I enjoy singing, and have been told I have a nice voice, but I cannot keep a consistent pitch or key when singing without accompaniment. I can’t play the piano and I can’t read music. I am quick to learn tunes and memorize songs, but even so, I cannot stay on key while singing them solo, much less when singing with small children whose idea of keeping a tune is even worse than mine. My husband has even tossed around the idea of having me take voice lessons, because he’s pretty sure there’s just some hearing or vocal disconnect that I could unlearn. In the meantime, he gets sometimes nervous that I am the one teaching the children to sing. Musical ability runs in his family. Mine? Not so much.
But, we have found our solution, and, not surprisingly, it is in taking advantage of modern technology.
Of course you can find tunes on sites like Cyber Hymnal , but I would rather spend a little money and have piano accompaniment than have to sing along to a painfully slow and tinny midi file. Also, I can’t sync midi files onto my iPod or iPad, which is the device we use during Circle Time.
It turns out there is a small market out there for piano accompaniment CDs for churches who don’t have a pianist – or, in this case, for families who can’t keep a tune. For the last 3 years I’ve tried to find accompaniment tracks for our hymn selection, and now I have a solid collection. Here is our list; hopefully it will save someone the hours of searching and listening I have invested.
Hymn Accompaniment by Susan Beisner
Available at Westminster Bookstore; $31.48
I found these just last year and they fit the bill perfectly. Between the two 4-disc volumes, she plays most the Psalms and hymns from the Trinity Hymnal, which contains most of the hymns from our hymnal, the CRC’s 1976 Blue Psalter Hymnal. The Psalm tunes are often different, but the booklet inside lists the tune names as well as the hymnal numbers (including numbers from other common Reformed hymnals), and so far the tunes for the Psalter Hymnal’s Psalm settings I’ve wanted to use have been included, even if listed under a different title.
She doesn’t play too slow, which is a common fault on hymn recordings. She adds embellishments; it is not dry playing, and there is usually additional emphasis and depth on the last verse, which I always enjoy. She plays through the tune for as many times as there are verses in her hymnal, which mostly matches up with ours, though not always. The sound is clear and and the volume good.
I am very happy with this find, which I came across at Westminster Bookstore after long hunting.
Before finding Susan Beisner’s CDs, I mostly searched iTunes and found single tracks for each hymn we wanted to learn. I sometimes found an odd one here or there, but most of the ones I ended up buying were from titles by Worship Service Resources.
They are decent, though their title selections lean toward the Baptist-culture (or maybe it’s Methodist, I don’t know) hymns rather than the hymns from the Reformed or Presbyterian traditions. Still, I was able to find a number of the hymns I wanted; I just had to buy each track individually, because there were more songs than not on the albums that we wouldn’t use.
The tempo is on the slow side, but not painfully so.
We spent 2 years attending Christ Church in Moscow Idaho, where they sing Genevan Psalms — Psalms set to music in the sixteenth and seventeeth century, originally in German. The music is more complex, but also more robust.
I am even more prone to get these Psalms not only off key but also ruin the timing. Thankfully, Canon Press has accompaniment to most of the Cantus’ contents, though they didn’t record the traditional hymns most hymnals include.
When all else fails
When I haven’t found an accompaniment track for a selection I want to include, I usually settle for an acapella or chior version of the hymn if I can find one that is reasonably close to congregation singing (very little stylization) and not too slow or vibrato or simply annoying. Searching and listening to snippets on iTunes makes these selections possible.
Do you have any other sources for accompaniment to family singing?