Yet another instance (or, notation for everyone!)

Anyone who has . . .

known me for a while, or

read my blog for a few months, or

corresponded with me, or

shared thoughts about congregational worship with me, or

been near me in a church assembly lately

. . . probably won’t be surprised that I’m putting myself out there, yet again, as an unequivocal, unabashed supporter of music notation in church gatherings.  Most congregations have no excuse for not making some kind of notation available — whether printed sheets, hymnals, or projected digital image.  Words-only 1) assumes total musical illiteracy (not a valid assumption for the majority who have attended school in the U.S.) and 2) guarantees a lesser participation dynamic on the part of the people in the seats.

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(Here, I jab, with a wink, at a friend who may read this.)  Recently, I was in an assembly in which one of those add-a-part songs was sung.  You know the type:  in most of them, sopranos start, then altos are added, then tenors and basses.

Well, in this particular song (“That’s Why We Praise Him”), the projection provided words only, even as it invited, almost sarcastically, “add altos,” “add tenor,” then “add bass.”  But there were no notes to add!  One just had to know the parts.  Funny.  (I double-dog-dare you to monitor whether people actually make up the same harmony parts out of thin air.  In every normal, congregational instance, there would be variety in the spontaneous part guesswork.)  I ask you:  how are we supposed to remember the other parts when we can’t even sing the melody consistently in unison?  Answer:  we’re not expected to.  By not providing music notation, we are expressly un-expecting decent part-singing.

It doesn’t make sense to ask for part-singing without having notated parts available.

We need notation!  We need notation!lgchurch

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6 thoughts on “Yet another instance (or, notation for everyone!)

  1. Susan Peterson 07/27/2013 / 9:44 pm

    Amen! 🙂 I completely agree…although I have found that I immensely enjoy singing with the staff at camp even with a lack of notation. I can randomly pick out any part I want, like a soprano or alto harmony, or some sort of descant or solo part, and throw it in the mix and enjoy the resulting complexity {/chaos}. I find the freedom to experiment with the sound of my voice in worship to be meaningful, especially when not “bound” by notation.

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    • Brian Casey 07/27/2013 / 9:57 pm

      Thanks for looking in and commenting, Susan. Yes, I resonate with some small-group experiences sans notation, too; they more or less require a high degree of common repertoire and experience with said repertoire. The freedom element you mention is a double-edged sword — yes, it can be liberating and “meaningful” to me as a single soul, but also distracting to the person next to me who’s trying to do the same basic thing but completely clashing with my notions. Hope that makes sense.

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  2. Anne Boyd 07/28/2013 / 5:17 pm

    Just “words” with no notation is a passing fad. In this process, will harmony be lost, or will the pendulum swing back to harmony one day? I, like Susan, sometimes like to take off on some notation of my own…but find myself clashing with someone nearby. That rather disturbs my focus on worshipping God. :0

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    • Brian Casey 07/31/2013 / 7:18 pm

      Call me pessimistic, and I guess you’ll be right, but I also think it’s realistic to think that the trend will continue — less & less harmony. I would love to be proven wrong! (With the decline in harmony goes a decline in terms of congregational energy, and the latter is a bad thing no matter whether one cares about harmony or not.)

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