Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Cre-a-tion

This hymn has been included in the repertoire for many centuries, and is regarded by many as a 'classic'. The exact origin of this hymn tune 'Lobe den Herren' is unknown, other than that it came from the German region known as Stralsund, a trading centre that belonged to the Kingdom of Denmark in medieval times. It is quite possible this tune was a known folk tune before it was adopted as a chorale melody in the 1600s.

When the tune is allowed to stand on its own, much of its character is revealed. In triple time, it is less austere than many other old hymns, and suggests a dance-like quality.

If you were to wander about the house singing this sing, you may well find it assumes a very different style and tempo than that we usually adopt. Traditionally this old hymn beats a grand and deliberate time, giving almost equal weight to each note and syllable. Try singing the opening now in the way your community commonly sings it, noting your pace and style.

Now try this: pick up the pace slightly, emphisising the first beat of each bar. Keep your singing light and dancy, skipping over the dotted rhythms in bars 2, 8 and 16. Clearly this old hymn has now taken on a new rhythmic character, invoking celebration rather than solemnity.

Re-thinking accompaniment
The rich chordal accompaniment is particularly beautiful, and yet to engage with this new style means the harmonic change on every note will hamper the flow. Give this hymn new life by adopting sparse accompaniment, thinking carefully about instrumentation. Brass instruments are grand, wheras tin whistle or recorder and bodhran will create an entirely different mood. By playing a simple rhythm on a hand drum, and a counter melody on tin whistle (you can use the tenor line for this) will reinvigorate this classic.

Breathing space
Now that we are all rollicking along in song we encounter a challenge. Singers will need some space at the end of the verse, similarly to that which a laong pause on the pipe-organ provided. But slowing down will damage the mood we are setting. Instead repeat the final four bars between each verse, or simply continue the rhythmic pattern on the hand drum. Songleaders can give clear non-verbal cues to the congregation for the next verse.

Introductions are vital
The purpose of an introduction is not only to remind people of the tune they are about to sing, but to set the mood and tempo. Don'tunder estimate the value of a great introduction which reveals the intention for the singing. When adopting an unfamiliar style, musical introductions become even more important. If not done with care, people will misunderstand the intention for the singing, and adopt the austere style. A short explanation at the appropriate time can alleviate confusion.

Shall we dance?
Consider using this song as an introit or processional song, and have someone dance the bible down the aisle. Consider whether the musicians themselves might be part of the procession. Don't assume this song will always be sung the same way, but refresh your approach.

Teaching the song
This is so well known and does not need teaching. As long as the instrumentalists and songleader are engaged in the style, a quick word about the different approach will be all that is required.

Let me know if you refresh this hymn in your community.

More like this in Revisting Old Treasures

About this hymn

History of chorales and use of folk tunes

For more on the region of Stralsund

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