Everything changes

Let’s stay with songwriting a bit longer: this time, choral music. David Bruce Murray has a fascinating find up over at musicscribe: the final bars of an otherwise nondescript new choral piece that … well, I’ll let DBM explain:

The last page of the piece is written in the key of C, but there’s only one C natural on the entire page. The final chord is F sharp major. [The writer/arranger] doggedly keeps the notation in the key of C, though, writing accidentals in for about 80% of the notes that appear on the last page. ANY other key would have resulted in less accidentals. Of all the key signatures that are available, he deliberately wrote this in the least logical one of all.

The hook of the song is “the story never changes but changes everything,” and actually, that’s not bad at all (the big finish announces in ascending intervals that “Jesus Changes Everything!”). Moreover, I’m enough of a latent deconstructionist to find it mildly amusing that the musical notation itself reinforces the hook by changing almost every note in the final bars of the song into an accidental. But DBM is right: this is unsingable for average choruses. Ask most ordinary church choirs to sing this and the only key they’re going to be interested in is the one they run up one side and down the other of your car in the parking lot. The accompanists, meanwhile, will be slashing your tires. This, too, changes everything.

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  1. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    I may as well state for the public what I said privately to a fellow church music director:
    I usually dislike this particular songwriter/arranger’s music because it’s some of the most boring choral music out there (and there’s a lot of choral music that’s boring, so this is a notorious honor in and of itself). I dislike this arrangement, though, because it sucks eggs.

  2. Greg wrote:

    Most choral music, in my observation and experience, is arranged in such a way as to obscure the words being sung. In such cases, I always wonder to myself “what is the point of the performance?”

    Overly ambitious arrangements (an maybe an ego or two running amok) are the source of this problem.

  3. lovelife wrote:

    Huh!!!!! For someone like me, I don’t know the difference.lol

  4. Brian wrote:

    I’d rather just hear a choir open up a red-back Church Hymnal, pick out some 2-page convention song, and let her rip. No offense to the choral music fans.

  5. quartet-man wrote:

    Lol @ David. I would really like to know the arranger and book. Would you email me? You should have my addy on your site. On a similar topic, I hate some of the arrangements in the 1989 UMC hymnal. Spirituals shouldn’t have some of the chords they choose. If they want to show off their arranging skills, they should do so for soloists or instrumental solos. Spirituals should use basic chords to be more authentic. It seems they took the life out of some of the songs, and then the PC police changed some lyrics too. It was bad enough to change “He Lives” from “whatever man may say” to “whatever foes may say”, but they even changed “At The Cross” from “for such a worm as I” to “for sinners such as I.” I guess they think being a worm is more objectionable than a sinner. ;-) To me, that took the poetry out of it.

  6. KDM wrote:

    As a church musician / accompanist, I can tell you how much I loathe this kind of thing. What generally happens is that you get some arranger with only a moderate grasp of music theory trying to write something that’s way above his level, in an attempt to be dramatic. What he usually ends up with is something completely undecipherable and unsingable. While it might sound great on the recording, no one without a doctorate in vocal performance would ever be able to slog through it.

    I’ve seen a lot of this kind of thing lately. The current trend is to change keys about six times in three pages, all to unrelated keys that most choirs couldn’t find with a map. These choral arrangers need to remember that they’re writing for AMATEUR choirs, most with little or no music reading skill, who learn by rote. Please stop doing this to church choirs! And please stop tormenting the accompanists!!

  7. Matt G. wrote:

    On the other hand, if we keep allowing choir music to be “dumbed-down” like so much of the current stuff coming out of the big evangelical publishers is (top three parts constantly in parallel motion, usually pushing the tenors to their limits, with an occasional actual bass part), then we can’t expect our choirs to get better can we?

  8. matt wrote:

    #7 Matt G, that is one of the main reasons why I’m not in our church choir. Not that they couldn’t use an extra tenor, but the songs……I have yet to hear any modern church choral music that strikes the right balance between pleasing and intelligent. Of course there are composers such as John Rutter who has some exceptional choral works. However, the difficulty level is the problem there. You’ve got to have music that people can read/sing. In so doing, you get sub-standard ditties with fluffy chords, and wimpy bass parts. In my opinion, the church choir is a dead and dying beast, replaced by the most-scared pop soloist and the contemporary worship songs. Around here at least there is a Mennonite Festival Chorus, a 100 voice choir that sings regularly with our Symphony. Now, there is a choir that kicks some serious ass. They are all auditioned. Obviously in the church setting that is not feasible, but to combine the talents from across the city, you get a darn fine example of the power of choral music, done right.

  9. larolf mccoin wrote:

    #7 Mattt G, that is “if you have a choir”. Here in the Pacific NorthWest most of our churches have disbanded the choir and have gone exclusively with Worship bands. “Oh, for the good ole days.”

  10. DRL wrote:

    Churches still have choirs? There’s actually a market for this 1970’s choral crap? And people still come out to listen to it? Wow. Who knew?

  11. Tony Watson wrote:

    Before I became a Pastor I spent 22 years in music ministry. In my current church we’ve been without a music minister for serveral months so I’ve been doing both. My challenge has been over the last few years to find music that works for the choir of 20-25 in regard to style, substance and structure. Brentwood-Benson puts out a good bit of singable southern gospel and praise & worship arrangements. However, in an effort to make them singable at times the parts are written often, particularly in P&W arrangements where the bass line is just the melody line written in their octave. I’m sure the thinking is “well that’s what a lot of them are going to sing anyway”. However, you usually have at least one guy that can sing the bass part or more and it does get frustrating. I’m a recovering “Speckaholic” - From the early 90’s to about 2000 and a little after, there was nobody putting out music that connected with the choir AND the people than Mike Speck. Had some good bass lines and the harmony structure was good and the people in the seats love it because the message was clear and the style was enjoyable. There still is some good stuff out there though. The choir may not be as popular as it once was for sure but there are still plenty of them out there.

  12. KDM wrote:

    There is actually still good stuff out there. You just really have to dig to find it. On the one hand, you have the ‘fluff’ that is no more challenging than your average church hymnal. On the other end of the spectrum is the craziness this thread was started about. There IS a middle ground. Mike Speck has done some good stuff, and so has Lari Goss. Clydesdale and Fettke are good if you have the sopranos. I’ve certainly noticed, though, that it’s a lot harder to find good quality church choral literature that is both challenging and accessible. Folks seem to be gravitating towards one of the two extremes.

    DRL, I don’t know how it is at your church, but our choir is alive, well, and singing every Sunday. It’s a very good choir, too, considering the number of untrained singers we have. AND we still use our hymnals!! We must be from the dark ages!

  13. oldtimer wrote:

    Our church performed the musical “the Ornament” which had this song as the finale. The song was so unappealing we did not even include it in the performance.

  14. Gospel Has Been wrote:

    I agree whole heartedly with Brian #4.Also I do not like the term used in music especially gospel music of “The Hook”. A good gospel or spiritual song doesn’t need a HOOK to be a meaningful song

  15. Josh wrote:

    Here’s a new choral company. Not saying that have want you want, but it may at least be worth a listen or a phone call.

  16. Josh wrote:

    What’s wrong with having a hook? It neither adds to or takes away from the meaning of a song. It’s just the lyrical part of the song that grabs someone or that you can’t get out of your head. Usually the strongest part of the song.

  17. Wade wrote:

    Gospel Has Been — Just curious… will you tell us a few song on your list of meaningful songs without a HOOK???

  18. cynical one wrote:

    #14 — I think you may not have a clear understanding of the term “hook”, as it pertains to music.

    “The Old Rugged Cross”
    “Because He Lives”
    “The Blood Will Never Lose It’s Power”
    “Blessed Assurance”
    “There’s Power In The Blood”
    “Jesus Paid It All”
    “He Lives”
    “Victory In Jesus”

    These are not just song titles, they are the hooks, too. The hook is a phrase that the song is built around, generally repeated throughout the song.

    I like Wade’s question #17.

  19. quartet-man wrote:

    After several days…….Averyfineline is alive. It’s ALIVE! ;)

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