Although I can’t take credit for the singing of “my” congregation, which was already singing well when I took the job, maybe a few suggestions will help.
- Play an introduction: 2 phrases or the refrain usually work well.
- If the hymn is new to the congregation, play an entire verse as the introduction.
- No ritard at the end. You want the congregation to sing in tempo.
- Add time (silence, to let the congregation know when to breathe) before the 1st verse, and between verses (at least a one-beat rest).
- Use 8′ and 4′ stops so the congregation can hear you.
- If you are playing the organ, introduce more silence in hymn-playing than in other music you play.
- If you are playing the piano, your playing needs to be assertive and more percussive in hymns, with less pedal.
- Have the choir face the congregation during hymns.
- Rehearse hymns in advance with the choir (important words, phrasing, tempo).
- Ask the choir to sing the 1st verse in unison.
- Play the 1st verse as written (no added notes, no rubato).
- You could have a mini-workshop during the service to introduce an unfamiliar hymn.
- Include notes in the bulletin: something interesting about the tune, composer, or poet. Or speak briefly during the service once in a while.
- Ensure that your hymn-playing is very clear, with silence for breaths, good rhythm, and enthusiasm. Are you playing too slow? (If everyone keeps running out of breath, it’s too slow.) Too fast? (If people don’t have time to get the words out, it’s too fast.) If the hymn is new to you, ask the choir to help you find the tempo.
- Sing every hymn several times during the week before the service. Singing gives you the tempo, and you will breathe with the congregation. Keep in mind that you may have more vocal training than those in the congregation. Untrained singers need more time to breathe, find the next verse, etc.
- Change stops between verses.
- Find other ways to add variety.
- If you want to change key between verses, play an interlude of at least 2 bars so people can tell what’s going on! (One chord will only confuse them.)
- Listen to what’s going on during the hymn in the service. You might come up with something on the spur of the moment.
- Attend services at other churches to hear what they do with the hymns. (I learned a great deal that way!) Many churches have more than one service on Sundays, or mid-week. Experiencing the singing in different denominations is fascinating.
- Find a hymn workshop. Whether it be singing or playing, there is a lot to learn.
- Organize a hymn sing.
- If having the choir lead the hymns by facing the congregation still doesn’t result in progress, disperse the choir members throughout the congregation.
- And above all, don’t be boring!
How do you get your congregation to sing?
Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!
- Creative hymn playing (gretchenspianos.wordpress.com)