AUL CHANDLER HUME—the famous music critic—wrote in 1956 that a choirmaster must possess three qualifications (at a minimum). One was: “He must be familiar with the special tricks of training amateur singers, particularly if a large percentage of his choir does not read music at sight.” In my various articles and workshops over the last ten years, I have suggested that a good way to keep one’s job secure is demonstrating to the pastor that one is teaching the people from the parish. In other words, a good choirmaster will recruit members of the congregation—as many as possible—and teach them authentic sacred music.
Tricks Of The Trade • Anyone who’s ever stood in front of a choir knows the choirmaster’s vocation is not an easy one. One is basically expected to “perform miracles”—in an impossibly short amount of time! An excellent ‘trick of the trade’ is utilization of common hymn melodies (a.k.a. “shared tunes”). Indeed, this strategy can mean the difference between surviving and throwing in the towel. Without question, the most abundant source of common hymn melodies is the Brébeuf Catholic Hymnal (Sophia Institute Press © 2018).
Jeff Demonstrates How This Works:
I will attempt to explain what “shared tunes” are all about. Consider the following hymn (#190 in the Brébeuf Hymnal) which is Cónditor Alme Síderum translated into English:
Did you notice how the voices switch to SATB harmonies in the second verse? Needless to say, you had to teach your choir members how to sing SATB. Time is extremely limited when it comes to volunteer choir rehearsals … is there a way to get more bang for your buck? Yes, there is a way. Consider the following hymn (#145 in the Brébeuf Hymnal). Its text is for Holy Communion, yet it employs the same “shared” melody:
Indeed, you can even sing that same hymn in Latin, instead of English—and notice the beautiful entrance by the Alto section at marker 1:19:
Conclusion • If you search the Brébeuf Portal for “Advent,” the search results show that at least two other hymns employ that same melody (with different texts). I hope this explanation of common hymn melodies has been useful to you. The basic idea is to “double dip” on hymns your choir has already learned, since there’s never enough rehearsal time. Remember: We have studied music since we were 6 years old—but the folks you must instruct do not have the benefit of our training! Therefore, they require much repetition. Our job is accept this reality.