Are you looking for ways to bring a spirit of renewal to your worship this fall? One way to do that is to breathe new life into your congregational hymn-singing through the addition of istruments, soloists, children, concertato arrangements, reharmonizations, and antiphony.
The songs on these pages share three characteristics that might help you encourage revitalized hymn-singing in your worship this fall:
- a variety of ethnic origins
- the possibility of involving children, youth, or adults in providing rote handbell (or handchime or Orff instruments) obbli-gatos, ostinati, or harmonic foundations
- potential as processionals. Use these hymns to make
a joyful noise together this fall. You'll find that exposure to alternate ways of singing and accompanying hymns increases alertness, interest, and joy in congregational singing.
"Song of Hope" or "Canto de Esperanza" is a versatile hymn of hope and commitment that will lead the congregation emotionally into the fall season. Its characteristic Spanish rhythm at each phrase ending and its stepwise motion make this Argentine hymn easy to learn and uplifting to sing. The first stanza, translated from traditional Spanish in 1984, is set to a traditional Argentine folk melody. A second English stanza was added by Tom Mitchell (Choristers Guild, 1993) and was then translated into Spanish.
Introduce the refrain the first week as a prayer response. Piano and guitar provide the best accompaniment. For week two, use the entire hymn, introduced again by guitarists, perhaps as a sermon response or closing hymn. By week three children from church school or a choir could present the refrain in Spanish. Here is a guide to pronunciation:
Oh-ray-mohs pour la paz, cahm-tay-mohs deh too-a-more.
Loo-chay-mohs pour la paz,
ee-lace ah tee, Say-nyour.
The harmonic pattern is consistent throughout both verse and chorus for each phrase. Playing that pattern in half notes four times will take you through the entire song:
This repetitive harmony presents a perfect opportunity to process with handbells, handchimes, and/or Orff instruments. Mark all G, B, and D instruments with quarter-inch round red labels; all A, C, E with blue; and all D, F-sharp, A, C with yellow. Playing a red, red, blue, blue, yellow, yellow, red, red sequence in half-note rhythm produces the harmonic foundation. The children, youth, or adults can learn the sequence in about ten minutes. Volunteers can play and process on an extended introduction and can also accompany the singing.
If you use handbells for the procession, the ringers can vary the style of the chordal accompaniment from the following suggestions once they arrive at the tables. (Please note that each verse and refrain statement should end with a rhythm of a half note in the last measure.
An anthem setting of "Song of Hope," arranged by Tom Mitchell, is available from Choristers Guild (CGA 638) for unison voices with keyboard, percussion, and optional vocal and instrumental descants. The melody is consistent with the congregational version, so a concertato setting can be arranged with the congregation joining on cue, or through instructions in the worship bulletin.
Use your imagination with this hymn! Teach the congregation the Spanish text, especially the refrain, using it as a response on World Communion Sunday (October) to emphasize our musical ties with Christians of other cultures. Create a hymn festival using this and other Hispanic hymns available in many denominational hymnals. Support the ethnic style of the hymns by ringing settings of other Hispanic hymns for prelude, interlude, or postlude. Two possibilities are "Spanish Praise," an arrangement of two hymns for 3-5 octaves of handbells and percussion by Hart Morris (Genevox 4184-52) and "When We Are Living" (Somos del Senor) for 3-5 octaves arranged by Kevin MeChesney (Augsburg 11-10631).
In some congregations the commissioning of volunteers or church school teachers takes place in September worship. Use "Song of Hope," especially the refrain, as a sung response in a litany of commissioning, or as a response to a commissioning segment.
Continuing the emphasis on music of various ethnic origins and with handbell/handchime/Orff potential, the October suggestion is "In Christ There Is No East Or West" set to mc kee, an African American spiritual. This hymn text by John Oxenham (a pseudonym for William Arthur Dunkerley), as presented in the Presbyterian Hymnal, expresses our Christian unity, using the themes of Galatians 3:28: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ" (NRSV). Michael A. Perry's adapted and expanded version of John Oxenham's hymn appears in the Psalter Hymnal. Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949), singer and composer, arranged the tune MC KEE from the African American spiritual "I Know the Angel's Done Changed My Name," which was included in Fisk University's Jubilee Songs of 1884.
Both the text, with its description of the unity of all Christians, and the tune, with its African American origin, make this hymn an excellent choice for World Communion Sunday, the first Sunday of October. As with many hymn tunes of folk or spiritual origin, the harmonization for organ and four-part congregational singing can detract from the simplicity and accessibility of the tune. Plan ahead to introduce this tune without the hymnal harmonization. Use an unaccompanied flute, violin, or clarinet on the melodic line as an introduction. Or present the tune on the organ without harmonization so that the congregation can learn the hymn in unison. For an introduction, play through the tune with a lilt by feeling two beats per measure with an upbeat tempo.
Another effective alternative is to have an unaccompanied soloist sing the first stanza or two, demonstrating the style for the congregation. The second week, one or all of these simple hand-bell/handchime and percussion parts could be added (seep. 21).
Once again a team of youth or adult volunteers willing to spend thirty minutes of preparation could present the percussion and ringing parts. A church school class or a children's choir also could learn the parts with a little more teaching time. Only the melody should be supplied on the organ, piano, or another instrument.
This combination of handbells or handchimes and percussion with flute on the melody makes a good processional or entrance for a children's choir. The flutist should memorize the melody and walk with the group. The whole hymn could be played through more than once as the layers are added. The procession should be casual, with the choristers moving to the music, turning to right and left, pausing in their forward motion to make eye contact and smile at congregation members. As they enter, they should clap to the music and encourage the congregation to join in the clapping. When the participation catches on, start the singing with a cue to congregation and organist. Body movement, which is essential to enjoying this kind of music, needs to be demonstrated and encouraged for most congregations.
For later use of mc kee consider a more traditional organ introduction. Several organ collections include settings of MC KEE:
- Sent Forth: Short Postludes for the Day by Robert J. Powell (Augsburg Fortress 11-10612)
- Twelve Hymn Preludes for General Use by Peter Pindar Stearns (Harold Flammer 5145)
- Suite on Afro-American Hymn Tunes by Charles Callahan (Concordia 97-6081)
- Seven Hymn Improvisations and Free Accompaniments, Set 2 by Michael Burkhardt (Morning Star 10-860)
- Hymn Preludes and Free Accompaniments, vol. 20 by Stephen Gabrielsen (Augsburg Fortress 11-9418)
The Michael Burkhardt improvisation is delightful and simple, fitting well with the earlier presentations of this hymn. The Burkhardt free accompaniment also is simple harmonically and very easy to sing with. The Gabrielsen prelude and free accompaniment use more complex harmonies and should be presented when the congregation has more confidence with the tune and text.
A service or hymn festival honoring our heritage of African and African American hymns could also include the following instrumental settings:
- the Charles Callahan suite for organ mentioned above, which contains settings of four hymn tunes of African American origin
- "Come Let Us Eat," a setting of A VA DE for 3-5 octaves of handbells and percussion (CGB 152)
- "Jesus, We Want to Meet," a setting of JESU A FE PADE for 3-5 octaves of handbells and percussion (AG 35064)
- "Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley" for 3-5 octaves of bells arranged by Valerie Stephenson (JeffersJH 59133)
- "Every Time I Feel the Spirit" arranged by Ingram for 3-5 octaves of handbells (Lorenz HB 370)
Joy and excitement are contagious when congregations get drawn into singing a tune such as promised ONE, an Israeli folk melody. In The Presbyterian Hymnal (177) Psalm 24 is set to this tune. (In many other hymnals "The King of Glory" is set to this tune.)
Many congregations will already know this tune. For those that do not, a soloist can lead the first presentation. Indicate that the congregation is to join the soloist on a repetition of the refrain before the first verse and again after each of the succeeding extended verses. (Point out to the congregation that the refrain is sung only after the verses ending with an R.) Piano and/or guitar accompaniment is recommended.
The second week the congregation will be ready to sing without a soloist. Add some of the suggested easy-to-learn handbell or percussion ostinati found on page 23.
The instrumentalists can lead a gradual accelerando throughout to heighten the energy and enthusiasm of the singing. Additional percussion, presentation suggestions, and the little descant ending for the final refrain are also found in the Psalter Hymnal and Songs for LiFE.
For another week, divide the congregation for antiphonal singing, perhaps by center aisle: One side of the aisle sings the first phrase of each verse, and the other side answers. Each couplet divides conceptually, and the antiphonal style echoes the couplet style of the psalm. Everyone sings on the refrain, perhaps once again with a bit of percussion.
Shirley McRae has arranged PROMISED ONE in a small collection of unison anthems for children's choir with Orff instrumentation and presentation suggestions ("Lift Up Your Voices," CGA622). The text in this setting is the text from the Psalter Hymnal, but the Orff, obligato, and movement suggestions can be used with either text.
The content of the psalm and the mood of the setting make this hymn appropriate for a season of Thanksgiving. The refrain also can be carried into the Advent season as a congregational opening, or sung with the Advent candle lighting or as a congregational response.