Posted 30 October 2007 - 01:50
Last week, Barry suggested that I say something about playovers, so here goes - though I would be grateful if the old hands on the forum would chip in and add their wisdom to this.
Here's some bits and pieces to kick off -
As a newcomer to the art, Always plan and practise your playover as a distinct item. Never assume that having practised the hymn, the playover will just naturally occur when needed. Mark up your copy if necessary.
Any rule of playover stands to be utterly defeated by most Contemporary Church Music.
There is no 'trick' to setting a tempo - whatever you settle on, informed by your practising, will be accepted by most of the congregation, whether you and they are known to each other or not. A few may come up afterwards and say you were too fast, some might say you were too slow, and a gent wearing a military blazer will say you played the wrong tune anyway. If there's a choir, much theatrical brow mopping will tell you it was a mite brisk, whilst the basses, all leaning on each other, pointedly snoring, suggests that it could have been a tad quicker.
So, how would you set a tempo for your first excursion?. Honestly, there is no substitute for singing out loud to yourself while practising. You need to know where people are going to breathe, you need to experience for yourself any particularly important punctuations, any syllables outside the metre, will the anacrucis leave you playing 2,3,4,1, to a bar? ( not in your head, it won't, or on the piano, but you might be doing it on the organ. We'll come back to this.)
It's a curious thing, but nearly all trad. hymns are sung to pretty much the same tempo. Differences are related to particular organist/building/congregation combinations, rather than the hymns themselves. If you want a general-purpose tempo to start you off, as I think I mentioned in an earlier post, imagine a Sally Ann band playing Onward Christian Soldiers. Get your toe tapping to this and you won't go far wrong. Ignore any words, and just think of it as a metronome 1/1 beat, (otherwise a hymn in triple is going to take on a fairly novel rhythm).
Watch out for very 'wordy' hymns - lots of little black notes instead of nice, comfy, big white jobs. If you find that singing to yourself has mutated into a sort of incomprehensible, quick-fire ululation, you might want to come back on the revs a bit.
Conversely, if you're breathing at every bar line, either speed it up a bit...... or give up the fags.
When you arrive in church for your maiden voyage, nerves almost certainly will act upon you as high-octane fuel. Your carefully considered tempo, perfected in practise, is going to transform into a breathless dash around the keys which speedwise,exceeds anything of which you thought you were capable. You probably will need consciously to settle yourself, remember how you practised, the thinking that you employed to set the tempo, and generally to 'take a deep breath' before starting.
I think I have now bored you sufficiently about playover tempo, and I really do urge others to come in with their thoughts on this topic. thoughts of 'too much information' may occur, but frankly, somebody who is prepared to learn a wholly unique and specialised keyboard skill, put themselves publicly on the line in uncomfortable circumstances, and not fall into a heap if things go a bit awry : this sort of person will have the simple nous to sort out the bits that have meaning for them. So pile it in.
What segment will you use for your playover?
I guess that around 70+% of trad. hymns are amenable to the first two lines being used, as most arrive back at the chord of the tonic, or one of the inversions. So that's about 800 hymns sorted.! Is it?..... if you have available to you a copy of "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty..." - tune 'Lobe Den Herren", have a quick look at it. One of the all time greats, in just about every hymn book ever published. Play the first two lines of this and the situation becomes farcical. Even playing just the first line still leaves you playing an identical 6 bar phrase three times in succession, once on your own, then twice more with the people tagging along. It's certainly been done enough times, but lacks a bit in the elegance stakes, don't you think?
Playing the last two lines, as can be done with a great many hymns? Doesn't really feel quite right. And the last line alone ? to me it hasn't got the power of the hymn in it.
As it happens, I *do* use the first line as the playover. But instead of giving the last bar its three beats, I give it a good four and a half or five, lift off , wait long enough to think "Why me O Lord? whilst yanking out something really noisy to add into the stop selection. And then crash into an unmistakable sing start.
The point to be avoided is :- making the three identical six-bar phrases sound as if the needle's got stuck.
Be sure the congregation know that you have come to the end of the playover and it's time to stop checking their text messages.
This hymn is a gift to the organist from Saint Cacophonous of Fortissimo. You get to use lots of your big pipes, things that go bang, and all of your whistles. Enjoy.
As said above, someone who learns a musical instrument, an unfamiliar brand of music, and, finds their way to church after a Saturday night they can't remember, will have enough brain stuff to sort out a sensible playover. Just be sure to plan it, practise it, and stick to it.................unless you change your mind at the last moment, of course ..................... .
Just a little note about maintaining tempo. If there is a choir, you'll likely have no problem, they'll carry you along, which as a novice, may well suit you down to the ground. If however it's just you and the congregation, then the whole responsibility for tempo is yours. It is however commonplace for there to be some spectacularly tuneless, decibel enhanced, bod out there who 'takes charge' of all things vocal. Any tempo you set will be altered by this character, because s/he has to be able to say afterwards in't pub that s/he "kept the organist in line". The vocal quality of this character may put thoughts of iron foundries and light-aircraft engines into your mind, but you still have to make a decision.
Are you secure enough to force the tempo to your reckoning of where it should be?
Will you go along with the foghorn out there, 'cos you hope never to set foot in the place again, and let's just get this over with as conflict-free as possible?
Enter - Soddes Law. The noise you likened to cat-strangling in a dustbin factory, actually emanates from a sweet old lady, albeit of generous proportions, who wants only to be your best friend. Realising that she is out of time with you, she benevolently adjusts tempo to where you are....... or rather , to where you *were*. This occurs exactly at the moment when you decided to surrender, and adjust to where she is.... or rather... etc., etc., etc.. The ensuing see-sawing of tempos, whilst vastly entertaining to the interested observer, will reduce your composure to that of a gastro- enteritis sufferer with a sneezing fit.
Great heavens !! is that the time?
ps. nearly forgot.... The anacrucis thing. You have to seperate it from the first beat of the complete bar of course. Dead easy on a piano, even if the anniecrunchie wotsit is a full beat, you can still smack in the first down beat with serious intent, and it plainly will be what it's supposed to be.
On the organ, which fails utterly to acknowledge any increase in key pressure, no matter how big and strong you are, you need another method to indicate that the first bar is only a little thing with not much in it. Commonly, we shorten the orphan beat/s a bit. (actual staccato is not quite appropriate), and a brief lift-off before coming back onto the down beat, and then away you go.
Sorry, that was a bit tortuous wasn't it. I'm sure someone else will put it better. Nighty-night.