Thoughts on worship, congregational song
and the life of the church.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Teaching Plan - “All Peoples Clap your Hands”

Break into Song, Episode 1

Psalm 47
Liturgical Use: Ascension Sunday (Easter, lectionary Psalm), Reign of Christ (last Sunday before Advent)

“All Peoples Clap your Hands,” written by Paschal Jordan, is a joyful and affirming song that paraphrases the triumphant imagery of Psalm 47. The song’s infectious quality and lively body percussion will have everyone singing, clapping, and slapping along.

The score is available in With Many Voices (Binary Editions, 2001;

These teaching tips will help you to introduce this song to your congregation. You can also watch the first episode of Break into Song to get a sense of the background, rehearsal tips, and possible worship uses for this song.

There are three main parts to this song: (1) Teaching Plan - “All Peoples Clap your Hands”The Psalm paraphrase, which can be sung by you the cantor, or a member of a choir; (2) A recurring motif of “Alleluia” exclamations, sung by the choir and congregation; (3) A simple one-bar percussion ostinato of leg-slapping and clapping.

While there are a number of ways you might approach teaching this song, here are some simple steps you can take to familiarize both choir and congregation with the song.


  • Learn the song by heart.
Familiarize yourself with the Psalm paraphrase, and memorize the four parts of the Alleluias so you can teach them by memory.

If you don't plan to sing the Psalm paraphrase yourself, go over the leader's part with the soloist who will sing it.

Choir Practice 1

(A full week prior to introducing the song in worship.)
Time needed: 10 minutes

  • Teach the entire choir the slapping and clapping motif. 
This is a fun way to get a feel for the song, and to give the choir a sense for the communally shared rhythm needed to keep the song going. Keep it going for a minute or so. As they play, identify two people in the choir who could be designated leaders of the “slapping” and “clapping” sections of the congregation. (You might also invite a young person or group of young people from the congregation to do this.)

  • Teach the choir the Alleluia responses, by rote.
This is a song which lends itself well to being sung “off the page” right from the start. The score is actually more confusing than just learning by rote. Teach the Basses their “Alleluia” ostinato first, then add the sopranos. Try just the outer voices together first. Make sure the sopranos sing a good whole step down on the “lu” of Alleluia, to solidify the modal sound of this figure.

Add the Altos and Tenors next; this doesn’t have to be “by the book” - sing the two inner parts and invite the choir to pick whichever notes are comfortable for their voices.

  • Road map.
Talk through the form of the song so that the choir know what to expect (you will also reinforce this road map with gestural cues as you lead the song.) Explain that the “Aleluias” jump in during the Psalm paraphrase (you can indicate this off-beat entry with a strong downbeat gesture). After two Aleluias, they have to wait for a longer solo line - it can be tempting to jump in at the wrong time here. After each verse, the choir (and congregation) sing the “Alleluias” four times. Once you’ve worked through all four verses and choruses, people can watch you to end the last clap downbeat altogether. That’s it!

  • You’re ready to sing - give the whole song a go.
Have a small group of people keep the slapping and clapping going while everyone else sings the Alleluias.

Choir Practice 2

(The week of introducing the song in worship.)
Time needed: 6 minutes

  • Speak to your designated slappers and clappers, and any soloists who will sing the paraphrase.
Pick someone to lead the rhythm who is confident and who will remember to watch you. One person leads the slaps, the other the claps. (You may decide not to separate it this way, or to combine them once the song is familiar to the congregation - decide what will work best for your own community.)

  • Talk through the road map again, and run the song.


  • In planning that day’s service, insert a “Learning Time” early in the worship service to teach the song.
This allows you to familiarize the congregation with the song before you come to it in worship.

  • Give the congregation a few words of context for the song.
This helps the congregation begin to connect with Christians from diverse cultural contexts. Singing someone else's song can be like walking a mile in their shoes.

  • Teach the body percussion.
Part of the fun of dividing up the the slapping and clapping is that it creates an antiphonal effect in the room. You might have the group of slappers on the left of the room and clappers on the right, with alleluias in the middle, or slapping in the back and clapping in the front. However you arrange it  physically position your slapping and clapping leaders next to their group.

Teach the slapping part first, and have the slappers try it on their own. Then, introduce the slapping into the sound. Let people practise it for several bars to get a feel for the rhythmic ostinato - the "engine room" of this song.

  • Teach the Alleluias.
Once the percussion is solid, teach the four-part alleluias by rote. You can divide up the parts and demonstrate them individually, or layer the parts up from the bottom in rhythm like an ostinato (basses begin their part and continue, add the tenors for a coupe of repetitions, add the altos...)

  • Talk briefly through the road map.
The choir's prior familiarity with the song will be a support to the congregation, but give the congregation a sense of the layout of the song. If this kind of song to your congregation, avoid apologizing for how different it is - trust that the song is worth doing, and worth doing well.

  • Put it all together.
Since you have done this preparatory learning earlier in the service, when you come to it in worship you can flow into the song without any explanation, especially if it is being used as a dramatic punctuation to a reading or prayer. Trust that the song will speak for itself.

Before worship, think through the song carefully for which groups will need your support when - soloists may appreciate an affirmative look or gesture when it's time to come in, and you'll want to indicate when the congregation jumps in with an "alleluia" and when they should listen and wait. Position yourself in a spot where all these different groups can see you clearly. 

Have fun, and let me know how it goes! You'll be amazed at what can happen once you break into song.

1 comment:

  1. The implications of this development, once applied to four separate ranges of voices (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) in an exceedingly choral context ar quite monumental. Of course, this could mean that if all four voices ar overtone singing at an equivalent time, you make eight tones. The tone potentialities become complicated.