1982's intro to On This Day...
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    ...is terrible and impossible to sing.

    I have never heard a congregation get the entrance right.
    I have never been able to get the entrance right.
    I can't even seem to count it right in my head by myself.

    Is it just me? I know one single organist who agrees with me and plays something different.
    But everyone else seems to go on decade after decade confusing singers and missing entrances.

    Is there a way this makes sense?
    Is the problem that most organists play it in a way that makes it unclear,
    but really, if played correctly, it makes perfect sense?
    Is there a recording somewhere of it being done flawlessly that would help me understand?
    Thanked by 1Anna_Bendiksen
  • MarkS
    Posts: 276
    I think it's just you! Since my congregation, choir and Rector sing this easily every year, it is clearly not impossible to sing. In fact, in my opinion, it is simple and intuitive. FYI, I introduce it like all hymns, with intro followed by full hymn verse plus 'refrain' so that anyone not already familiar with it has heard the hymn melody follow the intro.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    Do you "breathe" before the entrance?
  • I'm at a loss to know what is being referenced here. The only 'On This Day' I know is Holst's arrangement of translated Personent hodie. - and there is nothing confusing about the brief intro.
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  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,256
    Is this what we're talking about?

  • Well, I see that it's a perfectly nice tune, Gott sei dank, with a text translated from the Latin. What is the confusion?
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    > The only 'On This Day' I know is Holst's arrangement of translated Personent hodie.

    That's the one. The descending line starting on the off beat.
  • Adam,

    Do you mean that what confuses choirs (or anyone) is that the organ's descending line starts on the off beat, or that some incompetent organist plays it trochaically?
  • The Holst arrangement - originally for voices and orchestra - was not conceived as a congregational hymn setting. I don't know if there is a substitute for having a choir already confident on the timing. Everyone else can just follow along.
    Thanked by 1Liam
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    i mean i have never heard it played in a way that makes it clear enough when to breathe, so everyone misses the entrance. beat one before the descending line is obscured, so it becomes difficult to know where in the measure you are.
  • Additional thought: in the original context you would have a conductor.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    here is a perfect example


    the descending line has nothing on the upbeat, and isn't strictly in time with what comes before. So it SOUNDS like a downbeat. And if you listen, at least half the people singing don't come in for a word or two
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    > not conceived as a congregational hymn setting. I don't know if there is a substitute for having a choir already confident on the timing. Everyone else can just follow along.

    yeah. i hate it.

    i've sung this in several congregations with organists who seemed otherwise quite capable and EVERY TIME, EVERY VERSE, EVERY PERSON misses the entrance.

    At some point, you have to say: maybe it's not the fault of the people, and this is not a suitable accompaniment/intro for a congregational hymn.
  • Whenever weird stuff like this happens with hymns, I just make editorial edits. Hate that line? Play something else in it’s place that is clearer. Sometimes we get too stuck to the notes. Big rep in concert is one thing; hymns are another.
    Thanked by 1MarkB
  • If it's this frustrating I might perhaps eschew purism and play an introductory tonic note on beat 1 of the first measure - whether in the same octave as the rest or an octave down. If that doesn't do it, maybe harmonise beat 1 and beat 3 of the second measure with IV - V on top of the descending octaves.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,149
    Do you have to use THIS hymn? I’ve never heard it before, but it seems to be a weak hymn structurally on my first listen.
    Thanked by 1sdtalley3
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,607
    isn't strictly in time with what comes before.

    What more need be said?

    I'm just relieved we're not talking about …Beautiful Mother.
  • I am astounded. I've done this for decades and never had the slightest problem, whether with choir or congregation. It used to be in one of the Lutheran hymnal supplements, and, I believe, in The Hymnal 1982. I have had several congregations who really liked it and easily got into the spirit of it - intro and all. I don't see what is problematic (for some) about it.

    Nor would it ever have occurred to me to substitute something else for Holst's intro. If you don't like what Holst did do someones else's arrangement, or write your own - don't savage someone else's composition because it is thought to be too challenging or in need of editing here and there (it isn't).
    Thanked by 1Richard Mix
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    I love the hymn - both in Latin and in English. I even like the way the intro sounds.
    But it's (in my experience) a disaster for congregational singing.

    This thread was prompted by this past Sunday's live-streamed 10,354th Sunday in Covidtide YouTube Morning Prayer service from the parish at which my wife is the Associate Rector. The song was PRERECORDED by a soloist. And even she missed it every verse. (Why didn't you go back and re-record it? One might well ask.)

    MJO, I would be interested to hear how you play it, and what kind of cueing you provide to the congregation, either visually or in your articulation. Perhaps it hasn't been a problem for you because you are a better organist than most.
  • It's really so simple - you have a descending scale and you enter on the bottom note. That's the easy way to gauge when to enter. When doing or teaching this I have never had anyone show perplexion or bewilderment. I don't doubt that you are having the problems that you say you are having (otherwise this thread would not exist!), but I just can't imagine why. Try counting 0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-On this day... (or per-so-nent...). The beauty of Holst's work here lies precisely in its exciting rhythmic sleight of hand and the unexpected propulsion from a weak beat.
    Good luck - let us know how this turns out.
    This, especially Holst's arrangement of it, has long been one of my favourite carols.
    Thanks for creating a discussion about it.
  • davido
    Posts: 697
    Adam, this intro confused me for a long time. I finally buckled down and learned how it worked, but it wouldn’t fly with a congregation in my part of the world. I think MJO works with very musically literate people.
    Thanked by 1ServiamScores
  • I think MJO works...
    I have, indeed, been blessed to work with a number of 'very musically literate people', professional and semi-professional choirs, and have done Personent with some quite good groups. But, I have also done it many times with ordinary volunteer choirs and ordinary congregations, Episcopalian, Lutheran, and Catholic. This carol has a rhythmic drive and excitement that propel it along, so much so that people are caught up in the spirit of it and simply carry on from the intro by osmosis - they may or may not grasp it theoretically, but they do just 'get it', 'pick up on it', are carried away with it. Though congregations do very much enjoy singing this, often with surprising unity and rhythmic clarity, one must admit that it has more gusto, buoyancy, and cleanliness with just a choir.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,607
    In the linked recording the number of late entrances doesn't seem greater than the number of late cutoffs, so I'd assume it's the normal acoustical lag.
    has nothing on the upbeat [sic]
    is more of an ENGLEBERG/SINE NOMINE problem, isn't it? ;-)
  • Compare it to the pedal solo opening BWV 532 - if you don't show that it begins on an off-beat, the entire passage sounds strange, but after establishing the sense of beat the listener "gets it" after the first measure. Some recordings of the Holst that I listened to online did not make this distinction (all beats sound the same) which indeed creates this confusion (we have no way of orienting ourselves within the measure) If the organist establishes the hierarchy of beats in the first measure and properly shows the first note as an off-beat, it becomes trivial to understand as a singer.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 5,019
    Indeed, it requires phrasing in the introductory two measures. I think of it (counting in two) as:

    [rest] & 2-&-1, & 2-&-1

    or (in mode I parlance):

    [rest] re doh-ti-la, sol fa-mi-re

    where the hyphens denote slurring (very legato), the comma a "lift", and the two spaces a slight detachment. The detachment (between the 1st & 2nd notes (re doh) and again between the 5th & 6th notes (sol fa) serves to let the 2nd and 6th notes receive a bit more emphasis (stress), and the comma (lift) between the 4th and 5th notes (la, sol) serves to break the (descending natural minor) scale into two equal tetrachords.

    Thanked by 1Liam
  • MarkS
    Posts: 276
    Do you "breathe" before the entrance?

    No! I make a bit of a conductor type gesture accompanied with a string player's 'sniff' to mark the first beat (rest) so no one in the choir can mistake what the rhythm/meter are, and then let it rip! (Also an accent on the second beat—feeling it 'in 2'— by creating a small separation before the second played quarter note, so I am phrasing somewhat differently than Mr. Giffen.)
  • Do you 'breathe' before the entrance?
    Well, yes. Those who wait to take their breaths at the very moment that they should be singing are problematic for many choirmasters. This intro is not all that long, so one could well take a breath on the down beat, count 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 and begin singing. Taking a breath should be integrated rhythmically into the metrical flow. Since taking a breath is a physical act which often can be felt as a beat, confusion is avoided by feeling the breath as part of the metrical scheme - not as a gulp at the moment sound should be happening.
  • tandrews
    Posts: 132
    "On this day...
    O beautiful mother."

  • MarkS
    Posts: 276
    Do you "breathe" before the entrance?

    I understood the question to ask if I inserted a breathe/pause before the downbeat to signal when the singing starts, which in this case I definitely would not do. Of course, breathing should happen!
    Thanked by 1Adam Wood
  • Another rather good setting of this text, by Haldane Campbell Stewart, may be heard by googling 'carols by candlelight magdalen youtube'. The recording was made just last month, and features the choir of men and boys at Magdalen College, Oxford. They are excellent!

    Also in this virus-adapted lessons and carols are two haunting presentations - Jean Mouton's Nesciens Mater and John Sheppard's Verbum caro. Regrettably, neither of these extended works is heard very often.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Planning for Christmas, Personet hodie, some hymnal(s) omit Holst's introduction entirely, and some books substitute other harmonies altogether. I agree with Adam, congregations just don't get it right, and a judicious pruning is justified. After all, Holst is only an arrangement of a pre-existing melody. And I think the New Oxford Book of Carols has a few choice words about the Holst.
  • Congregations led by choirs can get it right.
    Thanked by 1Anna_Bendiksen
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,690
    American Catholic congregations relying only on organ are likely to have a car crash. I would never program it on Christmas, when there are a lot of little-churched folks in the pews.

    That said, there is a simple solution in that context: play a low D on the pedal on the downbeat, and bring the octave harmonization in on beat 2. There's no reason to insist on following Holst's script for a context for which he was not writing if doing so is not working well.

    This is an extension of what might be called the Beethoven's Fifth opening phrase problem of the triple pickup in an even meter. On many instruments other than organ, one can modify stresses to indicate the intended nature of the pickup.