Whenever we bring out a song that is either new or unfamiliar to our assembly, we have to really take a look at the score in order to decide how to best ‘perform’ the piece so that all present can participate in the singing.  Again, this is always my goal…to get the assembly to join in the song.  (except for the occasional ‘meditation’ type piece)

This past Sunday, 2/9/14, we sang Paul Tate’s ‘You are the Light of the World.’  This is not a new song at all, but it was for us.  We’d never sung it before.  (Maybe once…but it was awhile ago.) The lyrics are taken right from the readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A. It was the perfect song to use as a gathering song, but I was a little concerned that the people wouldn’t join right in since it was new to them.

If we were to rehearse and sing it as written in the score, it would’ve gone like this:

1.      Start with a 7 bar introduction which uses the last half of the refrain melody (which is helpful)
2.       Sing the Refrain in unison
3.       Sing Verse 1
4.       Sing the Refrain with harmonies and descant
5.       Sing Verse 2…etc.

This is a perfectly good ‘map’ or flow for this song if all are familiar with it.  But since it was new, I asked everyone to play it this way:

1.       Play the entire Refrain as the introduction, with the melody very pronounced (RH of piano or solo instrument.  Consider switching instruments on the second half of the Intro for variety.) This enables everyone to hear the melody clearly before it is sung.  It gets it into their ears.

2.       Sing the Refrain in unison (as written) – no harmonies

3.       Repeat the Refrain – sing it again!  Why not?  They’ve only heard it once.  This time around they will feel more comfortable and more inclined to join in singing.  Ask the band to play out a little more fully.  Also…don’t sing the descant part, yet.  That’ll just confuse things for their ears. Remember, you’re not trying to impress them.  You’re trying to get them to sing with you.  Make it easy for them.  I’d be okay with adding some of the harmonies this time around, but still no descant.

4.       Sing Verse 1 – change up the texture.  Drop out some extra instruments (synth, flute, tpt, extra guitars, etc.) Have a cantor sing this first verse.  It will be a welcome change from the 3 Refrains they just heard (counting the intro). They can really focus on the lyrics sung well by a soloist.

5.       Sing the Refrain – now it will be very familiar to everyone.  Add the harmonies, but still no descant. Build it up!

6.       Sing Verse 2 – perhaps the whole choir/group of singers could sing this verse together. The assembly may or may not catch onto it at this point…but at least they have the Refrain firmly under their belt, so it’s ok.  Don’t forget to bring the band back down for the verse. Texture.

7.       Sing the Refrain – by this time, everyone knows it very well.

You’ll notice that I never added the descant part in the middle of the Refrain. Why?  Since the song is so new I think it just confuses things for the assembly.  After you’ve sung the song once or twice, then maybe.  But remember…just because it’s there does not mean you have to sing it!  Do what’s best for your church.

As for the end of the Refrain, the descant part wouldn’t be ‘in the way’ of anything, so it’d be safe to use it.  Another option is to put some solo instruments on those parts, perhaps an octave up.
This approach can apply to any song or arrangement of a song. Every one is different. You really need to think through the best way to introduce the music to fresh ears.

Check out the Assembly Editions

If you’re unsure how to treat a song, take a look at what is published in the Assembly Books (or pew books).  Most of the time the publishers have done the work for you by laying out– in these books– what the assembly is expected to sing.  If the verses are missing, or just exist as text blocks, that usually means the composer and publisher agree that the assembly is not really expected to sing those parts right away, or sometimes at all.  They may be meant for soloists or just the choir alone.

Put yourself in their shoes

Strip away all of your trained musicianship for a moment and imagine a choir asking you to sing along with them.  What would you want?

Instrumental Books

There are some wonderful instrumental parts available for this song and many, many others in both the Voices As One Instrumental Books, as well as the C Instrument Companion, both by World Library Publications.