The Church in Wales has a rich musical tradition, largely nurtured by the West Wales Area of the Royal School of Church Music.
But rural churches in particular often find themselves without an organ, or an organist – or both.
In these circumstances, there is a choice between no music at all, unaccompanied singing and using pre-recorded accompaniments. These can be played from a CD or an MP3 player over a suitable sound system. A ‘ghetto blaster’ will do at a pinch, although most parishes can rustle up a spare domestic hi-fi. And if the idea proves popular, it’s not too expensive to fit a good-quality professional sound system.
A word about Copyright
It’s important to respect copyright and performing rights, and not to play any recordings for which the building isn’t licensed. However, copyright lasts only 75 years from the death of the last person to have creative input into the work, and many hymn words and tunes are firmly in the public domain and free from copyright restrictions. If you arrange a folk tune yourself, the copyright is yours. If you use a hymn tune that is over (say) 100 years old unchanged, you’re also in the clear; but if the version you’re contemplating has been re-harmonised by someone more recently, you’re likely to infringe their copyright. The same principles apply to the words. If in doubt, check with the publishers or last known copyright holder. This is only a summary; for a more authoritative explanation of copyright law, visit the Intellectual Property Office website.
Make your own music
There are two main ways of providing pre-recorded accompaniments. The obvious way is to record someone playing them. If you opt for this method, it’s best to connect an electronic organ or piano directly into the recording equipment.
The other way is to make an arrangement on a computer and record the results. You can use a notation program such as Finale or Sibelius, or else a sequencer such as Cubase, record the results as a WAV or an MP3 file, and either burn a CD or load it onto your MP3 player.
If you have a friendly computer whizz-kid in the parish (anyone under the age of 13 is born with the necessary ability) it’s a good way of involving them in preparation for worship.
To encourage people to share their home-grown accompaniments, there is a modest selection on this website. If you would like to contribute to the collection, please email us.
- A live organist can adjust the speed of the music to suit the singers, and speed up or slow down if they get ahead or behind. But a pre-recorded accompaniment can’t do this.
- As a result, you must make it clear when people are to ‘come in’, perhaps providing a short intro to each verse of the hymn.
- An alternative to a between-verses intro is to make the first note of each verse slightly longer to allow people to realise the verse has started and it’s time to join in.
- The accompaniment must give a firm indication of the tempo, either with a clear top line or else with a ‘beaty’ bass.
- Make it clear what’s a ‘play-in’ and when the actual singing should start.
- Remember to check that the accompaniment has the same number of verses as the hymn book or sheet.
- Play the accompaniment at the right volume – loud enough for people at the back not to get lost, but not so loud that the blast straightens the hair of the folk at the front!