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Calling organists and singers who know about singing pslams/evensong............

(36 Posts)
FAQ Wed 27-Aug-08 08:55:10

Please tell me I have a point on this one.

Once a month in the evening at church we have Evensong. However with the absence of a church choir (something I hope to try and start afresh once DS3 is a little older) and having an average of 7-10 people attending the service (often including me and the verger - who takes it!) of late we've been saying the Pslam.

We do sing the mag and nunc - but it's the same setting we sing each month so everyone knows it.

Now I'll be honest - Evensong is absolutely torturous for me - don't get me wrong - I love a proper Evensong with choir and/or large congregation singing - but honestly - this is just awful.

We're about to start back with the first Evensong after the summer holidays and the Verger has dropped a note through my door suggesting that we sing the Pslams again. I know his reasoning - it's because among the tiny number of regular attenders we have one soprano, one alto, one tenor, and one bass - who are all capable of holding their own line. Most of the others that come just sing the top line and struggle through.

Now he's suggested that we "arrange a pracctice at my convenience" to practice the Pslams - I personally feel it will be a complete joke - going to be like an OAP's Barber Shop Choir.

I'm hoping to talk to my Vicar on Sunday to tell her I don't want to do this - we either have a choir or we don't (and we don't right now) and I know that this is just the Verger and 2 long standing members of the church (who sang in the choir for nearly 20yrs while it existed) trying to "force" their ways on things again)

I'm not mad am I - trying to sing the Pslam with 1 of each part who have practiced,and a few member of the congregation battling along with us will be awful won't it??

FAQ Wed 27-Aug-08 09:28:41


MrsJohnCusack Wed 27-Aug-08 09:30:45

is it the psalms written out with the 4 part melodic score at the top and then all the words below with the punctuation stuff?

because that is quite hard to do without practice, or very experienced people. and if everyone does something different it sounds shocking!

MrsJohnCusack Wed 27-Aug-08 09:32:05

in other words I'd be with you. evensong is a bit crap if the singing is, seeing as that's more or less the point....

MrsJohnCusack Wed 27-Aug-08 09:32:06

in other words I'd be with you. evensong is a bit crap if the singing is, seeing as that's more or less the point....

FAQ Wed 27-Aug-08 09:33:45

yep written out like that - they are very experienced (the 4 that would be singing the four parts) but we'd probably only fit one practice in (and that would be with my 3 DS's running riot in the background) and the rest of the congregation (3-5 of them) would be joining in as best they could on the night........

MrsJohnCusack Thu 28-Aug-08 00:30:06

but if there's noone much to listen it might be OK? i mean it would sound dire to you but they might enjoy it?

blithedance Thu 28-Aug-08 00:51:32

Does rather sound as if "worship" and "performance" have become confused. IMHO the choir are there to perform, to lead the rest of the congregation to worship. (Yes the choir may be worshipping too but obviously priority is concentrating on the music). If there isn't a choir, it's a kindness to keep the music accessible to everyone.

Suggest that after the next service, you have a brief straw poll amongst the regular attenders as to whether they would prefer sung or said psalms. Then at least nobody can say they didn't like it.

So the four possible singers are the verger, the two ex-choir members and you, I surmise? I would think that people who insist on singing the harmonies in such a small congregation are pretty off-putting. What do they do for the hymns? Are the mag and nunc sung in unison? Did people sing along to the psalms when there was a choir?

I am going back a few years to my choir days but can the psalms possibly be limited to a couple of simple settings? I remember us doing "one psalm to the tune of another" IYSWIM. It's as much the technique of doing that droning on-up-and-down-at-the-end thing as the tune.

tortoiseshell Thu 28-Aug-08 01:04:40

What do the congregation want? I know some congregations love singing the psalms, and you can choose a suitably sympathetic (ie low and not too complicated) psalm chant. Pointing as in the parish psalter - why not give it a go, see how it goes?

It's interesting sitting in the congregation how many of them actually do give it a go! I think as long as you have a couple of strong people who can lead it, then it can work well. I presume you would also have organ accompaniment? I wouldn't try it unaccompanied just yet...grin

Otherwise, reading the psalms antiphonally can work well.

FAQ Thu 28-Aug-08 18:02:10

No I wouldn't be singing - I don't sing blush (well I do if forced - but I'm afraid playing the pslam and sticking moving notes at the same time as singing is beyond my capabilities grin).

I know what the congregation would want (all 4 of the "choir" are actually members of the congregation at Evensong) it would be sung - but these 4 people are quite good at "forcing" their view of things onto other people.

There'd be no chance of choosing and suitably sympathetic pslam chant - the verger (very ex-choir member is very particular about the chants and it has to be the "right" one hmm).

In the last year or so since my choir disappeared (either too old, or off to university) we've said the pslams. With the Mag and nunc most since in Unison - but the tenor and bass (verger and ex-choir member) ALWAYS sing their line - no matter which service they attend or how many people are in the congregation hmm.

Personally I think we should scrap both Evensong and Evening Worship as barely anyone attends those services, and stick to our Taize and Praise services in the evenings (where numbers are significantly higher - I know I@m not the only one who feels this way, but when you're up against a small, but "strong" group of long timer regulars of the church, who are also on the PCC there's not much that can be done about that).

MrsJohnCusack Thu 28-Aug-08 20:52:32

oh dear
sounds like you are up against a very determined bunch who don't want to see their traditional services and ways of doing things disappear - and I can see their point really - but it is sad.

is finding a choir just up to you then? I mean, are they all just waiting for you to pull some singers out of a hat, but not going to do anything to find any themselves

SqueakyPop Thu 28-Aug-08 20:55:53

Our congregations are pretty heaving b(but more rock band than plainsong), so I can't begin to understand what you are going through. You are in my prayers.

blithedance Thu 28-Aug-08 21:18:52

Are you the organist FAQ? What a difficult line you must have to walk.

Seems to me that the the "four-part" brigade should be allowed to sing anything they like but as for a practice, you sound as if you have quite enough to get on with. They are not a proper choir having choir practice. Say that if they are that interested you could whizz them through the chant in 5 mins before the service (if they are that good at singing they should be able to sight-read surely wink).

It's a bit hard to dictate to people how they should sing but you are certainly able to choose how you spend your time.

Then you could suggest that the Verger explains at the start of the service that psalms are going to be sung now and the congregation are welcome to join in or just listen or say the words. It doesn't matter if the congregation is 3 or 300. If the leader won't do that they should think seriously about how inclusive their service is.

And when playing the chant, make the melody extra loud so the non-choristers can follow it. Presumably you play once through the setting as an introduction?

Depends who is actually responsible for the music. In this day and age all the church members should have a say, surely, bit hmm to have a person pulling rank. Like, what would happen if you just said no, I don't think it's appropriate?

FAQ Thu 28-Aug-08 21:48:03

MJC - yes I can see their point too - but at some point surely churches have to realise when their "traditional" services are no longer "working" and move on - particularly with the evening services - where many churches (of all denominations) in our town no longer even have ANY evening services.

yes I'm apparently supposed to just pull singers out of a hat - and when they don't appear make a huge deal out of finding singers for me (like for Christmas last year when one of the "ex" choir members "helped" me by recruiting a choir, and completely taking over practices - including arranging one for a night I couldn't make!!!)

I would love for all church members to have a say - unfortunately there are a very small number (not surprising including those that attend Evensong) who want everything "as it used to be".....

I'm one of these people that enjoy everything from proper Sung Evensong, right through to Spring Harvest (and beyond) type music and worship - but it just doesn't work in our church.........

blithedance Thu 28-Aug-08 22:40:00

It's a symptom of a larger issue, looking at where your church is going overall, where it sees its ministry and the demographic of the congregation and community. Does your church even want to have a choir in the tradtional way, would a more modern style music group suit better so you could have hymns and choruses together?

FAQ Thu 28-Aug-08 23:03:19

now you see this is the problem - there is a very good reason that the Verger takes the Evensong - because our Vicar (and 95% of the church members) would happily chop Evensong off the list of styles of services we do.....and I'm only there because I'm the organist, and the church warden jumps at the chance to babysit my children for that service so that she can get out of being there too.......

I did a little questionairre type thing last year about music in the church in order to try and see which way we were turning - got quite a lot of them back - and most said

1. With regards to the choir - they didn't mind, "traditional" choir for more traditional services is nice, and a more modern style music group for other services nice too

2. All (apart from the group mentioned above) said they were happy with the range of hymns and choruses we sing, and enjoy learning "new" ones, both modern and old.

We have a very wide ranging demographic - with very wide ranging tastes (some of the younger ones prefer the traditional Communion service, while some of the older ones - in their 80's) like the more modern, Praise services - very hard trying to please even some of the people some of the time......

Mostly things are ok as they are - we've got a group of "younger" (well when young when compared to the 80 and 90yr olds that come weekly lol) musicians coming through in our music group, and I'm hoping that once we get a group together for Christmas this year we can keep something going - even if it's only with practices once a fortnight or similar

Its just this issue of Evensong...........

blithedance Thu 28-Aug-08 23:40:11

thought the vicar was keeping a suspiciously low profile here! It sounds as if your church has loads of fantastic things going on.

I think you do have a reasonable point, going back to the OP, but you need to keep the vicar in the loop. It seems perfectly reasonable to stick to a simple service with so few attendees, and if a small group want to perform an ensemble then they should join a choral society. Sung evensong is becoming very much a niche event these days and that's just life.

If the church is the body of Christ, you need to care for the needs of all parts but also be realistic about what the roles of each are. <tentative point here:> These members are not a choir so it's out of place to act as if they are, when it's out of proportion to the resources/size of the Evensong service. But it's important to keep the body together because if one bit is hurting then it will affect the whole church.

FAQ Thu 28-Aug-08 23:43:53

lol - yes Vicar very low profile - she was all for cutting out Evensong and working with the services that do work well.....

I'm definitely going to keep the vicar in the loop - that's why I was canvassing opinions on here before talking to her on Sunday morning smile

MrsJohnCusack Fri 29-Aug-08 09:41:50

well bearing all of this in mind it does sound as though Evensong is a bit of a problem really. you have my sympathies! I think it would be a good idea to move on but obv it is oh-so-tricky.
good luck!

tortoiseshell Fri 29-Aug-08 10:35:08

I'm going to disagree with the masses here, because I do think it would be a shame to lose evensong completely. Something I think the church forgets is that small groups of older members who've attended the church for a long time ARE entitled to have an opinion, and may love evensong. Given that you only have it once a month, for some people it may be really upsetting to lose that altogether. I think there is a bit of a 'church-wide' obsession atm with catering for the 'young people' and they forget that actually older people deserve to be catered for.

I'm not actually saying that 'evensong is for old people, praise services for young' - plenty of our young people would shoot themselves before going to a praise service. But it sounds in your church like it is split that way.

So what I would do is to keep the once a month evensong, and try to find a way of doing at as best you can - whether that's reading or singing the psalms, doing a unison mag/nunc - whatever really. But it's very hard to resurrect something once it's gone - and if you are hoping to restart a choir, having a monthly evensong in place is a good place to start!

FAQ Fri 29-Aug-08 10:47:39

problem is though that since we cut down from evening services every Sunday to just 2 a month Evensong has happened every month, and the other services (praise, taize and evening worship) only occur once every 3 months.

Evensong isn't the only service these people attend, most attend the main morning service, or the said communion on a Wednesday or 8am Sunday as well.

Oh and the (self appointed hmm) verger (the one that is fighting the hardest to have it kept) has been at the church only 1yr longer than I have (which is nothing compared to many).

I can guarantee that restarting the choir Evensong is the absolute worst place to start - most that have expressed an interest in reforming a choir can't stand evensong (even proper evensong with fantastic choir etc) and can't commit to morning and evening services.

It feels really pointless to have a service where frequently the only people who are there and there because they have a "role" to play

Verger (usually leading it)
Stewards/church warden - for stewarding/church warden duties
ex-choir member - prayers
other ex-choir member - readings
another lady (who runs our growing "modern" music group) to do the sermon.

tortoiseshell Fri 29-Aug-08 10:49:09

Well, you know your church, I just think it's a shame to lose something as lovely as evensong!

FAQ Fri 29-Aug-08 11:21:20

but it's not lovely - it's really is and I truly don't understand why those that seem to want to force it to continue do so - anyone visiting the church and thinking "oooo Evensong first Sunday of every month" would be extremely disappointed IMO....

Even when we had a choir (of which 5/6 would attend Evensong) it was pretty dire - now, well it's awful.

I do think that Evensong has it's place, but only where it's helping a church grow and develop- our Evensong does neither of those.

And - omg - just had a proper look at the Pslams he's dropped on - one of them is 26 odd verses long - even with the choir it was struggle to get past more than about 10-15 verses.......

tortoiseshell Fri 29-Aug-08 11:24:39

You have to decide what's right for your church. I personally have to confess I really like evensong, even if it's said, but like I said, you know your church.

Incidentally, we often cut the psalms down - so do 12 verses, not 30 or whatever is set! Depending on the psalm.

Hope you find a solution.

FAQ Fri 29-Aug-08 11:28:09

I love a sung Evensong, when I was at St. Mary's in Edinburgh I frequently used to go to Evensong during the week, but I dread the first Sunday of the month now hmm

Wish we could cut the pslams down, but verger and one of the ex-choir members won't have any of that -it's the set Pslam so we sing it.

They even get awkward with me when I tell them "yes we ARE singing Set A for the Mag and Nunc (again)" - as the want a change - but at least the non-singers that attend know it now and are able to sing it in unison without getting totally lost

Thanks for your advice

<<<<<<<<<still wonders who tortoiseshell is and where she plays>>>>>>

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