In various ways, at various times, I have been taught that all music should dance. Now sometimes that dance will look like Isadora Duncan, and sometimes like Michael Jackson, but there should always be a sense of movement in the music. When I play hymns I always feel them in one, meaning I play them with one large beat per measure, allowing the music to move forward. Without giving an emphasis on every beat or every other beat, the music can flow more gracefully and help give more sense to the text.
In popular culture, dancing always has a regular beat pattern. Waltzes are in three, the polka is in a fast two, and salsa with all its syncopation stays strictly in four. But that’s so limiting! Let’s expand our definition of dancing. Episcopalians are not known for dancing in the aisles, of course, but perhaps you’ve swayed a bit during a lively hymn? At the very least, you can stretch as you fill your lungs to sing a long phrase on one breath. Try it. Take a deep, expansive breath that makes you grow taller and continue to grow taller as you sing:
Let us break bread together on our knees – – –
I hope you felt yourself move as you sang. Internally, your lungs and rib cage and diaphragm (muscles under the lungs) are doing their own dance. And our hearts can dance as easily as our bodies for that matter.
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I made an offhand comment to a dear friend a couple of years ago about loving pieces in 7/8 time. He nodded in agreement and said he too enjoys the graceful, if uneven, gait that music in 7/8 time achieves. (You can get a sense of what I’m talking about by counting 1-2-3-1-2-1-2). I later received a message from my friend with a piece attached that he had written for me – in 7/8 time naturally. What a beautiful surprise! When I asked him why he chose the text he did – How can I keep from singing? – he wrote back:
I think the text lends itself to ebullient joy; even in the midst of despair we are surrounded by innumerable blessings and we can find joy in the entirety of creation. This text cries out for dancing.
Dancing in 7/8 time. Not such an odd idea. Surely we are all called to move outside of comfortable patterns from time to time.