I have to confess that there are some clichés that our music team relies heavily on that are beginning to annoy me. Also, I confess that I am the biggest offender in using these clichés to cut corners because it takes too much time and energy to be creative. The reason I bring them up is that I would love to replace these or at least mix it up a bit so that they don’t feel so predictable and stale.
1. The Plagal Cadence. This is the IV-I cadence that we play at the end of just about every single traditional black gospel tune we have. Non-theory people would instantly recognize this by ear in the “Amen” at the end of the doxology. I don’t think there has been a single Sunday in which some song didn’t have one of these.
2. The Fermata/Ritard. Every song ends with slowing down and then the last one or two chords are conducted. It gets used so much because it is the easiest way to end a song. The combined plagal cadence and fermata/ritard is also used every Sunday.
3. The Three Times Tag. A tag is when you end a song by repeating the last phrase. At NCF, tags always come in three’s. Maybe, it is to represent the Trinity. Three is the number thou shalt tag, and the number of the tagging shall be three.
4. Two Choruses at the End. Does the song seem too short? Do we want to keep the song going? Well then repeat the chorus at the end.
5. The Half-Step Modulation. Hey, if we’re gonna repeat the chorus at the end, then we might as well modulate up a half step for dramatic effect.
Ok, I’m done whining. Any ideas about how I can get out of my ruts?

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  1. #1 by Andrew Kaufmann on February 23, 2006 - 8:01 am

    This is hilarious. I’m no church musician, but these five points summarize my experience in churches throughout my life as a congregant. I’m not sure there’s an easy way out, but you might consider a “Four Times Tag” or “Three Choruses at the End” as alternatives? Just kidding.
    As a music leader, shouldn’t you have a heavy sense of what the congregation needs and desires during a given song? In other words, if you sense that the congregation wants to sing another chorus, then go ahead and do another chorus. It seems being tuned into the congregation (since they are the primary worshipers) is all important.
    I’ll let real church musicians give good advice.

  2. #2 by Aimee on February 24, 2006 - 7:52 am

    Hm. Maybe they’re not clichés, but conventions. Like when we’re signaling that we’re trying to close a conversation with someone, and we say, “Well it was good to run in to you,” or “I hope you have a good week.” It’s a social signal. In the same vein, maybe the congregation finds those conventional endings to be helpful signals. If we came up with a new “creative” ending, would they even understand? And would that even matter?
    My pet peeve for endings, in case you were wondering, is when we do fermata/ritard or suspension/resolution and we don’t resolve together. We never-ever-er-er. Resol-sol-solve. Toge-ge-ge-ther-ther. Conducted or not. No one seems to even try or care. Aaaaaah!
    You know, one ending we don’t do as often is the one where you do the the first part of the last phrase, do the same up a whole step (usually) one time, and then finish with the whole phrase in the original key. Another is the one where the vocals do don’t anything special, and then the instruments play a little outro/coda thingie. There’s also big chord/break/big chord/break/big tonic CHORD! And then there is the utter cacophony ending, where everyone just starts playing/singing end-type riffs as loudly and dissonantly as possible. We do this on occasion, but not intentionally.
    I don’t think I care for the distinction of “primary” worshippers. Does that mean the musicians in front are worshipping secondarily? Is anybody participating in anything but primary worship? Unless they’re busy trying to keep their kids in check with cheerios and not paying attention, of course.

  3. #3 by kirk on February 24, 2006 - 11:21 am

    AK-its great to hear from you. I also enjoy checking out your pictures on Flickr. I don’t think I had any idea that you got married last summer, Congrats!!
    Aimee-The word “cliché” has a lot of negative conotations in most circles. However, in my jazz training we used the term more in the sense that you are usung “conventions.” My profs would encourage us to learn cliché lics, endings, intros, or turnarounds so that we can sound authentic to the genre. They would call it ‘speaking the language’ or learning ‘jazz vocabulary.’ Then, once we had mastered those clichés, we were encouraged to find our own sound or our own way of expressing ourselves. So, I guess what I’m saying is that I agree that these clichés are important to learn, master, and use frequently. However, the Lord (and I think the congregation) desires that we use our creativity to find new means of expression, to not just be parrots of styles and conventions.
    I think clichés are a good thing. My father taught me that “clichés become clichés because they work.” I’m just a little bored; maybe if we try something new and then crash and burn, I will welcome the comfort of a well-worn cliché.

  4. #4 by katiek on February 24, 2006 - 2:25 pm

    Take up the French Horn? That is really funny Kirk.

  5. #5 by Helen Scott on February 24, 2006 - 4:20 pm

    I agree that we just look for the standard endings. “How are we going to end this one?” “Repeat the chorus and then take the last line around three times.” But look at the bright side. I remember that when I first started with the band eons ago everything ended in a cacophony. In conparison, our repertoire now is astounding!

  6. #6 by Sam Ward on February 27, 2006 - 4:51 pm

    Hey,
    This is your cuz from IN. I’ve been lurking in the shadows and reading here and there, but never responding. Til now. Got a kick out of the entry and the responses. I thought Aimee made a good point. I was thinking of the convention at the end of most stories. We usually say, “The End” and even slow the tempo of our voice as we say it. Even if we don’t say the words, “the end”, simply slowing the tempo can signal the same thing. (That’s my drama training coming out there)
    One ending we’ve used on uptempo songs is to go back to the chorus or even first verse and sing it at a much slower ballad tempo. Paul Baloche likes to do this so we’ve coined to phrase, “Baloche the song”.
    Another ending requires a screen, but we sometimes have the band vamp and have a scripture passage on the screen that speaks to the song we just sung or takes us into the next part of the worship gathering. The idea is to give people a chance to meditate/think about the words in a new way. Just ideas…

  7. #7 by kirk on March 1, 2006 - 1:42 pm

    Sam!
    its so cool that you have commented on my blog. I love the internet!!!
    excellent ideas. I have used the “Baloche” ending some recently. (i.e. on Christmas we ended “O Come All Ye Faithful” with a slower tempo refrain.)
    I hope we can see you and the “Paul’s” sometime soon. My sister and I were recently talking about how much we miss seeing our extended fam. Maybe at Joel’s wedding which I hear will be this summer.

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