Number of Ensembles to Rehearse
  • madorganist
    Posts: 838
    I currently have adult and children's choirs that practice once a week and a men's schola that practices twice a week (not including warmup before Mass) and sings full propers every Sunday. Some of the parents want to start a choir for the younger kids (ages 5-7 or so) and the pastor seems to be enthusiastic about the idea. I'm currently paid a salary based on a 20-25-hour workweek. With four rehearsals for three ensembles plus organ practice and the typical administrative duties, there's really no time to add anything else. It's challenging enough to complete my existing workload in the 25 hours I'm paid for. Does anyone here currently direct more than three choirs or ensembles each week? Would this be typical even for a full-time position?

    In addition to my concerns about the number of hours worked (and compensated), I have very little experience teaching music to children this young. In the churches I've worked for in the past as well as the ones I grew up in, the choirs for the little ones, usually with names like the "Angel Choir" or "Cherub Choir," were directed by volunteers from the parish and sang once every two or three months, usually as a prelude. Is this arrangement also typical elsewhere? In your experience, what are the best cut-off ages for a children's choir?
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,912
    Some of the parents want to start a choir for the younger kids (ages 5-7 or so) and the pastor seems to be enthusiastic about the idea.

    As an educator, I have included children this young into my children's schola before. Parents like it because it is something their children can get involved with at that young of an age. That being said, they really won't be able to contribute much, and at that young should not be performing publicly, neither for their own concerts, nor especially for liturgies. My ideal cut off age (because the age ranges weren't in my control, go figure) would be 8 at the youngest (or 3rd grade), so that they have a good grasp of basic reading skills. I think that at the Colloquium in 2014, there was a presentation on child choristers, and I believe the youngest age he gave for beginning a child in the program was 7. I would say that if you are concerned about having too many ensembles (which in this case would be a reasonable concern), I would not take on an extra one. You have to be able to give the "professional no" when it's required. If there are parents that want to have yet another choir started at the parish, they can do it themselves. You'll probably find that if you give the "professional no," nobody else will step in to do the job: they wanted you to do it for them and it isn't important enough to them to devote their own time to.

    Is this arrangement also typical elsewhere?

    No, this arrangement is not typical, at least not in my area. The children's choirs that do exist only sing for Christmas Eve, and sometimes Easter, but that's it. The exception is my school choir, which sings for the school Mass three times per week, but that's a special situation because it was created by the school for the school, and is not available to the parish at large.

    Would this be typical even for a full-time position?

    Full time work would possibly entail a different situation, considering that you would be paid for 40 hours per week, and wouldn't have to have other employment in order to supplement your income (which of course demands your time and effort as well). If you were full time, you'd ideally also be receiving better compensation than you are now. If you are being paid for 20-25 hours per week, and you are already doing that much work, then adding something extra to your responsibilities would entail additional compensation. If you have a contract, it would mean amending the contract to include the extra duties, and outline the compensation that you are receiving for it. In music school, we took an administration class that helped us prepare for the administrative duties of running a band or choir program in a public school. One of the things we were told is this: if they ask for extra-curriculars and won't pay you for them, then the answer is always "no." The example given was if they asked for a band camp during the summer, but it wasn't included in your contract, and they aren't willing to pay you a stipend in addition to what your contract already states, then the answer is "no." That is an example of the "professional no."
  • Eight or nine is a preferable age for training children in a church choir environment. Clerget is spot on about earlier than that. Very young children can rarely make a decent musical sound in ensemble and have no business at all singing at liturgy (as a 'choir'). Some people only want to see their dear little ones 'up there' singing at mass, with no care at all for what they really sound like or whether the liturgy is objectively enhanced. The liturgy is not a variety show (though legion are those in and out of holy orders who seem to think that it is).

    As for 'cherub choirs' and such, these are more a Protestant phenomenon, where they have multiple choirs of all age groups which sing periodically at their services and are oohed and aahed over. This is not Catholic worship.

    Now, all the above is not anywhere near to suggest that the parish should not provide early musical training for very young children in a class room situation. As the children grow they may then be expected to become members of the parish choir (or choirs), or become confident members of a robustly singing congregation. A parish which doesn't provide musical training for its enfants and youth is seriously remiss. But having the very young to sing (as what would be a choir) at mass is wholly inappropriate. Singing in choir at mass is a serious liturgical charism, and the privilege of doing so is earned with age, experience, musical competence*, and dedication.

    At Walsingham we have for our youth and older children a Treble Choir. This choir learns the treble parts of certain motets and anthems, certain chants and so forth, and expertly sings the treble parts with the cathedral choir on certain occasions. It seems to me that this is an ideal and eminently sensible solution which teaches the young real music and involves them seriously in the cathedral's liturgical life. They are a devoted bunch who are proud and honoured to participate in this way. Others here may have different scenarios to suggest.

    As for whether you, yourself, should undertake the instruction of such a group seems to me, under your circumstances, gratuitously to be asking too much of you. You should say 'no' unless you really feel 'called' to do this work. Or, you might suggest to the pastor that for an increase in salary you will do it. Otherwise, don't do it. All but the most enlightened and honourable parishes will pay you as little as they can for all they can get out of you. Don't be taken advantage of - not even once, or it will never stop. Many parishes, including those with full time choirmasters, have paid associates or assistants who undertake the training of children and youth, with The Choirmaster having oversight and ultimate (and unquestioned) responsibility and authority for repertory, when and how they sing, etc., etc.

    *What constitutes 'musical competence' may vary from place to place, or from city to hinterlands.