Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday five: singing traditional hymns versus gospel

I loved my experience in hospice. I'm not one that knew much about spiritual music when I went in, but I sure know a lot about it now. In fact, I really love some of the songs my patients enjoyed. One of the biggest challenges in hospice was understanding how to sing in a style that was authentic to the music your patient preferred. Here, I discuss singing in a traditional church style versus singing in a gospel style (which can be difficult to master).

Traditional hymns use a classical, church-singing voice. Everything you see on the sheet music is taken very literally.
1. No note embellishments. Straight-forward melody line. Limited vocal range.
2. Solemn, majestic tempo.
3. Use a very smooth voice, sing notes cleanly and exactly as they are on the page.
4. Play rhythm as it is written.
5. When playing guitar, finger pick or use a straight strum.

There are many different styles of gospel music, so I will speak very generally.
1. Notes can be embellished, repeated, etcetera, etcetera. Do almost whatever you want to make the melody "flashy." Uses a wide vocal range.
2. Songs are animated and enthusiastic!
3. Again, you are free to do almost anything you want with the melody. Add some "whoa's" and "oh yeah's" anywhere you see fit. Repeat, repeat, repeat words from the melody when you can. Many families that listen to gospel even create their own verses that are unique to that family. Learn them or create some of your own. Good opportunity for song-writing, p.s.!
4. Rhythms can be lengthened, shortened, widened, flattened, etcetera, etcetera.
5. Use mostly down-strums on the guitar.

Theses examples are extremes: either very traditional, or very gospel-like. Remember that different religions can be anything in-between. The best thing you can do is listen as your patients sing along. Take clues from them as to how they prefer to hear their spiritual music sung.

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