Take Me Out to the Ball Game (soon, please)

aerial view of sports stadium during daytime
Photo by Tim Gouw on Pexels.com

In recognition of what would’ve been opening day for Major League Baseball today, here’s a simple duet to play at home with a family member or with me playing one of the parts.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame trumpet duet

Duet Demo Recording:

Play-Along with 1st Part:

Play-Along with 2nd Part:

Download music and mp3s

Why Bother to Use Leadsheets When Preparing to Lead Worship?

simplified-sample-ccMany contemporary musicians in church today use lyric sheets with chords written above the words.  There’s nothing wrong with these chord charts.  In fact, they’re very helpful in providing basic reminders of lyrics and chords for musicians who already know the tunes.

However, there are significant limitations compared to full leadsheets – notated music on a staff that includes all the same things (lyrics and chords) but with helpful details such as more exact melodic and harmonic rhythms.  The fact that leadsheets require some ability to read traditional notation might discourage some musicians.

But I think there are several good reasons for worship leaders to use leadsheets.  Here are a few:

  • New Music: Leadsheets allow musicians to play an entirely new song without first hearing it. We are no longer bound by whatever is most popular.  Instead, we can include songs in our services that are lesser known or even brand new, perhaps written by someone in your church.  Chord charts require that musicians have heard the song before, often over and over again.  It leads us to prefer songs that get played repeatedly on the radio or in a limited repertoire of congregational songs.
  • Efficient Rehearsals: Leadsheets tend to answer many more questions than chord charts do. Rehearsal time, then, is not wasted simply trying to learn the song.  Thinking through the form of a song on paper is a good way to make decisions about form and other elements before getting to rehearsal which makes more room for working together to hone the quality and creativity of our leading.
  • Better Singing: A mentor of mine spent a decent amount of time creating his own leadsheets for the worship teams at our church. It helped the worship leaders agree on things like words and melody with the ultimate goal of leading worshippers to participate more fully.  It also allowed for multiple teams to lead a song in a predictable way.  The proof was in how well the congregation sang on Sundays!
  • Creative Freedom: It seems like chord charts would allow for more creativity. In my experience, however, they tie teams to a particular recording that might not match the context of your congregation, service, or space.  Instead, try making your own leadsheets.  This naturally leads us to make some decisions, such as “What exactly is the melody that we’re singing together?” or “Is it helpful to repeat that section so many times?”
  • More Participants: Just as some musicians prefer learning aurally, other musicians prefer to learn music by reading it on the page. String and wind instrumentalists, for example, are often used to reading notes on the page or improvising from a leadsheet.  Vocalists, too, can benefit from notating simple harmonies.  This is becomes more and more helpful when there are multiple singers involved and rehearsal time is in short supply.

Let me be clear, I’m not against learning music by ear.  The ability to play what you hear is just as important as playing what you see.  The musicians I admire most have incredible abilities to do both well!

No written medium can capture the whole musical picture.  And we can be just as tied to the details written on a page as we are to how a certain musician performs a song on a particular recording.  Leadsheets for a single congregational song that are more than a page or two often suffer from too much needless repetition or convoluted repeats.  Keep it simple.

My hope is that the points above help you to consider what can be gained from using notated leadsheets with your church musicians in order to better serve your congregation and worship God through music.

 

Resources for Vinson’s Echoes of the Hollow Square

04002947-wlSadly, the ACSI Mid-America Music Festival had to be cancelled this year.  I was really looking forward to working with the high school band musicians on the piece Echoes of the Hollow Square by Johnnie Vinson!  It’s such a fun piece to explore with multiple layers of things to learn from.  Here are a few resources so that bands or individual students can dig into this piece some more.  I’ve put an asterisk in front of the points and resources that I think cover the most important aspects of this piece.

Background information:

*Echoes of the Hollow Square is based on four American hymn tunes from the 19th century: The Morning Trumpet, Hallelujah, I’m Going Home, and Warrenton.  These songs appeared in songbooks, such as the “The Sacred Harp,” that used shaped notes.  These were part of a system of note reading that used a simplified form of solfege (think Do, Re, Mi).  It was helpful for teaching singing and allowed Christian communities to sing together in four parts.  The “Hollow Square” refers to the traditional formation used in these gatherings in which each of the four voice parts were situated facing one another with the song leader in the center.

*Basic program notes:  www.windrep.org/Echoes_of_the_Hollow_Square

*Sacred Harp: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacred_Harp

*Shape-note singing: www.britannica.com/art/shape-note-singing

*Shape-note songs used in this piece (excerpts from the Sacred Harp): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1-xLFT5wFItyTtL5WpsuDltWiQn0Ser2a/view?usp=sharing.  Note that the melody is in the third line (tenor) part.

Sacred Harp books (primary sources of various editions):

Composer’s website: www.johnnievinson.com/

Hymn text composers and writers:

Lowell Mason: An important figure in early American church music and music education. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lowell_Mason

Recordings:

*Publisher’s performance with score:

*I’m Going Home performance:

Note how the first notes are intoned and how everyone first sings it through on syllables before adding the text.  Also, it is common for the leader and singers to gesture up and down with one arm with the pulse.

Modern Sacred Harp gatherings: www.youtube.com/channel/UC1FDrF3rMfYBER0-NjuLtdQ

A performance of the final movement of the work that I directed with the Csehy Summer School of Music Band: https://youtu.be/2UkWsnIUBxo.  Even smaller bands can do a great job with this piece!

More ideas:

*This piece is available in www.smartmusic.com where students are able to play along with a recording of the whole piece, adjust the tempo for practice, and record themselves.

Discuss the musical aspects of Sacred Harp singing: There are distinct qualities to the singing that may strike us as odd or even non-musical, such as the timbre (tone) of the voices, strong rhythmic pulse, and relative lack of phrase shape.  Also, the harmonies and voice leading is unique compared to traditional principles of classical music.  This may lead to broader discussions about folk music and its place in culture.  Also, in what ways does the composer reflect these qualities in timbre, tone, harmony, etc?

Discuss the content of the hymn texts:  How does the music reflect the text?  What biblical themes are shared by all of the hymn texts?

There are so many other connections that can be made with this piece.  I’d love to hear how your students interact with it and include more of your ideas.  Send me an email: breichen@tiu.edu!

Duet for Memorial Day

God Bless AmericaFor the past several years I’ve had the privilege of playing Taps in echo with a colleague as part of a Memorial Day service at a local cemetery.  It’s a helpful reminder to me of what this day of remembrance is really all about.  And I’m always aware of how the playing of Taps, in spite of its simplicity, is deeply meaningful to many people, especially those who have served in the military or who have loved ones who have.

We also usually play a fitting, two trumpet rendition of God Bless America.  Here are links to the simple arrangement in two different keys:

God Bless America in F

God Bless America in G

Why it Might Be Worth Memorizing Your Next Solo

sheet-music-1229481_1920A few years ago, if you had asked me to memorize a piece of music I probably would’ve quickly dismissed the idea. Other than marching band, a few orchestral excerpts, and some warm-ups, I played very rarely without music. More recently, however, I’ve come to realize what I had been missing by not getting away from written music at times. Here are a few things I’ve discovered:

1) The process of memorizing makes learning the music more important than learning how to play the music. Here’s what I mean: too often we focus on the challenges that a piece demands of us, like the fingers, tongue, range, speed, endurance, etc. Of course, we have to work on these things, but when we are working to make music away from the page, we’re more focused on getting the sound of the piece inside of us. Recalling the musical story becomes the goal rather than overcoming any technical hurdles involved.

2) Memorization can free us up to pay attention to the other parts of a piece of music. Single line instrumentalists and vocalists too often forget that there is more to a musical work than what they hear in the practice room. The fact is that our part in most pieces works together with other parts, such as a piano or ensemble. A great benefit to memorizing AND a solid way to build memory is to get to know the other parts that work together with ours.

3) Once we start memorizing a piece of music we can practice it anywhere and anytime, with or without our instrument or music. My eight-year-old son who studies with the Suzuki method goes about many days singing or whistling the pieces he is working on. I’m convinced that even though he doesn’t know it, he is essentially practicing at these times. Subconsciously, he’s working out the details of the sounds, patterns, rhythms, phrasing, etc. This is a great advantage, especially for those of us who have limited practice time with our instrument.

4) It’s an empowering feeling of accomplishment when we really know a piece of music, not just because we can read it from the page. We’re no longer dependent upon something like a teleprompter to feed us our lines in performance. Plus, we now know the piece better than we ever would have with the music staring us in the face for the thousandth time.

If you were like me and rarely have committed music to memory, why not try it? Let me know what you discover along the way.