Your opinion about volunteer cantors and sustainability of a schola
  • balaanghuni
    Posts: 23
    I've been a member of this forum since 2015, have been reading posts since 2013, and have begun being somewhat active just this year. This forum is honestly one of my main sources of insights and learning about sacred music and the liturgy. So, thank you to all musicians and singers here for the work that you do and may God bless you infinitely for it.

    I have organized a small and struggling schola in my city here in the Philippines. There are about 4 or 5 active volunteers currently (including me). We've been singing as a group for more than a year.

    We exclusively sing Gregorian chant for Masses that we're invited to serve in. We also organize Extraordinary Form Masses from time to time. We're not attached to any parish (so, in a sense, we're transparochial, sort of "indie" choir).

    We're still scouting for more volunteers, but the climb has always been uphill and steep. Nobody here in our archdiocese is advancing Gregorian chant, not even its gradual reintegration into parish life.

    You can check out YouTube videos of some of the Masses that we served — with a caveat: our singing is so rudimentary and crude (for which I must apologize profusely to God, to you, and to all esteemed and seasoned cantors on the forum, although we assure you that we want to level up). PM me for the link.

    I am interested in your opinion about a few things that have been on my mind lately.

    1. Is it a good idea to provide financial allowance for members of our schola (i.e., if funds are available)? We're all volunteers. The least that I'd like to be able to do is to at least provide my members with transportation allowance, no matter how meager, because most of us come from faraway locations and have to use public transport. I'm shelling out cash from out of my own pocket for needed expenses such as chant sheets for the schola (which I myself prepare) and Mass guides (for the congregation). We do not charge fees or stipends for celebrations that we sing at. As much as possible, we'd like our service to be free. Some priests do give us a small stipend (usually no more than 30 dollars) from time to time, and we gladly accept it, although frankly, it is never enough for our needs.

    2. Is it prudent for our group to raise funds for the said purpose(s)? What might be a good way to go about it? I'm thinking of offering my services for chant engraving. I have been engraving scores and Mass guides using gregorio and LaTeX for private use for the past 3 years. I know my way around these two. Is there a market for such services? (Apparently, such a market is non-existent here in the Philippines.) What are the rates?

    3. How can I devote the rest of my life to Gregorian chant without starving, joining a monastery like Solesmes, inheriting a huge fortune from filty rich parents, winning the lottery, or receiving a mind-boggling endowment from a philanthropist? (This is really a rhetorical question. All I'm saying is that if only I didn't have to worry about putting food on the table and paying the bills, I'd pour all of my time into Gregorian chant, learning more about it, sharing what I learn to others in my archdiocese, going around town to champion its return to its rightful place in the liturgy, etc.)

    I would love to hear your thoughts about these. Thank you in advance for whatever comment you can afford to throw my way. Have a blessed Easter!
  • rogue63
    Posts: 359
    I did exactly what you're doing for 3 years prior to getting a full-time music director job. Sounds like you're doing the right things. In my case, it was a time to build relationships among the schola members (all men with families, or interested in getting married and starting a family), develop a Catholic culture, and contribute some good to music in our diocese. It was valuable time for me as a director, and a period of some really good memories (schola parties, good wine, pork roasts---we liked to eat).

    Stipends help, but that's more like winning the lottery. We did a wedding once and got $300; I used the money to buy Gregorian Missals for all of us. If you can raise funds, do it----I have no idea how to do that sort of thing; I'm terrible at fundraising. And it may be that God is simply asking you to do more, without devoting your whole life to sacred music. It sounds like you're pretty involved already, so don't beat yourself up about not doing enough. We would all love to have a patron, but most of us just try to do what we can where we are.

    I just took a new job in December, with a new pastor. We're basically making a complete turnaround on liturgy. I'm well paid, plus plenty of funerals and weddings, so this helps, but I went out busting my chops to get a job like this. This was the skillset God gave me, so I have to use it. It's too late for me to learn coding or become a doctor or get a CPA; I have 4 kids and very little free time (which I want to spend with my wife, anyway). My point is that you are already doing good work, so keep it up for the glory of God. Sing well and beautifully, in order to help pull back the veil between heaven and earth that the faithful might more clearly see the eschaton. Be vigilant in prayer. Ask God to bless your work and help you grow.
    Thanked by 1balaanghuni
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,190
    Wow. What a great thing you are doing. Well done!

    If I may, on the notion of fundraising: I would propose you fundraise separately of singing. If there is a church which is sympathetic to your group and ideas and is rather large, you may be able to fundraise there. At our rather large parish, if you want to raise money fairly quickly you sell samosas. There is a small bakery in town who sells them to us at a small discount and then we sell them for a little profit on each. On one Sunday morning we can make over $300 in a few hours. We learned from other groups what worked and we did it. Food generally works well. It also doesn't take a lot of time or work for the amount you can raise.

    You could also try singing weddings as mentioned above, but I've learned that most couples don't care that much about great music at their weddings.
  • balaanghuni
    Posts: 23
    @rogue63 — The concept of a paid, full-time music director is alien to nearly all of the parishes in our archdiocese. Most pastors here expect volunteer choirs to serve out of charity, that is, to serve without expecting compensation. Sometimes the choirs get fed, but that's mostly it. I believe this setup and mentality is the reason that Gregorian chant and sacred music is not thriving here.

    @canadash — I'll take note of your suggestion about food. Maybe we can try that. Regarding singing at weddings — we haven't had any occasion to chant at weddings. We do have, however, a chanting commitment for the wedding of the sister of one of our schola members next year. It's going to be in the Extraordinary Form. So, yay! Gregorian chant! We've also sung (by invitation) at a handful of OF funerals. We're even planning to sing at a so-called "pauper's funeral" (i.e., a funeral for a person whose family could barely afford to bury their dead). We'd like the surviving family to experience not only a more dignified funeral liturgy but also the prayerful and consoling sound of Gregorian chant.
    Thanked by 1canadash
  • rogue63
    Posts: 359
    I understand about the full-time positions being rare, but that's no guarantee of good liturgy or music. In my county alone, there are 6 full time Catholic music jobs, with 6 more part-time, and not a note of Gregorian chant among any of them---except here with me. It's not so much about the money (although that helps) as it is about the willingness and spirit of those who pursue excellence in the liturgy. It is true that pastors sometimes can be knuckleheads about what it takes for good music to thrive; but that's not news to anyone who's worked in sacred music for very long! It drives me nuts---ask the musicians to do it for free, but pay the florist, the plumber, the maintenance people, ad infinitum...? You're doing good work---I'll remember you in my prayers.
  • balaanghuni
    Posts: 23
    I understand about the full-time positions being rare, but that's no guarantee of good liturgy or music....It drives me nuts---ask the musicians to do it for free, but pay the florist, the plumber, the maintenance people, ad infinitum...?


    I agree wholeheartedly! Although, people who do it full-time may have a greater chance of digging into sacred music and Gregorian chant than a part-time, volunteer choir. I listened to a lecture by an American musicologist about liturgical music in the Spanish and American occupation periods in my region. Most parish accounting books indicated budgets for at least one cantor per parish, who was paid 1 peso (which was already a considerable amount back then, I suppose) per month and exempted from tributary taxes, but lavanderas (laundrywomen) were on the list, too, and they were paid 2 pesos each. Fast forward to modern times — most of the parishes here, especially the big ones, mount grand productions and events for patronal feasts and other parish activities, but could hardly pay for full-time catechists. Music is truly at the bottom of the pond in the order of priorities. In the case of weddings, as another instance — the bride sets aside thousands of pesos for her gown, a few more thousands of pesos for the groom's and entourage's attire; still a few more thousands for the decors, invitations, and flowers; tens of thousands for the reception — and only 2,000 to 4,000 pesos (on the average) — around 40 to 80 dollars — for the priest-celebrant.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 6,685
    Your situation is not unusual here either. The only times I've been paid as a member of a Gregorian chant choir are when we sang for weddings, and that didn't happen often: perhaps once every 2-3 years. Or perhaps if we sang for a funeral outside of our parish.
  • balaanghuni
    Posts: 23
    @chonak — We do not really intend to be paid for singing. We want to do it for free as much as possible. But, I feel that I need to raise funds for schola needs (e.g., reproducing chant scores) and so that I can offer at least transpo allowance to members as a way of showing appreciation for their musical contribution. The latter may be a way to help keep members. It's sort of like hearing them say, "I'll give you a free gift (i.e., my voice), but can you pay for shipping?"
  • PaxMelodious
    Posts: 164
    ask the musicians to do it for free, but pay the florist, the plumber, the maintenance people, ad infinitum


    The problem with this argument is that according to most people on this forum, the musicians and singers are not there to serve the parish. They are there to serve God and are primarily praying themselves during the liturgy.

    Whereas the florist, plumber and janitor are very clearly there to serve the parish (or the wedding couple or whatever), and working for it/them, not for God.

    There is something distasteful about paying people to pray.

    I sympathise with wanting to pay them a travel allowance - but only because I think they are serving the parish as well as God. And with the cost of preparation: I've recently become involved with a youth choir. The cost of paper / printing comes out of my weekly donations - I just rip up the appropriate number of envelopes when I buy something. It may not be approved by the Finance Committee, but it works for me!
    Thanked by 1Casavant Organist
  • stulte
    Posts: 116
    There is something distasteful about paying people to pray.


    I'd have to disagree. We pay our priests so they can pray, teach, administer the sacraments, etc.
  • balaanghuni
    Posts: 23
    There is something distasteful about paying people to pray.

    It makes me uncomfortable, too. If my understanding of giving stipends to priests for availing myself of the sacraments is that of paying them to pray for me, then that would commoditize their service, and it's not a good thing. I believe that the proper attitude towards "paying" our priests is that of supporting them for the service that they provide to the church. Our priests need to eat, too. So do our musicians and cantors. If we want them to focus on and invest most of their time in carrying out their liturgical roles excellently (as the Liturgy deserves), wouldn't it be a Christian thing to make them worry less about what to put on the table, how to pay the bills, how to send the kids to school, buying gas to travel to and from the parish,...? It is our Christian duty to take care of our brothers and sisters. We need to take care of one another.

    The faithful — even the pastors themselves — ought to consider offering stipends to church musicians in support of their service to the Liturgy, especially those who embrace Gregorian chant and who devote a considerable amount of their time that they could otherwise use for other activities (e.g., engaging in income-augmenting lucrative work, rest, recreation, family time, etc.).

    In the case of our fledgling schola, for example, whenever we get an eleventh-hour invitation to sing for, say, a Requiem Mass, our first instinct is to yield to it and clear our schedules to give way for such a Mass — even if no promise of remuneration has been made. As a consequence, we lose precious time, but nevertheless we think that the lost time was not for naught, because were serving, praying, ministering, helping others pray more deeply. We do not think of ourselves as mere music providers. Rather, we think of ourselves as ministers, as servants of the liturgy whose role is to pray through song. To use the words of the Instruction De musica sacra et sacra liturgia:
    Therefore the laity of male sex, whether children, youth, or men, when they are appointed by the competent ecclesiastical authority as ministers of the altar or to execute sacred music, if they fulfill such duties in the manner and form established by the rubrics, exercise a direct but delegated ministerial service, on the condition that, where they are to sing, they form an actual part of the "choir," the schola cantorum. (no. 93c)

    It is for the abovementioned reason that our schola serves anyway, even if we don't get paid.
    We simply believe that Gregorian chant and the sung propers of the Mass contribute greatly to the edification and sanctification of the people of God. I myself can profess that singing Gregorian chant has helped deepen my desire to be holy and pleasing in God's sight.
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,467
    Trained musicians have spent a lot of time and money to develop their skill set and should be justly compensated.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 6,685
    How far does that extend? People who have spent years in getting individual training in voice or an instrument, or who have sought or obtained academic degrees in music, would fulfill that description; but most choir members haven't done those things.
    Thanked by 1PaxMelodious
  • stulte
    Posts: 116
    In my schola, the music majors I'm going to shanghai from a local college will get a modest stipend plus lunch (and, a ride to/from the church if needed). The volunteers won't get cash stipends (except for weddings and funerals).
  • balaanghuni
    Posts: 23
    Trained musicians have spent a lot of time and money to develop their skill set and should be justly compensated.

    I did not receive formal training, but I spend a lot of time and money to advance my skill. I first started with psalm tones, then gradually progressed to the simpler Propers (Communio and Introit), and now I have enough confidence to do the more elaborate ones (Graduale, Alleluia, and Offertorium).

    I wish there were opportunities here in my city to be formally trained in Gregorian chant. I and my schola members are self-taught, with the help of the Musica Sacra forum and website, of course, as well as other online resources. So, many thanks to all here who share their knowledge graciously.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 6,685
    Some chant singers can benefit from voice training with standard classical repertoire, to improve their tone production, sing with less stress, etc.
  • PaxMelodious
    Posts: 164
    Trained musicians have spent a lot of time and money to develop their skill set and should be justly compensated.


    What about when trained qualified speech and drama professional (teacher, actor, etc) delivers the readings - should they be paid?

    What about when a trained qualified accountant heads the finance committee - should they be paid?

    Where do we stop?

    I can see a place for paying people when the skill they are using in the service of the church is how they make their living, and they are devoting a significant proportion of their working hours in a week to this service. In this case, we aren't paying for them to pray, we're paying them to use their time, knowledge and skills in the service of the parish. (Not just professionals either - applies equally to the janitor.)

    But when a skillset is used only in liturgy, not in signficant amounts of preparation, and the person makes a living elsewhere ... I don't care how many years training the person did. Our model of church is primarily volunteer for some good reasons.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,254
    trained qualified accountant
    I've had too much experience of unpaid accountants! Professional lectors don't sound like that bad an idea either.
  • stulte
    Posts: 116
    Change 'professional' to 'instituted' and you'd be on to something. ;)
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 149
    A volunteer in my humble opinion does not volunteer expecting to get paid. The reward is heavenly. I sing in the choir, our schola and cantor. You could always ask for free will offerings, suggest adding another envelope to the church envelope packets that parishioners get, have a concert of sacred hymns, chant or Marian hymns , bake sales and such. Are you recruiting only Catholic singers? You could expand and look around for protestant singers.

    You could look for work in a protestant setting if don't care where the money comes from. I offered my musecore talents to my music director and her other music director friends but so far a bag of chips is all I can afford (lol).

  • '...and you'd be on to something. :)
    Indeed! We have instituted lectors at Walsingham, instituted personally by Bishop Lopes at high mass last fall. Their specific responsibilities are to sing the Lesson and the Epistle on all solemnities. We do have, also, St Bede's Lector's Guild, which consists of specially chosen and competent persons for reading the lessons on non-solemnities. They do a fine job.