Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Music for Ascension to Pentecost

I spent Saturday morning at an excellent diocesan workshop on choosing music for worship...Well presented, lots of reminders of important things it's too easy to forget in the hurly burly of parish life, and some bright ideas and new resources. It confirmed me in my awful suspicion that the hymn book I'd thought of investing in at Church in the Valley was not, after all, the best one for the job - and that there really IS no perfect hymn book out there. With very limited funds, it's annoying that we can't find one book to do the whole job, but I'll just have to resign myself to life with a few extraneous sheets along the way even after AMNS has been consigned to the great hereafter.

However, I didn't start this post to whinge about hymn books but rather to share a treat. At one point, we were working in groups to pick 3 hymns for the following day, based on the Lectionary and working with one book (with all its limitations). My group was given the Morning Prayer readings, - with the result that I found it almost impossible to come up with any hymns at all, because all I could think of was this.
In my 6th form years I was a chorister at Eastbourne College, where each year there was an early Eucharist on Ascension Day - at which we sang this as the anthem. I had to catch the first train of the day, and it was exciting to be about when it seemed most of the world was still asleep. I'll never forget the journey across the Pevensey Levels, the mist rising slowly, just a few feet off the ground while above the sky was clear and blue...
I'd walk from the station through still deserted streets, to reach the school chapel where suddenly all was activity. This was one of the feasts where we used incense, I think...certainly there's a firm connection in my mind between the swirling morning mists on the marshes and clouds of incense as we processed in.
I guess the Mass setting would probably have been Darke in F, or maybe Wood in the Phryg....but I was living for the moment when, having received Communion, we'd sing the Elgar
We certainly didn't sound like this - but oh, what a piece!


Song in my Heart said...

The cost of hymnals is one example of why I am interested in alternatives to traditional copyright; while I understand (better than most) the time and effort involved in editing and engraving music, much of the material in hymnals is actually in the public domain. And while I understand (again, as a working musician perhaps better than most) that composers should be paid for their work, I wish more new music for worship were being made available for free on a non-profit basis.

I have an idea in my head of a wikipedia-like online hymnal full of free-for-non-profit-performance music resources which could be printed... each parish could gradually build their particular hymnal. Paper and ink aren't free either and it would require a dedicated librarian to keep track of copies etc (though organising them by season and binding in report folders would help a lot) but the actual cost would probably be about the same as purchasing hymnals, and a lot more spread out. And things like large print formats would be much more flexible this way, and even printing on coloured sheets (helpful to some people with dyslexia). Having sound files included on the site would be a boon to those who don't read music well, whether they're planning services or trying to learn the music before choir practice or just happen to like hymnody.

I believe there is a fair amount of hymnody available in the catalogue online at the Choral Public Domain Library but it isn't really set up for easy hymnal use; for example many of the hymns have no metrical information, something I expect as a matter of course from a hymnal. And there isn't really any standard format followed by the various contributors, which while okay for a seasoned chorister is not necessarily going to be comfortable for the average parishioner; and a good numbering system would be crucial, if new hymns are being added then just organising them by season and slapping the numbers on really won't work but it does still need to be simple enough that people can find the right hymn before singing it! And it would take time for it to reach a useful critical mass with enough resources to function in place of a standard hymnal as opposed to just being yet another bunch of supplementary sheets. But with a bit of leadership and coordination, a lot of volunteer time and passion and a rather large dollop of grace there could be a useful, ecumenical online hymnal. I suspect that Christmas music would be the best category to use as a starting place, until the hardcore hymnody geeks (I know they exist, you know they exist) find out about it.

This is another project for my Copious Spare Time, of course. Which means it's an interesting idea, but one that I will almost certainly never have the time, energy or organisational wherewithal to follow through on.

(Which reminds me, interesting things are being done on the search by melody front, which could eventually be very helpful...)

I am SO supposed to be asleep by now. But know that a sleepy London musician is thinking about the hymnal problem...

Thank you, too, for posting the Elgar and sharing your beautiful memories of 6th form.

Song in my Heart said...

Practical things aside, I think there are ideological issues in copyright, stuff around generosity and entitlement and abundance. Maybe it's just that I'm young and a bit too idealist for my own good (or that of my bank account) but I do not write music for the money, I write music for it to be sung and heard.

I feel that way about teaching, too. If I could afford to do so I would teach for free. If I'm doing it well there is no way to put a fair price on it, and if I'm doing it badly I shouldn't be charging for it at all. My plan is to build my teaching and other income to a certain point and then after that either only take on voluntary work or donate the rest of my earnings.

Something about payment and barter rather than giving freely what we can doesn't quite sit well with me, somehow. That's the world I live in but not the one I think I want to build.

I am wittering, and really just a big hippie, and this wants its own post at some point after my degree when I have time to think about it properly, and the word verification is "bedbor" which I think might be trying to tell me something... going to sleep now for real. Honest!