• Hello,

    I am a relatively new hire of 6 months at a Catholic church. As the music coordinator, I am making a few changes that are being resisted by the current choir accompanist, but by no others, as I can tell, as I am supported by all others. One thing that is very bothersome to me is the tradition of group canting, started by my predecessor. All 18 choir members cant the responsorial psalm and the gospel acclamation, and anything else that might (to me) sound better if done by a competent soloist. Liturgically, is it appropriate to group cant? When there are recitative-type passages, they are not together rhythmically, and the words are lost. Additionally, there is nobody to invite the congregation to sing with an extension of the hands. I value your comments, as this will be discussed at the next prayer and worship committee meeting. Thank you.
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,407
    an extension of the hands

    A lack of hand gestures is a good thing - this was an unnecessary trend.

    18 people singing the Psalm together (or anything else you might sing at that time of the Mass like the Gradual) is too many.

    I'm not sure what a music coordinator is and how you fit into the structure/hierarchy of your music program so perhaps you could tell us a bit more about this before we give you further advice on personnel issues.
    Thanked by 1ClergetKubisz
  • Marylouise,

    Welcome to the forum, and to work as a musician in a Catholic parish.

    It sounds as if you've got a whole kitten-knot of issues here, so let me help to unravel them.

    1) All the members of the choir could, conceivably, sing the psalm or the acclamation. This possibility is, if I recall, explicitly foreseen in the GIRM.

    2) Something can be permitted in law and still be a bad idea.

    3) The placement of the choir matters tremendously in any answer to your question. If the choir is in a choir loft, this is a prudential situation different from all the choir "down front", or (heaven forbid) all standing around one microphone at a "cantor stand", as it is sometimes called.

    4) You don't mention the language of the singing, but it is fair to assume that the language is the vernacular of some large portion of the congregation. This is a consideration in regard to their "words" being lost. (That is, if no one expects to understand them in his native tongue, it's still bad musical form to have unison singers sing dissonantly, but it's less of an issue of "being understood".)

    5) The reason that there is "nobody to invite the congregation to sing with an extension of the hands" is unclear.... so I've raised the question of choir placement elsewhere. Congregations --- active participants, not dumb spectators, anyway -- don't need to be told when to sing by hand gestures. If you mean that since the entire choir is singing the acclamation, there's no one person assigned the job of raising his hands, what would be problematic about all of the choir members raising their hands?

    6) I generally support the idea of dividing up responsibilities if a choir has a very wide range of responsibilities: it gives the excellent musicians something to do with their talents other than merely exercising the virtue of patience.

    On the lighter side, I'm increasingly seeing the word "cant" used as a verb, and am therefore amused when I read it as a noun, sometimes misunderstanding on purpose:

    group cant

    should mean "collective nonsense".
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,407
    what would be problematic about all of the choir members raising their hands?

  • Chaswjd
    Posts: 67
    My question would be why is the choir not together when singing recitative-type passages? Are they just not listening to each other? If they are not, I might try and use the situation to build listening skills for the choir as a body.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 3,902
    I'm not sure if mine is contrary-thought, but here goes.
    Psalmody is psalmody. I can't count the occasions at colloquia/intensives wherein the psalmist renders the first versicle, and the second is tutti. This is, IIRC, SOProcedure in choral evensong/Vespers, particularly when using fauxbourdon.
    Should one become familiar then conversant with Proper settings such as RR's "Simple Choral Gradual," choral versicles can be cleanly and effectively performed.
    Whether one is an exuberant director, ala the KMeister at St. Peters, or a more intuitive chironomy-st such as Dr. Donelson, choirs can be taught and led to precise elocution.

    I dedicate this annotated comment to MJO.
  • Choral chanting of the responsorial psalm is certainly allowed: perhaps it is not the first choice according to the Missal instructions (GIRM). I know several places where it is done often. Some priests won't let you start it, but you already have it. Perhaps you could continue with both practices for a while.

    Choral chanting of the Alleluia verse (Gospel acclamation) is also very much allowed, and is normal practice at our place.

    Speaking of practice, choral recitation requires it. They must listen to each other. It helps to recite together without singing, trying for a natural spoken rhythm. It may help to practice on a single note or chord, instead of the actual psalm tone chord. It helps to note, or even mark in the book, where the accented syllables are, because good recitation lingers slightly on those syllables and goes quicker and lighter over the unaccented ones: and you have to agree on which are which.

    Many people here are not fans of hand gestures by cantors. Can't stand 'em myself.
    Thanked by 3CHGiffen CCooze tsoapm
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 8,283
    At the choir mass, the entire choir sings the psalm verses and response. They are in a loft in the back. As for keeping them together, we have found an ancient but still frequently used device called PRACTICE. LOL. At all other masses, we use a single cantor with the congregation providing responses.

    No one raising hands to let the congregation know what planet they are on? Good! It's a tacky practice that detracts from both space and the liturgy. Our congregations have no difficulty sensing when they are to sing. It is pretty easy to hear when the verse ends and realize what comes next.

    If you have 18 choir members who are willing to show up and sing, you are already ahead of the game. Build on that and make changes s-l-o-w-l-y.
    Thanked by 2CCooze tsoapm
  • First, about 'cant': it has nothing at all to do with chanting. It is a noun signifier for language that is 1) hypocritical or insincere, 2) the particular patois of a given social group, 3) the (tiresome) whining of those who are rather stuck on some cause or other.

    It may be noted that, in reference to chanting the responsorial psalm at mass, the bothersome and ridiculous carrying on by a certain chic clique about raising the hands or doing a pirouette, or both, to signal the (presumably) idiot people to sing their responsory is cant.

    About the manner of singing the verses: this should, normally, be done by a single cantor or cantrix when the verses are plainchant or some other soloistic music. In some rites or uses (such as Sarum) four cantors would be required for a solemnity. Eighteen choristers singing a chant verse in responsorial psalmody is definitely amateurish, and blurs the responsorial (cantor vs people) form of responsorial psalmody.

    However, rather than a cantor singing chant verses a choir may sing the verses to SATB or other choral settings of the verses. This is a valid alternative which, where viable, can add much to the psalmody, especially on solemnities. For such choral singing one could employ a faburden or an Anglican chant, etc., even very brief newly composed polyphonic treatments, that would compliment the tonality or modality of the people's responsory.

    What has been said about the responsorial psalm applies equally to the Alleluya and Verse, which is, also, a responsorial form, the Alleluya itself being the responsory.

    I suggest kindly that you rid yourself of the (adjective withheld) notion that a cantor (nor a choir) has as part of his or her or their responsibility the cueing by any means at all when the people are to sing their responsory. They know when. They are not idiots. They do know how to get through mass without instructions and prompts. And, lastly, this odious practice is tacky, ugly, amateurish, insulting, an eyesore, a blot on the liturgical aesthesis, and does exactly what no action by any 'ministerial' person at mass should do - calls attention to himself or herself in a most unseemly and foolish manner.

    (I, like someone above, have some consternation about what a 'music coordinator' does. Wherever I were a choirmaster and organist the very last thing I would want to be burdened with would be an absolutely redundant functionary who presumed to have authority that in any way affected my work. This would be an intolerable and position-terminating affront.)


    A short addendum -

    I thank Charles for the dedication of his 'annotated comment' above.

    Thanked by 2moderntrad Viola
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 467
    I see the psalm between the readings (the Responsorial psalm or Gradual psalm as it is variously called) in the OF as being a piece of scripture which is proclaimed. As such hearing the words is paramount. I would prefer a cantor delivering like, say, Rex Harrison to any bel canto diva with a superb tone but no clarity. I think hearing the words precludes mass chanting. Of course if the congregation is itself chanting the words, as a monastic choir would be, that's a different matter.
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 420
    I suggest kindly that you rid yourself of the (adjective withheld) notion that a cantor (nor a choir) has as part of his or her or their responsibility the cueing by any means at all when the people are to sing their responsory. They know when. They are not idiots. They do know how to get through mass without instructions and prompts. And, lastly, this odious practice is tacky, ugly, amateurish, insulting, an eyesore, a blot on the liturgical aesthesis, and does exactly what no action by any 'ministerial' person at mass should do - calls attention to himself in a most unseemly and foolish manner.

    Obviously, you have not been at my church. :-)
  • In one of the choirs where I sing, the cantor doesn't even face the congregation, he/she faces the front to where the liturgy is actually taking place. This occurs mainly because of the style of the church, but it avoids the unnecessary hand gestures and profiling.
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • The psalm verses at this church are also done by a quartet in SATB (same every weekend with occasional switches because of absence). It avoids any cantor at all, as well as the unnecessary idea of having the whole choir chant the psalm every weekend.
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • bhcordova:*

    The inability of a congregation to know when to sing is not their fault, but sadly is the inability of the accompanying musician/s to indicate this through their playing. This also affects hymn singing in the church. There are techniques that are basic to playing organ music that apply to playing hymns as well. Basically the music in hymnals is for singers, not organists. Learning about hymnal hymns, how they are constructed and how to read them to play them on they organ really, really helps.

    We are always willing to fully refund the cost of this book, and any of our books at www.frogmusic.com, if they fail to assist:

    A Catholic Organist's Guide to Playing Hymns

    *BH, if you message me your address, I will mail you a complimentary copy of this book in the morning. It might be a good test site for it.
    Thanked by 1CCooze
  • Noel is quite right, but I would tweek his assertion slightly.

    A skilled cantor may indicate by subtle facial gestures and definitive tone of voice when the verses have ended and the people should sing the responsory.

    If the psalm is accompanied, the organist may, likewise, indicate through subtle changes of register, or the use of a solo stop, when the responsory is to be sung.

    Still, though, if there is fault, most of it may be assigned to people who, being quite sentient, know and can deduce full well when to sing, stand, etc. The reasons they don't and just aren't going to are complex, and I don't wish to rant about them here and now. The people, though, are not as clueless as they act.
    Thanked by 1a_f_hawkins
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 8,283
    I should have noted that my choir sings psalm parts SATB. Cantors sing melody only.
  • Matthew,

    I was trying to phrase the question correctly. I'm a long-standing opponent of the C-130 airfield landing gesture. I'm not a fan of cats, but that look is priceless.


    Thank you for your fuller explication of the noun, "cant". For the sake of the original poster, may I suggest that we provide alternative verbs. I'll go first: chanting.


    I seem to have opened quite a can of worms for you. I hope you find these responses helpful. One that is worth highlighting is this: if 18 singers can't sing together, is this the result of intentional training or lack of appropriate training?

    If you're looking for ammunition to discontinue the practice of having 18 people crowd around a single microphone or (if I've misunderstood) all being picked up by area microphones, the best non-theological argument I can give you is this: since they don't sing as one voice, the microphone merely amplifies the distortion. Amplified mumble is still mumble, and amplified staggered speech is still staggered speech.

  • The moral of Chris' point is - choirs and microphones are inherently a recipe for cacophony.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 467
    Two people can usually conduct a conversation taking turns to speak and neither overlapping nor leaving awkward gaps, because there are subtle clues in tone and expression by which signals of completion pass between them. I like liturgy to flow smoothly like that, but it is not everyone who can achieve that rapport over a gap of many yards, some of the signals may need to be less subtle.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,045
    I'll go with a guess about the "music coordinator" thing:

    In my diocese (perhaps all dioceses, I don't know) there are different titles for the person-in-charge-of-religious-education depending on their degrees and hours worked: Director of Religious Education (full-time, Masters or higher [in theology, I assume]); Administrator of Religious Education (part-time, Bachelors); Religious Education Coordinator (part-time, undegreed, usually volunteer). Perhaps this parish/diocese is following a similar procedure for musicians, and someone who is a volunteer and/or part-time, and does not have a degree in music would be called Coordinator of Music, and only a full-time professional with a degree would be able to be called Director of Music? Personally, I think this is just a bunch a bureaucratic alphabet soup, and actually means nothing.
  • I see the psalm between the readings (the Responsorial psalm or Gradual psalm as it is variously called) in the OF as being a piece of scripture which is proclaimed. As such hearing the words is paramount.

    I knew I forgot something when I submitted last time, so let me add it here.

    A.F. Hawkins,

    You and many other people do see it as "being proclaimed". I might even be among them, but the next part is where trouble sets in. Who is the intended audience of the proclamation? This matters because if the intended audience doesn't speak the language of the proclamation, was the text still proclaimed, by your definition? Furthermore, since many more people attended Mass for 1500 years than were fluent in Ecclesiastical Latin, especially in the days before hand missals, it logically follows from your assertion that Scripture wasn't proclaimed for all those years to all those people?

    At the discretion of the administrator, this can be divided as a new thread. Quaeritur: is the purpose of the Mass 1) the worship of God (in which case, the proclamation of anything should be done clearly, because doing so requires our best effort; 2) didactic, or, if you prefer, rhetorical, so that anything not done in the vernacular is, by definition, a failure; or 3) some combination of the two?

    It seems to me that essential to Protestant "worship" is intelligibility in the vernacular, as this has been one of their rallying cries since the 1500s. On the other hand, for the public worship of the Church, is full, blinding clarity necessary or even a good thing?
  • "music coordinator" ranks up there with music minister.

    Neither means a thing. As Francis would say, "The music speaks for itself." I don't know why he didn't say it.
  • Mr Hawkins' account of the spontaneity and mental awareness in conversation and its likeness to liturgy and ritual is beyond praise. I could not have formulated it better. To the extent that liturgy fails to flow like this is the degree to which it really isn't liturgy (or, even, an act of praise) at all. In such liturgy the see-me cantor, the announcer, the non-ritual remarks are wholly needless. On the other hand, the presence of the see-me cantor, the announcer, the non-ritual remarks precludes true liturgy. A people, properly catechised, who know, love, and are totally focused on what they are doing do not need prompters or explainers - these are an insouciantly offensive impediment to a continuum of spiritual focus.
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 467
    I doubt "full blinding clarity" is given to us in this life. Liturgy should be generally 'both and' not 'either or', we worship the 'Tremendum et fascinans'. But we, PIPs, need to hear enough that 'Legem supplicandi lex statuat credendi', not (just) the preacher telling us, but the Church showing us.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 6,768
    Welcome, marylouise!

    It can be very nice to alternate the verses: one verse by a solo cantor, then the next by the choir singing a four-part harmonized setting ("falsobordone"), and then the psalm refrain. If the psalm setting you use allows for this, consider it. To help the singers be rhythmically united, you may need to conduct the verses and the cut-offs closely; also you may get a better result with a subset of maybe eight voices, if the full choir isn't really used to getting that precision together.

    Thanked by 2CCooze tsoapm
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 420
    Noel, thanks for the offer, but I'm not sure how much use it would be to a trombone player. Also, we haven't had an organist at my church in years. We do have pianists who play at Mass, but no organists.
  • The piano is great for leading small groups singing rhythmic music, being a percussion instrument, but fails to indicate breaths while also be unable to support singing with a steady tone.

    It's time to let the pianists go and, using the techniques in the book, playing the trombone instead. Same techniques apply - wind instruments, both.
    Thanked by 2MarkS bhcordova
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 420
    Unfortunately, I'm not in a position to make that decision at my church.
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,201
    very bothersome to me is the tradition of group canting,

    If you think that is bothersome, try 'group canning.' 18 people in the same kitchen, 18 boiling pots on one stove......oh, the humanity.....

  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 420
  • Liam
    Posts: 2,998
    "Group canning" also reminds me of a firm for which I formerly worked. During the 1990-91 recession (right after I left its employ), it conducted its first layoffs. It crammed *all* of its non-professional staff into its largest room, had them standing for hours while people were called one-by-one into side rooms to receive their severance terms; at the end of the day, anyone not called into the side rooms was not being laid off.

    I kid you not.

    The ostensible purpose of this exercise was to control gossip by non-professional staff.

    Thanked by 1Salieri
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,045
    Liam, what Diocese was this? LOL.
    Thanked by 1Olivier
  • Liam
    Posts: 2,998
    Not a diocese. Private enterprise. You know, "efficient".
  • In rare cases I have heard (and even participated in) the use of 2 cantors simultaneously (though in alternation being more common than in unison).

    I think chant will more quickly show up the weaknesses of a choir than any other musical form, which is one of the reasons it is of such importance.

    In certain schools of thought, the responsorial psalm, being one of the scripture proclamations of the liturgy of the word, should only ever properly be proclaimed from the ambo.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 6,768
    Please, Forum users, stick to the subject, especially on this information-seeking thread submitted by a new user, who deserves all our friendly consideration.
  • tsoapm
    Posts: 45
    Choral chanting of the responsorial psalm is certainly allowed: … I know several places where it is done often.
    This possibility is, if I recall, explicitly foreseen in the GIRM.
    I’m glad to hear it, because I’ve proposed Anglican chant for the psalm to our maestro: a) because I think it sounds good, b) because it seems to me a good way of singing the liturgy rather than accompanying it, which I’d say is what our choir generally does.
    18 people singing the Psalm together … is too many.
    I was introduced to Anglican chant by joining a small choir after converting, maybe 7–8 people in all? They were all pretty used to it and staying together, and I didn’t find it particularly hard to join in without ruining it. It didn’t occur to me that it might be problematic with larger numbers. I think my choir now might be about 18 strong, and when we did try, we weren’t very together, but I think some of that may have been due to the maestro’s approach to the pointing. Ho hum.
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,198
    My choir sings the psalm in Anglican Chant style every week. It is not exactly Anglican Chant, but the refrain is in four parts as are the simple chanted verses. We sing it from the loft. I think it works well and my priest is happy.
    Thanked by 1tsoapm
  • tsoapm
    Posts: 45
    Where is the not-exactly-Anglican-chant from? There’s a ubiquitous unison psalm tone with a slightly simpler structure (generally sung very indifferently) here in Italy, and I was hoping I might be able to find a four-part version of it.
    642 x 65 - 21K
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,198
    Where is the not-exactly-Anglican-chant from?

    It is from the Canadian "Catholic Book of Worship III." There are various settings of the psalm tones, some work, some don't. I just choose what I like and mix and match.
    Thanked by 2tsoapm Andrew Malton
  • Dear Friends,

    Thank you for all these responses. Firstly, my position as music coordinator is a part-time position. My degree is in music education, although I have many years of work in the Catholic church under my belt. My predecessor retired. She was the director of music, and worked with her partner, who did not retire. This makes for a sticky situation, as I choose the music and put the orders of worship together. But unfortunately, I am not the choir accompanist, which is what I excel at. The choir director and I get along very well. Together we work with the children's choir, and that goes very smoothly. I am hoping that sooner than later I will be able to take on the choir accompanist task. I am a very good accompanist and I love it. I play most of the masses, but I don't play the masses that the choir sings – these are 3 masses per month. I work with the cantors, and I'm implementing music from the hymnal. Prior music came from many different sources, so many that it was confusing for me. The church recently purchased Gather 3 and the Guimont responsorial psalm books. The church also had to purchase new wooden pew holders to accommodate the size of the hymnal. I am hearing positive comments that finally the hymnals are being used, and those that contributed the funds are quite happy.

    I was going to be a member of the choir and attended 2 rehearsals. The current accompanist plays the Clavinova and midis the organ over to it. I am more of a traditional organist, although I am not great, and I will take you up, Noel, on your offer of that book. I prefer an accompanist who watches the conductor and breathes with the choir, and who does not set tempos. I was asking about the single cantor idea in order to have the words sound more reverent and not rushed.

    I have enjoyed reading the comments, although some are over my head.

    I also have a gray cat!
  • There are 3 part-time musicians at this particular church. I didn't make that clear above.
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 420
    dad29, you comment about group canning started me thinking (probably never a good idea!) ;-) wouldn't canting be the opposite of decanting? If so, wouldn't it be pouring spirits into the bottle?
  • ...not-exactly-Anglican-chant...

    One of the many disappointing things about The Hymnal 1982 was its inclusion of 'not-exactly-Anglican-chant' for psalmody. The cadential patterns which really are definitive of Anglican chant have been altered into simpler two-note patterns. It is really sad that some chic idiots thought it necessary to assume (decreed, actually) that Anglicans could no longer sing Anglican chant and so, now, have guaranteed that several generations of Anglicans think it strange to them. (More of Screwtape's work - and his chic denizens.)
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Jackson,

    Another extremely disappointing aspect of The Hymnal 1982 is its devotion to allegedly inclusive language.

    As with group chanting, [he said, swerving back onto the nominal topic] hymnals can be done well or poorly, and too often in our day are done by people who know much about ideology and not much about the faith they claim to support.
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,201
    wouldn't canting be the opposite of decanting? If so, wouldn't it be pouring spirits into the bottle?

    "Decanting" is a very popular and VERY over-used way for sopranos to show off. It is often spelled "descant", which was the original spelling. It became "decanting" after discovering that many "descanters" were drinking liberally pre-cant. This caused the "s" to drop out in shame.

    Or something like that.
  • Well, still and all - descants are beauteous things, providing they are sung by descanters who haven't emptied the decanter.
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,201