Recently I challenged myself to set a piece of religious text to music for SATB. However, I encountered timing issues caused by irregular numbers of syllables in verses, and when to break off phrases.
In the following hymn it is easy since it has 8 syllables per line and can therefore be written in a regular 4/4 time signature:
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel
But what about for irregular hymns or verses? Can I change the time signature midway through the piece? How would I determine the best time signature?
Edit: in the example shown above there's a regular distribution of syllables per line, and the phrasing is obvious since there are rhyming couplets. But what about a format of:
Line 1 (x syllables),
Line 2 (y syllables),
Line 3 (z syllables) ;
etc. It is more difficult since naturally we group phrases in 2 lines which would render the transition from line 2 to 3 awkward