GIA editor and church musician David Anderson discusses his “Thoughts on Unaccompanied Song” in his piece in GIA Quarterly. If you have access to this publication, I recommend his article.
He speaks of four practices that hinder assembly singing, all long on the list of don’t-be’s in pastoral music circles for at least a generation:
- organ registrations that frighten instead of lead
- tempi that do not respect the size of the assembly, the acoustics of the room, and the style of the particular hymn, song, or acclamation
- cantors constantly singing into the microphone
- overamplified choirs and ensembles
And then he describes his experience of a course taught by Alice Parker, who inspired him to introduce at least one unaccompanied piece at every liturgy.
I was smiling, thinking of my own experience this past weekend, subbing as a pianist for a group I haven’t accompanied much. I prefer to go to the Communion minister to receive, rather than have it brought to me. Sometimes, I will duck out during a refrain or a verse of one of the Communion songs, whichever seems appropriate. But this past weekend, I got up to receive, and darned if the choir delayed in announcing the song. I did tell them they should begin Foley’s “The Cry of the Poor” (See? It was the proper Psalm for Communion!) unaccompanied. And I would get back when I got back.
I wondered what would have happened if I had just gone to sit in the front pew and prayed for a minute after I received. Or if I had gone out to the stairwell and dropped dead. Would the music have been completly silenced?
I seem to have landed a regular 7PM gig these days. Before I recruit a student or two to fill that gap, maybe I should tell the choir I’m taking a song off one week. They’ll have to sing unaccompanied. More from David:
Regular unaccompanied singing reminds the Christian assembly that, without their voices, there is no song.
Amen to that!
What sort of adventures have our readers had with unaccompanied singing of sacred music?