Sunday, November 15, 2009

Quiet third verses

In the Silence of Beginning and In Christ Alone. 2 good worship songs. Both 4 verses long. The start of both third verses is about the cross. And the start of both third verses is universally and infallibly played at a quieter pitch than the rest of the song.
I'm wondering why this is. I guess it's partly to allow a build of volume into the middle of the third verse, and maybe partly because of the subject matter. (Worship leaders - opinions please!)
It always slightly annoys me (no offense) - I have no problem with bringing the music down a bit, but it happens every single time and seems formulaic, almost as if the music has become more important than the worship itself. I am sure this is not the intention, but I'd just like a bit of variation - maybe even cranking the volume up at the start of verse three and then building it even more throughout the verse. Maybe try changing the singing about the cross from a moody contemplative section to a more bold and celebratory section.


Chris Juby said...
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Chris Juby said...

[Same comment, just slightly edited - forgive the epic length!]

Hmmm, I've thought about this - someone asked me about the same thing in 'In Christ alone' a couple of years ago.

I guess it's fair to say that it's formulaic but I would want to ask whether (and if so why) that's a bad thing.

Hymns usually have a more fixed and linear narrative than contemporary songs. I see musical dynamics as an essential part of the drama of that narrative.

Lyrically, both third verses start very downbeat ("There in the ground his body lay", "On the cross in desolation") - I think it would seem slightly strange not to lower the dynamics at that point - and both verses lift to triumphant ("As he stands in victory", "Death itself has been defeated") - it would also be strange not to build to those lines.

(To make a slightly over-egged comparison, I can't imagine a conductor not building up to a huge 'Hallelujah chorus' in Handel's Messiah - it just wouldn't make any sense of the narrative of the piece to arrange it any other way.)

That's not at all to say that we should only ever arrange hymns in one way (I'm the last person to think that - the liberties I sometimes take when introducing hymns at Kings!) but I also think that faithfulness to the inherent dynamics of a hymn often puts greater constraints on their arrangements than other types of songs we sing in worship.

From another angle - I guess this is an instance where the storytelling and engagement-with-God aspects of what we're doing in worship can feel a little in tension. While a lot of our songs are arranged fairly spontaneously according to the ebb and flow of engagement with God, narrative considerations are much more prominent in our arrangements of hymns.

Perhaps (and I speculate because I've also felt this) your slight annoyance at the formulaic arrangement of certain hymns is to do with the otherwise dominant motif of spontaneity in charismatic worship. It therefore feels contrived for musicians to produce the same emotional effect at the same moment in hymns - false, rehearsed spontaneity. It helped me a lot to move on from that frustration by thinking of hymns as something slightly different, almost like pieces of liturgy.

...of course it may also be that we just need to freshen up our arrangements!

Anonymous said...

What is a quieter pitch? Interestingly enough it is the case that different frequencies have different loudness, though that is largely subjective. Are you suggesting that verse three is somehow transposed so that our auditory system is tricked into thinking that the music has become quieter?

And to think that they leave the nurturing of young minds in hands such as yours! :P