Cantor Discipline
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I think we've discussed this before, but I'll bring it up again, as it's rather important. I'll just cut and paste my comments from another thread:

    How is there no control over cantors [in terms of preparedness]? I've seen this mentioned a few times and I don't understand it. At my last job we had 5 cantors, including myself, responsible for 2 Masses per week. All of them knew what I expected, and knew I was available to help. If I were in a position where a cantor regularly showed up unprepared (I mean had no idea how the music went), I would tell them their preparations did not meet my expectations and that they needed to try harder, with my help available as necessary. If they still did not come prepared, I would require a run-through with me. If they neglected to show up for it or schedule one, they would not sing for the Sunday they did not prepare for. If this became a chronic problem, they would be given very limited use in the Cantor ministry, and as a final resort removed altogether. In short, I would not allow for more than 4 "bad" Masses in a row from them. This was my unstated cantor policy at my last church, although I never had a problem with a single one who didn't prepare as well as they could (although that was different quality levels for each!)

    So without telling those here who are smarter and better trained than I how to do their jobs, what's the problem? Why is there no control over these cantors? And if it's the priest, what's the point in being music director at a church where the pastor gives you responsibility without authority? You may as well be a British policeman if you like that idea (although they at least get to carry clubs).
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Dave had written:

    Gavin, many parishes today suffer from cliques where the pastor is in "good" with the lay music "ministers," including cantors and other instrumentalists. I've served at two parishes where the pastor talked and acted in a way to demonstrate that he was more inclined to take the side of the cantor, not me, the director. The music director, thus, is demonized to a degree.

    In a previous parish, I complained to the pastor about a choir member who never attended rehearsals and threw a hissy fit because she wasn't "familiar" with the music for Holy Thursday one year. She threw this fit on Palm Sunday morning in front of other choir members and parishioners after a liturgy. The pastor never took her to task for her behavior but instead spoke in pleasant tones about how he'd known her "for years" and that she's basically a good person. Another choir member who couldn't read music and who constantly crooned into the microphone, a la Mr. Caruso from Thomas Day's book, constantly nagged me to program songs that were "lively and uptempo" but which the congregation obviously didn't know, but, alas, the pastor said "she's a good person, and she'd never say anything to hurt you."

    Talk about having my case closed before I even rest my defense.

    I know much of this must seem anecdotal to you because you apparently think all music directors will possess the idealism to rise above these situations, but you apparently do not recognize the political struggles therein. Controlling cantors can be very difficult if the pastor is not categorically behind one's measures to correct the problem. Cantors can be very irresponsible and unprofessional, particularly if they're divas (in my case) who are opera students who assume that their music abilities can automatically translate into singing the liturgy.


    I reply:

    Dave, I understand the dynamics at work, but to be frank I don't see why one would get themselves in that position. You write correctly: "Controlling cantors can be very difficult if the pastor is not categorically behind one's measures to correct the problem." But in that case, there is nothing you can do. Bad cantors are a part of your church's heritage and you might as well try to have the altar removed, because it's far more likely to happen than for your cantors to get better. I don't know about others, but when I apply for a job, that's a question I ask every time, "Precisely what authority over the musicians under my charge would I be entrusted with?" If I don't like the answer, and especially if it starts with "well, they're volunteers so..." then I know that is a job I won't be taking. I once applied for a job where I was asked about my "philosophy of ministry". It's simple, I said, it's like a team. We work together, but that means they have to work with me, which means allowing me to help them be the best that they can. If they want to obstruct me, then I'm being stopped from doing my job and it's wasting the church's money, which is something I do not do. Again, I don't want to tell the "big guys" how their careers should look, but I'm looking ahead at mine and saying that's something I haven't tollerated, won't, and don't understand how others can.

    To reiterate, at my last job I did NOT have perfect cantors. I had one who sight-sung nearly perfectly but wouldn't sing above a B. Another who could learn very well, but required a ton of hand-holding on my part. A young girl who had yet to learn the value of practice. A man who literally couldn't match pitch. But I expected all of them to work up their music as best as they could and to use me as much as they needed to in order to feel safe. And for the most part they did. Particularly with a paid cantor, it's doubly wasting the parish's money to have a cantor who won't try and a music director who is prevented from encouraging him or her from trying. I would go to the priest and spell that out to him.
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 986
    I think there are two problems that operate in these circumstances:
    1. Lack of pastoral support. The musician is "hired help;" the volunteer cantors are "really part of the parish." Gavin is right. Find out if you're going to be powerless.
    2. Ideally, when a new director comes, all the cantors should be auditioned (diplomatically phrased as "I need to meet with you and hear you sing"). If the director does have some control, then there can be some choices, some training, etc. Of course, if you're powerless for pastoral reasons, your options are limited.

    I think the biggest mistake most of us make is not acting quickly when we come into a position. Everyone says, "Oh wait and get the lay of the land." Ah, but then you've appeared to accept problem situations/singers and solving problems will be more difficult because of the acquiescence you signaled. (Trust me, I've been there.)
  • Recipe for for good church music:

    Good Pastor + Good Musician

    No substitutions allowed/possible.