Changing the composition of a copyrighted hymn


Today our musicians had quite a discussion about copyright as it applies to a copyrighted hymn. If a composer has written a 4-measure section within a hymn for instrumentation only [no lyrics for that 4 measures] and one leads singing and/or plays that 4-measure as one [1] measure only, is that a violation of copyright?

It is felt by some of us that altering the music to such a degree is undesirable and confuses those in the congregation who read music. Some were silent for 1 measure only, and immediately sang the next lyrics… The others waited for the 4-measure “break” and then commenced to sing. It was not pretty.

I have enough trouble playing the notes as written <<>>

Your thoughts? Any specific copyright verbiage to allow/disallow such alteration?


Whether is it adviseable is one issue. But it’s not a copyright issue unless the person making the change was publishing it that way or performing it for profit.

Skipping a few measures is no different that not singing all the verses.


Oh…the drama that ensues when you have a choir director who is slavish to the written notes. And the key it’s written in, etc etc etc :rolleyes:
No creativity, no flexibility, and no nuance.
Pretty dull if you ask me.
Often, VERY OFTEN, the choir has to cut something short, or extend a piece with an extra chorus, or in some cases (Like the hymns that used the word Yahweh) have to change a word. It’s done. It’s allowed. It’s not a copyright infringement.
True, composers give you their optimum pages. But church music is not done for profit, and all churches pay heavy copyright fees and rights to the publishers. They don’t care a fig how many bars you have between verses. Just so long as you pay the yearly fee. They’re quite pleased you are using their pieces. You may notice, that most artists and composers rarely play a piece the same way twice.
If a congregation can’t follow the choir, that’s a totally different problem.


I was hoping for a vote that one MUST play and sing as written.

Anyway, I meant to clearer than I was…

This is for a hymn the congregation sings regularly. One musician plays the music as written with a 4-measure no lyric break, another plays it with 1 measure “break” only.

Depending on the musician playing, the congregation either sings to early for the musician playing the music as written in the hymnals and accompaniments.


They sing 3 or 4 measures after the musician has begun the next musical phrase.

As I mentioned, it “ain’t pretty.” My solution is not to select that hymn. But, the other two musicians select that hymn quite often, same confused congregation each time no matter who plays.

Thanks for listening. Any hints for proper execution of the music as printed? Both musicians are firm in their thoughts.


The purpose of the copyright is to protect the creator of the musical work from theft of the work. The only issue that comes into play when a work is altered is when someone alters the work to try to avoid paying for it. If you look at common songs in the secular world you will see that many songs are credited to the original composer but have a different arrangements, so interpretation of the song is allowed and does not violate copyright.
So, what you have is really a people problem here with the musicians who each want to do things their own way instead of considering the reason they are playing at Mass to begin with. The congregation shouldn’t have to figure it out as they go along.


Are you talking about Here I Am Lord?
I’ve had various congregations sing it both ways.
It doesn’t really matter if the cantor is clear.

If the music is printed and learned by ear, I guess that’s what you have to go with. Either it has notes and a tempo marking or it doesn’t. In the case of the over-sung Here I Am…the long break as written is very awkward. The flow of the pieces calls fro moving on.

The DIRECTOR should make a decision and stick with it, and everyone should fall in line.
Period. My choir used to call me their tiny Conquistador. LOL
But I would make a call, and we rolled.


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