This activity began as a project in our music-themed Sunday school session for Easter Season 2021. Usually in these sessions, we read the psalm for an upcoming service, choose a refrain, and, based on the rhythms and shape of the refrain’s poetry, compose a single melody for that refrain together. The rhythm and shape of the poetry often tells us a lot about how to go about composing the melody, which makes it a great listening and reflecting activity for absorbing the psalm’s poetry in its own right.
In the Easter season especially, but in many other times too, we sing and say the word, “Alleluia” (which means “Praise Jah” in Hebrew) a lot. “Alleluia” is an important word! There are many Alleluias in the Psalms, ancient songs of faith from the time before Jesus – and there are many Alleluias in the hymns and songs that followers of Jesus have been writing for the past 2000 years. (It helps that it is a wonderful word for singing, with all those vowels!)
There are many, many ways individuals have prescribed–and communities have agreed–to sing this word, and all of them work. Because of this variety, we have a delightful opportunity to listen, reflect, and compose a little differently than we normally encounter; indeed, composers of alleluias have ample aesthetic freedom to make an alleluia theirs.
This aesthetic freedom can liberate some and overwhelm others–sometimes both at once! Both reactions are normal. To help overcome the overwhelm, we listened to some Alleluias we’ve sung at various times at St. Dunstan’s. We then noticed together how each made us feel and what about the music made us feel that way.
Some things to listen for:
- How does the music make you feel? (Emotion?)
- What color is the music? (Colors/shades of joy to appreciate?)
- What syllables of the word, “Alleluia,” does the music emphasize? (Text setting)
- Could you dance to music? How? (Rhythm? Meter?)
- Is the music loud? Soft? Increase in volume? Decrease? (Dynamics?)
- Are the notes of the music connected together? Separated? Are there notes that receive more weight than others? (Articulation?)
- How is the melody shaped? Perhaps like a ramp? A wedge? A wave? Something else? (Melodic Contour?)
- Do melodic lines repeat? Contrast with each other? When? To what extent? (Form?)
- Is it major? Minor? Something else? (Key signature? Mode?)
- What chords work with the melody? When do they happen? (Harmony/harmonic rhythm?)
Some ideas for how to listen:
- Drawing on a piece of paper
- Gesturing along with the music with your hands (perhaps experimenting with conducting patterns?)
- Singing along, perhaps experimenting with a countermelody or harmony
- Playing along, perhaps experimenting with a countermelody or harmony
- Walking to the music
- Dancing to the music (can be improvised or in a particular tradition)
- If applicable, following along with the sheet music
Alleluia refrain from “Alleluia, Alleluia, Give Thanks to the Risen Lord,” Hymnal 1982, #178
Kenyan Alleluia, transcribed in Music by Heart, #94
Zimbabwe Alleluia, transcribed in Music by Heart, #88
Alleluia refrain from “O Sons and Daughters, Let Us Sing,” Hymnal 1982, #206 (transcribed in G minor, played in F minor)
Celtic Alleluia from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #174 (in E major)
“Hallelu, Hallu, Hallelu, Hallelujah!” from 20th Century Gospel Songs: Youthspiration Packet Hymnal (1957) (in Ab major)
George Frederic Handel, “Hallelujah Chorus,” Messiah
Ready to try composing? Continue to Part 2 at https://stdunstans.com/?page_id=35512&preview=true.
Want to notice some more Alleluias in a different way? Check out https://stdunstans.com/?page_id=35572&preview=true.