How long should the last measure be?
  • tandrews
    Posts: 21
    Forgive me if this has been addressed in a previous topic; I was not able to find it in the forums!

    I'm curious how everyone plays the final measure of each hymn verse. I want people singing to enjoy the final note and not race off to the next verse. But I also don't want too much time. A couple of examples:

    Nicaea (4/4): Shorten the final whole note to a dotted half followed by a quarter rest, then to verse 2.
    St. Thomas-Tantum Ergo (4/4): Turn final half note into a new 4/4 bar, making final note a dotted half note followed by quarter rest, then to verse 2.
    Kremser (3/4 with pickup beat): Turn final half note into two 3/4 bars, allowing half note and quarter rest final bar before verse 2?
    Salve Regina Coelitum (4/4 with pickup beat): Turn final quarter into new 4/4 bar, allowing a dotted half note and quarter rest before verse 2?
    Aurelia (4/4 with pickup beat): Turn dotted half into half note with quarter rest before verse 2?
    Hyfrydol (3/4): Double the final note into two 3/4 bars, half note and quarter rest before verse 2?

    This only applies to metrical hymns I suppose. Anything SLJ and contemporary hymns tend to have their own written out ends of verses (ie You Are Mine) and I just play what's written (when I must play them...).
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,865
    I don't over-think this, but give a beat or two rest at the end for them to breathe. I just pick up on the pace they set and work with it.
    Thanked by 2tandrews cesarfranck
  • NihilNominis
    Posts: 364
    I agree with all of the examples, Doc, and they are what I do by instinct, on reflection.
    Thanked by 2tandrews cesarfranck
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,773
    Those are good common-sense approaches. A colleague likes to add an odd beat of silence, which the choir has rehearsed and the congregation is used to, but which always betrays the presence of a singing newcomer.
    Thanked by 2cesarfranck CHGiffen
  • cesarfranck
    Posts: 78
    I would add that accoustics, tempo, and size of church make a major difference. For instance, I frequently heard an organist on a tracker in a large cathedral hold the last measure for full length and then provide a full measure of rest. Because the space was very dry or dead, the extra measure was excruciatingly long. He always used a very slow tempo on hymns as well, thus compounding the problem.
    Thanked by 1tandrews
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 6,617
    Has attention been called to the part that the 'period' of the composition would play in determining the performance of the last measure?
    One would approach this matter differently with Perotin vs du Fay, Binchois vs Tallis, Tallis vs Haydn, and any of the aforementioned vs Brahms or Goss, or Goss vs Herbert, Poulenc, or Britten.
    One might even approach the matter differently with different pieces by the same composer.
    Then there is the matter of acoustics, audience, weather, mood, place, role, and medium (voices, instruments, solo or in ensemble, etc.).
    Ultimately, a sense of good taste informed by some inkling of period propriety should yield the probable (but not infallible) answer.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen cesarfranck
  • tandrews
    Posts: 21
    Thanks everybody for the help! I did not factor in acoustics, tempo, or period in the equation. It's tricky stuff.


    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,102
    Follow the human’s tendency
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,350
    What I tend to do, and I've just noticed this, paying attention to what I do without thinking, in order to answer this question, is to treat the last bar of a verse as if it were the middle of a piece; that is to say, to not hold the note its full length by taking the breath needed for the next entrance (next verse) from it. So, for example, if the hymn (assuming a 4/4 time) ends with a whole-note (semibreve) and the next verse begins with a quarter-note (crotchet) on the downbeat, then I play the last bar as if it were a dotted half-note followed by a quarter-note rest, this allows for a breath without slowing down or stopping; similarly, if the verse ends with a dotted minim and the next one begins with a crotchet on the upbeat, I play the last bar as if it were an undotted minim followed by a crotchet rest. I only hold final bars the full note-value at the end of the last verse.
    Thanked by 2cesarfranck tandrews
  • Caleferink
    Posts: 282
    If you can, try singing a verse while you play. When you get to the end of it, do what you might naturally do, but pay attention to what you do. If you're like me, when you sing while playing your singing breath gets a little compromised and you become closer to the average person in the pew. Then you can go with it. Make sure it stays in rhythm, of course.

    This is just how I do it. Your mileage may vary.
    Thanked by 2cesarfranck tandrews
  • tandrews
    Posts: 21
    Yeah I can usually sing the first verse pretty well, but by verse 5 (O Filii et Filiae, anyone?) it becomes quite a challenge!
  • davido
    Posts: 158
    I was taught that the length of the rest in between verses is more important than how long you hold the last chord.
    The rest should be the length of the breath, no longer, otherwise the congregation does not know when to come in. The final chord can be held until you are ready to set the next verse’s registration, but once you let it go, the registration needs to be changed and you need to be ready to play the next chord all in that one beat of rest. If you are late, you will throw off the congregation.

    I have always found this advice to be accurate.
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 6,617
    ...ar late.... will throw off...
    Ha! Not Lutherans! If the organ doesn't begin at the expected moment the congregation will heartily begin the next stanza on the beat and with one voice a cappella.
    ...the length of a beat...
    This, too, is very important.
    The pause after each stanza should be long enough for people to catch a liesurely breath. Sometimes counting to three or so (not too slowly) is a rough guide. I've tried (and given up trying) singing with organists who go from one stanza to the next without missing a beat. Not only is this burdensome, it is unmusical and lacking totally in grace.
    Too, I am not averse (though many are) to adding a couple of beats to the last chord. This has a gracious and finishing effect from one stanza to the next. Above all, there should not be so much as a hint of hurriedness.

  • tandrews
    Posts: 21
    The final chord can be held until you are ready to set the next verse’s registration, but once you let it go, the registration needs to be changed and you need to be ready to play the next chord all in that one beat of rest. If you are late, you will throw off the congregation.


    That is so much fun on a tracker organ when you don't have a registrant!
    Thanked by 2Salieri cesarfranck
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,664
    Neither too short nor too long.

    And no rubato.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,350
    tandrews: Especially on an instrument you aren't too familiar with.
    Thanked by 2tandrews cesarfranck
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,773
    I'll agree that ritardandos are generally unhelpful (though who would do without one before "Star of wonder"?) but rubato in the sense of 'robbed' is helpful in some hymns like IN BABYLONE or NUN DANKET. There one can make extra breathing time ("…with hearts and hands a voi - cesWho wondrous") by paradoxically slightly hurrying the congregation before the cadence.