Notes for singers

Cloister, Aix-en-Provence

For singers and other participants, here’s an outline of what we do, though it may evolve according to the needs of the day.

Music. The antiphon response that the people will sing is often in the worship sheet. For the team, cantors or verse singers, it will often be posted in advance  in several formats and made available by email, in this blog or the Dropbox folder called ‘SWUC Music’ (apply for access).

Sheet music is in .pdf or other form: download and print.Ps 119

  • Listen to the tune by clicking the .mid, .wav or MP3 version (it may run fast)
  • If you don’t have a music program, please download MuseScore which is free (musescore.org). Then download the .mscz file and listen to the music.
  • If you already have a different program, such as Sibelius, Finale or Noteworthy, you can import the .mid files from the SWUC Music Dropbox.

The aim is to keep the process simple yet meaningful. From time to time if a more complex song is needed, we may arrange a rehearsal a day or so early.

The words. 

You will have your own way of dipping into the Bible: was it somewhere in the bookshelf? That well-thumbed black one by the bed? Or even an automatic feed to your smart-phone calendar from the Vanderbilt lectionary web-site? You should also find the readings on the South Woden web-site when activated.

For convenience, there’s usually a link to the text of the psalm in each post, since I frequently refer to the verses or ideas therein. The psalm may be read by clicking a link somewhere in the first paragraph.

We usually start from NRSV but may paraphrase or amend the text and metre for inclusivity or for musicality in singing the verses.

What do we do on Sunday?

Before the ServiceMeet in the ‘blue room’ before the service on Sundays at 9:15 am. We will run through the words and tune and decide who reads or sings what. You may participate just as much or little as you wish each week – leading singing, reading or just joining in the background.

During the service. Just before the psalm or song in the order of service, usually at the end of the Old Testament reading, members of the ‘Psalm Team’:

  • gather quickly and quietly around the leader at the lectern
  • help the leader introduce, teach and sing the response as needed
  • read or sing a verse or verses as agreed earlier.

Singing a tone

Sometimes a psalm is sung to a tone. This has the advantage that sentences of the text can be any reasonable length, scanned and metrical or not.

The TONE is a simple setting of a tune and a few chords to which you can sing any text. It is usually two bars of music notation, no time signature, no words. One bar is provided for each section of a couplet – two lines of blank verse – of the text you wish to sing.TiS 69

Psalteries and other sources may provide both antiphon and tone for each text, or just the antiphon, leaving the singer to choose from many available tones.

The tune of the tone is written as a long note at the beginning of the line and (usually) three shorter notes at the end of the line.

The words are not fitted for you into this notation. You remember those few notes of the tune and sing each verse to fit. Here’s the method.

Each line of words has a cue marker. The change of notes and harmony is indicated in the text by this cue – a dot, comma or other marker in each line of text, usually before the last three syllables or words which fit the last three notes of the tone.

So the rest of the verse or line before that cue all goes into that long first note. It may be a quite long or short phrase or phrases but is all sung on that one note.

Rhythm. This can be a bit tricky. The easiest approach is for one person to sing the tone with or without backing harmony, instruments etc. That way, the singer has full flexibility for rhythmic and other expression, interpreting the text for greatest effect according to the message – the words are always a dominant influence.

If it is to be sung by several voices together – either in unison or harmony parts, both of which can be very effective – more preparation time is spent on getting that together.

Ps 104 cantors 22Sep13 WIP_html_54be5d52In Gregorian chant, they get around this by singing one beat or note value per syllable, with some longer syllables given a double beat from time to time. That can be a bit stiff, however, so in modern usage the cantor or director allows the natural rhythm and meaning of the text to suggest all aspects of the interpretation, running even to a theatrical or dramatic touch if this fits the context of the day.

In our hymn book, by the way, multi-syllable words to be sung on one note are given a superscript bracket across the word (see example above).

There are plenty of tones around, some in our hymn book TiS, many in our other regular sources such as Psalms for all seasons. A page of a dozen or so tones may be found in New Century Hymnal, with the copyright notice:

These tones may be reproduced for one-time use in worship bulletins. (p. 620)

Perhaps a little confusing at first, this well-tried system has been used to good effect by expert and amateur singer alike over many years. (A slightly more complex variation of this method, used regularly to sing the psalm in hundreds of parishes around the world, is the Anglican chant; the first text line in this system has four chords in a sequence, and the second line has six. See entry on Styles page)

Easier than neumes I assure you.

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Théatre Antique, Orange

No walls thanks

The Psalm Team has no walls, user ID or password. Please take part when you can, to help shape and enrich our worship experience. Your presence will be appreciated and I’m sure you will gain from this small act of service.

Worship coordinators, leaders and participants can find some forward planning suggestions in ‘SWUC Music/Psalm selection plan’ on Dropbox (ask). See also the Leaders resource page.

Psalm responses we have used while following the lectionary are in the Dropbox folder ‘SWUC Music/Library archive’.

One thought on “Notes for singers

  1. Yes it’s tricky until you can get the pattern – especially for those who do not read any music. We’ll learn the tune first, then it’s easy enough to fit the words with a little practice. The dot above the line of text is the key to this fit.

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