Music Directing

Musical Ward Touring

Posted on July 1, 2012. Filed under: General Church Music, Music Directing, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Organ Music |

On a recent trip I visited four wards in New York, Pennsylvania and Missouri. What were my observations regarding music in those wards?

1. Only one ward I visited, which was in upstate New York, had an organist who could actually play the organ, pedals and all. Of course the other wards had people attempting to play the organ but it’s just not the same.

2. Only one congregation sang the hymns with strength and conviction. Can you guess which ward it was? The one with the real organist.

3. All wards had rest hymns but only one ward had the congregation stand for the rest hymn. Yes, once again it was the New York ward.

So why am I highlighting that New York ward? I think it is amazing that in wards where trained musicians are directing and accompanying the congregation responds with increased participation in the form of hymn singing. So what can we as ward musicians do to get those same results? Training. If you are a music chairman please train the people in your ward music callings. If you are in a ward music calling and feel like you need more training there are several ways to improve your skills. Music directors can receive help through, by practicing with these videos, or by taking directing lessons at a local college or from a private instructor. Organists can improve their skills through diligent practice at the church, by taking private lessons, or through online tutorials.

When musicians are well-trained they provide the opportunity for ward members to enjoy the spirit of the hymns and the singing of the hymns without the distractions that come from issues like note mistakes, hymns played too slow/fast, or organ registrations that are ear piercing or slushy. How are you doing at improving your musical skills?

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Hymns, Anthems and Songs

Posted on April 5, 2011. Filed under: General Church Music, Music Directing, Ward Choir |

What’s the difference between a hymn, anthem, song and chorale?

Alexander Schreiner, former Temple Square Tabernacle Organist and Church Music Committee Member, offered the following clarifications:

“A hymn is a special kind of poetry addressed to Deity as a prayer. The ancient Greeks sang hymns to their pagan deities. We sing to the everlasting God… and we should address most of our hymns as prayers to heaven…

“Technically speaking, a hymn is composed of words only and need not have a musical accompaniment. The text is the hymn. That which accompanies it is the hymn tune. The hymn, or text, should always be written first. The poet selects the meter to suit his subject; then the musician writes the hymn tune. However, poets sometimes find it helpful to take a familiar tune for which to write their metered lines…

“The True Hymn: The ideal hymn is a sacred song addressed to Deity. Such hymns are the most important ones in our hymnbook. They may not always be spirited in rhythm, but they are always spiritual in quality. And spiritual values are the highest of all values.

Psalms: Paul mentioned the singing of psalms. These are hymns taken from the Old Testament. The psalms are the Western world’s best-loved poems, and the noblest. The Pilgrims sang psalms, and the Puritans, in 1640, had the complete book of Psalms in rhyme and meter. The Calvinists preferred singing psalms to any other kind of hymn. Coming from the Old Testament, the psalms are addressed to Jehovah and do not mention the name Jesus Christ, although several of the psalms carry references to the life and mission of Jesus Christ. Several psalms are included in our hymnbook, such as “The Lord Is My Shepherd” and “Praise Ye the Lord.”

Spiritual Songs: These are so designated because they exhort and uplift the worshipers and are addressed to them rather than to Deity. They are sung, as it were, before the Lord. Songs such as “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” “Come, Let Us Anew,” and “Ere You Left Your Room This Morning” come under this classification.

Chorales: These are characterized chiefly by their even rhythm, which lends great stateliness to their performance. “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and “The Voice of God Again Is Heard” are both classified as chorales.

Gospel Hymns: The term gospel hymn is really a misnomer because these hymns rarely refer to the gospel. They were developed in the past century by enthusiastic gospel revivalist preachers. Examples of such hymns are “We Are All Enlisted,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “Today While the Sun Shines.”

“Another interesting example… “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It is not designated as a hymn because it is not addressed to Deity. Therefore it is called an anthem.”

(“Guidelines for Writing Hymns”, by Alexander Schreiner, ENSIGN Magazine, April 1973)

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Music Directing Tips

Posted on March 31, 2011. Filed under: Music Directing, Primary Music, Ward Choir |

Many LDS music directors don’t have a lot of conducting experience, or perhaps need a refresher course. Hopefully you’ll find some of these tips helpful.

  1. Watch this series of 10 short videos for conducting tips for LDS music directors.
  2. If you are brand new to to music directing, start with this Music Directing for beginning directors tutorial on the LDS music site
  3. You can practice your basic conducting patterns using the Interactive Conducting Course
  4. Practice directing in front of a mirror, often.  Great directors have spent years practicing and perfecting their directing techniques.
  5. Get together with the pianist to practice directing the hymns for Sunday meetings.
  6. Buy a set of the hymns on CD, or listen to them online while you are practicing your conducting.
  7. When directing large groups, like in Sacrament Meeting or Stake Conference, you can choose to use a baton if you want to and if you feel comfortable directing with one.  Professional directors use a baton when conducting an orchestra, but as far as congregations and choirs are concerned, some professional directors use a baton and some don’t.
  8. Prayerfully select the hymns for the meeting in which you’re directing the music.  Music for some meetings, such as Sacrament Meeting, first needs to be approved by the presiding authority. Give the hymn numbers to the pianist/organist well in advance, at least a week.  Most accompanists need time to practice too.
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How to Choose Hymns for Sacrament Meeting

Posted on March 20, 2011. Filed under: General Church Music, Music Directing, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Ward Music Chairman |

Opening Hymns…

If you really want to get the congregation singing choose an faster tempo hymn of a familiar nature like “Redeemer of Israel” or “There is Sunshine in My Soul Today”.  If you choose a slow unfamiliar hymn you’ll lose the congregation before the meeting has even begun.

Sacrament Hymn…

Not much to say about this one.  The back of the hymnbook lists appropriate hymns for the Sacrament…#169-197 and 146.  The sacrament hymn “should refer to the sacrament itself or to the sacrifice of the Savior” (Handbook 2: 14.4.4). Use all the sacrament hymns on a rotation; they should all be familiar.

Rest Hymn…

I have definite opinions on this one.  You should be singing about one rest hymn a month, so make it special.  This is the one time a month that the congregation gets to participate in the musical number.  I don’t like singing rest hymns sitting down.  The handbook says we can stand, with Priesthood approval, so get approval and STAND.  Standing a congregation is a sure fire way to get them to sing. They know they’ll look silly if they stay seated or if they stand and keep their mouths closed, so they sing.  If you are standing it better be a rousing hymn like “Israel, Israel, God is Calling”.  Those types of hymns are best for rest hymns anyway.  There was something going around the church a few years ago, a rumor I assume, that we weren’t supposed to stand anymore for rest hymns.  This is false.  We do it in General Conference and Stake Conference, and they handbook says we can, under the direction of the presiding authority.

Closing Hymn…

Choose a hymn that goes along with the spirit and theme of the meeting.  But, watch it.  Many directors get so caught up in thinking the hymn has to match the theme exactly and we end up singing “In Fasting We Approach Thee” every Fast Sunday and “Called to Serve” for every departing missionary.  For Fast Sunday you would probably want to choose a hymn like “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” that matches the spirit and reverence of the meeting as opposed to something like “For the Strength of the Hills”.  Use the theme of the meeting as a guide, but make sure the congregation is singing a wide VARIETY of hymns.  I once went 6 years in a ward without singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “O My Father”, two of my favorites.  Yet our ward faithfully sang the fasting songs every single month.

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