How many motets/hymns to learn at once?
  • Hi all, I'm new to posting, but I've been reading the forum avidly for some time now. I am a brand new music director, and am kind of learning as I go. (I majored in vocal performance, not conducting, or music history, or liturgy, or....anything helpful.)

    I have a modest choir of about 6-7 people, one of whom can read music quite well, one of whom can read it somewhat well, and the others....hardly at all.

    I've been slowly introducing music to them to sing as a post-communion choral piece, but it is difficult to gauge just how much I'm overwhelming them. (I feel like I always am!). Most of them are older parishioners, who've already weathered years of changing music programs here.

    We've already changed a lot at our parish. Currently, we still practice the '4-hymn sandwich', but those hymns are more traditional, and the Communion hymn is replaced, or at least sung after, the Communion antiphon (from the Simple Choral Gradual, which has been SO great for this!). We've also changed the Mass parts to Mass VIII in Latin, and the responsorial psalms to those from the St. Noel Chabanel collection. I also sing the seasonal Marian antiphon before the recessional hymn (alone, but still, just HEARING a Latin chant is change enough for some people....)

    Because we've introduced the Communion antiphon, it changes every week obviously, and that overwhelms them alone. I did do a simple Entrance Antiphon for Advent (to the tune of Creator of the Stars of Night) and boy, was that a big goal!

    I'd like to have enough consistency that they feel that they have time to master it (multiple performances), yet enough variety that they don't get bored.

    Sorry, this turned into a long post, but really, any helpful hints would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

    Thanked by 1canadash
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,432
    Angelina, it sounds to me like you are doing all the right things! I would advise more of the same. I'm guessing that you will probably know when to move on to making another big step, because the choir will have come close to mastering everything before rehearsal is over.

    For the future, you might want to begin building up your numbers. Some people have good luck with petitioning the pastor for money to pay professional section leaders, and this helps increase numbers, quality, and speed of learning. Another way to do this is, if you're planning to stay for a while, is to begin to train teenagers who can be integrated into the choir later on.
  • mrcoppermrcopper
    Posts: 653
    Best of luck! I agree with Kathy, it sounds like your approach is a good balance of modesty and ambition, and likely to improve slowly. There probably are some singers in your congregation who are as good as or better than your current choir members: somehow or other, reach out to them. If you feel you are there for the long term, then out-of-church, but in-parish, activities might be worth doing too: as a singer, a casual concert of opera arias, perhaps.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,536
    I also sing the seasonal Marian antiphon before the recessional hymn (alone, ...
    Because we've introduced the Communion antiphon, it changes every week obviously, and that overwhelms them alone.

    This is something you might think about reversing. The communions are on the whole a bit easier than offertories and introits and hence often seen as a stepping stone for the choir, but when do the singers receive, and when do they sink their teeth into polyphony?
  • I have them sing some polyphony/motets after the antiphon. We receive Communion before we sing the antiphon, then after the antiphon is a hymn or motet, depending on what we're working on.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,432
    I would tend to prioritize the proper chants over polyphony, if I had to choose.
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  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    I majored in vocal performancemusic, not conductinglaw, or music historyfinance, or liturgypost-feminist ontological philology, or....anything helpful.


    we're (almost) all in some version of this boat

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  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    Don't worry about the pace, Angelina, you're doing fine. Think about the long term and don't let the weekly ups and downs distract you. We've found the Simple English Propers to be valuable in this situation.

    Also be attentive to not overloading the congregation. Slowly and steadily.
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  • donr
    Posts: 969
    It sounds like your doing a great job. Move slowly, little bites at a time and give it a while to digest.
    We are currently singing the Entrance, Offertory and Communion Antiphons, and the Marian Hymn of the Season each week.
    We will be adding more motets during the Lent and Easter Seasons but it didn't start out that way.
  • Sounds like you work for my church. I would say you've got a good pace. We do one at a time and then recycle when appropriate.
  • It's important to concentrate on singing things that you can sing over and over again - more than half of your rehearsal time should be focused on that - this way they grow in confidence and ability, sandwiching in the middle new things that change.

    It's like delivering bad news - start out with good news, say something critical in the middle and then lay on the good news. They walk out feeling liked and fulfilled.

    The people in the pews will find this acceptable - hearing the same things over and over again makes them comfortable letting you introduce new things.

    Sounds like you are doing a great job!
    Thanked by 1canadash
  • mrcoppermrcopper
    Posts: 653
    things that you can sing over and over again - more than half of your rehearsal time should be focused on that

    I never thought I'd find such an enemy in such a holy forum: wrong, wrong, wrong.

    More constructively: spend time on improving your singers' abilities, their interests, and perhaps even their godliness: all more valuable than making them feel comfortable about what they have done before.

  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    I think you misunderstand what is being suggested. I took this to mean building repertoire pieces, not singing old favorites.
    Thanked by 1canadash
  • Thank you everyone for your encouragement and suggestions! It's hard to see the big picture at times, and not to get stuck in a rut.

    Another question: By and large, do you tend to set the/a choral piece at Offertory or Communion/post-Communion more often? (or another spot?)
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,481
    By and large, do you tend to set the/a choral piece at Offertory or Communion/post-Communion more often? (or another spot?)

    It depends. Our pastor has asked that more often than not, meditative pieces be scheduled after Communion and something more joyful be sung at Offertory. Also, I look at the propers for assistance here. If the motet/anthem echoes the Offertory proper, I place it at Offertory and have the organist play if the Communion hymn is not long enough (we often have 500+ people at Mass).
    Thanked by 1Angelina
  • As one vocal performance (BM and MM) choir director to another, I've had modest success training choirs sort of like I would conduct a course in class voice. Instead of preparing solo pieces, they are using vocal technique at the service of preparing chants, motets, hymns for mass as a team.

    I consider chant to be the meat of the program, and polyphony the dessert. You could say that hymns are veggies (good veggies!) and group vocalises (I call them warm ups so as not to be scary) are like before dinner drinks with appetizers. Sadly, I'm all about food metaphors.

    How many motets... for the situation you describe, I'd say 1-3 at a time. Agreed with Kathy on focusing on chant, I'd say at least 35-45% of rehearsal time could go to that. Pace as you remember good choir directors doing.

    What I would do immediately were I in your good situation, and I have been, is
    1) recruit hard and pray even harder.
    2) train voices to sing sacred music as a team.

    Homeschool kids and teens? Train 'em, get their parents on board by having the kids take choir as a class. Seniors and 40's-50's with bad choral habits? Train them, too. Give mini lessons to those willing to improve their voice. Young adults with open schedules? Grab them, tell them you'll teach them how to sing so they can pray for the parish.

    You are coach and cheerleader and model voice. Be enthusiastic and appreciative. Train them to sing and build the numbers.

    If you can't hire pro section leaders, maybe talk to your pastor about college kid semi pro choral scholars. They cost less to the parish, but they are trained in sacred music and hopefully elevate the level of music in your area once they graduate.

    Again, get them to improve their voices and love singing. My bet is that they will be far more motivated to try new things as well as be disciplined about sacred music priorities if they sense development with their own voices.

    Welcome aboard!!!