Choir and Piano in Different Locations
  • CarsonHaupt
    Posts: 22
    Hey everybody, I just graduated from high school this spring and am leading a young adult schola-ensemble for the Feast of the Assumption. This is our second time singing together, but since we have a few more singers now we're going to try and get permission to use the choir loft for its intended purpose. The only problem is that the piano (as well as the organ, but the organist is busy) are in the front of the church. It's not a huge nave, but I'm still worried about sound delays. Do you have any advice for this situation?
    Also, and advice for securing permission to use the loft, or for dealing with a pianist that things the selection of hymns I chose is "a little heavy on the ''Mary Songs"' would be appreciated.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 781
    It's a MARIAN feast for Pete's sake! What's your "line-up?" I suppose it's possible you have gone "a little heavy on the 'Mary Songs,'" but I doubt it.
    Thanked by 1ClergetKubisz
  • CarsonHaupt
    Posts: 22
    Hail Holy Queen, Holy is Your Name, Sing of Mary, and Immaculate Mary. We're also singing the Proper antiphons, but I didn't bother telling her that yet since they'll be unaccompanied.
    If my hymns seem "a little heavy on the 'Mary Songs'", wait until she hears what the Church has prescribed!
  • Chaswjd
    Posts: 67
    I would skip the loft this time. It does present problems. And I have found that most people have a limit on the amount of change they can accept. If I were going to try and use the loft, I would propose using very standard repertory. If I was going to try new repertory, I would not change the placement of the choir. You don't want to be seen as a threat to the established order, especially given your youth.
  • CarsonHaupt
    Posts: 22
    I'm inclined to agree with you, but there is no other choir to threaten by moving. Our only other option really would be to stand in the front row, but that's very distracting and we don't fit anymore.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 7,440
    use the loft
    sing propers a cappella
    use a cantor up front with organ
  • CarsonHaupt,

    Don't skip the loft. Skip the pianist and her instrument.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 781
    Are you obligated to work with this pianist?
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,805
    It is disheartening that you would have to have permission to use the choir loft, since it was designed to house the choir during Mass anyway, but if you really want my whole spiel on such things, you should PM me. To the point:

    1. I second the advice to go ahead and use the loft if you can. It is definitely the preferable option in any situation.

    2. Ditch the piano as soon as possible. Immediately is preferable here. As we musicians would say: prestissimo!

    3. The organ situation depends on what type of organ you're dealing with. I will give advice on the three situations I can reasonably think you might encounter:

    a. If the organ is one piece (no separate console), or the console is otherwise immovable, just make sure the organist can see you in the loft from the console. This way, your conducting should keep everyone together. Good musicians will use their ears to accommodate for any delays due to distance. The only real problem in this case would be if the organist could not see you conducting to follow along. Eventually, the choir and organist would be able to coordinate tempo and rhythm, but it might take a measure or two. If he can see your conducting, it will greatly improve the situation.

    b. If you are dealing with a portable organ, such as a Hammond model, or a pump or reed organ, then you could simply have it moved to the choir loft. That would resolve the entire situation.

    c. If you have an organ with a detachable console, you can simply have the console moved up to the loft.

    Situation a or b are probably your most common scenarios, while c is rarer, but not unheard of, especially with wireless technology and electric action.

    4. Chant the proper of the Mass from the loft, unaccompanied if possible, for the appropriate feast day. If you can, use the Graduale Romanum, but if you cannot, you can use the Rossini proper set as well. If Latin is the problem, as it likely is if you're in an OF parish, I suggest you use Simple English Propers (SEP, you will see abbreviated on this Forum), or the Lumen Christi Simple Gradual (LC). There are other English settings of the proper of the Mass, but I have forgotten their titles at the moment.

    5. Prepare at least one motet for the feast day with the choir. It doesn't have to be in Latin, but should be something appropriate to the Marian feast day. If you don't have the Ravanello Anthology already, you can get it from IMSLP (a free website hosting public domain sheet music, which means you can download, print, and distribute freely without copyright concerns). I highly recommend the Ravanello Anthology because it is written for 3 or 4 equal voices and can be sung SATB, or SAB, or whatever you need, and the works are not difficult. There are also composers on this forum who would be happy to put something together for you if you need. All you must do is ask, and let us know what your ensemble consists of so we know what we're working with. You should also peruse IMSLP to see if they have anything else you'd like in your repertoire: they have a wide selection of music.

    6. If you have to go with the common, 4-hymn line up, as is common in most OF parishes nowadays, I would have the following general guidelines:

    a. Marian entrance hymn

    b. Marian or Eucharistic offertory hymn or motet

    c. Eucharistic communion hymn

    d. General recessional hymn, such as "Holy God We Praise Thy Name"
    Thanked by 1CarsonHaupt
  • CarsonHaupt
    Posts: 22
    Wow, thank you for the thorough response. Let me go through and answer your questions/address your thoughts point by point.

    1. I will try my best to use the loft, we have a new pastor and he'll have less history with some of the more anti-loft (is that a phrase?) people in our parish. I'm hopeful about using it.

    2. I'm afraid there's no tactful way to do that, as music here is entirely volunteer and for better or for worse, she is the one who offered first. Additionally, my singers and the congregation are not confident enough to sing the whole mass a capella.

    3. I'm not sure what the organ is, other than heavy and electric. The loft stairs are far to narrow to get it up there. Moving it for one mass is not going to fly in this parish.

    4. We're chanting the Simple English Propers unaccompanied. I'm not going to budge on this and making the Propers a priority.

    5. The motet is a wonderful idea, thank you for your recommendations! I'll have to find something simple since we aren't a uniformly skilled choir, but I like the idea. Where in the mass would we sing it?

    6. The four hymn line up is what we have to work with, and leaving one out would be seen as "taking from the people". To begin the process of reintroducing our musical tradition, we'll be singing the Proper antiphon first, followed by a hymn. I'd prefer to use the hymns I referred to above, simply because they're already printed.

    Thank you so much for your help. I'm passionate about sacred music, but self-educated and young so advice from more experienced people is invalulable to me.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 781
    Do you have more-than-basic keyboard skills? If not, I recommend beginning to develop these ASAP so you are not beholden to whichever pianist volunteers first. You can do a lot on the organ without pedals, provided you learn proper manual technique and play with the right "ethos" / play repertoire that is well-suited to liturgical use.
    Thanked by 1ClergetKubisz
  • CarsonHaupt
    Posts: 22
    I have not played a piano in years, or an organ ever. I asked the kindly organ woman (as I affectionately refer to her) to teach me some, but I won't have the necessary skills before August rolls around. Additionally, I'm headed to college they day after the Assumption, so I won't be active in this parish for much longer. I'm going to try to keep learning organ next year, but after a year in state college I'm most likely applying for seminary. Believe me, I wish I had the ability to do it myself, but as of now I have to work with what I have.
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,805
    Get yourself the Stainer method book or the Gleason method book. You can learn a lot of what you need to know from either one of them. Play around with the organ when you can get out to the church to do so. Experimentation with the information you find in the method books will yield much fruit.

    If you're going to seminary, get yourself as much music education as you can before you go: we need more musically educated priests!
  • CarsonHaupt
    Posts: 22
    The organ lady told me I could have her old books- I'll see what she has first, then look into buying one of those. Thank you all for all the advice!
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,805
    You're welcome!
  • CarsonHaupt
    Posts: 22
    Just went and checked, the organ is in the front, but the actual sound comes out of speakers in the loft. Maybe I can use this to justify switching to our organist? I just need to think of a tactful way to do it.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 6,771
    Who's conducting? If it's not the organist, then the organist needs to see the conductor easily while playing.
  • Caleferink
    Posts: 213
    As for hymn selection - you're second in command only below the pastor. So unless he says otherwise, go "Marian heavy" with your selections. The only thing I'd avoid would be a straight-up Marian hymn like "Sing of Mary" at Communion, when we are receiving our Lord Jesus Christ. Especially on Marian feasts I almost always go with a setting of the Magnificat at Communion, as that's Mary's hymn of praise to our Lord ("He hath filled the hungry with good things...").

    As for the loft - I'd say right now if you can get permission to use it, great. If not, I wouldn't sweat about it. Perhaps you've at least planted the seed in your pastor's head for future use.
  • CarsonHaupt
    Posts: 22
    Regarding the communion hymn: the title is a bit misleading, as only the first line mentions Our Lady. After that is switches to speaking about the incarnation and passion of Our Lord, which I felt worked very well as a communion hymn.

    Since I'm leaving for college after this mass, and therefore giving up any direct influence I have in music at this parish, I'm hoping to simply make a good impression and make people realize that we have a musical tradition that is not impossible to return to.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 3,902
    Some alternatives from an alt guy.

    Obtain a Yamaha PSR series keyboard (simulacra, sorry MJO. No philosophical difference between that and an electronic organ really.) Take to loft. Select "chapel organ" from "Voices." Have pianist play. Use a keyboard amplifier only if desired. The keyboard is meant to assist the singing, not dominate the aural environment.

    If no pianist, use the sequencer onboard the keyboard (not difficult to learn and master.) Sequence accompaniments in layers. You will have five "song slots" available. Have someone play the melody "live" using another voice (strings/horns/woodwinds etc.) to satisfy a licit method while the sequence plays for each selection.

    This is a "one time only" sort of solution. Get the vocals right, don't worry so much about ancillary concerns.

  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,283
    Besides the jokes I hear in this weather about singing from behind a rail without wearing pants, the chief advantages of a choir loft are musical: the sound can take on an extra bloom if the acoustics are favorable, and the congregation is encouraged by singing coming from behind. These are far more than offset if the choir is trying to keep together with an organist (and pianist!) at a distance: what would you be trying to prove?
  • As both a choir member and occasional cantor that must deal with the problems of time delay and the separation of musicians in different parts of the church... I am not at all in favor of intentionally separating the vocalists and the accompanying sound source.

    However, the organ, since it apparently speaks from the loft, seems not to have this problem in this case.

    If this is a relatively small space, it may not be an issue, but my home parish is about 120 feet end to end, and it is a problem in a space even of that size.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 8,287
    The organ and the ambo are half a city block apart in my parish. I do not have cantors in front for that reason. Also, when the cantors are out of sight in the loft they behave better and don't try to call attention to themselves.
  • CarsonHaupt
    Posts: 22
    Would it be reasonable for me to ask the pianist to play the organ? I have no concrete experience playing the two, so I'm not sure how much of it transfers across instruments.
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,805
    You could ask the pianist if they could play the organ, but the techniques for the two are different from one another. It is quite possible that the pianist can also play the organ, but it doesn't necessarily follow that the pianist can play organ just because they are a pianist, and vice versa. You have to ask if the individual person has the skills and is comfortable before you assign them to do it.
  • PaxMelodious
    Posts: 168
    In general, I would advise one change at a time. So, decide if it's more important to sing the propers, or sing from the loft, or whatever. Your situation is a little different, because there won't be a "next time" for you - you are simply demonstrating that something different is possible and leaving what happens next up to the Holy Spiirt and the people who are staying. But are you - what about the other people in your ensemble, are they also leaving, or do they have to live with the consequences of your actions?

    If you do sing from the loft - check that it has been well cleaned beforehand. If lofts aren't used, they tend to get dusty, and stirred up dust (from people going up there) isn't good for singing.

    But given your huge-nave situation, and relative inexperience as a director, then I would try to be as close as possible to the instrumentalist. Leave fancy stuff, like working with a distance and so delay between you, for experienced people.

    Also, forget about asking the pianist to play the organ. It's not likely that s/he will have the skills to do it well. God is better glorified with a well-played X than a badly-played Y, no matter what X and Y are.

    fyi, even for a Marian feast, I think your pianist is right. The selections are a little Mary-heavy. There is honouring the feast vs beating everyone over the head with it. In general, doing the latter is a new-bee mistake (I've made it myself). Even on a Marian (or whatever) feast, Mass is still essentially about re-membering the paschal sacrifice so we're balancing the message of the feast with the underlying message of Jesus death and resurrection.
  • CarsonHaupt
    Posts: 22
    I think there's a few misunderstandings going one here- they're probably my fault, so allow me to clear them up.
    There's no preexisting choir in this parish. Apart from this same group singing one other time, this will be the only time a choir is used. Therefore, there's not really any concern about "changing where the choir stands". I think that by putting the choir in the loft, it'll just cause people to think "when we do have a choir, they're in the loft".
    Additionally, there's not a lot of opposition per se to Propers and the like, just a general lack of knowledge. I don't think my friends staying behind are at any risk of fallout, or I wouldn't do this to them.

    I might've misspoke, but I believe I stated we don't have a huge nave. After actually testing it, the delay is not noticeable, which defeats the whole purpose of this topic. Regardless, I'm glad I made it, because I've gotten some great help anyways.

    After reading what everyone had to say, I won't ask her to try the organ. I misunderstood the amount of similarity the two instruments had.

    Regarding the hymns: I believe that earlier I stated that one of them only mentioned Mary once, and then transferred to singing about Jesus. The other is simply Mary's words to God, but never mentions Mary herself. That leaves the processional and recessional hymns as the only thoroughly Marian hymns. Do you still think that's a problem?
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 6,771
    Sounds fine, really. What selections do you have in mind?
  • CarsonHaupt
    Posts: 22
    Hail Holy Queen, Holy is Your Name, Sing of Mary, and Immaculate Mary.
  • Carson,

    I don't know "Holy is Your Name", but it sounds very modern. What can you tell those of us who don't know it?
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 6,771
    In that order?

    "Holy is Your Name" -- the one by Talbot? -- wouldn't be ideal for offertory. It's slow and you'd only get to sing half of it before the offertory rite compels you to end it. Also, it has irregular rhythms -- it's designed for a soloist -- so there's no way the congregation would be able to join in. Not much fun there. There are better Magnificat songs to choose from.

    For example, this one:
    https://hymnary.org/text/tell_out_my_soul_the_greatness_of_the_lo
    (except that one should change "God's" back to "His" throughout, to undo the PC-ification.)
  • CarsonHaupt
    Posts: 22
    I know it's not great, but the hymnals we have to work with... aren't great. I'll look through them again and look for something better later tonight.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 781
    Is it the Talbot or the WILD MOUNTAIN THYME?
  • CarsonHaupt
    Posts: 22
    WILD MOUNTAIN THYME I believe
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 781
    Well, that's certainly better than the Talbot for use at Offertory. I think you could use it safely, but that's just my opinion.

    If you're feeling like you need to compromise on the Marian-heavy music line-up, I recommend using a Eucharistic hymn at Communion.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 8,287
    Choir and Piano in Different Locations


    Don't use piano but have a decent pipe organ. I have wanted to put the choir somewhere in South America on some Sundays. ;-)
    Thanked by 2Settefrati93 francis
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 6,771
    For those unfamiliar with it, here's a video of "Holy is Your Name" (tune: WILD MOUNTAIN THYME)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMVxEfsNKZY

    This is sort of cute and precious, with its odd rhythm, and certainly won't be familiar to the congregation. Since the hymnal is limiting your options, then you may as well sing this one at Communion, when people tend not to sing much anyway. Putting "Sing of Mary" at offertory would give the congregation something familiar.
    Thanked by 1eft94530
  • CarsonHaupt
    Posts: 22
    Sounds like a good plan. That'll work even better, because the Communion Proper is a snippet from the Magnificat.

    I just noticed, unless something REALLY funky is going on in that church, the altar in the video is ad orientem. Nice.
    Thanked by 1Settefrati93
  • Settefrati93
    Posts: 60
    @CarsonHaupt I noticed that too and went to search for other videos to make sure.... it definitely is ad orientem. Though there are other videos that are more recent where they are using a portable altar in front of the high altar "versus populum"
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,351
    put the choir somewhere in South America

    Everyone knows that the correct destination is ... Australia.

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/0689711735
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • [With apologies to The Princess Bride, and a wry smile to Jes,']
    ..."Australia which, as everyone knows is peopled entirely by criminals"

    Of course, Buenos Aires is the former seat of the present Bishop of Rome, so would South America be a good place to send the choir?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 8,287
    Of course, Buenos Aires is the former seat of the present Bishop of Rome, so would South America be a good place to send the choir?


    Maybe they could get together and experience shared states of confusion.
  • Charles,

    If you send the choir from Tennessee to Buenos Aires, the choir would really by on the periphery!
  • CarsonHaupt
    Posts: 22
    Update: after giving her te benefit of the doubt and assuming she was well intentioned, our pianist has decided that we have to replace Sing of Mary with the Servant Song.
    I tried to communicate my concerns to her, but in reply all I got was a reaffirmation that we WILL be doing it.
    I'm frustrated but I'm not sure there's much else to do at this point.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 781
    Why does the pianist have the authority to change your music selections?
    Thanked by 1ClergetKubisz
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,805
    If you are the director, the pianist should have no authority to change your selections. I would be speaking with the priest about this, but I know your situation, and it may be better, and more diplomatic, to simply let it go at this point: it's probably not worth the confrontation. I would, however, mention it to the priest after the fact, and didn't appreciate her stepping on your toes like that.
  • CarsonHaupt
    Posts: 22
    I honestly don't know.

    I think for a while in this parish, the accompanists were of limited ability, so a convention of allowing them some influence in selecting music developed. However, that's never been a major factor as long as I've been here, and she's been here almost the same amount of time. Additionally, she's very talented and could play anything, so it doesn't really apply.

    I'd say she doesn't have the authority, but there's not a lot I can do to point that out to her. I really don't want to make an enemy over one song, but I also really despise that song.
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,805
    I'd say she doesn't have the authority, but there's not a lot I can do to point that out to her. I really don't want to make an enemy over one song, but I also really despise that song.


    I can certainly understand that. I would mention it to the priest after the fact. That way, it looks like you did what you could to avoid conflict and work as a team, but at the same time, you're exposing the problem. And, yes, cantors and accompanists unilaterally changing or refusing the songs that they were directed to perform is a problem, and it occurs more frequently than it should. There are many other members of this forum that can attest to that.
  • CarsonHaupt
    Posts: 22
    I also want to avoid implicitly giving out approval to that genre of music. I know that seems a bit arrogant, but so far we've been successful at singing traditional music fairly decently. A few people have commented on how it's good to see young people that appreciate our tradition. By singing this song, it would seem to defeat the purpose of demonstrating the potential for good music in this parish.
  • CarsonHaupt
    Posts: 22
    I am so embarrassed. Apparently there are two songs entitled Servant Song, and we were talking about different ones. Neither one is great, but the one she actually meant is much better than the one I thought she was talking about.
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,805
    Don't be embarrassed: it happens all the time.