AME Hymnalgreenspun.com : LUSENET : A.M.E. Today Discussion : One Thread
I am in need of guidance or else my voice will sound less like Billy Ekstein and more like NY Congressman Charles Rangel. As most of you know by now I have only been an AME member for only the past five years. One of my more interesting adjustments was the key in which certain classic church hymns are played in the local AME church compared to my Baptist/Neo-Pentecostal upbringing. I often find myself singing it one way [what I was taught] but the organist plays it different. Is it true that Methodist hymns and Baptist/COGIC hymns are played different or is it just my "musically-challenged" imagination? By the same token I have actually learned hymns new to me since my family joined. This has caused me to speculate that the hymn books across black Protestanism are not interchangeable. Is this also true or a figment of my imagination?
-- Anonymous, September 13, 2000
I am in need of guidance or else my voice will sound less like Billy Ekstein and more like NY Congressman Charles Rangel. I recommend a hot cup of tea, or even hot water, combined with honey and lemon before singing. Then, take a few minutes to warm up. Usually the drive to church can be just the place to tune in to your favorite gospel station or tape, and begin to croon like the Billy Eckstine you once were. :-).
Is it true that Methodist hymns and Baptist/COGIC hymns are played different or is it just my "musically-challenged" imagination? Two things have happened in the last thirty years. One has been the tremendous influence of popular music styles on the rendition of music in the church. This began certainly in the fifties, with the transition from Quartet style to Gospel Chorus style. Even then, there was still a down-home kind of flavor on the keyboards. This was followed by the massive choir sound championed by James Cleveland, the contemporary sound emanating from the Hawkins family and west coast COGIC, the evolution of the Cleveland sound as practiced by Mattie Moss Clark and all her students (Vails, Pringle, Fold, Nix, etc.). We have come to the contemporary sounds influenced by hip-hop and worldly music covers, as espoused by Kirk Franklin. All of these have changed or influenced the rendition of fundamental hymnody. Recall that hymns are written in the hymn book for vocal harmony, yet most players of "the old school" would play the transcription unchanged for their keyboard. The influences above have led to introducing different metres and tempi for the rendition of the same tunes, and to the introduction of sliding chord patterns that bring modern hymnody more into the realm of gospel/jazz expression.
The second thing that happened was in 1985, the church published its first hymn book revsision since 1954. In that, a number of hyms were moved down in key (Lift Him Up, O for a Thousand Tongues, We'll praise the Lord, Sing the Wondrous Love, for example). I would think they would be a little more comfortable to sing (they are certainly more comfortable to play :-)).
By the same token I have actually learned hymns new to me since my family joined. This has caused me to speculate that the hymn books across black Protestanism are not interchangeable. Is this also true or a figment of my imagination? I usually have no toruble going back and forth on the core hymns, but there are some hymns that do not interescet across protestantism. I discovered "How Great the Wisdom", , "We'll Praise the Lord", "O Msindisi" and others when I became an AME. There are some from my Baptist days (and in the Baptist Standard Hymnal) that we may render in the AME church as solos, but are not in the hymn book (Doris Akers, M. P. Doureaux).
More later - I have a meeting. :-)
-- Anonymous, September 14, 2000
I can agree with the last reply. I however am a young musician. I have only been a member of the AME church for 2 yrs, but have been playing for one for about 5yrs. The true difference is not only in meter and key, but is mostly in expression. Baptists(from which I came) and COGIC (from which my wife came) seem to experience hymns and gospel music differently than AME. Let me explain. There is a philosophy called existentialist of which I base my thesis. The COGIC churches are massly influenced by their emotions to reach a spiritual expression in which they then experience God and his presence. Every song and every hymn usually has a rather moderate to vivace(lively) meter to it. This livliness brings about somewhat of a mass trance-like state to which they experience God. Baptists are similar in their approach to hymn singing largely because their traditional singing is based on call-response by any person in the audience who would lead them. This allowed room for flexibility in the singing of hymns because the audience would rather maintain the key and meter of the leader than sing as written in the hymnal. Another factor is location. The South largely sings hymns much slower than the North probably because life is slower here than there. This brings about a greater existential phenomena because the hymn or song can be experienced to the fullest measure and one can leave that experience satisfied. Because I am a young church musician with influence from R&B and jazz, I improvise alot on many hymns by adding substitute chords, fattened chords, and more riffs to add a bit of flavor to my playing, but I also know how to play most hymns straight which is the way believe it or not, I like them sang. There may be other differences of which I am not aware, but I pray that you would receive my reply with the grace of God.
Rev. Lorenzo Neal St. John AME Church Pine Bluff, AR
-- Anonymous, September 17, 2000
I can agree with Rev. Neal, but I would caution the use of the term existentialism. In its common usage, it refers to a philosophy that for all practical purposes opposes everything that we as Christians and spiritual people believe. I have been an AME all my life, nearly 27 years. The church I grew up in, and still attend, tends to be more charismatic than most AME churches. The same is true for most AME churches in the Charleston, SC, area. Nowhere is this more evident than in our music and hymnody. Imagine my shock when I went to Bethel AME Church in Tallahassee, FL, as a student at FAMU. When the choir stood to sing My Hope is Built (my favorite hymn), it didn't sound anything like what I was accustomed to hearing, and my worship experience nearly suffered for it. Upon further investigation, I found that the Bethel choir was actually singing the song the way it was written. My home church had adapted it according to tradition and influences from other denominations.
I also found some songs sung in the AME churches in Tallahassee that we had never sung in my home church. "Drinking of the Wine," and "Take Me to the Water" spring to mind. Until that time, I understood those to be a part of the Baptist and Pentecostal repertoire.
I think the biggest factors that influence how hymns are sung are geographic location and tradition, the skill and level of exposure of the musician, and the level of influence popular culture is allowed to have on religious music for a particular congregation. The older the congregation (in terms of average age), the less likely they are to be receptive to changes in the way hymns are sung.
So you see, not only are there differences interdenominationally, there are differences intra-denominationally.
-- Anonymous, September 18, 2000
I have travelled to many churches in the Philadelphia area, and also in the southern states. One of my favorite hymns is "Alas and Did My Savior Bleed." It is amazing how many ways this hymn is sung, and they are all beautiful the way the song filters through the spirit of the congregation. I heard it sung in a small town in Delaware County, PA and it was sung so beautifully and differently. It almost had the sound of "Hook Singing." A very old southern style. Has anyone heard of this before?
-- Anonymous, September 19, 2000
I have travelled to many churches in the Philadelphia area, and also in the southern states. One of my favorite hymns is "Alas and Did My Savior Bleed." It is amazing how many ways this hymn is sung, and they are all beautiful the way the song filters through the spirit of the congregation. If I recall, thee are at least two arrangements in our hymn book (139, 140). Even these arrangements may be taken beyond the textual transcription. I have played it for different congregations at different tempi. In a "neopentecostal" church I have played it in an almost "shout"-like rhythm. Most of the time I play it up-tempo in 12/8 time. But I have also heard mourful renditions that can grip you from the deepest emotions, reflecting the awesome wonder of so great a sacrifice.
I heard it sung in a small town in Delaware County, PA and it was sung so beautifully and differently. It almost had the sound of "Hook Singing." A very old southern style. Has anyone heard of this before? is it like "shape-note" singing? I think I have heard it. Several years ago PBS ran a piece on the hymn "Amazing grace." It was at least an hour, and in that hour they covered several different renditions, from a clasiccal interpretation given by Jessie Norman to some "down-home" renditions that included a basic call/response approach. I think "hook singing" may have been covered in that piece. You may try the pbs site to see if they have an archive. (It will be a difficult search!)
-- Anonymous, September 19, 2000
The beauty of our Zion is that music can be played and sung in so many different expressions of worship. I think this is great because it shows our depth of spiritual expression. This is consistent with the God we serve, whom is big enough to receive all of us as His sons and daughters. I like the diversity of worship in our Zion and I think this makes us unique. My congregation is charismatic but we can sing traditional hymns and anthems both in pentecostal and baptist fashion as well as deep south!
-- Anonymous, September 22, 2000
As a point of interest I just spent the last week in annual conference with Bishop Talbot presiding who was chairman of the commitee that worked on Bicentenial Hymnal. The goal of the commitee was to present the in a form as close to the writers original work as possible. This would account for differences in for those who play the hymns the way they have evolved over the years.
-- Anonymous, September 23, 2000
I guess I add a different perspective to the discussion. I am currently a musician and a life long member of the COGIC. However, my parents were raised in the AUMP (Methodist) church in which my grandmother and great-grandmother still attend. Therefore, once or twice a year I find myself at a Men's or Women's day in a Methodist church. I also have many oppertunities to hear my great-grandmother sing her methodist rendition of many of the same hymns we sing in the COGIC church. Since I have become a keyboardist in my church I have been able to better understand the differences in denominational styles. - - - In my opinion, COGIC folks, especially northern COGIC folks play all hymns in mainly the same, bouncing style, as to keep a praising flow throughout the service. Whereas more conservative Methodists and even some Baptists play each hymn according to that hymn's traditional melody. It is easier for Methodists to be able to do this because the hymn isnt as much of a free part of the service as in that of the COGIC. (If you possibly followed all of that)!
-- Anonymous, August 03, 2002