Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Musical Scribe

Whenever we read or hear of the word “scribe”, we naturally think of the scribes from the Gospels who seem to be constantly criticised by Jesus Christ. To be fair, a scribe is actually a person who is well versed in interpreting and teaching the Torah (the Law or the first 5 books in the Old Testament) as well as making copies of the Torah for distribution. Being a scribe is a vocation and it takes years of training and practice to be one. Unfortunately, the scribes mentioned in the Gospels deviated from their true calling, becoming aloof and corrupted instead of being fair and just to all.

What is a Musical Scribe?

A Musical Scribe is a person who is well versed in music and is able to compose or arrange a music piece. To compose a music piece means to write an original music piece whereas to arrange a music piece is to write an exact or similar copy of a music piece composed by someone else. In the past, the music piece had to be written or copied by hand; a slow, difficult and error-prone process. With the emergence of computers, the task is so much easier. The music piece need only be written once and it can be printed over and over again.

Why do we need a Musical Scribe?

Throughout this article, when I use the word organist, I mean any musician (for example, an organist, a pianist, a keyboard player, etc.) other than a guitarist.

In most parishes, there are hymns that can be played from hymnbooks such as the Sing Your Praise to God (SYPG). However, there are many other hymns or songs, Charismatic or otherwise, which cannot be found in any of the hymnals or songbooks available in the market. Quite often, only the words and chords are available. To a guitarist, the words and chords are usually sufficient but to an organist, the words and chords are not enough, especially if he or she is not familiar with the hymn. The musical notes are needed as well so that the organist will be able to play the hymn correctly. There are also hymns that can be found in other songbooks but the key for these hymns may be too high or too low for singing.

Besides that, some parishes are dependent on one or two organists and these organists are usually the only ones who know the hymns that are in words and chords form. What would happen if these organists leave the parish for good (they get married and settle down in some other place; they move to another place because of work or family commitments, etc.) or if these organists decide to retire and serve the Lord in some other way? If new organists are trained, then this may not be a problem but training new organists without music notes is downright difficult, if not altogether impossible. Besides that, it is not possible for a person to teach the new organists all the hymns that are in words and chords form because of time constraint and also because of the huge number of such hymns floating around.

As you can see, the above situations can cause these hymns to be lost if they are not written down and preserved for future generations. The church is gifted with so many beautiful hymns that are inspirational and educational. That is why we need people who are willing to take time and effort to write down these hymns so that any organist would be able to play them easily. These people are known as “Musical Scribes”.

What are the requirements?

To be a Musical Scribe, you need to meet the following requirements:

1. A sound knowledge of music, especially in the writing of music notes

2. A good understanding of chords, since most of the time, you will need to determine the suitable chords for the hymn.

3. Much patience, as it takes time to get the music written properly. This is not much of a problem if a computer is used to write the music.

4. Some basic knowledge of using a computer.

The fourth point here is optional but recommended as the computer is a real time saver when it comes to writing music notes. Of course, you do not need to use a computer to write music but from my experience, using the computer is more efficient and the hymn can be easily reproduced (try making copies of a hymn by hand and you will see what I mean). Of course, you can always make photocopies of the hymn but this is not always reliable because the photocopies could turn out not clear or if your handwriting is bad, the photocopies will not be of much help.

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