Musical Introductions

dulcimerIn my last parish, the music listings included a brief instruction for nearly every congregational song or hymn: “whole refrain” or “second-half tune” or “whole tune.” I haven’t used these in my new parish. I enjoy the benefit of a single person as accompanist for the four English Masses. And using OCP materials, the publishers give a bracketed introduction. In hymnals, you get nothing of that.

Over the years, I’ve determined that those brackets are usually there to be ignored. Usually expanded upon. I watch the people finger through pages of thin paper (annual music issues) to find the correct number, and the given introduction would be over already. And that’s many of the choir members. What determines the right length of a music ministry’s intro? I watch the people in the pew.

Unlike my last parish, my new one has number boards on either side of the reredos. Some parishioners (and some singers) are prepared in advance for the coming song. But not all. The verbal announcement is still needed–not everyone has the eyesight, and many people are seriously listening or praying up until an announcement is given.

Sometimes, it makes sense to give people a longer period of time. We used this hymn this past weekend. It hadn’t been programmed in some years, but was well-used about a decade ago. I asked the violinist to play the whole tune, the pianist joining in at the halfway mark.

It wasn’t just about reminding people of the tune, though there was that. New diocesan collection procedures have lengthened that time of the Mass for us. Some of our four priests like things to be … complete. But it wasn’t just filling time. (At one Mass, we went through “six” verses, including a four-bar interlude after each sung stanza.) Familiar songs generate memories. There’s a spiritual component to music, even when nobody is singing. Instruments alone communicate, and if the players are good, the message gets out there.

If I ever ditched hymnals or annual books and printed music in the bulletin, I’d consider brief introductions on some, but not all things. As musicians or non-musicians, what are your church experiences? Do you get enough time to find the page? Or does it seem mindless or automated or even random?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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6 Responses to Musical Introductions

  1. Liam says:

    As you may know, it’s often “typical” practice for organ that the entry point for the congregation is signaled by the introduction of the pedal notes. It can work very well, especially if the practice is consistent.

    The cognate for piano seems to be to line out only the melody line, or only two parts (melody & alto or melody & bass), and make the introduction of all harmony the cognate of the introduction of the pedal. Obviously, this doesn’t always translate well when the composer provided an introduction or where the keyboard part is different from the vocal parts.

  2. Devin says:

    I prefer the music worship aid route which provides the music, full text and any additional information for each service, but I am concerned about the environmental impact. But how much worse could it be than the yearly or quarterly disposable missals? Perhaps this should be used on a high holy days when a lot of visitors will be in attendance.

    One parish uses hymnals, but prints the hymn numbers and psalm response on sturdy cardstock for several weeks in advance along with any special notations/instructions. Since the music isn’t on the instruction, you don’t need one for every parishioner. Used in conjunction with the numbered boards the congregation is able to participate without needing a verbal cue. Only problem is that it will confuse people if there are any last minute changes.

  3. Melody says:

    Thanks for the link to “Two Were Bound For Emmaus”; I had never heard it. Very pretty. I forwarded it to our choir leader as something we might work on.

  4. Melody says:

    We announce both the name and the number of the hymns. The numbers are also posted on boards which are visible to everyone. If I am playing an organ accompaniment I usually play the last line for an introduction; usually that is enough for people to find their place.

  5. Mary says:

    If musicians and singers (choir or whatever) regularly aren’t ready, then you need to train them to prepare for the next piece at the end of the current piece. For the congregation, we use projection (large screens in the old place, smaller TVs in the new): saves the environmental impact, allows varying the verses and close-to-last-minute changes. No humbling for books / papers. No excuses. A good av-operator who attended the practice can signal the end of the introduction. The main challenge is providing the congregation with music – we can get 4 short score lines per screen, no more.

  6. Farnk says:

    Most the parishes where I play announce at least the hymn number – some announce hymn number and name – and one has the weekly cardstock worship aid with some music printed out if not in the hymnal (which are all dutifully re-cycled – families volunteer to tidy the sanctuary of these after each Mass – and an easy way for young children to “help”). My preference is the card stock worship aid….as it can have more information than just the music (if you can afford it) and can serve as a bookmark in the hymnal for the next hymn! I was taught long ago (rightly or wrongly) that an intro should be at least 8 measures and sometimes longer so everyone had time to find the right page ….and perhaps to encourage those who might not open the hymnal to do so since everyone else is (and what else are you going to do during that 16 bar intro). The current music director at one parish where I sub hardly lets us go over 4 measures for an into…I think it too short…but I’m not the one in charge. For holidays, I like to have special intros to hymns (especially processional and recessional) and I have found several books of just these sort of intros (Christmas and Easter, in particular). I do think it very nice to have a worship aid for Christmas and Tridduum/Easter that prints out all the music so no one has to use a hymnal (as you may run short of hymnals anyway…..which is not terribly hospitable for the extra visitors)

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