The Good, the Mediocre, the Bad, and the Awful

The example in my  last post explained the reason why a certain hymn-tune appears to me as high-quality, from a musical point of view, at least. It set me to thinking if there is a definitive method of assessing if a hymn  is ‘Good, mediocre, bad or awful’. I don’t believe there can be an ‘absolute’ value of quality, because we all come from different backgrounds, with various experiences, and personal preferences and dislikes……..but it’s maybe useful to put together some guidelines

  • It has to have excellent poetry, and tell some form of story
  • It has to have a recognisable and valid theology
  • It should cause SOME challenge to the instrument player and the choir or soloist to play and/or sing, and provide sufficient satisfaction and enjoyment to make the practising worthwhile.
  • The music and words should be original
  • The age of the performers/listeners need to be taken-into consideration
  • They should be suitable in, and appropriate for, the environment in which they are to be performed
  • They must be capable of hitting some sensitive nerve in the listener and/or performer

If all or most of these criteria are fulfilled, then we may say that we have hit the jackpot.

There is some drivel out there, poorly constructed music, inadequate vocabulary, requiring repetition of words (which, having been said once, do not bear repetition within the same hymn), and poor or dubious theology.

We are lucky that there is such a variety of hymn books available that it IS possible to select a good number of excellent pieces…a few from each book to produce a list of the best.

I can understand why many churches now do not hand out a hymn book, but have a service sheet or use overhead systems. We might yet see the demise of the conventional hymnal. As long as there is someone looking critically at what congregations and/or choirs are to sing, then, hopefully, quality will rise to the top……but I’m not convinced it will happen!

Practise, practise….and then get dressed!

I love choir practices….I always have………………when people get together with a like mind, it can be great fun. An amazing amount of work can be achieved in a short time and the sheer comradeship we all get from trying to achieve a common goal is palpable.

Learning parts is often difficult. What looks easy on a manuscript page does not always give joy in the learning (as we all know to our cost)! There is firstly the physical reading of the notes, and getting them into the short-time memory….often a real slog! Then the quiet humming of your part in the background (to try to get them into the long-term memory(!), whilst others are learning theirs.  This is probably when you do the spade-work and achieve most.

When two and three parts are tried together, and the troubles are seen and heard, the annoyance and frustration can put you off a piece.

But there is always a point when it begins to come together. The first successful run with full harmony and accompaniment is when the hard work is seen to be worthwhile. Only then can we begin to see the composer’s intention, and start enjoying it……as you can see from the photo!

Understanding comes......

Understanding comes to the altos......

But what is most astonishing and pleasurable, is when we gown-up for a Service, knowing that we can’t make mistakes and laugh them off. Something suddenly makes everything different. Whether it is the formality of the situation, or something within us which tells us to be serious, I don’t know, but it is most often true that ‘ It will be alright on the night’.

Thank goodness!