Sometimes, just be quiet and get out of the way

All church musicians, whether they admit it or not, have a bag of tricks they use just to make things sound a little different every once in a while. The other weekend, I took one of those tricks out of the bag, to pretty good results.

The nice part is that for this trick, I didn’t have to do anything. That’s because I stopped playing.

You can’t do this on the organ, for the most part. It’s a little too bothersome. But when you’re playing the piano or keyboard, it’s fairly simple.

The hymn, at Communion at my Sunday parish, was “Seek Ye First.”

There are two ways to do this hymn — one with a round of alleluias sung as part of each verse, or with the alleluias omitted or simply sung over the verses. The version we had did the former, so we’d sing the verse, then a round of alleluias. (The YouTube version is a weird hybrid of both.) Our version had three verses, so we sang those, then repeated verse 1.

I played quietly behind the repeat of verse 1, then totally dropped out for the round of alleluias, so that the cantor and I were leading them a cappella. And the people responded, singing the alleluias with gusto and reverence, because that’s totally possible.

But now that I’ve pulled it out of my bag of tricks, it’s gotta go back in for a long time. Something like that gets awfully tiresome if you do it often — and there are very few hymns that you could do that for, because it needs to be a hymn the congregation knows forwards and backwards. (Those are rare.) It can’t be the entrance or closing hymn. You need a strong cantor or choir who can play along.

In fact, there’s only one other hymn that I’ve ever used this for, and it’s a Spanish hymn everyone at those Masses knows, “Pescador de Hombres,” which most of us would know in English as “Lord, When You Came to the Seashore.”

Because everyone at Spanish Mass knows the refrain, especially, I can drop out on the last of the four verses. They don’t have a problem with it.

It’s a little different from what we normally do as accompanists. After all, our job is to lead in song, and we help the people find the right notes to praise God. But music at church isn’t about the musicians; it’s about enabling others to praise God in song. And sometimes, to accomplish that, the best thing to do is step aside and let them do it themselves.

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