Bridges and Joins
The Complete Hymn/You are the Conductor!


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The Bridge gets your singers conveniently to the start of the next verse where they should begin it with no hesitation whatsoever. It sometimes features in the last part of the playover too. The key to this is to feel the basic pulse of the hymn and keep that running from verse to verse; hence you must not pause anywhere.

Getting your singers to start the next verse is often less difficult than the first but again the old "pause, off for two beats and re-start" is usually clumsy. Most organists leave just two beats rest which works some of the time, but a purpose designed bridge will often work better. SOme organists time their pause, in which case I would argue that it is no longer an actual pause but a timed break in the music.

A really serious problem with using the "fixed" 2 beats is that this often creates a bar between verses which in effect has a different time signature throwing the singers. I heard FULDA on BBC Songs of Praise where the organist did just that and it really sounded odd; this 3:4 hymn suddenly had a 2:4 bar of silence between verses.

The tune CAMBERWELL (At the Name of Jesus) was one of the first in recent times to incorporate a bridge absolutely guaranteed to get congregations singing from the beginning of the second verse onwards. If you are cunning you can use the bridge in your playover as well to get the first verse started cleanly. Similarly Patrick Appleford's LIVING LORD has a short bridge which can also be built in to the playover.

Not all hymns and songs lend themselves to an easy bridge; those that don't probably just need a little more thought and experimentation. Sometimes just adding moving chords to a long held final note keeps the rhythm going - see Joins below. Once you get used to adding a bridge you will find that it comes easily and naturally and you can be quite creative!

You will need to look carefully at the hymn structure. From that you can "construct" bridges between verses - mostly I use the same bridge before each verse in a hymn but you may like to vary them; but be sure that you get back to the starting point in a way that clarifies beyond any doubt where you are! The bridge must not itself resemble the start of the next verse or some of the congregation may start singing at the wrong moment - a recipe for disaster; the bridge should move off before the last note of the preceding verse is completed so that there is no doubt what is happening; your congregation may be a little surprised when you start using bridges if you have never done so before; when changing your style of playing it may help them if you write an article about this in your church magazine or bulletin.

Also take a careful look at the ends of the middle line; lots of hymns fail to give enough time for the singers to breathe. I have extended some of these in my settings, e.g. CRIMOND & ST BOTOLPH. Sir Frederick Ouseley's tune CONTEMPLATION (When all thy mercies, O my God) shows, possibly, how this should have been done in the first place. CRIMOND has proved problematic in practice and the relatively slow pace loses any sense of 6:8 which becomes apparent in a number of 3:4 hymn tunes,


The bridge shown below may be regarded as more of a logical "join" as there is virtually no additional time added. I have done quite a number of these and the moving inner parts help to maintain the timing to the next verse. It is particularly relevant in the tune THORNBURY where there is a long held note at the end of the last line of each verse making the restart very difficult.


A few sample bridges

This is part of HYFRYDOL (Alleluia! Sing to Jesus...). The bridge, or join, spaces the verses perfectly.

As such this bridge is quite short - more like a Join where there is virtually no additional time inserted between the verses, but the moving parts maintain the rhythm and so clarify the re-start beyond any possible doubt.

NICEA (Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord, God Almighty...) Here I provide the play-over and bridge.

This is relatively straightforward but it does help to clarify the timing of the next verse.
Keeping the final sung note to two beats also works well without the bridge for this hymn.

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January 2024