "concentration exercise" using a hymn tune.

    Pick a slow (minims/crotchets only) hymn where everyone's rhythm is the same. Then play it; 1st note as written, 2nd note divide in two, 3rd note divide in 3, 4th note in four, then back to 3,2,1,2,3,4,3,2,1.....etc.

    Very tricky!
  9. A J Foad

    A J Foad Member

    Absolutely! And the place where a rall is totally inappropriate is during the introduction. I've heard it done so many times! How on earth are the congregation supposed to get an idea of the tempo when the band put a dirty great rall at the end of the introduction.......??
  10. johnflugel

    johnflugel Active Member

    I think both techniques are valid, although my overall preference would be to phrase accordingly rather than stagger all the way through.

    I remember hearing Fodens complete an evening at Regent Hall before the Nationals, with 'St Clements/The day thou gavest' which was fantastic. They used some different combinations over 2-3 verses. 4/8 phrasing, just euph and flugel with tune, basses holding through. It was a lesson in how balanced and beautiful a band can sound, it often takes a simple tune to remind us........ well done Mr Tovey

    Rothwell Temps
  11. ted

    ted Member

    I think it's a mixture of both. Not everyone sings all the time, so the singer sings in phrases, and the support underneath stagger breath. (Unless there is an obvious end of a verse kinda break which the conductor should make obvious!)

    Hymns are part of our Nationals so we have to be good at playing them. I heard that Barrie Gott's way of adjudicating a hymn is that he sings to it, and if it feels unnatural to sing to then it's not a good performance. (so he must know the words to every hymn. which i think he will.)

  12. Accidental

    Accidental Supporting Member

    I agree hymns should be played as they would be sung, with four bar phrases, BUT I hate hearing big holes in the music and prefer the continuous sound you get with staggered breathing. IMHO one of the marks of a quality band is the ability to shape the phrases without everyone breathing in the same place!
  13. Cantonian

    Cantonian Active Member

    What we should remember is that a Hymn Tune is the musical accompaniment to a set of words. Thus the musical phrasing should be adapted to fit the words. This may well mean that every verse will be different depending on where the punctuation is.

    Unfortunately even in singing of Hymns it is usually the case that four bar phrases are used thus often making a nonsense of the words.

    When BM at Canton, Ivor Bosanko would conduct Hymn tunes with the words in front of him and we would phrase depending on the words, sometimes picking up the tempo or reducing it depending on what was in front of him. The congregation followed and the hymn singing was an act of worship rather than a musical interlude.
  14. Fishsta

    Fishsta Active Member

    This raises another question... As an intro, should it be the first line or two of the verse or the last line or two?

    I prefer the last few bars for an intro, but sometimes using the first few can actually be very effective.
  15. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    Purely a practical consideration; in my experience, if you try to use the first line or two as an introduction, half the congregation will join in and sing, not realising it's an intro.

    As a secondary consideration, you have to be careful that the intro ends on an appropriate chord for returning to the beginning; using the last line usually avoids any such problem.


  16. floral_dance

    floral_dance Member

    we tend to do option 1 but I much prefer continous playing in hymns.
  17. Railybobs

    Railybobs Member

    A very able SA Bandmaster by the name of BM Gordon kirsop of the Stockport Citadel SA Band uses Method 2.

    I tend to prefer it and most SA bands of a decent size tend to use it too. Continuous sound, seems to sound more whole and juicy (for want of a better expresion).
  18. ian perks

    ian perks Active Member

    It all depends on
    a=What dynamic you are playing
    b=are you playing the hynm by yourself/with a band.:D
  19. jpbray

    jpbray Member

    In the ENGINE ROOM of the band I breath when I can. I breath on the bar line my mate breaths in between.
  20. ploughboy

    ploughboy Active Member

    When playing with singers (choir or congregation) always phrases with the words, when playing just the band continues sound, organ like. Loads if bass!

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