Enhancing Our Favorite Hymns

Our monthly music column.

By HAROLD A. MILLER, Professor of Music, Pacific Union College

In the accompanying arrangement of a favorite hymn the appeal will come mainly through the one thought, "Saviour, like a Shepherd lead us," which will be repeated over and over again to those who hear it played.

Notice the rise and fall in the melodic line of the phrases, and try to adjust the amount of tone given to each succeeding chord so as to form a graceful swelling and diminishing of tone to correspond to the melodic direction. Allow the melody to lift itself and recede smoothly, being careful to avoid a dry, punchy attitude toward the harmonic progres­sions.

This plan of comprehending, as nearly as pos­sible, the complete harmony of all four voices within the grasp of each hand, doubling the melody and filling the remaining parts with the rest of the fingers, as convenience permits, may be effectively used with other hymns. Practice on those songs which are of simpler harmonic construction until a fair degree of mental and muscular freedom is experienced.

Another approach similar to this, but equally effective, may be had by doubling one of the other voices in the left hand against the melody which is being carried with the right hand. The choice of this other voice should be based upon its pleas­ing association with the melody. For example: Hymn No. 401 of the new Church Hymnal, "Jesus, Lover of My Soul," will respond nicely to a doubling of the alto voice in the left hand.

Beginning the third score (third line of music), the alto voice does not accompany the melody effec­tively as does the tenor voice. The following change may be made right here, returning to the above example again on the last line:

If another voice is doubled in the left hand other than the melody, it should run in thirds or sixths to the melody. The thirds may (if the harmony suggests it) "run throughout the hymn, or the same constancy may occur with sixths—both of which would be very unusual. There will likely be a generous combination of both these intervals. The intervals of the fifth, fourth, seventh, and second may occur as passing notes toward more consonant combinations; but fifths and fourths are hollow sounding, while sevenths and seconds are dissonant and clashing.

It is better at first, in trying out these sugges­tions, to experiment on hymns of simple construc­tion—like No. 418, in which the tenor may accompany the melody effectively. In No. 417 the first line of the refrain may move to the tenor and soprano, with alto and soprano for the rest of the hymn.

An easy way to discover which combination of voices would sound well together is to try them with single tones, one for each hand. By making the two parts stand alone with no accompanying harmony, it will be easier to find any weakness that may not otherwise be so apparent.

The task of a more thorough explanation would naturally demand much more space than it is pos­sible to give in an article of this kind ; but these suggestions will likely prove helpful to those who would welcome a little change, without too much technical knowledge required of the average church pianist.

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By HAROLD A. MILLER, Professor of Music, Pacific Union College

August 1945

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