Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Tricky Sunday

Come, O Creator Spirit BlestRha­ban­us Mau­rus, c. 800; trans Cas­wall 1849, TALLIS CANON
Thomas Tallis 1505-1585
Clap your hands, ye people all, Charles Wesley, LLANFAIR 
Servant King, Kendrick
Soon and Very Soon, Andrae Crouch
Jubilate Deo, Praetorius c.1600 
Come to the Water, Foley
Well it had to happen, we have had three successful unplugged Sundays and so we should have expected a bump or two in the road. So what happened? Well it was an all singing all dancing Cecil B. DeMille cast-of-thousands service. Ascension Sunday + Baptism + Confirmation + Communion + Big choral number.
Arrangement of Space
So the first bump in the road was where to put ourselves. The front of the sanctuary at FUMC is cramped and cluttered at the best of times - but when you add an extra table for communion and a font plus confirmation candidates and their sponsors it starts becoming very tricky. Here is the real problem: I have felt that to lead congregational singing unamplified the song leaders need to be as close as possible to the congregation--standing with them  in song. This has certainly worked well the last few Sundays.
Today we couldn't stand in our (now) usual place. We ended up moving about as far away from the congregation as we could get (hemmed in between the blinding light of the projector and the communion servers). This is at least ten yards from the people in the front pew.
A second reason we separated ourselves from the congregation was because of the location of the piano. We returned to using some of our old piano driven arrangements and rather than standing eight yards away with our backs to the pianist (and no monitors),we moved back to the piano. We did do one smart thing, we closed the lid on the grand piano to drop its volume so we could hear ourselves sing (see previous post).
All of this is to say that with the three ring circus and the location of the piano we ended up feeling very distant from the congregation and the resulting loss of connection meant the congregational singing suffered.
If this is going to work in the long term we will need to talk about changing the space which may be a tricky subject - I suspect, as in many churches, space really is the final frontier!
The simplest solution would be to take out the front row of pews to create a space in front of the altar rail.

Musical Preparation
The second bump in the road was that we were under prepared. The new unamplified format has created significantly more/new work for Libby. With amplification Libby provided most of the harmonies and the piano filled out the sound.  If we want harmony lines to be heard without mics--particularly in the treble--the  harmonies have to be scored. Similarly with the two violins. We had grown complacent with our old Red Team formula and the arrangements/repertoire we have built up over the last four years and so had not anticipated this extra work -- so we were trying to figure things out as we rehearsed with our long-suffering musicians before the service. This meant that during the service our focus was held by how we were going to make the music (and where we were going to stand) rather than concentrating on enabling the congregation to sing.
Libby and I have come away from this morning making many resolutions to prepare our music well in advance, photocopy before the Sunday morning and find ways to re-institute mid-week rehearsals. It is good to be reminded that--if taken seriously-- this is a pretty serious undertaking. We have a month until we are up again - so we shall see if these resolutions hold!

Reliance on technology (and those who push our buttons)
I have already written about Red Team's long running frustration with the sound system that precipitated our unplugged experiment. As the microphones cut in and out this morning I did not feel my usual sense of mounting frustration -- we made the right decision to move off the grid!
This morning we struggled with EasyWorship--an alternative to PowerPoint for projecting the words to the songs and liturgy. It is our congregation's latest technological purchase and like most great leaps forward the landing can be less than graceful. I have not had much first hand experience with the software but judging by the performance of the AV volunteers, it doesn't seem to be quite as easy as its name suggests. Don't get me wrong, projecting hymns and songs has many well promoted advantages over song sheets and hymnals. However, as demonstrated at FUMC this morning, projection can also throw up some significant hurdles to congregational singing.
  1. If the next verse of a song pops up a little too late then the congregation only joins in on the second line of the verse.
  2.  If the words don't appear at all then the congregation never joins in!
The third problem with projection is that the music does not come with the words -- this annoys the musicians in the congregation (I can't say it bother's me, but then I grew up with Hymns Ancient & Modern in the pews with not a note to be spared for the common folk--very 18th century!). FUMC has dealt with this problem by mandating that all new tunes should be printed in an insert in the bulletin. I think I will suggest that all words not found in the hymnal should also be included.

Importance of the Song Leader 
We continued with our plan to introduce the congregation to singing rounds. This morning we started the service after the call to worship with the first verse of Come, O Creator Spirit Blest set to Thomas Tallis's canon.
We distributed members of the team throughout the sanctuary with the idea that we were going to lead the congregation in a four part round. It was a fine idea! The problem was the congregation was unsure of the tune so we should have sung it through more than once in unison. The second problem was keeping in sync. We had no one at the front giving it the old Sacred Harp arm wave to keep us all on the beat. Tallis, we will try your canon again and this time we will take our time, start off splitting the congregation into two parts and we will have a song leader.

What went right.
First of all, a fine bunch of willing musicians showed up at 8:30am. Thank you Lee, Adam, Jen, Mary, Allie, Rachael and Corey.
Despite the problems we had this morning , the unplugged experiment continues. We asked around after the service and everyone said the volume and balance was fine. We had a really eclectic mix of music and hymnody singing the Church through the ages to welcome a young woman into the Body through the waters of baptism.
Lee's harmonica added a bluesy wail to the Eucharist and the strings on Clap your hands, ye people all was some fine Baroque Bluegrass - somewhere between the Brandenburg Concertos and Alison Krauss. And we led the congregation in singing praises to God.

No comments:

Post a Comment