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Saturday, 4 September 2010

"Ideally, the cantor should have an average voice"

"Let My People Sing" in US Catholic back in July by one Fr Phillip makes some good points (vis a vis silencing the song leader, re-orienting the choir,) but is pretty uninformed ( too much music pitched for "altos and sopranos, whose range is beyond the reach of ordinary voices" -- although I will grant that treble voices of whatever fach, when "leading" congregational singing are said, by some studies, to be more difficult for possessors of changed voices to follow or tune with.)

And his suggestion to "lower it a half note" betrays his misunderstanding of even basic vocabulary to discuss music; but he does have a point, (Although I think the problem is generally not key but range...)

'Here Is something a pastor will never hear in the back of the church after Mass: "I wish the people around me didn't sing so loud!"'

No, but those of us wont to sing out DO hear it, Father, and when people are too "polite" to actually say it within earshot, we still get "the look."

"Ideally, the cantor should have an average voice that by its ordinary sound encourages others to sing."

The jokes write themselves, ladies and gentlemen.

"I have seldom heard the congregation singing. The people may be singing, but I can't hear them. And I doubt if they can hear one another. What we all hear is the cantor or choir and organist or musicians, whose sound is well amplified throughout the church

I would venture to guess the fault is not the musicians', who are indeed amplified, but whoever had the place carpeted; and perhaps the musicians but just as likely the priest, liturgy committee or the congregation plumping for certain "contemporary" styles of music.
Both of these unfortunate situations positively REQUIRE amplification.

"If a parish has a trained choir, they could gather together to sing a hymn about five minutes before the start of Sunday Mass. This helps to set a prayerful mood. Then I suggest that they fan out into all sections of the congregation, sitting with family or friends, and assist the congregation in singing from the pews."

This may be a good temporary solution if you have limited congregational participation, or a great technique to use for special events, (I always loved it when one of my cantors who was a terrible cantor but terrific congregational singer assisted at Masses when was not leading the singing, because she, unlike every other cantor, sat toward the BACK. The entire congregation benefited and sang out more lustily, especially during communion, when at almost any Mass I've ever attended it was obvious that for the most part the people who are EAGER to participate audibly gravitate toward the front of the nave so that within a few moments for the beginning of the Communion of the Faithful congregational singing, for all intents and purposes, ceases.

But no, the real solution is to return to (or begin?) a true understanding of progressive solemnity (dialogues, anyone?) and of the differing vocal roles of the congregation and the choir/schola.
Repeat after me:

Asking the congregation to sing a bunch of hymns lessens the probability that they will sing that which is more important. Decades ago now, the no-one-would-possibly-accuse-it-of-being-conservative-or-traditionalist Notre Dame study of parish life noted that the more they are asked to sing within a given liturgy, the less the people WILL sing.
It stands to reason.
The recent emphasis by some liturgists on congregational singing "as long as" (bad translation of "dum", BTW,) the communion procession is patently absurd -- Billy Bigelow's notoriously long "Soliloquy" hasn't the duration of the vocal effort many parishes expect of their pew-sitters.
So, all the verses of three to five hymns, a psalm response, a Kyrie, a Gloria, an Alleluia (or other acclamation,) a Sanctus, a Memorial Acclamation, a "Great" amen, an Agnus Dei... and that list doesn't even include the Dominus vobiscum, Verbum Domine and preface dialogues, the dismissal, or the Lord's Prayer -- all of which should take precedence over The Church's One Foundation or Gather Us In.

(Why don't priests know that? forget music per se, what exactly is the liturgical training they receive in seminary?)

"have those waiting in the pews sing the words of a hymn while those walking in procession simply hum the melody. Humming can be very prayerful."

Omm..... okay, given the doggerel we are sometimes asked to sing humming might actually be preferable, but PLEASE - do you hear what you are saying?#?$?%?
Such an approach de facto elevates the tune to the point where it is not just equal, but superior to the text!
Do we think music is more important than the Word?
(That of course is another huge problem that, in the average Liturgy, we are just singin' words instead of singing the Word , but I digress.....)

"A parish grade school provides an ideal setting for teaching new acclamations, responsorial psalms, and hymns throughout the year. Once the children are taught a new song, they should be instructed to bring it home and let their parents hear what they learned. The students in the parish religious education program should also take part in learning new music. The children need to know how important they are in helping the congregation to sing on Sunday."

Amen, but said music needs to be selected by liturgical musicians not catechists who are mostly uninformed, (or worse, grossly misinformed,) about both liturgy and music, and appropriate praxis.

"Most parish congregations at Sunday Mass are made up of a wide variety of ages. That means that the music selected needs to include a wide variety of styles. Some music will appeal to young people, other music is more to the liking of seniors, and still other music will fit the tastes of folk enthusiasts or classical music lovers. If the music selection is all of one style (the favorite music of the director), it will soon bore many who can't relate to it. "

Nonsense. Smorgasbords are for cruises, not the gathering of the Mystical Body of Christ.

What anyone "likes", (including, no, especially the music director,) is almost irrelevant.

"In churches that are long and narrow, I recommend that people turn and face the center aisle for the gathering hymn. This way they can see the faces and hear the voices of those gathered across the aisle and get the feeling of being united in community. "

Right prescription, wrong reason -- IF you choose to forgo the Introit in favor of a congregational song, at least let the people SEE the procession.

"I would like to see the day when the priest, the lectors, the eucharistic ministers, the musicians and singers all face the congregation at the end of Mass and clap for how well they, the assembled faithful, sang and participated. "

Aside from the icky self-esteem-trophies-all-around! odor of that kind of patronization, umm... aren't these "singers" whom you want to clap for the congregation just PART of the congregation in your ideal ?

And come to think of it, if THEY are, why aren't the lay readers, (not "lectors",) and the Extraordinary (not "Eucharistic",) Ministers?


Mark M. said...

Fantastic response! :)

Dad29 said...

Well, he proves the old saying, 'better to keep quiet than to open your mouth and...'

Mary Jane said...

blorp! Your comments are, as always, so succinct. I hope the author of the article sounds like the Arch-Songster of Canterbury in Brave New World.