Guide to accompaniment at Mass (3) Tempi

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Guide to accompaniment at Mass (3) Tempi

Post by dmu3tem »

I thought that here I would raise the issue of tempi. However instead of writing a lot of stuff of my own I would just porduce a list of subtopics/headings under which people could give their advice.

And of course there is nothing to stop people adding other headings of their own.

For convenience one might divide the subject into two areas:

[1] Choice of tempi?
[2] Maintaining/adjusting the chosen tempo.

Under [1] here are some sub-topics:
(a) How much attention should one pay to past performance practice?

Bearing in mind that in the C19th and earlier it was often slower than now.

(b) Such immediate factors as (i) the size and makeup of the congregation (ii) the acoustic of the building (iii) the place of a particular piece in a given service (iv) the use of a particular piece in a certain liturgical season.

Under [2] here are some other sub-topics:
(a) Clarity - and fixity of purpose - in defining and setting a certain speed.
(b) Methods of direction - conducting (differences between conducting instrumentalists from singers and why - if at all - this should be so)
- techniques of 'leading' by a cantor.
- should you 'direct' a congregation at all?
(c) Notational adjustments to 'trick' your specialists musicians (and yourself) into using a certain speed:
e.g. Substituting crotchets for minims as the basic pulse
e.g. Such things as 2 in a bar instead of 4 in a bar rhythms.
e.g. Rhythmical articulating by such things as 'beaming', changing time signatures, phrase markings and other articulation signs.
e.g. Re-writing the underlying rhythm e.g. switiching from block 4 part harmony to vamp style accompaniments.
(d) Treatment of chant - several different types here:
e.g. Gelineau chant
e.g. 'Bevenot' chant
e.g. Baroque style recitative (used surprisingly often these days cf. Duffy Gloria)
e.g. Solesmes style plainchant - big issue here - switch from neumes to 'modern' notation or some sort of compromise between the two (e.g. tailess dots on a five line stave).

Lots of other issues here to consider, but this will be enough from me for now.

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Re: Guide to accompaniment at Mass (3) Tempi

Post by dmu3tem »

To encourage others to contribute practical advice of their own I will start something on:

[1]the choice of tempi

Ideas in random order - please feel free to add more of your own.

[a] In general don't slow up at the end of each verse - congregations tend to re-start at the slower tempo you have reached. Leave your slowing down to the final verse.

[b] Keeping up to tempo helps all singers - including congregations - to breathe at the end of phrases (e.g. in many hymns this is typically at the end of groups of 4 bars - if you go too slow congregations will take a breath at the end of 2 bars instead, possibly making a nonsense of the text). Faster tempi require lighter less forceful singing.

[c] Go too fast and the text becomes 'gabbled' and indistinct. If you want majesty and power, in general opt for slower speeds.

[d] Mark up your parts (and those of other trained musicians - singers and instrumentalists - with a full paraphanalia of tempo instructions (e.g. Allegro) and metronome markings. Insert phrase marks where they are absent. Also insert articulation marks and beaming. All of these affect rhythm, and through rhythm the actual tempo.

[e] Be aware that with older pieces - especially hymns - tempi were often taken much more slowly in the C19th and earlier. This leaves you with a choice:
either (i) be authentic and go for the slower tempo you think the piece was intended to move at.
or (ii) defy authenticity and go for what you think will work musically. Remember that if you do this you might (without realising it) be returning to the composer's original intentions! (The conventions of the time and work of editors may have forced him not to 'keep to the tempo originally intended).

(f) Take account of such things as the echo in the building, the size and composition of the congregation (especially its age). No point trying something at a tempo they cannot manage.

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Re: Guide to accompaniment at Mass (3) Tempi

Post by alan29 »

To avoid setting off at too fast a speed, mentally sing through the fastest bit to find a tempo that avoids gabbling.
For an even rallentando at the end, start counting in quavers or semiquavers just before the rall begins.
Allow the tempo to breathe between sung phrases to give everyone a chance to start the next line together - NB that is not the same thing as dropping anchor.
In Advent and Lent try to avoid everything going at the same maudlin tempo. The smallest variation of speed between items will avoid dullness.

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