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 (   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)

© Kate Keefe and Music for Mass 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kate Keefe and Music for Mass, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Author: Kate Keefe

Kate Keefe composes music for responsorial psalms, gospel acclamations and the Mass for English speaking Catholic congregations all over the world, using the local lectionary for UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the US and the Philippines. She writes about what comes up in the process, and blogs about the Synod, family life and women in the Church for The Tablet.

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