Fundamentally, there are five basic elements to singing songs (which include hymns) successfully:
- Pitch – how high or low the notes are
- Rhythm – the pattern of the notes
- Pulse – the beat upon which rhythm sits – usually 2, 3 or 4 time
- Tempo – the speed of the pulse
- Words – for communicating meaning
The pitch, pulse, rhythm and words set by the composer, with suggestions of tempo also given, usually in Italian. For choirs and orchestras, the pulse and tempo are communicated to the musicians by the conductor using a specialised type of semaphore:
The faster the conductor makes these beat patterns, the faster the music goes! Furthermore, the bigger the action the louder the music; the smaller the action, the quieter the music. When new songs are being learned, the conductor may also indicate the pitch of the notes by hand – this seems to be popular with new hymns at St Margaret’s!
Rhythm is more difficult to indicate using hand signals, but is terribly important. Essentially, rhythms can be ‘straight’ or ‘swung’ (also known as‘dotted’). Take “The Summons” for example:
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?
Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?
Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?
Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In Your company I’ll go where Your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.
At St Margaret’s and St George’s we usually sing this in a swung rhythm. For me, this suggests a dance – we are dancing with Jesus in an intimate relationship. There are other parishes that consider this rhythmic version as vulgar, and insist on singing The Summons in a straight rhythm. For me, this suggests that we are running to try and keep up with Jesus.
Have a listen for yourself, and feel the difference made by rhythm!
https://youtu.be/o469PRLdbHU Straight (and slow)