Congregational Part singing
  • I ran across this while looking for Palestrina videos. As you all are looking forward to an exhilerating and exhausting week musically,here's a thought: these kids are Mennonite, from Goshen, one of their two main colleges. I went to a Mennonite affiliated "interdenominational" church for many years, which experience mainly exhausted me from all the bickering, so I became Catholic. But there is one facet of Mennonite worship that makes me want to shout "Go, thou, and do likewise" to just everybody: they are raised singing four part harmony. I don't know if they need to use it anymore, with modern pedagogy available, but their hymnal at least used to be printed in "shape notes:' the shape used to form the note (box, diamond, etc) tells the singer what interval they should sing. They just do it, no one regrets having learned it, it's wonderful. The only thing is: they learn it from the cradle.
  • Claire H
    Posts: 365

    Raised singing in four-part harmony? What a concept. How do they do it?
  • Claire H
    Posts: 365
    P.S. Did the Mennonite bickering prepare you for Catholic bickering? ;)
    Thanked by 2Jeffrey Quick ryand
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,849
    Yes, they sing. When my grandfather died, the Mennonites across the street worked up a head arrangement of "How great Thou art" (Pa's favorite hymn) for male quartet. Even the Lutherans (Ma's faith) were impressed. Both are denominations with German roots. How musically literate are South German Catholics, and if they are, how do they get that way?

    I know how Catholics DON'T get that way: 1.) Use music in church where harmony is not part of the musical conception, but only an add-on; 2.)Even if you use conventional hymnody, don't give people parts to sing.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen canadash
  • JahazaJahaza
    Posts: 468
    Raised singing in four-part harmony? What a concept. How do they do it?

    First step: print the parts in your hymnal!
  • tomboysuzetomboysuze
    Posts: 289
    Jahaza! So right! I cannot stand pew hymnals without the harmony. It assumes the congregation isn't smart enough to somehow figure out what's going on and possibly, just maybe...ask some questions, or seek more information by some, look what we have.........duh......

    Grace builds on nature. Music is very intuitive or I wouldn't be directing choirs today. I am mostly self-taught. ...despite having attended music school. But aren't we all, really?
    (i'll stop ranting now.....)

    ps....thanks so much amindthatsuits....that was impressive. I'll have to spend some time with my Southern Harmony hymnal....after Easter...
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    During the Prayers of the Faithful at our Catholic cathedral, the congregation sings the response "Lord, hear our prayer" in e.g., 4/4 C major. The notes are c2 d4 b4 c1, where 2 = half, 4 = quarter, and 1 = whole. This can be harmonized simply as I ii6 V I, e.g., c2 f4 g4 c1 in the bass. I've heard a few basses start to do this in the congregation without prompting. Others join in. When the cantor (usually female) pitches the response too high, sometimes there's no other option for men. Singing harmony solves that problem. Haven't heard anyone fill in with inner voices, but all it would take is an extroverted alto (heh).

    Don't Anglo-Catholic congregations do some of this?

    I've often thought that Orthodox homophony supplies a good model, though some of its use of dominant seventh chords sounds a little ... I don't know, "secular"?

    Basic and smooth four-part formulas could serve Catholic congregations well, since the inner voices are often as easy to hear (and sing) as the outer ones.

    Taize' is another model. "Jesus, remember me" is the "recessional song" at our cathedral this Lent -- but alas, the congregation never attempts the harmony. Why?

    Because the organist/pianist plays everything. Loudly.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    "Raised singing in four-part harmony? What a concept. How do they do it?"

    No organ in the barn.

    Necessity is the mother of (four-part) invention?
  • We use something similar, Pes, that more or less echoes the intonation and response of the Litany of the Saints. The only problem I've ever noticed is getting everyone to agree upon the tuning of the final tonic note; they seem to lose steam and are lodged somewhere between ti and do!
    Re. singing in parts? Clearly about enculturation. As Mary Jane B. emPHAsizes, they sing if and when they want to sing, and we ought to be grateful if that's done with vitality in unison. What's interesting, OTOH, is that one will often here the sort of engrained initiative among Spanish language congregations to emulate all the parallel thirds and sixths in their musica popular. When it's done fairly smoothly it's quite enchanting.
  • I keep forgetting my ID doesn't appear on this list. It's "Kenneth."

    This didn't get much response at first so I kind of forgot about it.

    The answer to how they do it is they do it. I was bapstized as a Southern Baptist, and even up until a few years ago, more fundamentalist churches retained this ability. Mennonites have almost all gone completely leftist, but a group of "social activist" kids came caroling I think two Christmasses ago. (I live in the heart of Lefty DC.) When they got done, I asked simply, "Are you all Mennonite?' They pointed to the kid with the Germanic fringe beard. Goshen grad, of course.

    When confronting "P&W" types, they almost always say, "No one can do anything challenging." When I point out the Mennonites can, it gets dismissed.

    The simple answer for the kinds of folks who lurk here is start your own children's groups and have "hymn sings" at home every now and then.

    And, yes, in reference to having the harmony in the hymnal, I have three--the older Mennonite Hymnal, a fundamentalist hymnal rather typically called "The Hymnal," and the English Hymnal--that I consider things of the most simple and majestic physical beauty.

    As for Catholic bickering, it's fine. As I itell my Protestant friends, anything that is wrong with Protestantism is worse in the Catholic Church--starting with ugly kitschy religious trinkets for sale everywhere and working all the way up to chanceries and departments of theology, also often for sale. (Was that uncharitable?) As the great Bernard Nathanson cracked to another guy who converted, "Come on in--It's terrible inside!" (I'm 1/4 Jewish, and it is a point of some pride that the guy who could sum up the reality of Catholic life with a great one-liner was the one named "Bernie.")

    If anyone asks me a simple explanation of why I converted, I say "The Apostolic Succession." And to Protestants who point out the endless scandals, I point out that Jesus and St. Paul both warned against trying to separate the wheat and the tares before God was ready to do so...and the Church is ALIVE, as XVI likes to say. I pointed out to one young Jewish guy who asked me to compare Evangelicalism and Catholicism, I said Evangelicalism was a mile wide and an inch deep...and that after all the millenia of bloodshed and troubles, the Catholic Church just bought the Crystal Cathedral--and still owns title to the grave of St. Peter.