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  • Hymns in a Too-High Key

    We are singing "Sweet, Sweet Spirit" in my UM church this Sunday.

    It's in the UMC hymnal in G major.

    A couple of recordings I've listened to do it in F major, which is better for unison/congregation.

    I have perfect pitch - I am simply unable to use the transpose feature of our electronic organ, and thus I'm considering putting the piece into my music notation Software, Sibelius 4, and printing it out for myself in F major.

    1. Anyone else do similar, or do you just use the transpose feature of your organ?

    2. What are the copyright issues if I wanted to do more of this and make it available, for free, to people on this forum?

    3. I know it's slow, and I just tried playing it in F, and I can do that, but this is an ongoing issue for me, and this is my first year as a church organist, and for busier hymns that I've never heard before, playing it in another key isn't going to be a practical option.

    Thanks in advance.

    -S-

  • #2
    Hmmm. In G major, SSS starts on the 'B' below "Middle C" right? That's about as low a note as you would want to see in a unison melody. Now you want to take that a whole step lower? Are these recordings in 'F' vocal ones? G is the key we do it in, and about the only key I have ever seen or heard it in, and it is about as good a compromise key as you are going to find for a melody that has such a wide disparity between the tessitura of the verse section vs the tessitura of the refrain. Untrained melody voices should be able to reach 'G' just above the staff, and SSS doesn't go above 'E' I believe.

    So that takes care of Sweet, Sweet, Spirit. But you raise an interesting subject. There are hymns in the UHM that I wonder what they were thinking when they set the key signature. I have a pipe organ so any transposition has to be done the hard way. I have enough perfect pitch that I don't 'like' transposers but I can use them. Its just mind over matter. Certainly I am not going to spend quality time with notation software for a hymn! At choir rehearsal when we sing a hymn and it sounds high to me I often transpose it on the spot by ear. On Sunday, in the heat of the moment I forget, and play it at written pitch, and the world does not end.

    Intentional transposition aka 'modulation' is a valuable tool for a Service Musician. Whenever you have a hymn in a flat key try playing it a half step higher. It should be pretty easy. I often deliberately play a hymn in A major in Ab for 3 verses so I can modulate to the written key of the hymn on the last verse. For extra points start a half step lower on a three verse hymn so you can play vs 1 a half lower, vs 2 at written pitch and vs3 +1/2 step. Very effective.

    Comment


    • #3
      @Leisestrum, thanks for your reply.

      You have a different group than I do. Mine is mostly altos, with a soprano or three on a good day, and the altos complain about singing D, let alone the E in this hymn as written, and wouldn't ever sing a G. So that doesn't take care of Sweet, Sweet Spirit, I'm afraid.

      I looked it up on YouTube and listened to two versions - both were in F, not G. I stopped looking there.

      I grew up a jazz musician and am a good transposer, but I grew up a guitar player and not a pianist or organist. The hymns I play every Sunday don't always come easily to me. I ask to get them mid-week and always practice them. I can "schlep" through them at sight but I prefer to try to better myself and work on being able to play every note of each exactly as written. (Once I know them, I do take liberties with them as I feel appropriate.)

      Transposing the busier, faster ones is not going to happen - it just so happens that I asked about transposing the one hymn that I could play in another key after playing through a couple of times, so my question is a broader one. It would be great if the hymns were available in a universal format, e.g., Music XML or MIDI, so that they could be easily imported into a program like Sibelius or Finale.

      -S-

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Steve Freides View Post
        1. Anyone else do similar, or do you just use the transpose feature of your organ?
        Steve,

        I just use the transpose function of the keyboard, but if I'm particularly lazy, I will sometimes transpose it at sight. For example, Victory in Jesus is sometimes written in G, but I'll visually transpose it to F because of the high notes of the Chorus.
        Originally posted by Steve Freides View Post
        2. What are the copyright issues if I wanted to do more of this and make it available, for free, to people on this forum?
        Leisesturm's suggestions are right on. The only thing I'll add is that raising the last verse, or each verse a half step should be used sparingly rather than regularly. As with most musical techniques, they can become stale if over-used.

        Copyright issues? I wouldn't--mostly because it can certainly be found elsewhere, either in print, or overcome aversion to the transposer. I know, easier said than done!

        Have you ever visited hymnary.org? That website probably has a copy of SSS you could print in the key of F. The harmony may vary slightly, but that could be exciting. Check it out: http://www.hymnary.org/text/theres_a...t_in_this_plac. In this case, there are no other versions available (because of copyright), nor can you make them available, but you can find many other standard hymns in different keys--sometimes you can even find alternate harmonizations for the last verse!

        Michael

        - - - Updated - - -

        Originally posted by Steve Freides View Post
        Transposing the busier, faster ones is not going to happen - it just so happens that I asked about transposing the one hymn that I could play in another key after playing through a couple of times, so my question is a broader one.
        Steve,

        We were posting at the same time. In any event, transposing the busier/faster ones can happen if you think of them as regards the harmonic tempo--the frequency the chords change. I've encountered "fast" hymns (tempo-wise) which were quite slow harmonically. An example of that would be When the Roll is Called Up Yonder. Tempo-wise the beat is subdivided and sounds fast, but the harmony doesn't vary far from the 3 principal chords (I, IV, and V).

        Hope that helps you think of it differently.

        There are websites that have various MIDI files of hymns like the one for which you search. Unfortunately, I've found many of them to be riddled with viruses/malware/spyware. Make sure you have a good firewall. Other MIDI sites are geared for performance vs. notation, so they will not import correctly in Sibelius or Finale.

        Have fun!

        Michael
        Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
        • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
        • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
        • 10 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 6 Pianos

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        • #5

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Leisesturm View Post
            Victory In Jesus? When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder? What denomination do you play for may I ask? I'm not actually sure if I've ever played a note of that one in anger.
            I've played for almost every brand you can name or mention--from Catholic to Baptist and everywhere in between. That said, I mostly play for Protestant churches with a traditional bent (or a Contemporary twist!).

            I'm like cement--thoroughly mixed up, but permanently set.

            Michael
            Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
            • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
            • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
            • 10 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 6 Pianos

            Comment


            • #7
              Glad to hear folks talking about the "good old songs" that I grew up singing! It's a different world for sure, from the truly classical-oriented churches where "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder" would probably be met with glazed-over eyes!

              I do find that most any hymn or gospel song I need to print out is available somewhere on the internet in MIDI format, which easily imports into Calkwalk/Sonar and thus can be printed in any key required. This is helpful when printing out a part to be played by a transposing instrument like a trumpet or clarinet or French horn. But then I'm talking about the basic set of standard hymns and gospel songs -- think the Baptist Hymnal. A lot of newer or less-well-known hymns are probably not available on such sites.

              As to copyright, if your church uses the CCLI system, which is virtually a required extortion fee if you have a praise band or if you print music in the bulletins or project it on a screen, then you are automatically granted the right to reproduce any hymn that is in a published hymnal. At least that is the way I have read the CCLI docs in the past. So, while it's not practical or cost-effective to print your own hymnals, you can freely copy and duplicate a hymn you want to use in a service that happens not to be in your current hymnals in the pews, as long as it does appear in some other published hymnal, whether you own one or not. You can make all the copies you want, distribute them to the congregation, put them in the bulletin, or project them on the screen. And I don't know why there would be any problem with transposing and printing them out in a different key.

              Putting such material up on a forum like this one might be a different issue though. I do know that some internet groups prohibit the posting of copyrighted material, and that may be a necessary prohibition, given that the CCLI license only allows usage within a worship service or other church activity, not the widespread dissemination of a song or hymn, as on the internet.
              John
              ----------
              *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!

              https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

              Comment


              • #8
                Thank you all for your replies. I'll respond to a few things that were said:

                Although I am organist and music director, we also have a choir director at our church, a retired professional singer (I don't wish to give away more but suffice it to say: at the highest level) who is a soprano and often, during congregation singing, will sing the tenor part, but in her own octave. Why? I don't know, but she expects me to play the hymns as written, and I respect that. When, in advance, I've decided to harmonize something differently, I let her know.

                More to the point of this one for me, I am well able to play things other than what's on the page, but I honestly feel that my first job is to be able to play it as-written, and I don't feel great about playing other harmonies because, inevitably, they'll be easier to play, and playing the hymns just as they are is, in some cases, a healthy challenge for me - I play them at home, I realize that I need different fingerings than what comes naturally in a few places in order to get the moving alto and tenor notes, and I practice them because that's how I improve. When push comes to shove, and it's Sunday, and I can't play everything exactly as written, I do what I need to. I'm reminded here of being a student in 8th grade English - we'd read poetry by Walt Whitman, assigned to write something ourselves, and I used the word "ain't" in mine. My teacher explained to me that, when I got to be as good as Walt Whitman, I could do that, but in the meantime, she'd reduce my grade for that. (This was a long time ago, of course.)

                I don't know what the CCLI system is, or even what that stands for - please say a bit more. I have joined the St. James Music Press this year, and that seems to work similarly - you pay the annual fee and you have the right to print, distribute for your church, etc. I like it so far, although most of the music is much too difficult - mine is a very small church, with a very small choir of, save the choir director, non-musicians, so when going for something new, I pick things like rounds, or only two parts, three at most.

                Michael, I looked at the page you gave a link to - there's a _lot_ of stuff there. Could you explain a little more how I might go about finding this piece in F major? Buying something in print is never an option, since I find out about the hymn selection only a few days ahead of time, if that, but downloading it could work for me. I found this

                http://www.hymnary.org/files/previews/214709/C5334.pdf

                although I'm not quite sure which buttons I pressed to get there, and it says it's a "preview" so I'm not sure what that means, either, but I can print it out - just did. It's got a quote from "Every Time I Feel The Spirit" as it's introduction! We sang that in college when I was in the choir. Even though it says, "Preview," is it OK/legal for me to print it out and play from it on Sunday without compensating someone?

                When there are chord symbols over the music, that makes my life a whole lot easier, given my background, for what that's worth. I do things for myself like take out a fake book - at the piano, not the organ - pick out a standard, and make sure I can play it in all 12 keys. I can't do it at sight, but I like to keep learning new tunes this way, and I work without music on this process. Basically, once I know a tune, I can play it in every key. The problem for me with playing in church is that I didn't grow up going to church, so the music is mostly new to me.

                Thank you all very much - this forum has been a great resource for me.

                -S-

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                • #9
                  Can you play guitar with a capo? Not much different from using the transpose buttons, or playing a Bb/Eb band instrument. You can teach your brain to accept a new C.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Wes View Post
                    Can you play guitar with a capo? Not much different from using the transpose buttons, or playing a Bb/Eb band instrument. You can teach your brain to accept a new C.
                    I grew up with a guitar teacher who would have shot me if I'd used a capo. The short answer is no, I can't play with a capo.

                    The longer answer goes back to having perfect pitch.

                    If you ask me to sing a song I know in another key, I can do that, but I'm literally singing it in another key, e.g., if you asked me to solfege it (I do only fixed "do"), I'd be using the names of the notes in the new key, not the original. OTOH, if you ask me to sight-read something in another key, or play something I don't know well, I'll use clefs to transpose. I play French Horn in mezzo-soprano clef, trumpet in tenor clef, and alto sax in bass clef - no way I could ever have learned to play those instruments otherwise. I play Eb horn parts by reading it in bass clef as well because I play everything at concert pitch. I can get away with Baroque pitch, e.g., I can sing something up to about a half-step flat and be OK, but that's it. When I've sung in unaccompanied choirs, if the pitch gets really flat, I switch to another clef.

                    I grew up a jazz guitar player but with no other musical activities - no band or orchestra instruments, no music in school, just me and my guitar lesson. I had no idea I had perfect pitch until I got to college. My first semester, we all had to sing in the big chorus, and at the audition, after being given an initial pitch and asked to sight-sing a tenor part while someone played the accompaniment, and then getting lost after a few bars, the conductor told me we'd try it again - I sang my starting pitch for him before he played it, he asked me if I had perfect pitch, and I asked him, "What's that?" I had no idea the rest of the world didn't hear the way I did.

                    I recently accompanied one of my wife's vocal students on acoustic guitar at a concert, and used a capo in order to preserve the sound/feel of the song, but it was a four-chord song I knew well, and I was literally thinking it and playing it in another key, and even then, it took me a few times through to get used to what was happening. This was and is a big deal to me, although I realize it's a no-brainer to most people. This was, literally, the first time I'd ever played guitar in public with a capo, and I've been playing for 50+ years.

                    Hope that explains things. Hey, I make a great tenor ringer in anyone's choir because I can sight-sing anything, so long as they're not transposing it.

                    -S-

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Wow! This is fascinating! I am just the opposite.
                      I understand that there are perfect notes/tones - sort of like Plato's "forms." But to me notes are keys on a keyboard. As long as the keyboard is in tune with itself, I do not notice any differences. Yes, I will perceive that the hymn sounds lower or higher than the version that I have in my head, but that is as far as it goes. The fact that the keyboard is in equal temperament - and thus imperfect - does not bother me. I am unable to transpose by mentally changing the key signature on the page in front of me. I suppose I could force myself to learn how to do that; but I don't because if it is not broken, don't fix it. I still have trouble with the concept that when an orchestra is playing in a perfect key, the piano is not really playing along in perfect tune with the orchestra because the piano is tuned in equal temperament. This raises a question: do orchestras ever play in equal temperament instead of perfect pitch to match the piano better - perhaps for a Beethoven piano concerto?

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                      • #12
                        Your brain already has most of the skills required to let you play organ in a different key. It's not much different than using different clefs - you just need to train your brain that it's possible to set up a piano so that the key we normally call "C" produces the note "D" now.

                        I'm sure you could learn this if you wanted to badly enough and were willing to put in the time. After all, you have no problem getting the sounds "C" and "A" from the second space on the staff - your brain switches modes based on the clef. I'd be willing to bet that you can already play a piano transposed 12 steps without any major issues.

                        The brain is a remarkable instrument, but it is sometimes very difficult to train properly. Google up some info on the backwards bike if you're curious.

                        Wes

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                        • #13
                          Wes, with all due respect, your theory and my reality disagree. And I will leave it at that. Thank you for taking the time to reply.

                          -S/

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Menschenstimme View Post
                            This raises a question: do orchestras ever play in equal temperament instead of perfect pitch to match the piano better - perhaps for a Beethoven piano concerto?
                            In 4 words--some do, some don't! It depends how stubborn they are. My wife absolutely refuses to play equal temperament. She says the piano doesn't make the flats flat enough or the sharps sharp enough. I suspect it's a pack mentality when playing with the piano or organ with the orchestra. I'm usually playing organ, so I just don't worry about it--I cant change my pitch anyway!

                            Steve, it surprises me you didn't recognize the PDF file you shared as part of a choral arrangement with piano accompaniment. That said, yes, the piano part can be played on the organ, but from a quick scan, it appears to use alternate harmonization, so your music director probably wouldn't be pleased.

                            Bottom line, the easiest thing for all is for the organist to transpose--either at sight or via the transposition knob. I realize this a difficult task for you to learn, given your proclivities, but it may be necessary to do the work to make the music meaningful for those who listen and participate.

                            Michael

                            P.S. If a piece is copywritten, you won't find it on Hymnary.org, except in preview format. Hymnary is mostly for older hymns.
                            Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
                            • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
                            • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
                            • 10 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 6 Pianos

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I wish you were near me, Steve. I would love to work with you and see if I can get your brain to flip modes. I love a challenge.

                              We would start with a non-keyboard instrument. Or perhaps a custom keyboard instrument modelled after the grand staff instead of the piano.

                              I know you think can't do it. But I think you could if you believed you could and were willing to learn that "Do" was not tied to a specific piece of ivory. I have no doubt that it could be very difficult to do this - like riding the backwards bicycle.

                              Can you play guitar in alternate tunings?

                              Forgive me if I seem annoying. I find the human brain fascinating.

                              This reminds me that I should learn the Dvorak keyboard layout someday.

                              Wes

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