‘We can’t sing up there’

‘We can’t sing up there’ is a comment made after far too many church services. And it’s true: research shows that for various reasons the human singing voice has dropped over the last century.

I play for a service at a care home for the elderly where they really know their hymns (often by heart) and they complain that they can no longer sing along to Songs of Praise because the hymns are too high.

And after Christmas I met a large number of people who had been forced to drop out of the carols for the same reason.

Carols especially – think of Christians, awake! Hark, the herald-angels sing, Once in royal David’s city and even Silent night – have not just got very high notes but the tunes also hang around up there, which is even worse.

The problem is easily solved: tunes don’t have to be pitched so high and, as a working church musician, I play them in much lower keys and the congregation sings with enthusiasm and comfort.

Some organists can do this themselves as part of their training and the thing to do is to negotiate a comfortable pitch with your own organist.

Others need the music rewritten for them so that they can play lower and this is an area we have been looking at recently, to provide the material they need.

Our book Hymn Tunes in Lower Keys has the tunes for 314 hymns, while Hymns That Aren’t Too High has 400, including a good number of worship songs. These books are suitable for all denominations.

Letters from our customers confirm not only the usefulness of these books but also how much they have improved the singing. One organist wrote: ‘I play for a crematorium and this book is a godsend. Even the men at funerals now join in.’ Another wrote to say that he wished he had had the book from the beginning of his career as a church musician.

So congregations everywhere, keep complaining until your organist brings your hymns down to your level!

Kevin Mayhew

Kevin Mayhew

Taken at Nicholas King’s The Bible Launch