Feeling discouraged with my schola. Please help.
  • I've been directing a schola at my parish since this fall and so far we've sang at 3 masses (1st Sunday of Advent, Immaculate Conception, Christmas morning). I've had a group of about 7 and it was working out pretty well, even though most couldn't read music and weren't very experienced. I started out with 1 soprano, 1 alto, 1 tenor, and 2 basses. I normally sing soprano but I have been singing alto because my lone alto isn't confident enough to sing her part alone. That's alright, I live in a rural area and I'll take what I can get.

    Now my lone soprano has dropped out and so I decided to recruit some kids to see if they could sing the soprano part (mainly what we're focusing on is Richard Rice's Simple Choral Gradual). I have 4 young girls aged 6-10 and they are willing and excited to sing, but I have to admit that I have no idea what I'm doing with teaching kids. What was I thinking?! I'm not a professional. I've taken years of voice lessons, but that doesn't mean that I'm qualified to teach others how to sing.

    In addition to being totally overwhelmed by the kids, my tenor and one of the basses didn't show up to practice last time, so that didn't help, either. I am just thinking I completely overestimated the ability of my schola based on what we were able to do last time, and now I feel like an idiot. Basically, we're just singing the Rice propers SATB and I wanted us to sing Lambillotte's Panis Angelicus SATB at Communion, but then discovered that no one had any experience with Latin and they were all completely lost, especially the kids.

    So, I'm really, really starting at square one here. Please, I really need some advice on some easy, easy, simple music to give this group. The ones who were at practice last time were really trying, but I think I just picked music that was way over their heads. Do I scrap it all and pick new stuff before next practice? I'm especially concerned about finding something that the kids can sing. Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated!
    Thanked by 1SponsaChristi
  • Music lover,

    You're starting at square two, but you need to start at square one, instead. I hope you'll see that I'm not trying to be flippant.

    When I became part-time director of a parish some 2 decades ago, I had some great singers, but none had much of a sense of the liturgy. None had much of a sense of service. Almost lost one of the best singers the first day, when I told them all that being a cantor was not about them being on stage. She told me this later, and thanked me for caring so much. I changed the way she looked at her work in the church.

    Especially with inexperienced groups, it is important to incorporate prayer into your work. My most frequent advice to frightened young people (and some adults) was; let the angels sing with you.

    Now that you've put down that foundation, remember that you can leave on capable shoulders those things which need to be carried on such shoulders. Not everything needs to be sung by everyone in the choir.

    PM me, if you like.

    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • I would scrap any and all ideas of singing in parts for the moment, personally. I would focus on simple english propers or lumen christi antiphons or something that can be taught by call-and-response. Get them integrated into the liturgy first, and worry about more interesting repertoire later.
  • Thanks for the replies and the advice. The problem with the propers is that our priest is set on us using the simple choral gradual, but I think I'll talk to him about SEP or Lumen Christi because singing SATB is just not practical right now for us.

    I was thinking maybe to make things more
    interesting I could have men and women alternate verses, maybe having the women sing with the girls because they're not confident enough to sing by themselves.
  • JonLaird
    Posts: 226

    First, do not lose hope! Know that God can work the greatest miracles out of the most humiliating failures, provided we trust him completely. As Paul says, "Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." Later you may look on this time as a great blessing.

    Almost 5 years ago, I entered my current post overseeing (not yet directing) three choirs with a total of around 50 (perhaps more) singers. Three months later, all of them except for 5 quit (I now contend that if it weren't for my pride and impertinence, we could still have most of them here). I attempted to maintain three choirs by recruiting short-term about 10 additional singers. Pushing on them repertoire which was far too difficult on a completely unrealistic timeline, we suffered severe casualties over the next six months.

    To summarize the rest -- my first year was disheartening and humiliating. Subsequently I began to rethink my vision. By the grace of God I came to realize that I had to let it grow on His time and not on mine, that I had to do the best I could with the resources I had and accept the failures as being from God. It was an occasion for me to begin examining my own spiritual life, which I consider key to the proper management of a church music program.

    What I did first was let go of the idea that we had the resources and skills to do the choral music that I wanted to do and to sing at Mass as often as I wanted. Regarding this last point, a mentor of mine, when lobbying for paid singers, will approach a parish business committee and draw a triangle with "frequent," "beautiful," and "inexpensive" at the three corners. Then he will say, "pick which two you want for the choir." Since we don't have money to hire singers, that meant singing infrequently in order to have sufficient time to prepare.

    With repertoire, abandon singing in parts for now and concentrate on unison singing. This is for several reasons, both musical and practical:
    -a choir which cannot sing beautifully in unison cannot sing beautifully in parts
    -if a third of your choir for some reason does not show up on Sunday, you can still sing the music
    -in my opinion, a strong unison phrase of music, well-sung, is much more powerful and penetrating than polyphony, and is easier to attain

    We begin with the simplest of chants; namely, the chants in the Missal. In this early time, spend a good deal of time on basics: developing breath support, unifying vowel sounds, beauty and precision at the onset of sound. If your singers are anxious to "sing in parts," assure them that you are laying the foundation to do just that (understand that you likely will lose some who don't like what you are doing). Jared is right to suggest the Simple English Propers or Lumen Christi settings. Prepare for one, two, or three months these simple, beautiful chants, and the result will be more spiritually enriching (to yourself, the singers, and the congregation) than you can possibly imagine. Accept that you may never get the choir to the place where you want them to be, and this is ok. Go on God's time. When it is time to advance in repertoire, you will know.

    Now, almost five years later, we have three choirs (I had pared it down to one for a while) who I daresay sing the most beautiful music this parish has yet seen. None of them sing every week. 90% of the music has been in unison until recently, when we are learning more and more hymns in parts. The size of the choir still fluctuates, but I do not get frustrated, nor do I fear for the future, because I trust that God will lead us where he knows is best.

    Already having said too much in this long post which is doubtlessly onerous to read, I look and see the inadequacy of it. There is much to say that I have learned from my mistakes, but having bored you enough and expecting that others will have their say (and that you will follow up with specific questions), I will leave you with one more suggestion: let go of the children for now, or at least separate them. In learning the fundamentals, children and adults must be taught differently.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,089
    The problem with the propers is that our priest is set on us using the simple choral gradual,

    The priest should not be making musical decisions like this because he doesn't know the make up of the choir and their musical ability (what if you had only women and no men? or only one Bass who has never sung in parts before?) - it should be the DM's job to pick repertoire suitable for the people under him, not the priest. And, any priest who knows anything at all about music knows to leave it to the musicians.

    If the group, at present, is not able to sing in parts, then don't sing in parts. I for one, would much rather hear a single antiphon from Lumen Christi sung well and in tune than something in parts sung poorly.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    The priest should not be making musical decisions like this

    We all know that is true, but it is irrelevant to the salient points of ml88's problem. RR's Simple Choral Propers were ideally composed, a capella SATB, homophonic, primarily diatonic with some modality, repetitive motifs, etc.
    Knowing that Richard personally doesn't endorse alterations doesn't mean that he assumes everyone's singing them ideally. The melodies, per se, are accessible to the medium voice fach. If there is an accompanist available, let him/her take on the harmonic duties and get the choral unison, whether combined treble/bass or not, together along with the declamation of the verses. If ml88 has notational skills (Finale, Sibelius, well...), get creative.
  • I am in a slightly similar boat. I have come in to a parish with an established musical expectation, and people who obviously are musical, but most of them do not sing with the group for one reason or another.

    Of those singers I do have, only about 2-6 come to my one hour rehearsal once a week (this is what works for my family's schedule at the moment). Yet I expect those singers to be able to prepare perhaps one Lumen Christi antiphon and a new hymn each week, sometimes only picking hymns they know already. The rest of the singers who show up only on Saturday evening or Sunday (some because they can't make rehearsal, others because they don't want to). As I am establishing myself in a new locale, I have only slowly begun to implement certain rules, such as responsorial psalm participation (only cantor on verses). I have yet to rehearse the funeral choir, though I want them to have music they know plus new funeral hymns and antiphons, too.

    Anyways, this thread makes me think I ought to rethink the participation of the choir every week. Would it be reasonable to have them rehearse music for once or twice a month, and let them show up for the other weeks to lend their voices? Acoustically, we have one close-range mic in the loft, so no one hears them anyways, though I am working on that with the parochial vicar.

    musiclover88, I am in solidarity with your discouragement. I just don't know how to proceed.

    Thank you all for your reminders to trust God.
  • I'm thinking I'm going to have the kids practice separately a half hour before the rest of the group and just focus on the ordinary for now (we're using Mass VIII so we'll have to focus on the Latin pronunciation), that way, they won't be totally overwhelmed but they will be able to participate.

    Still not totally sure what to do about the propers, but I'm praying about it. Normally when the choir doesn't sing we just sing the soprano line of Rice's propers and have the organ play the parts, which sounds ok. Actually, the schola did that at Christmas because we didnt have enough people to sing in parts.

    Melofluent, what exactly do you have in mind when you mention using Finale?

    Thank you so much, everyone, for your replies. I feel a little more hope now.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Going back to my esteemed California colleague Chris GZ, if a director is at point 1 or even zero (maybe not being a music reader themselves), I heartily concur that there are many formulaic schemas for the novice level group. Having been through all of them, Bruce Ford, Paul Ford, all of Bartlett, all of Rice, Meinrad etc., I would defer to using the SEP or LChristi settings (along with AOZ's PBS) to become immersed and familiarized with the mode and medium of chant. Modern reading skills unnecessary. Personally, because the melodic motives of SEP are more repetitive and use fewer neume symbols, I lean that way. But LC's are shorter, so that's a plus for that.
    ml88- One can use Finale or other notation programs to craft duet/trio versions of RR Simple Choral Propers in about 5 minutes once you get the hang of it. For example, if you have stronger tenors, note the melody in the tenor line on Finale, have the sopranos sing the tenor line 8va up, and altos as is. There may be issues Richard would have with attribution or "fooling around," but I don't think he'd sue ya!
    Thanked by 1JonLaird
  • Cool, I'm going to have to try that sometime. That could sound really nice if I did it right.

    Here's a question: would it sound dumb to just sing the propers as a soprano/bass duet? My lone bass is really quite good and has his parts down, but if I tried to have him sing the soprano line an octave, lower it would still be too high. I could handle the soprano part by myself. If I could really work with my alto she could probably sing her part alone. I decided just to have me sing the verses and then have the group sing the antiphon for now to make it simpler.

    My tenor might be in town and be able to sing this go around (he's the only one who can sight-read so I'm not worried about him), but I'm not going to count on that for now.
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,678
    Teach yourself and your women the Lumen Christi antiphons, have the bass sing a drone under you when appropriate, and alternate the verses between the women and men/man.

    Stay away from the Simple English Propers. Sometimes the past is best left in the past.

    The Rice propers really need a competent SATB choir to make them work. Tell your pastor you will execute them (occasionally) once you have that, but you do not yet. I'm assuming that this isn't your full time job, so you can afford to be a bit more assertive.
  • rogue63
    Posts: 410
    Rice propers, everyone on melody, accompany on organ. SATB choir not needed: Have strongest singer do the verses, and repeat as needed. They're simple, solemn, and useful. Maybe not to everyone's taste, but they set a more attainable bar for "sounding good" than the unison singing of SEP or Lumen Christi.
    Thanked by 1musiclover88
  • First question: why did you sing at only 3 masses? Is your contribution not important to the parish? Might people be picking up on this?

    They've got to read. They learn to read by reading, with some pointers from you. This means doing simple music in a consistent language. The problem with the Rice here is that they ALSO have to count...easy counting to be sure. If that's what the boss wants, give it to him, with organ.

    My peeps are getting pretty good at reading chant. Composed music is harder for them, but that's getting better too. When they mess up, try to figure out why...what they did wrong, and how they can do it right.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Fascinating. In an ecclesial and liturgical world wherein adaptation and accommodation, not to mention accretion, has been part and parcel of its own organic evolution, we still are instructed in absolutes that this or that authority deem are immutable.
    Does this mean that all are equal, but some more equal than others?
    This is, I think, a thematic question that runs through nearly every thread topic that's ever been written on this forum.
    Adam Wood may be the very first free thinker to cogently assess a way forward that is, if nothing else, not tied to absolutes. And my admonition, lest some think its aimed at TRADITION (Tradition! sung by Tevye), and it's a matter of true faith versus error, that's the least of my concerns.
    Thanked by 1musiclover88
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,089
    Thanked by 1eft94530
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
  • why did you sing at only 3 masses? Is your contribution not important to the parish? Might people be picking up on this?

    We just started in November and then I had some health issues after Christmas that required me to take a little break. With trying to sing the Rice propers SATB, we definitely needed at least 4 practices to get it right before we were ready to sing at Mass. It's an inexperienced group that I'm leading so I'd rather take my time and sing less often than do a half-butted job trying to throw everything together and sing every single week.
  • Let me encourage you music lover to keep going.
    Here is my experience for what it is worth.
    Two years ago I started a schola for 6-9 yr olds. I have had about 20 kids go through, at the moment I have 6. In September we started a family choir, that means everyone in the family singing together, including the families of some of the schola children.
    So my choir makeup is - one bass, one tenor, both confident and music readers, three adult women, who can sing soprano or alto, none read music, and varying levels of confidence. 4 children - three girls 1 boy in the 6-10 range, who being in the schola sing with confidence, though some distraction - also a few more from 0-6 who range from sing-alongers to total distractions, but I look on them as recruitable in time ;-) We sing Mass every week.

    From this experience and reading what you have written , here is what I have found useful.
    Practice the kids separately, on a different day. (We do a singing lesson 40 mins followed by Eucharistic Adoration 20 mins). This gives them a chance to learn at an apropriate level and at their own pace.
    Practice the whole group together.
    I put links to practice music - like ccc watershed stuff - on my website, so everyone should be learning the stuff at home, whether they read or not.

    we have a short full group practice.

    We plan music by season - advent, Christmas, the current 5 ordinary, etc. We might have a little variation, ie a choice of two communion chants, but for more complicated stuff we do the same one for the whole season - ie an SATB proper.
    For the ordinary we are doing the missal chants.
    by the end of each season we have built repertoire which can be used in the next appropriate season to add variation.

    As we are serving at the family Mass , the expectation is that the congregation will be able to sing along and that it will be aimed as if for two year olds.
    I just keep saying - yes this is a family mass, not a childrens Mass, so something for everyone. The chants are the simplest things, it is very child friendly. The children have a right to learn their heritage etc etc.

    This season is our most developed to date - we are doing:
    Entrance - a simple taize chant SATB, with the proper antiphon chanted to a simple psalm tone in between.
    Psalm - Parish book of psalms adapted by one of the more competent adults.
    Alleluia - Cardinal Pole from ccc watershed
    Offertory - A SATB Proper by Aristotle Esguerra - one chosen from this seasons music, but repeated every week.
    Communion - Choice of Taize chants - Ubi caritas or Eat this bread/ with Communion reflection O sacrament most holy
    final Marian anthem - this season something well known with an AVE refrain.

    The ordinary is the missal chants, accompanied on organ.

    These are the goals I have worked towards - helping the children sing, and they all read chant now too. They can sing the harmonies - we started with rounds and now they are not put out by SATB, though they always carry the melody line (S)
    Persuading the parish that simple and singable does not exclude the Propers. Oh, introducing the ideas of the propers in the first place.
    SATB at a family Mass! But people are liking it, and bit by bit we progress.

    Anyway there you go. Hope you find something useful. Keep going. The children are the future of liturgy - so keep teaching them chant.

  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,465
    Bonnie, your program sounds awesome. I really like the way you combine the adults and the children. We are doing the same at our chapel. Our new children's schola sings about twice a month and are learning the ordinaries and some chant hymns and simple motets, but they sing along with the adults so they can gain some confidence before we let them loose on their own.
    Thanked by 1bonniebede
  • OK ML88, makes sense. I'm wondering though whether it might be better to do something simpler but do it more often.

    My guys are leaners. At first, if I stopped singing, so did they. Now they've gotten to where I can sing a different part. Their previous MD didn't trust them with a lot of the chant. I trust them with more of the Proper. They do the Introit and Alleluia now with no problem, the Communion in Advent/Lent. They could do the Offertory if we had more rehearsal time. They can do it because I made them do it, and realized it wouldn't be perfect at first. They still can't do it alone; if I can't be there, I write out psalm-tone Propers for them (coping with the layout of Rossini was a disaster).

    I think that singers, like children, need to be challenged safely. They need to touch a hot stove, but you have to keep them away from 3rd degree burns. They need to do things that are just a baby step beyond what they can do, but if you set them up for failure, that's very bad.
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    I've found that it's useful to keep the level of complexity where the schola's at. If that skill level has shifted significantly, time to adjust. Your challenge is to keep the quality reasonably high, and have a degree of challenge which is encouraging rather than discouraging.

    When you have singers who are much more advanced than the rest of the group, you can try giving them special challenges. Help them realize that it's not required for everyone to sing everything. You can mix that up - a song or verse with just the females, or just the males, whatever. You can have a stronger singer do the incipit.

    I'd recommend having 3 or 4 practices between each Mass you sing. When I did a season with just one practice between Masses, my schola wasn't able to have time to learn anything new and interesting. They and I were just sticking to what they were comfortable with.

    You're never going to hit perfection - that's the Holy Spirit's job. You want to hit a level where people don't feel embarrassed by the challenges and mistakes.
  • Thank you so much for all of your advice, bonniebede. That definitely gives me some ideas to think about. I really like the idea of having a family choir and finding a way to include the kids with singing.

    I decided to have the kids practice separately from the adults, that way we can really focus on the basics of singing sing some of them have never sang before. I'm going to teach them the Sanctus, Agnus Dei and Our Father first and then that way they will know something that's the same every week instead of teaching them new songs all the time.

    My guys are leaners. At first, if I stopped singing, so did they.

    That's how my women and children are. On one hand, it's nice to have them listening so closely, but at the same time it will be nice when I can sing a different part than them. All in good time, right?

    I'd recommend having 3 or 4 practices between each Mass you sing. When I did a season with just one practice between Masses, my schola wasn't able to have time to learn anything new and interesting. They and I were just sticking to what they were comfortable with.

    I agree--I would love to have my group sing more often, but right now we're still kind of in formation mode and I feel like we need to get the basics down before we are singing on more of a weekly basis. I've had two members who were eager to sing more often, so I am having them sing with me when I cantor a few times a month. I think it's sort of a nice way to break things up from the usual one cantor doing everything.
    Thanked by 1bonniebede
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    Stay away from the Simple English Propers. Sometimes the past is best left in the past

    Said the Lumen Christi salesman. :p
  • Thanks for your encouragement. I agree a few practises are essential - though we sing every week, we are doing pretty much the same material for a few weeks in a row, so it is continually improving as we go along.
    Also we look to practise a season ahead, so for example in Advent we got a number of practises in for the Christmas material, then as we sang our Christmas material for a few weeks, we were practising ahead for Ordinary time.
    A weekly Mass is a big commitment especially for a director, on the other hand it might make it easier to built a group from the regulars who will be there anyway (if there are any such).
    Please say a prayer for us, as I think our Mass is about to be axed - not because it is not wanted, but Diocesan changes and mergers have left us with a much bigger parish and one less priest, so something has to give. I am sure God has a plan for the future - and I know the mid week schola with adoration is continuing. I am glad I had the experience of this year, I would be much more confident about getting up and running in the future.
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 590
    but then discovered that no one had any experience with Latin and they were all completely lost, especially the kids.

    Keep going music lover, don't be discouraged; sometimes, Latin is not well accepted at first, so don't despair. I sing in our schola, cantor and sing in the choir. I'm an 'old crow" now and over the years I have seen people come and go, like the seed that falls on rocky ground, they spring up full of joy and willingness but then when the sun comes out - you introduce Latin or something that challenges them - they wither and die for lack of roots, or because they have no real love for what they are doing.

    There are some Latin hymns and motets I love to sing because the voice parts are so well written and you don't feel like you're singing on a rolly-coaster which some composers think is a requirement (IMHO).

    A simple suggestion might be to keep the Latin text simple and perhaps to only a few words in the hymn until your group gets comfortable with the Latin text. Cherubin's Veni Jesu Amor Mi comes to mind or another simple tune is Ave Verum - Italian melody.

    So keep your chin up!

  • Thanks, Don. I really like the Veni Jesu Amor Mi piece--I'm not familiar with it, but I think it's definitely something we'll have to try in the future. I'm actually starting to feel a little bit more optimistic and excited about things now. I always thought that a schola had to start out doing beautiful, complicated polyphonic motets in perfect pitch, but now I realize that we can do very simple things and sound good. That's what I love about chant--it's simple enough even for beginners to learn, and it doesn't matter how many people you have in your group.
  • I started out with 1 soprano, 1 alto, 1 tenor, and 2 basses. I normally sing soprano but I have been singing alto because my lone alto isn't confident enough to sing her part alone. That's alright, I live in a rural area and I'll take what I can get.

    I have 4 young girls aged 6-10

    You've gotten some great advice above.

    What I'm going to say is going to sound diametrically opposed to what I just called the "great advice" above, but in reality, I'm saying this to offer you another perspective. Without being on the ground, and seeing your situation up close, it's hard to know what the "right" things to do are; So it's possible that what I'm about to say is the best advice here, but it's also possible that I'm going to miss the mark.

    Here's the thing: I'm reading that you basically have ONE SINGER TO A PART, not counting your two basses. And now you have NO SOPRANOS, but a few very young children.

    I have a PAID schola, comprised of people who are professional musicians, that is, all have B. Mus. degrees (or MM degrees) and formal voice study, or are currently in college working on the same and engaging in formal study. WE don't sing 1 to a part. If we do have one person to a part, I'll only allow that in ONE of the 4 sections before I'll just scrap plans to sing. I have, at a minimum, TWO on a part, and THAT would be dicey if not for the amount of rehearsal we do. Don't get me wrong - we put out some very fine music, befitting of a professional group - but it takes a lot of work, there are more than one on a part, and they are professional singers.

    I would NEVER put 6-10 year olds in a situation of being one of only two or three people in a section. They do not have anywhere NEAR the skills to even begin to approach that situation. Asking THEM to sing Latin? They are just starting to get a grasp of ENGLISH.

    In short - I think you should seriously reconsider whether this group should even exist. And if you decide that it should, I think you need to VASTLY rethink what its purpose will be and the type of "repertoire" that you can do. Frankly, if I were in your situation, being in a rural church without a lot of resources, with the voices you have, I would be looking at doing a couple of VERY SIMPLE chants in ENGLISH, along with some solid hymnody, and unison or 2 part choral music. And I don't mean unaccompanied Renaissance era two part - that is way too hard. I mean music from the GIA choral series for two parts. There is some good stuff there; slog through it sometime and find the best pieces.

    I know that some are going to think it's horrible that I'm not encouraging you and telling you that this can be a marvelous program. But I don't think you should be setting yourself up for endless disappointment and frustration. You've got to be realistic.

    When I was 19 I became a parish music director, of a small inner-ring suburban parish in a neighborhood that was becoming all black (and thus, not Catholic.) Well my ambitions didn't know all that! I really thought I was a real cathedral music director that first year! We will do the Durufle Ubi Caritas for Holy Thursday, with chanted propers and maybe the Byrd Ave Verum Corpus, I thought. Yeah, right. With my 8 voice choir that had a median age of 70 and didn't read music. Sure.

    It took about a year and a half, but I finally "got it." This isn't that type of place. It can't be. It's never going to be. I just got in there and finally did my best. Unison choral music, good organ pieces from the Orgelbuchlein (I was a beginner organ student at the time,) and the best English hymnody I could get with some of their old favorites sprinkled in. And my years there were actually very happy and productive - once I got into reality.
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,481
    but now I realize that we can do very simple things and sound good

    I, too, would never have one to a part. That is hard work.

    Some excellent advice!
  • I really thought I was a real cathedral music director that first year! We will do the Durufle Ubi Caritas for Holy Thursday, with chanted propers and maybe the Byrd Ave Verum Corpus, I thought.

    Haha, how did you read my mind? That was my attitude last year when I wanted to get this thing started. You're right, though, you just have to accept reality instead of trying to make your group do things it just can't.
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,372
    In my most humble opinion you are trying to get them to sing too hard music too soon. I would not start
    with polyphony or part singing....I would work on unison chant for awhile - an easy comunion antiphon, some simple beautiful gregorian melodies like Jesu Dulcis Memoria, Ave Maria, Parce Domine.
    While working on this unison repertoire, you can work on pitch, latin pronounceiation, singing together and creatating a good tone. When you have made good strides with that, you can introduce two part part pieces,
    Then three part.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    I agree with the sole exception of "Ave Maria" as an example.
    Others to add would be the obvious "Ubi caritas" (AAABB), "Adoro te," "Ave Verum Corpus," "Salve Regina (simple)," "In paradisum/Chorus angelorum (good way to get that back into funerals)," or even "Of the Father's love begotten."
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,674
    Reality is not always bad. I have an older group with 3 or 4 younger people. When the latest respiratory bug hit a couple of weeks ago, I had to cancel what I had planned for Sunday mass and go to Plan B. I had two older ladies in the soprano section, two basses that had been out of town at rehearsal and were not familiar with the music, some wheezing altos and a missing tenor. Good time to play something.

    At times I envy those whose parishes will pay for professional singers - mine isn't one of them. I have what I have. Sometimes they disappoint, but at other times it all comes together and is surprisingly good. The nature of the beast, I guess.
  • Well, we had a practice yesterday that was mostly good, a little frustrating, but good. I actually am getting more members in the children's group and it worked out great to have them rehearse separately. We were able to go through the Sanctus XVIII, Agnus Dei XVIII, and the Our Father English chant. I was surprised that they were able to pick it up! Of course, some of them recognized the chants from Mass, so that helped. One of the little girls even said, "Oh yeah, I know some Latin, so this isn't that hard." So that was exciting! We also went through a couple of hymns when the adults came for practice and they did well with those, too.

    I'm getting frustrated with my adult group because they're horrible with communication. I've had one person drop out (at least, I guess they dropped out) with absolutely no communication, I have no idea what's going on with them, they just stopped coming. I'm trying to give them the benefit of the doubt because I know things happen and maybe they have something serious going on in their lives. But then another person just didn't show up yesterday which is just irritating to me. They probably wanted to watch the Super Bowl or whatever. But they could have let me know.

    On a good note, I do have another alto who joined the adult group yesterday. It was just me and the two altos at practice yesterday, but that worked out well because we were able to go through everything that the altos sing and give that plenty of attention.

    I did talk with my priest a little bit about the issues I'm having, and he said he will try to help me find some more members for the group, so that was nice. So I guess I am feeling more encouraged and a little bit frustrated at the same time, but it was really nice to see what the kids were capable of singing. I'm excited about that and I think they actually had fun.
  • I am not a director, just a lowly accompanist who also spent time singing in the university choir and orchestral violinist 15+ years. This is what I have noticed: music directors have to literally bombard their musicians with communication to get their message across. Make sure you have a list of email addresses and phone numbers, send weekly updates and reminders, start texting people when it's 15 til and they still have not arrived for rehearsal, be a constant buzz in their ears. When I was a graduate assistant I started a Facebook page for the orchestra and kept it maintained to inform everyone of rehearsal schedules, cancellations, etc, but it was also a place where orchestra members could discuss things, share their favorite recordings of pieces we were playing, and so forth. The music director I work under is relentless with communication, and because of this she has transformed what was a small and inexperienced choir like yours to one that expands to a large 60+ voice community choir and sings with the local symphony once a year. She is not professionally trained, does not have a music degree. She started cantoring at her own church and went from there, and ninety percent of her success is just persistence.
    On the other hand, I am happy things are already looking up with your group! But do consider your communication methods. Don't be afraid to be annoying- it gets results.
  • JonLaird
    Posts: 226
    I had problems with consistency until I started printing a choir handbook with schedule for the upcoming year, and had all my singers sign a commitment. The commitment doesn't make them come to a minimum number of rehearsals or even arrive on time. The handbook does state strongly that they need to communicate with us if they are going to miss or be late to a rehearsal. Most importantly, they understand that although I do not judge their soul if they are late or lax in attendance, they also understand that I do judge how well they are prepared when Mass comes around, and lack of attendance means they might be asked not to sing at Mass.

    Usually, because they have signed the commitment (see last page of the link below), if they miss something significant by not coming to a rehearsal, often they will offer to recuse themselves before I even say anything. Usually it is not necessary, but occasionally I do have them not sing certain things, and they know and accept that this is for the good of the choir and the church. This last point does not necessarily mitigate their short-term disappointment, but they are a humble group and are willing to sacrifice for each other. They grow in holiness together, and it is inspiring to see.

  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,934
    ... I started printing a choir handbook with schedule for the upcoming year ...

    What an excellent choir handbook it is. Thanks for sharing it.
    Thanked by 1JonLaird
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,089
    You seem to be a choir that likes to have parties!
  • All choirs like to have parties.
    Thanked by 1canadash
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,089
    Unfortunately, rehearsal tends to get in the way...
  • Musiclover, I've had some setbacks of my own with my schola. I would get excited when they were doing music well, and try to add more difficult (and beautiful) pieces. There were a few times we fell flat on our faces, and it was my fault. I think that it just comes with the job, especially when starting a fresh group. Because I struggle with consistant attendance, (I have several who never miss, but a few who have other obligations from time to time) I have been content to have the schola sing only the melody line of any piece that we are doing. Though most of what we do is chant, I've had much success doing the same thing with Rice's Simple Choral Gradual at my last assignment. It's all about small steps.

    It's ok to overstep the limits of your group from time to time. It helps to get a feel for what people are capable of at the moment. We then go back to the drawing board and see how we can meet them where they're at while still prayerfully serving the Liturgy. I've nailed down my first year, and we're still doing psalm toned propers for the TLM, but we have started singing some Latin hymns from the various offices instead of adding more psalm verses. I'm also (slowly) teaching my volunteers solfege with the intent that they will become better singers because of it. It's an investment, and they are worth it.

    Lastly, I do agree with a get together (for non-rehearsals) from time to time. It helps to get to know people for who they are, and to relax from time to time. I find that these get togethers help calm me down, and build comradery with my people. Not to mention, it's just plain fun!

    Lastly, keep at it! It's hard work, but it is rewarding! I'm keeping a record of music that we're doing for our Masses, firstly, so I can have something to go to next year, but more importantly, to see how far we've come as a group in the future. I look forward to asking my choristers: "remember when?" I'm sure we'll all get a kick out of that! May God bless your efforts, and may you and your singers be enriched by your service to the Liturgy!
    Thanked by 1musiclover88
  • JonLaird
    Posts: 226
    You seem to be a choir that likes to have parties!

    We certainly do like our parties, which are just simple potlucks. I think this social time is absolutely essential for the choir.
  • Just wanted to share an update with you all. We just had our latest practice and I was feeling discouraged beforehand, so I said a prayer while I was driving to the church that God would give me some kind of confirmation that I should continue directing this schola.

    Well, starting off was slow because 2 kids were gone due to an illness, but when the adults showed up, I had three new members! I cannot even begin to tell you how excited and happy I am!! So now in my adult group I have three men (2 basses and 1 who can sing either bass or tenor) and 4 women including me (3 altos, which means I can finally sing soprano again!). I am just so happy and I think they all enjoyed practice. I am going to make a goal to have the group sing twice a month. Thank you so much, everyone, for you advice. It was so helpful.
    Thanked by 1canadash
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    God indeed does work in mysterious ways!
  • Yes, He does! Now I just have to practice singing louder and/or pray for more sopranos, but that's the least of my worries. :)
  • great! And don't forget your kids will sing soprano, so as they grow in confidence thy really will help to fill that gap.
  • That's true, bonniebede. I've noticed they sing a lot better (both with confidence and with good pitch) when they've heard the song before or they already know the words. If I try to teach them a new song, their pitch is all over the place. It's sort of interesting because I know that they can sing, but it just takes a little while for it to "click" for them. When the adults came for practice I had everyone sing all the hymns together, and the kids really did well. I think they feel better when they're not the only ones singing.
    Thanked by 1bonniebede
  • Getting them all solidly singing the Ordinary of the Mass and singing each week will give them a great feeling of confidence and a bit of importance and attendance at rehearsals will even be improved.

    This is more important than anything else.

    Working on a few anthems comes next. This will give you a chance to help them improve, repeating an anthem every so often - as much as once every three weeks - is not too often. Almost all of your teaching will occur here.

    I know that those who are going to disagree, but the propers come last. You must make a decision: Am I Working to Change Music in the Church or am I Working to build a Choir that Can Change Music in the Church.

    Once they are "in the saddle" things go much better. And, you may not want to take a Summer Break for the same reason.

    Behavior Issues

    Having kids in the choir together with the adults will solve the main behavior issues we all have with children. - adults. Adults behave much, much better when children are in the choir.

    You are making wonderful progress - keep us informed!
  • Thanks for the advice, Noel! We're going to be singing about three times a month starting in Lent, so it will be nice to be able to build some repertoire with learning hymns and anthems. Sometimes I like to "cheat" and find a common hymn tune (Old Hundredth, for example) so if we can learn that well, we'll automatically know about three or four "different" hymns (of course, I wouldn't be doing that so much that everyone gets tired of it!).

    Am I Working to Change Music in the Church or am I Working to build a Choir that Can Change Music in the Church.

    Yes. This. I need to write this down, in BIG letters and place it in my choir notebook.

    I don't really want to take a summer break, but unfortunately (well, not really unfortunately at all) God has other plans because I'm having a baby in the summer. So I'm going to have to play that one by ear, but I definitely know what you mean.
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,481
    Congratulations on your upcoming bundle of joy! Just think, in eight years or so, you will have another apt singer for your choir! The nice thing is that a summer baby (I had all of mine in the late spring and summer) will make it easy to make a solid start in the fall! May God bless you with an easy pregnancy!
    Thanked by 1musiclover88
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,465
    Congratulations on your future chant scholar! Take good care of yourself. : )
    Thanked by 1musiclover88