• Hey everyone,

    I am a lay cantor/music director and have been asked by our priests to chant the Exsultet. The reason being our parochial vicar (who is the celebrant for the Easter vigil) and deacon both claim to be tone deaf (they aren't, but they aren't confident in their abilities). I have never sung it before and am looking for advice if you have any to offer.

    Thanks everyone!
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 8,399
    I can only advise, having been through this before, to go to WLP and get the J. Michael Thompson setting if you need accompaniment or choir parts. It's downloadable. Then practice, practice, practice since the Exsultet is a bear to sing. There is a small segment that has to be sung by either a priest or deacon, or omitted. Also, ignore the inevitable forum naysayers who will be quick to point out it wasn't done that way in 1560.
  • Thanks Charles. I was just going to do it unaccompanied. Do you still recommend the Thompson setting even if it's just me by my lonesome? And thank you for the heads up about the deacon and priest part being omitted. I had just read that when I came back to the forum.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 8,399
    You don't need the Thompson, I would think, if you have a melody line only copy and sing unaccompanied.
    Thanked by 1AndrewSincerely
  • I do this every year at our parish because we only have one priest (and no deacon) and he is not confident in his own abilities (though I think he could and would do it very well). I use the long-form chant from the Roman Missal and leave out the appropriate section that a lay cantor is not to say (though it is a shame as the section that is left out immediately prior to "the lord be with you" is a really nice section. Though, lay cantors are not "numbered among the Levites" so I guess it does make sense).

    This is the section to omit:
    Therefore, dearest friends,
    standing in the awesome glory of this holy light, invoke with me, I ask you,
    the mercy of God almighty,
    that he, who has been pleased to number me, though unworthy, among the Levites,
    may pour into me his light unshadowed,
    that I may sing this candle’s perfect praises.

    Immediately following is "the Lord be with you" which is also omitted by a lay cantor. We are to go straight to "Lift up your hearts".

    Hope this helps! In bocca al lupo!
    Thanked by 1AndrewSincerely
  • Earl_GreyEarl_Grey
    Posts: 710
    If you're looking for a PDF of the Missal chant, NPM has all the music from the missal on their website. There is also a demo recording if you need it.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 478
    I offered to sing the Exsultet if they could not get anyone better when our excellent cantor was struck down by Parkinson's. At age 72 I had almost no previous experience of singing solo beyond the Gospel Acclamation a few times a year, but I do have some confidence in maintaining pitch. So practice, practice, practice gave my voice enough confidence in the notes to maintain volume for eight minutes (short form).
    I agreed with the celebrant that he would say 'The Lord be ... ' through to 'Let us give thanks ... ', because I did not know whether the congregation would respond if I sang 'Lift up your hearts', and it immediately follows the phrase about the mighty voices of the peoples shaking the building. This was very fortunate, because in my inexperience I started on a pitch I could not have maintained.
    I have a 'bit of a thing' about chant being unaccompanied, unamplified, and well enough articulated for the words to be comprehensible. (Asking the people to stand in semi-darkness for 8 to 10 minutes for a solo where they can't hear the words is not a good idea) It must have been tolerable because I was asked to do it again for two more years.
    Thanked by 2chonak Mary Ann
  • jczarn
    Posts: 64
    I find it much more natural to sing the Exsultet rendered as square notes. This thread has a link to a pdf you can download:

    Also, I found it helpful to find a good starting pitch while practicing, then write down what it is so I remember for later. Then before you head out to sing the Exsultet, you can give yourself that pitch and keep it in your head until you start. In my case, I was to wait in the sacristy until it was time to chant the Exsultet. So right before I headed out to chant the Exsultet, I gave myself the pitch I needed quietly in my ear with a little pocket tone generator/pitch pipe.

    Another key for myself was just reminding myself to take my time with it, giving ample time to fully exhale and get a good breath in between phrases. From a practical perspective, this ensures that you don't start to run out of breath, and for me lets the jitters settle down. From a musical/prayerful perspective, this allows time to let the beauty of the melody sink in as the last few notes of each phrase blend together and echo away.

    It can certainly be challenging, but I'm not quite sure I agree that the Exsultet is "a bear to sing". It is long, yes, but the melody is mostly stepwise. The intervals that are there are generally small. You definitely want to practice until the mechanics of singing the right notes are taken care of. But don't stop there - the more you sing it, the more it should really become natural, musical, and prayerful.

    I know there have been threads on this before, but I can't imagine ever wanting to sing this chant accompanied... certainly not as a first recommendation. To echo some sentiments from these other threads, there is something about the solo chant that can't really be improved upon.
    Thanked by 1Mary Ann
  • Jani
    Posts: 386
    It's very long. Sing it at least a couple of times a day. It stinks if sung poorly, both for the singer and the congregation.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 8,399
    Amen to that. We have had it sung poorly for years and nearly everyone complained. I think it will be better this year - new cast of characters. :-)