Church-Hacker #16: Impromptu Ward Choir

BCC reader Joanne has an easy way to fill out too-short sacrament meetings (we’re assuming there is such a thing):

(“The Holy Ghost led them…to sing” — Moroni 6:9)

When the Sacrament Meeting talks finish unexpectedly early, why not fill the time with impromptu music instead of impromptu speaking? The person conducting Sacrament Meeting could invite all willing congregants to come forward and sing a hymn of their choosing as a group. Those folks would have one minute to quickly decide how to sing the hymn (1st verse unison, 2nd verse men, etc.).

Another alternative would be for the bishopric and music chair to ask (in advance) a few versatile, confident musicians to prepare a few simple backup musical numbers for these situations.
Sounds good, right? I like the idea of an impromptu ward choir. The organist in my ward (the incomparable D. Fletcher), has been known to take to the podium before the closing hymn and organize a simple arrangement for it. Last week’s example, for Adam-Ondi-Ahman: All versus sung in unison, men sing the 2nd verse, women the 3rd, listen for the key change before the last verse, and repeat the last line three times.

Sometimes D. will also organize an impromptu hymn as his testimony on Fast Sundays. These off-the-cuff musical moments are often the highlight of my Sabbath.

Any similar experiences with impromptu music in your ward? (If not, you should totally move into mine.)


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  1. Once a few years and a few wards ago the speakers weren’t able to make it to church, so the bishop had us sing the entire time. Anyone could stand up and say what song they wanted us to sing and why, and then we’d sing one verse. Best sacrament meeting ever, especially because it was interesting to learn something a little different about various ward members because of the songs they chose.

  2. I’m having to comment anonymously here, since some people in the Bloggernacle know me and members of my ward in real life.

    The problem with this idea is that you need an organist who can play all the hymns. (At tempo!) Not every ward has a D. Fletcher. (Sadly!) My ward’s current organist is kind of in the category of beginner (to be generous), and the idea in the post would be a painful experience for all concerned.

    But if you have a good organist, go for it!

  3. “The problem with this idea is that you need an organist who can play all the hymns. (At tempo!)”

    I think most the wards that suffer from a tempo problem (and I believe the vast majority do have such a problem) could fix it with the simple presence and regular use of a metronome.

    If the organist isn’t talented enough, you could probably substitute a piano and pianist instead. Most chapels have a piano, and talented pianists are a lot more common than talented organ players.

  4. I’d consider bribing speakers to end early …

  5. esodhiambo says:

    I cannot imagine who in my ward would choose to be a part of an “impromptu” choir, other than regular choir members, and not even all of those. It would undoubtedly be a very sad group. Why not simply have the entire congregation sing? I love D. Fletcher’s instructions, and a chorister could do the very same thing.

  6. There have been a handful of times where I have had a Bishopric member get up and say something to the effect of, “I would like to invite all of the men present to join me on the stand for a suprise special musical number.” Some went up only because of social pressure or because their wives or mothers forced them, but those were all good experiences, at least for me.

    I agree with the tempo problem issue. Most wards sing/play the hymns way too slow. My wife always mutters under her breath about how she is tired of singing “funeral dirges”

  7. As a pianist, when I’m struggling with tempo problems it’s not because I lack a metronome (or a decent conductor who should be functioning as a metronome) so much I was told, “Play this hymn now,” and I’m sight-reading it as I go. I’m not a good sight-reader where hymns are concerned.

  8. Looks like D. is in good company — Elder Caussé of the Seventy will sometimes wrap up his talk and then head over to the piano for an impromptu recital. He did it at our Stake Conference a couple of years ago. (Or maybe it was last year.)

  9. Our ward organist has complained of the slow tempo, but the chorister gives her the stink eye when/if she tries to speed it up.

  10. Bad idea. Nothing worse for a missionary than bringing a prime investigator family to church and ending up with hymns like “If You Could Hie To Kolob”, “Praise To The Man”, and “O My Father” all in the same meeting. Great hymns, hard to explain.

    Our ward used to have “Hymnbook Choirs”, where anyone who wanted to sing went to the front and sang from the hymnbook. We got instructions from the Stake to knock it off.

    I’m already of the opinion tht we have way too much music as it is. I’d be thrilled with elimination of the rest hymn and the closing hymn. We tend to do music so badly as a church, it often seems that it would be better to skip it altogether.

  11. I love this idea! I think all the other versions mentioned would be great, too. A ward could just choose what the best would be for them. I wonder how this would go over in my own ward, particularly the organist’s musical testimony. Based on my experience I’m not sure some of my past super-strict bishops would have allowed it, but I’d like to think so, because I think it would be lovely.

    I have to echo Janell’s comment, too–being asked to play when you’re not a good sight-reader is really hard.

  12. Two experiences here:

    1. We used to have a high councilor with a beautiful voice. He would regularly include a song as part of his HC talk when he spoke. He simply step away from the mic, sing his number and then return to the mic.

    2. We had a high councilor responsible for music a few years ago who was charged with arranging for special music in PH leadership and stake PH meetings. As often as not, he’d stand in the meeting and say something like, “All brethren with birthdays in January, May or August are now invited to come forward and sing…” People were pretty good natured, and enough brothers sang parts so that it sounded kind of interesting, and no one had to miss time away from home to rehearse.

  13. For me the only problem would be when the only thing worse than the speakers’ talks is the singing voices of the ward members…..

  14. Peter LLC says:

    I hear you, Ram. The obvious solution is to cut the talks and singing out altogether so we can get to the Sunday School (or home, as the case might be).

  15. This is a great idea that was tried one time when there were no talks. However too much music is no longer allowed.

    After conferring with our area authority, who agreed with him, our stake president has forbidden the singing of more than 4 hymns during a sacrament meeting except for the primary program. After a several emails and a one hour meeting we were finally able to obtain exceptions for a Christmas and Easter program. I guess it depends how one reads the handbook.

  16. David Elliott says:

    One of the wards we share our building with occasionally presents its “no-guilt choir”, which never rehearses. (Hence, no guilt over missing rehearsals.) Usually there are about 20 singers who can carry a tune and sing parts. It works for that ward but would never fly in ours because we simply don’t have the musical talent to pull it off.

  17. “Our ward organist has complained of the slow tempo, but the chorister gives her the stink eye when/if she tries to speed it up.” (9)

    One of the most important skills a ward organist can learn is to figure out if the music director knows about correct tempo for congregational music, and if not, how to ignore said music director.

    I personally liked each of the women who directed music while I played the organ, but I certainly didn’t care what they thought about the tempo! They got used to me soon enough. And so did the congregation. But it took just one week of a substitute organist for the congregation to slow down to the Normal Mormon Tempo (NMT) so every time I was off for a week or more, I had to retrain the congregation and director to sing at correct tempo. It’s an ongoing process. And for those of us who are not operating at the level of D. Fletcher, it takes a metronome, so the music director and congregation don’t cause the tempo to drag.

    And, like several people have mentioned, you can substitute a piano, but you need to check with your music committee beforehand if you’re going to try anything like this. The rest of the music committee could make sure that the pianist or organist wasn’t saying yes under duress (due to social expectation) but didn’t really have the skill level to sight read in front of an audience.

  18. Great, a metronome. Now there’s a device to help dispel the feeling of everyone being required to be in lock-step with the leaders.

  19. I am our ward organist. For some reason, the bishopric has chosen not to call anyone with any musical skill as the chorister for the last two times, so they have no idea what the tempo of ths hymns should be. For this reason, the first app I got for my smartphone was a metronome. I set it on silent mode, and I follow as it flashes a light to the tempo. Sometimes it takes until the third verse before the entire congregation catches up–but if it’s a song like “I Believe in Christ,” you still have half the song to go.

  20. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Impromptu “choirs” are a terrible idea. Impromptu congregational singing is great, but impromptu choir sends the message that music requires no work or planning or investment of any kind–it’s a message every choir director has to fight mightily to make any decent music happen in Sacrament Meeting. We have a terrible, terrible idea that we can be spiritually edified without doing any work–it’s why Deseret Book sells so much crap, why we are among the foremost ritual butchers of Handel’s _Messiah_ every year, why we hang cheap reproductions of Del Parsons’ Jesus in all of our chapels, and why Catholics and Anglicans will be in charge of literature, art, and music in the Millennium.

  21. Ha. I attended a hair-raising performance of Messiah last year. I will not name the poor, benighted stake which put on the production. They finished off the mind-numbing evening with a rousing rendition of “I Believe in Christ.” It would have turned your hair gray, Kristine.

    Someone different is in charge of the event this year, but I do not think I have the strength of mind to subject myself to a similar painful experience. (Why oh why don’t they do an evening of carols??)

  22. and why Catholics and Anglicans will be in charge of literature, art, and music in the Millennium.

    Well, yes–Bruce Springsteen was raised Catholic, but I don’t think that’s the sole reason he’ll be the boss.

  23. Gee, Kristine, why don’t you tell us how you really feel?

  24. “I’m already of the opinion tht we have way too much music as it is. I’d be thrilled with elimination of the rest hymn and the closing hymn.”

    It really is true that if you live long enough, you’ll hear or read just about everything imaginable.

  25. Amen Kristine!!!

  26. What Kristine said. Our ward has had struggles making choir happen and went the “insta-choir” route (they WERE calling it the “no-guilt choir” until we moved in and basically demanded at least a name change)…mercifully got thrown out recently after a change in bishops.

  27. I was in the Arlington. MA ward during college, and this idea would have worked wonderfully there. (The Relief Society used to delay starting their meeting just so they could listed to the Priesthood opening song, which was sung a capella.) Oh, the memories.

    It would not work as well in some of the other wards I’ve attended, but I like the idea of time filler at the end being music instead of unprepared, non-volunteer talks and/or testimonies.

    Why we would need time filler in the first place is a different issue . . .

  28. But Ray, years of thinking that was enough in the Arlington ward means they’ll never manage Bach’s b-minor mass for Easter again. Raw talent is useless without rehearsal.

  29. Kristine, if that was the ONLY choral music, sure – but if it happened only occasionally? In that ward, I’d have no problem with it as an exceptional occurrence.

    I never even hinted about it being “enough” – and I don’t read in the OP that it is being suggested as a substitute for regular choir performance or other special music. The question is: “Should we sing more or talk more when a Sacrament Meeting ends early?” That’s totally different than: “Should we do away with prepared choral music?”

    Again, why this even is a question (why we can’t just end early, which I have seen done in multiple wards in my lifetime), is a completely different question – with a fairly simple answer.

  30. But, Frank, the one place where the church must follow its leaders in lockstep is in congregational singing.

    As to Michael, he and anyone else who in the future refers to anything sung in Sacrament meeting as a “rest hymn” should be excommunicated on the spot.

    And, I agree with everything Kristine said. Right down to the 23 O’s.

  31. Wait. Who has a problem with a “too short sacrament meeting”? The best way to become instantly loved by your ward is to be the last speaker and end early! Why screw that up for someone? If you are going to do this idea at least plan it in. Put it in the announcements as a surprise and then have fun watching as the potential insta-choir starts trying to coordinate over their Iphones and sign language without trying to distract the other speakers. :)

    I am also with the complaints of hymns sung well below the marked speeds. It is the one area where I would love correlation and strict obedience to actually work. If you believe the hymns were inspired and the hymn book itselt is inspired *for the love all that is holy* please believe the tempo ranges are COMMANDMENTS not GUIDELINES. I advice making a special point of thanking any chorister or organist who stubbornly keeps us within the marked range and lavish praise if they dare play at the upper tempo range. In my experience, almost all songs sung in the Church are sung at least 25% below the lowest marked tempo.

    The best choir director I have ever seen was a former professional musician in a student branch that frankly had drawn from the low-end of the musical gene pool. He was great because he chose music that fell within the marginal abilities of said choir. He made below average Mormon signers sound better than all those others wards with great singers who get a little too ambitious or overestimate their abilities. As much as I would love to see an expansion of the hymn book outside of its narrow, parochial selections, I also shudder at the thought of watching some overachieving soloist butcher a black gospel rendition of Amazing Grace twice a year.

  32. Kristine #20 wrote: “and why Catholics and Anglicans will be in charge of literature, art, and music in the Millennium.”

    Except for in the seedy and dark corners of the Mormon Celestial Realm, where we will be haunted by mediocre singing for a thousand years, because we never succeeded in creating quality choirs (with the exception of the MTC, but then they won’t be in the seedy and dark corners).

  33. Back in my old Single’s Ward, we did something along these lines a few times with congregational singing . . . people could randomly go up to the podium, bear a short testimony of what a certain hymn meant to them, then pick one verse and then we’d, as a congregation, would sing it. It was AMAZING every single time I experienced it. LOVE it.

  34. We used to do something like this in my ward in college, a member would say their favorite hymn and why, person would play piano cause organ is too complicated, congregation would sing. We all loved it! Moved to New York, mentioned it to my Brooklyn Ward, we did it, LOVED IT! Moved back to Utah, mentioned it here, was told that they had received a letter from Salt Lake saying this type of meeting is innappropriate. Each of these meetings were the most spiritual meetings I have ever attended. My conclusion? I must have an innappropriate testimony.

  35. I am not a great singer. I like to sing because it brings the spirit. It saddens me that so many look down on people whose singing doesn’t meet their standards. Especially when some of those same people are so quick to be offended by anyone they precieve as judgemental or margializing

  36. No, rah, those metronome markings cannot be commandments, because in some cases even the top of the range is too slow.

  37. Nobody, Annon, is “looking down” on people whose singing doesn’t meet their standards. What people on this thread have objected to is the acceptance of mediocrity in choral performance–a crowd of half-hearted singers making a hash of a beautiful piece of music is an insult to the composers and to their Creator.

  38. Thanks, everyone. Ray summed up my idea in a few words: “Should we sing more or talk more when a Sacrament Meeting ends early?” I say we should sing — anything but calling up missionaries or auxiliary/priesthood leaders to bear testimony. Maybe ward music chairs can work out the details from there based on their ward personality and talent?

    What about the alternative idea in the OP — the bishopric and music chair ask (in advance) one or more talented musicians to prepare a simple musical number for these situations — never knowing when they will be called upon. Something simple but well done? Kristine, does this still send the message that music requires no work?

  39. How do you know they are half hearted? Some people are more talented than others. Who are you to judge? Only talented people get to particpate in church activities? Should we exclude people from church because they don’t meet our standards? Or just tell them to sit down and shut up? Who would want to make more than a half hearted effort if they knew they were just going to be looked down and critized?

  40. Glass Ceiling says:

    I think church choir should be a calling. There is nothing worse than some well-meaning soul who shows up for the first time the day before showtime and is off and flat. And ruins the choir.

    What is wrong with a little excellence every once in a while?

  41. it's a series of tubes says:

    a crowd of half-hearted singers making a hash of a beautiful piece of music is an insult to the composers and to their Creator

    Or perhaps, more charitably, “Jesus listening can hear the songs [the singers] cannot sing”.

    An insult to their Creator? Puh-leeze.

  42. it's a series of tubes says:

    What is wrong with a little excellence every once in a while?

    I agree – we should strive for it. Spending time listening to the choir in Lincoln Cathedral, and playing the piano in the chapterhouse, were some of the most transcendent experiences of my life. The chapterhouse has exquisite acoustics (you can see this room in the Da Vinci Code movie where they are opening the cryptex).

    I think we could do with a bit less arrogance and snobbery, though.

  43. Annon (35)–that’s EXACTLY why I think more (lots more!!) congregational singing would be great. I think everyone should sing regardless of what their voice sounds like. I’m not a particularly good singer myself. My only objection is to calling a group of volunteers up to sing and calling it a “choir” because it sends the message that choir rehearsals are a waste of time, and there’s no need to actually prepare. I think the question of talent should be essentially irrelevant to participation in music at the ward level (except for directors and pianists/organists, where some level of training is necessary for a basic level of functioning). I AM a snob, but not the kind that only ever wants to hear professionals making music :)

    Joanne (38)–Having a couple of musical numbers in one’s back pocket at all times is a strategy which should be adopted by all music chairs and bishoprics everywhere.

  44. tubes: If you don’t think it is an insult to God to do less than one’s very best, especially when it is something that we do in the name of His Only Begotten Son, then you have quite a different conception of God than I have.

    And, Annon: I didn’t pass judgment on anyone. Go read my comment again.

  45. I had a Bishop once who wanted to ask the Stake President if it was OK to call someone to NOT sing in the choir.

  46. series of tubes–what Mark B. said. No one is condemning people for not having great voices, or even for ending up with a mediocre result, but for not putting in any effort. Jesus may hear the songs we cannot sing, but he still might not like listening to the ones we don’t bother to practice.

  47. it's a series of tubes says:

    tubes: If you don’t think it is an insult to God to do less than one’s very best, especially when it is something that we do in the name of His Only Begotten Son, then you have quite a different conception of God than I have.

    This is good for some chuckles. Do you consider all the ways you, Mark B., personally fail to do less than your very best to be an insult to God? If so, at least you are intellectually consistent. If not, well, then your posts simply look like arrogance.

    I suspect God spends less time being insulted on his own behalf by the failings of his children, and more time wishing they were more charitable toward one another – but then clearly, I have quite a different conception of God than you do.

  48. Peter LLC says:

    what Mark B. said.

    Please, anything but. The world he inhabits would be hell.

  49. Seriously? Hell? For thinking that a choir should practice?

    It seems like there’s some sort of misunderstanding here.

  50. Ward choir is pretty far down on the list of things Jesus wishes I devoted more time to, Kristine.

    I’ll defend minimal choir practices, and even minimal effort. And I’ll get impatient with any choir director who expects me to take time away from my other Sunday responsibilities to learn a challenging piece, when a one-rehearsal piece would have sufficed.

    I’m a philistine, I know. But I’m also a great sight-reader so this is a moot point anyway.

  51. “Ward choir is pretty far down on the list of things Jesus wishes I devoted more time to, Kristine. ”

    Well, as long as you’re sure.

  52. I’m a bad enough hometeacher and YM president that I can be fairly confident…

  53. It’s been years since I ever thought about metronome markings for the hymns, so I thought that the speed fetish so many are eager to champion might be a little bit an over-reaction, since I have known about as many song leaders who were really hyped up or eager to get the hymn over with as those who were letting everyone get an early start on their naps.

    But I just went through about 100 of the first lines of hymns with the metronome markings and the complaints are absolutely right. No one should take those markings seriously. Not one in ten results in anything near what could be called a musical performance. Sweet Hour of Prayer at 42 to the dotted quarter? Torture. It can barely be redeemed at 63. How Firm a Foundation is a plodding disaster at 100 to the quarter. I would play it closer to 176. Most are not quite that far off, and some, like Sweet is the Work, He is Risen, and From All That Dwell below the Skies are about right at the top of the range. Best just to ignore them, however, and let the character of the music and text and the size of the congregation dictate the tempo. Of course, if you are just learning, and cannot play in time, the metronome is a useful tool.

  54. Amen, Bill.

    “He is Risen” and “For the Strength of the Hills” are probably my favorite hymns at a fast tempo, and my least favorite at a slow tempo.

  55. I have heard some stately hymns taken at a pace that rendered them almost frivolous, but apparently it is much more widespread to err on the other side.

  56. Just My Opinion says:

    About the “rest” hymn: Our bishop used to announce that we would have a “rest” hymn, and I guess someone must have mentioned that we shouldn’t used that term. So he announced (on two different Sundays) that we would sing a “congressional” hymn. I think most people completely missed it, but someone (the same someone?) must have mentioned it to the bishop, because now he’s back to calling it a “rest” hymn. Too bad. I rather liked the idea of “congressional.”

  57. Singing hymns faster than the recommended tempo at church? Unimaginable. I haven’t sung a hymn in church at even 80% of the slowest recommended tempo for months now. It doesn’t matter how easy the song is to play–they’re always played way too slow.

    I admit I was spoiled in my last ward, with an organist who actually knew what he was doing. The contrast is jarring. Music is one of the few true highlights of church for me. But it’s not nearly as much as a highlight when it’s done so poorly.

    As a missionary, small groups of us would get together in public places and sing (usually 4 to 6 missionaries at a time), a cappella. We found that it was always easier to stay in tune if we sang at a fast tempo, so we sang at the highest recommended tempo or higher. But that was purely intentional, We never sang that fast if we had a piano or organ to keep us from going flat.

  58. My sister was in a ward in Southern California that sang “Congressional” hymns for years. Too bad they couldn’t have sung “Ye Simple Souls Who Stray” every week.

    As soon as we start having “rest” prayers, I’ll sign up to sing “rest” hymns for the rest of my life.

  59. “Best just to ignore [metronome markings], however, and let the character of the music and text and the size of the congregation dictate the tempo.” (53)

    Do you play organ, Bill? Have you ever accompanied a congregation? Or worked with a music director? And if so, have you done so with people with varying levels of musical skill and training?

    (It doesn’t sound like it.)

  60. You want fast enough hymns? Have a teenager lead your music, one who is a very good violinist and also placed third in the state track meet running the 1600 meters in 4:23. I had to concentrate to sing when such a lad conducted our ward; if my attention wavered, I would lose the beat, have to stop, and pick a place to jump back in.

  61. “Last week’s example, for Adam-Ondi-Ahman: All versus sung in unison, men sing the 2nd verse, women the 3rd, listen for the key change before the last verse, and repeat the last line three times.”

    Thinking and singing are two very different functions that could result in blood-stained ugly carpet due to head explosions. Though it might help ward moral.

  62. Anon–you’ve SERIOUSLY misunderstood Bill. I’ll let him correct your misperception if he wants to, but your question is pretty hilarious.

  63. Why hilarious? When I played the organ, it was a constant struggle to keep the tempo up. The music directors would get slower and slower by the verse, and it’s hard to keep ignoring them, since I was trained to watch them, and the congregation would also tend to slow down as they sang and so the organ had to constantly struggle against both the director and congregation. Perhaps other people have had different experiences or worked in wards with people who knew how to direct music and sing.

    And with our current organist, the songs tend to be played well below the bottom recommendation, and with a very random rhythm, so the idea of even being able to consider things like the actual content of the music sounds wildly utopian. But perhaps I’ve been a bit frustrated by my experience in a small, musically limited ward and stake.

  64. Please consider that metrognomes aren’t an option for those of us that live in rural areas without access to magical dwarves.

  65. In other words, the reality of church music on the ground more often consists of helping musicians get to the point of some competency, and it can be a difficult or impossible task. We have an excellent and professional organist attending our ward, and this organist has offered free training to the current organist, but has been repeatedly refused.

    So, Bill’s words rankled a bit. I wish our ward was at a place where tempo could be decided by such considerations, but tempo is currently being decided by incompetency.

    (And saying something like that about an actual person who I am friends with in real life and who has a new baby and two other church callings and whose husband has a demanding new career and is elder’s quorum president is why I’m commenting as “anon” here.)

  66. I think he was just talking about how he sets the tempo when he is playing.

  67. Now, gst, when did the magic dwarves abandon the countryside and take up city living? Some Great Society relocation program that’s still going strong?

  68. D. Fletcher says:

    I guess I need to weigh-in about tempos for hymns. In my experience, some hymns magically come to life when played *slower* than usual. “He is Risen” is one of these; also “Lead, Kindly Light.” Playing something at a slow tempo actually requires more focused energy and concentration, not less, particularly from the chorister. The problem with hymn-singing in most meetings is a lack of attention and energy, not tempo. P.S. I’m not a trained organist, but I am a trained pianist. I have never used a metronome in my life, and I wouldn’t know how to choose a tempo from a tempo marking in the score, which I usually think of as a useful tool for learning the music, nothing more.

  69. D. Fletcher says:

    For a wonderful new experience, try “I Have Work Enough To Do,” #224, in solemn and reverent manner, at about 60 = half note.

  70. I can see how my phrase was misinterpreted. Letting circumstances “dictate” was meant not in the sense of ceding control, but in the sense of taking them into consideration. I mentioned the size of the congregation because generally one would want to play a little faster for a smaller group (also for an inexperienced group – a big well-trained group such as the tabernacle choir can sing really slowly and sometimes still sound good). And I mentioned sensitivity to the text and character of the music to elevate them above rigid and arbitrary guidelines for selecting tempos. Sometimes one might want to alter the tempo within a hymn, playing a final verse more broadly, for example, in conjunction with a registration change. A short interlude can prepare the new tempo; who wants to plow through “And should we die before our journey’s through” at exactly the previous tempo as if nothing was happening?

    But as you note, Anonymous, these higher order considerations don’t really apply to incompetents who are struggling just to avoid any obvious mistakes.

  71. Thanks, Bill. I really didn’t mean to be offensive. I guess I’m just feeling a little sensitive right now with Christmas coming up, and the thought of singing all the Christmas carols v e r y slowly.

  72. D. Fletcher says:

    Here’s a little tip: the tempo that is set by the organist and chorister should be kept up by them, even if the congregation lags behind. There is a tendency to wait for the singers, and this will always, always make the tempo get slower and slower, particularly with organ accompaniment. And when the organist is waiting for the chorister, who is waiting for the congregation, it can be deadly. But if you find a tempo and stick to it, the congregation will find it too, and you will all be together. When this happens, even a slower tempo works out well.

  73. Being late can have a certain beauty, which makes it important for the tempo setters to not wait for the straggler to catch up. He can’t straggle if they won’t leave him half a beat behind. Think of Willie Nelson, or dancing a waltz.

  74. Or Ives’s Little Star of Bethlehem, which writes in that effect.

  75. D. Fletcher says:

    I’m not going to take a side on the impromptu choir issue, but I would like to use the opportunity for a plea: please come support the ward choir, sing with us, and commune with us. And bring your children, if you need to. We love children. And we love music, and we love making beautiful music, which is sometimes beyond the realm of the hymnbook. If the brethren would recognize the importance of music in our meetings (and can you imagine a meeting without music at all?) and mention in General Conference how much they love and appreciate the ward choirs, I think people might want to come more often. It’s a pleasure singing with other people, and a pleasure giving that harmony away to others to hear and appreciate. Music is a glorious kind of communion.

  76. (Music is used to wake people up between speakers, a meeting without music would be a glorified nap. Depending on the topic of the day it might be better to have no music and let the people sleep.)

    No amount of ward choir GC praising is going to make me stay an extra hour.

  77. What’s really sad is that the scripture quoted in the opening post is ignored. We follow a regimented schedule, often forbidding people to sing instead of speak. When we have the Spirit of Christ like we ought to have, our meetings will be where we meet, not where we hold preplanned, preapproved sessions.

  78. AndrewJDavis says:

    Back to the OP: In my last ward in Connecticut, I would lead an impromptu choir in singing hymns as prelude to Sacrament meeting a few times a month. This was in addition to me leading the actual ward choir. Our impromptu group was to specifically invite those who’s callings made it difficult (think NewlyHousewife’s (#76) comment) to come to regular rehearsals. I loved it, and people in the congregation actually shut up during the prelude, which was great!

    But, the only way music will get better is if the Bishops get better training. They should obey the handbook: ensure NO OTHER MEETINGS are EVER held during ward choir. They should ensure people called to musical callings are getting any required training. They should set the example and SHUT UP during prelude (and in my opinion postlude to, but that may be asking too much). They should prepare and plan for music far better than 80% of bishops I’ve seen actually do. And they need to delegate most (if not all) musical decisions to people who actually know something about music. Such as: knowing which organists/pianists can play all the hymns and which can’t, so that you can ask someone to play a hymn on the spot without putting too much stress on people. Delegate that responsibility to a competent ward music chairperson, as no bishop I’ve ever had except my dad knew enough about the musical talents in the ward to know who could play on the spot.

  79. Some of our best ward traditions have included an all-favorite hymns Sacrament Meeting where the organist is on the spot to play whatever’s comes up that day.

    But another fun tradition has been a summertime “favorite hymns prelude” where folks submit their favorite hymns one week and the organist/music people choose 3-4 for the congregation to sing together before church the next week. The organist gets time to practice and the congregation comes in early in hopes of singing their favorite hymn.

    And, in addition to the hints D. Fletcher gives about not following the congregation, if the person waving a hand at the audience is waving too slowly, distracting you from playing at the right tempo, slide the hymnbook over so you don’t have to look at the waving and then play on. Will someone complain that you’re playing too loud and fast? Probably. Invite them to take your place at the bench next week.

  80. LRC: I have done the “favorite hymns prelude” with good results. I even got permission to print in the bulletin some background about the hymns (or the person whose favorite hymns are being played that day).

  81. Joanne, that’s a great idea for a future Church-hacker…including background info on the hymns in the bulletin. Love it!

  82. I used to do that every week–I think I posted a couple of them at T&S back in the day. I also used to play music during that awkward trickling-in time when I was teaching gospel doctrine–classical settings of the texts we were studying, or related ones, and I’d give out a sheet of notes about the music for them to read, along with a few “must-read” verses from the reading assignment (which, occasionally, people would not have read in its entirety ;) )

  83. D. Fletcher, I figured you must be the D. Fletcher who will be playing my ward’s organ on 11/27! Enjoy! I’ll take the day off and let Kathryn lead the singing.

  84. D. Fletcher says:

    I had some more thoughts about tempos. Though I agree that the tempos in many wards are on the slow side, I’m not sure this is the problem. The real problem is lack of energy. When the hymn-singing becomes rote or ritualized, that tends to make the music go slower, mostly from a lack of interest. Many musicians, choristers, and singers in the congregation feel the need to “pick it up,” to go faster, to instill some energy in the music and hence, the meeting. But simply changing the tempo may not fix the problem. Many orchestra conductors on Broadway and elsewhere know that a show tends to get faster over time and many performances, because a faster tempo seems to have more energy. A good conductor knows that his job is to keep the tempo from getting too fast, because if it gets too fast, the details are lost, the dancers can’t do all their steps, the sixteenth notes become a blur, etc. Faster tempos encourage mistakes. My experience playing the organ for good choristers in our Ward, is that they always want to go fast, faster, but this obliterates the details of the music. Meanwhile, a slow tempo with real energy and concentration can be very beautiful. Some of the anthems in our hymnbook are always taken too fast, such as “Now Let Us Rejoice.” I’ve heard some people say, it should be in “one,” that is, one beat per measure (it’s written 3/4). I think this is wrong, it isn’t that fast, and taking it that fast pretty much ruins it.

  85. D. Fletcher says:

    I’ll be playing the organ in the Yale Ward sacrament meeting on November 27, Martine, if that’s your ward.

  86. Can we make nominations for “intstructional / educational comment of the week / month”?

    If so, I nominate #84.

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