A question of clapping

I’ve got a new research project and I’m turning to you, my treasured blog-readers, to provide the data I need – I do hope you’ll oblige.

The project in question is, if you will, an exercise in musical ethnography. Specifically, it relates to the rhythmic clapping that takes place at certain points within a (one time) extremely popular religious chorus…

Graham Kendrick’s Shine Jesus Shine was the first ‘mega chorus’ (that’s my term) of the worship song era. Up and down the country congregations of all denominations and most traditions could be found singing it lustily of a Sunday. In fact, in our suburban London church, it got to the point that it had been sung to exhaustion and was banned for five years.

Like the best cringeworthy and beloved choruses, SJS has clapping segments, enjoyed primarily by middle-aged women and small children. Until yesterday, I thought this clapping was fairly standardised – that was until I’d read Caroline’s description of praise choruses in Belize. Apparently there no one claps at all:
“either the northern [?] clapclap-clapclap, OR the southern [?] clapclapclap-clap)?”

This was the first I’d heard of a rhythmic clapping north-south divide. In fact, in the two (southern) locations in which I’d sung this the clapping had been the first rhythm, not the second. (I established this by tapping it several times on my desk, much to C’s annoyance.) Now, perhaps Caroline got the regions round the wrong way, or maybe (as she commented) it’s actually a north-middle-south divide.

So, research…I know a fair few British Christians read this; most (if not all) have probably sung SJS more than once in their lifetime; a lot of them have probably lived in a variety of UK locations; and at least a few will have lived in the ‘north’. Is there a rhythmic clapping divide?

I’ve done a bit of research myself, and located this clip which illustrates it being clapped the way I’m used to. Be warned, the sound quality’s appalling as it was filmed on a mobile phone in a school assembly. But this helpfully illustrates a tangental point. At my secondary school SJS was the only hymn ever sung in assembly with any kind of enthusiasm. (The only other song that was sung with similar passion was the school song – Gaudeamus Igitur and only because certain Latin lyrics could be turned into double entendres or just plain ‘rude’ words. Even now, me and my school friends could probably sing all 4 verses if requested.)

Anyway, the clapping was the pupils’ favourite bit, yet it never ceased to make me and my two Christian friends cringe that:
(i) This wasn’t even a ‘good’ song in our opinion. (This was at a time when Matt Redman had just appeared, but we didn’t sing his stuff at school.)
(ii) We wouldn’t ever consider engaging in rhythmic clapping at school or at church – it just wasn’t the done thing.
[It might also be worth mentioning that our school hymn-book was Hymns Ancient & Modern, with the addition of only three songs whose words were taped into the inside covers – the school song, SJS and Make Me a Channel of Your Peace – perhaps that shows why SJS was seized upon so enthusiastically.]

Intriguingly, my brief trawl of YouTube indicated a lack of clips with any form of clapping at all. Most weren’t British, so perhaps the clapping is our own phenomenon? Anyway, I’d be grateful (and I’m sure Caroline will be too) if you could shed some light on this interesting* question – a short comment will do. Thanks.

*Apologies, I realise ‘interesting’ may be taking this a bit far. We find it interesting, doesn’t mean you have to.

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