Helping us to help you : why lead sheets?

An additional format : lead sheets

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that we’ve started adding lead sheets to our weekly posting of the psalm for Sunday. A lead sheet is simply the melody and words with the guitar chords; it doesn’t have the recorder part or the keyboard/piano/organ.

mediaeval animals playing pump organ
Sometimes there isn’t even a rabbit available
Why lead sheets might be helpful

We started doing them (and it’s definitely ‘we’ here : I can generate them with my software, but then I have to reformat because it messes up the spacing;  and Volmar the Vebmaster has to write a new bit of code for each one)  because somebody asked us for them.  One church’s cantor found the full score difficult to handle, even in the compact format.  They just wanted the voice line, and were using the guitar chords.   This was interesting, as of course we never know how anyone’s actually using the music unless they tell us.  I’ve been putting the guitar chords in for quite a while now.  I was nervous about doing them to begin with, as I don’t actually play the guitar, but I was encouraged by a friend of mine (himself an organist), who said that the more options you put on the music, the easier it was for people to use.  The important thing is for the singers to feel supported.

Maybe you could play the chords on a theorbo or a lute
First compacts, now lead sheets

It’s extremely helpful to get this sort of feedback from the people using the music, and it’s really easy to get in touch (singenofbingen@gmail.com).   We started doing the compact versions only in response to an earlier request, and found that they were helpful for lots of reasons (and to lots of people), above all because they took fewer pages.  That meant less chance of dropping one at the lectern (or getting them out of sequence: I’ve only done that once, but it was a very tense moment!); and it also saves trees.  So I started working out how to do the lead sheets.

Literal pluses and minuses

I had not thought of doing them before, because I like to know what’s going on in each part.   Because we don’t have anyone to play the organ at our church at the moment,  for us I produce a voice-and-recorder part every week so that my recorder player does not have to turn over any pages.  I find it impossible to play and sing at the same time, even if we had a piano at church,  but I use a full score or a compact when I’m cantor because we practise at home with the accompaniment, so I need both parts.   As yet we haven’t posted these as I do them in a rush week by week, but let me know if you’re in a similar position, and I can always e-mail them.

It isn’t even difficult to add and take away various bits of the score, just a bit fiddly  (I love my software, thank you MuseScore).   So we started trying out the lead sheets.   I did them first for all the Christmas psalms last year, that being a time when you really don’t need any more music to carry than you have to have, and now we’ve caught up enough to start feeding them in week by week.

Size does matter
men in white singing from shared copy
Bigger print helps

One immediate advantage is that you can usually do them in a bigger font and still have them fit on two pages (even in a smaller font, most psalms have too many verses to fit on one page, but it is better to have something easier to read). If there is space, I put the Response in twice, once at the beginning and once at the end, so that it appears on both sheets, and so far all the lead sheets have managed not to go over the two-page format, which is easy to hold in the hand or place securely on a music stand.

Use what you have

Some people can be sniffy about guitar chords, but I think this is a mistake.  It’s all a question of the resources you have available.  Silent Night was composed for voice and guitar after either mice ate through the organ bellows (picturesque myth) or the organ was damaged by local flooding (possibly more accurate), and I’m sure the congregation was much quicker to join in with the guitar support than it would have been unaccompanied.  Most people will sing more freely if they think they can’t be heard (e.g. in the shower, standing next to someone loud, being accompanied by an orchestra), and any accompaniment is better than none, unless you are a confident and competent singer.

Playing to the Lord on a stringed instrument
Beards optional

David had a harp, Apollo had a lyre, Dowland had viols and theorbos, lucky man;  – but because of popular music, it’s much easier for any congregation to find someone with a guitar nowadays; and if you have the chords, you can play with confidence.   It’s up to you how you actually play the music; I try not to put too many chords into one bar, but if the harmony keeps changing, you need a quick chord sequence instead of strumming.   This is obvious in practice, and you learn as you go.  You need to be technically a good guitarist to be able to play it as a solo instrument, but you don’t to use it to accompany singing; and the more you do it, the better you get.

Lead sheets for Mass movements

Again because of a request, there are lead sheet versions for a couple of the movements in the Mayfield Mass.  Once I’ve done them for someone, Volmar puts them on line so anyone can use them.  When I have time, I’ll do the other bits of the Mass and we’ll post them.  Let me know if you need anything in particular, because someone else might be grateful!

All are welcome, especially with instruments

Ideally, I’d like a small Renaissance band to accompany my psalms, because there are separate tunes in the bass and for the recorder, and it would be great to be able to emphasize them.   Sometimes I’d like a pipe and tabor, often I’d really like a cello.  It’s not going to happen.  But different musicians do turn up at our church now and again, and that’s why some of the settings have a flute part, or a French horn, or a violin.  This is real music, it comes out differently each time you play it.  If a different format would make playing easier, just ask.  Like I said at the beginning,  help us to help you.

but most of all we like it when we ALL JOIN IN (thank you, Quentin Blake)
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I mneed a mnemonic for the New Testament

Finding your way around the Bible

As we all know, Catholics tend to be less good at finding their way around the Bible than our Protestant friends and relations. There are many reasons for this. Apart from anything else, the Bible is huge : a collection of books rather than a book.  Then historically, the universal church (when it was the universal church) actively tried hard to prevent people getting their hands on the Bible and reading it for themselves. This shows an excellent grasp of just how dangerous and subversive the text can be, but was never going to work long-term. It was forbidden even to translate the Bible into another language for a long time, unless it was Latin, which was a bit of a giveaway, because it meant access was still restricted to the Right Sort of People.

Pharoah's horses in the Red Sea
Very easy to get bogged down
Hurrah for the Psalms! (yet again)

The only exception was the book of Psalms (hurrah!), which has always been treated as a special case, and there have been vernacular translations of it for many centuries.

page of psalm in multiple languages
Look at this lovely multilingual Psalter

This I think must simply be down to the heroic efforts of the Holy Spirit, and it has brought enormous comfort to countless people over the course of human history, which is indeed the Holy Spirit’s job.   But the other books of the Bible were kept closed up and only dealt out in tiny carefully-edited pieces, because people couldn’t be trusted with them.

Luther was right about some things

So historically Catholics weren’t very good at knowing where a bit of the Bible came from, and even worse at knowing exactly where, in this huge volume, to look it up.  Some great saints like William Tyndale and Jan Hus were burnt at the stake for trying to give us the Bible in our own languages.   We had the spread of mass literacy and the Reformation (could they be related?), and very swiftly, one of the obvious differences between Catholics and Protestants was that Protestants knew their Bibles.  They had Sunday schools and we had statues.  We had the teaching authority of the Church, but there is a different authority in being able to pick up any Bible and put your finger straight on whatever it is you are quoting to support your point of view.  In our family, we had to up our game when the only school available where we were living had an Evangelical ethos and some rather fierce children in the playground.   Our children still occasionally quote with great affection the Roy Castle bible story cassettes which we used to play in the car on long journeys.   So I’m good on the stories, but hazier about where exactly to find them.

Nun reading from lectern
Pay attention at the back
Buy one, get several free

Since the last couple of Popes, though, Catholics have been trying to get to know their Bibles better.

Giorgione’s Judith : a woman not to be passed over

And we have a couple of sneaky advantages : genuine Bible pluses, because our Bibles have more books in than the Protestant ones (for long and complicated reasons, which I don’t feel competent to discuss).

And some of them are wonderful and I would hate to be without them (Tobit, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus).  You don’t miss out on too much of the story without them, as the Bible goes back on itself and loops around, so you often have more than one telling of an event, but the book of Judith would be another serious loss, especially as only two other books are named after women (Ruth and Esther).

The order of the Old Testament

Finding your way around the Old Testament takes a lot of practice, like finding your way around a very large city.

Some people’s natural sense of direction is a spiral

A map is helpful; and mnemonics are maps for the mind.  For the Old Testament, there is, thank the Lord, an old mnemonic to help.  It starts ‘The great Jehovah speaks to us/In Genesis and Exodus’, and you can easily find it on the internet or just click here.  I first came across it in a book of mnemonics nearly fifty years ago, I think, and it must be well older than that to have been included.

The power of the mnemonic

Mnemonics are very personal.  I can’t remember things by numbers at all, I have to turn them into words.

Several more hands to keep a place marked might help as well….

For some people, it’s pictures.   You have to find the right sort of trigger.  That means that what works for me may not work for you (one reason why maps come in so many versions, perhaps).  There exist other mnemonics for the order of the books of the Bible, but that’s the only OT one that I find helpful, and I can’t always remember the right bit, and it leaves out the extra books, so I have it printed out with the other books pencilled in where they fit.  Then it’s a great help, especially with the minor prophets.  A Bible with a thumb index might help as well but 1. have you seen the price and 2. I’ve never seen a Catholic one in my local bookshop.  Also by now I suspect 3. the names on the tabs are in too small print to read.

The order of the New Testament

I thought when we took to studying parts of the New Testament that things would be easier.  Just the Gospels and a few letters.  Actually there are 27 books in the New Testament, varying wildly in length, and it’s really tricky finding things quickly (especially if it’s by St Paul).  So I hunted for a similar mnemonic for the New Testament, to give me a handle on it.

Monastic book shelves
39 books in the OT, 27 in the NT
The missing mnemonic

And I couldn’t find one.  I certainly couldn’t find anything that worked for me.  There were little songs, which you would think I would like, but they don’t work because the scansion of the names of the books is too similar (this incidentally is why little songs to learn your tables don’t work, because too many number names scan the same way, and there’s no rhyme to help : two twos can be one, two, three, four, five, six, eight, nine, ten or twelve, and still scan perfectly OK).   There were abstruse sentences with the initial letters of the Epistles (but these tend to leave out whole chunks of the New Testament).  I’m not giving links to these as I don’t want to look as though I am ridiculing other people’s efforts, but if you have a rummage around, you will see what I mean.  And something might work for you, even if it didn’t for me.

In the end, I wrote my own in sheer desperation.  It’s complete doggerel, but in a way, that’s the point.  It’s unfairly a fact of life that doggerel sticks in the mind better than most great poetry (and it’s what we all grow up learning in the playground).   Here is my effort, with apologies to anyone whose artistic sensibilities are offended by it.  If it is any use to anyone else, I’d be delighted.

Books of the New Testament mnemonic

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,

Acts and Romans follow on.

Corinthians 1 and 2 come next,

Galatians and Ephesians have less text.

For Philippi and Colossians a letter each will do,

But the Thessalonians needed two.

Tim gets two letters just on his own;

One for Titus and one for Phile-mon;

One to the Hebrews, then one from James,

Two from Peter (who had two names);

Next three letters from Apostle John,

Then Jude; and last the book of Re-ve-la-ti-on.

You need to pronounce Philemon Filly-moan to get the rhyme; and if you sound out the last word syllable by syllable, you could even intone it with a sort of Evensong hooting noise.  It all helps you to remember (and it’s a much easier word to rhyme than ‘Apocalypse’).  Hope it helps.

7th angel of the Apocalypse….and now you can remember what is the 7th book of the NT
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