Non-catholic substitute organists and hired instrumentalists
  • Bourdon32
    Posts: 2
    I think we all can say that at one point, we have struggled to find a competent substitute. I have certainly found this and given that we are the Cathedral for our Diocese, it can be more stressful.

    I recently had a sub from AGO that is not Catholic but regularly plays a Vigil mass at another parish cover for me and the feedback I got from the Rector was less than desirable (she was late with the memorial acclamation and slow with the Gloria). He is now asking that all musicians or singers be Practicing Catholics because of the ministerial nature of the Music Ministry, however musician-wise, our Cathedral parish is not flush with "high-caliber, Cathedral-worthy Musicians." Nor do we have other Organists who can play in our parish. I fear that this request is not truly possible to keep to...

    Has anyone else been asked this? And if so, how did you respond? My instinct is to reply with comments on ministry and how we are bringing the unchatechized into the church and exposing them to the mystery and sacrifice of the Mass. We are also aiding and enhancing worship with music that is participatory and beautiful.

    Any thoughts on this would be helpful!

    Thank you and pax vobiscum!
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,727
    With only 70,000 Catholics in our entire diocese, subs are quite likely going to be Protestant, if not pagan or worse. The best thing to do is teach a couple of them the order of the mass, then use them as subs. I have had better luck teaching Episcopalians and Lutherans since they are familiar with liturgical worship. A well-crafted handout they can keep for reference and follow when playing is also a great thing to have. No-they don't need 12 pages. One should be enough.
    Thanked by 1CCooze
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,224
    I understand the point, but their musicianship must be up to par. It’s hard to find suitably qualified singers and organists from any background.

    Catholics will surely make the same mistakes, and it was a substitution. Mistakes are more likely in a new place, with a different priest, a new pace…I can’t say if they are excusable and if they are to what degree for professional organists, but I loathe to be too harsh.

    The quality needed must always be excellent, but what that means differs. Improvisational skills are a must, but improvisation is used differently in the Novus Ordo and in the TLM. You must have the ability to accompany hymns in a typical parish. Ideally, you can give incipits and accompany chant using Gregorian notation. But that doesn’t mean all skills are used at all Masses or in the same way. I can imagine that the being thrown off at the Gloria and the Mysterium fidei on Sunday if one is used to playing for a Saturday evening Mass; does she usually accompany those? Was there any feedback on the quality of the music played?
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,565
    When I bring in a substitute organist, we do a lot of things a capella. They're there to accompany 2 or 3 hymns, fill any awkward silence that might occur, play preludes and postludes, and give pitches/intonations for chants. The propers and the ordinary are typically a capella.

    On the Catholic/Non-Catholic part of this... Recently I hired a fellow to do some Masses for us on Ash Wednesday (when we have non-stop Masses). When I went up to the loft to see him before Mass he made some off-handed remarks about the invalidity of the Novus Ordo. Yet he would consider himself an active Catholic. Would it be more desirable to have a Protestant or a Catholic who thinks the Mass being celebrated is just playtime and not a validly celebrated Sacrament?
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 726
    A well-crafted handout they can keep for reference and follow when playing is also a great thing to have. No-they don't need 12 pages. One should be enough.


    I completely agree.
    In the past I've made various versions for when we (actually manage to) have an organist volunteer to play at any of the EF Masses at a small area church. Various, based on Mass Ordinary and Liturgical Season, etc.
    Similar sheets, but with chant, were made for celebrant(s) to have on hand at the altar. (I'm sure something similar could easily be made for OF Masses, where the DoM knows what their seasonal Ordinary is, and could have just a laminated sheet available)

    For example:

    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • KARU27
    Posts: 91
    If you can't get Catholic musicians, I would at least try for competent and respectful. Hah - - maybe all three. The trifecta. Catholic, competent and respectful.
  • Your priest's sentiments and expectations are laudable, but they need to be tempered by some understanding of the emotions and individual competence of any sub organists who walk, often lamb-like, into a new worship environment.

    Few can deliver a flawless performance of their duties in a new church. They don't know how fast or slow this and that are sung. They are not attuned to the ritual pace and speech patterns, which are different in every parish. They can only use their own musical judgment, based upon their own level of competence, in doing their best to lead a congregation in worship. A sub deserves some understanding and lee-way.

    Nor is this problem solved by relying on only Catholic organists. The same obstacles and adaptive problems will apply regardless of one's faith. No two congregations are alike. They don't sing alike. They don't sing the same music at the same speed. They respond differently to the organ. Etc, etc. It is unrealistic to expect any organist to make an A+ - though many do.

    I might add that it is quite possible for a non-Catholic who knows Catholic liturgy to play a service more beautifully than a Catholic, particularly if he is Episcopalian - not always, but quite possible.

    Further, e'en though a given sub played flawlessly, he or she may have played differently than 'our organist' and is, therefore (a non sequitur!), assumed to be 'not as good' as 'our organist'. These sorts of (probably unavoidable) sentiments are to be expected, though they may (and, often, do) represent the very opposite of reality.

    Your priest, and many others, would be better served by insisting on a certain level of musical competency and liturgical sense - attributes which 'being Catholic' does not guarantee.
  • Bourdon32
    Posts: 2
    Thank you everyone! This is all very helpful!
  • Ali
    Posts: 31
    My pastor gets upset when a substitute isn't up to his standard, but can be gently reminded that his preferences don't always mean someone wasn't good or even wasn't competent. A lot of times a "I will give him/her your feedback and that will be fixed next time" is enough to get him to back down from what would be a similar decree to your Rector's.

    I have a very good working relationship with my pastor and a very small geographical area from which to pull substitutes, so usually I can inoculate things a bit by saying before the liturgy "I have a substitute playing/singing today - they are very competent but this being their first time here, a few minor mishaps are bound to happen". Oftentimes afterward when I ask for feedback, he'll say the person was "fine" or, "other than a slow Gloria, they did great".
    Thanked by 1StimsonInRehab
  • Matthew
    Posts: 29
    I was taught in grad school to always hire someone who doesn't play as well as I do so that both the pastor and parishioners are happy to see you back. Ah, politics. And then said professor whose sage wisdom was heeded would be upset when we didn't hire him to sub for us students when we were on break. Sometimes you just can't win...
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,730
    ...late with the memorial acclamation and slow with the Gloria.
    Are these parts pertaining to the organist where you are? I've sometimes seen an associate pastor frantically nodding to the organ, afraid to stand up on his own initiative after the Epistle.
    Thanked by 1MarkS
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 726
    Also, I'd think that somebody could have cued the organist - if what you mentioned were the main types of issue.
    If your organist is also your DoM, then perhaps there should be someone designated to give cues - be it conducting a quicker tempo when it is too slow, or cueing the beginning of things so that they aren't late.
  • I must second the idea of having an experienced Catholic on stand by to provide helpful reminders when a non-Catholic is the organist for a single liturgy. Obviously the hope is the organist will know what to do, but just in case someone has a dear in the headlights moment it is helpful to have someone that can lean over and say "play the Gloria..."
  • About 'prompters' and such.

    This has pluses and minuses. If one has secured a competent organist for a sub it would be beyond bordering on gauche (as in trashy and disrespectful) for someone to be at his side to urge him or her to play faster or slower, or this or that. When one is blessed with the services of a competent musician, even if he is a visitor, one follows his lead. He'll only be there for one or two Sundays and is deserving of respect. He is who he is, and he is not the incumbent - and both he and the incumbent know this.

    What can be helpful is for someone respectfully to say or nod 'play the "whatever" now' if it appears that there is some doubt in the organist's mind.

    Too, every effort should be made to provide the visitor with a binder containing ALL the hymnody, chant, anthems, and service music in the order in which they are to be played or sung, together with marginal notes explaining any peculiarities of the parish liturgy.

    Too, the sub should have come to the church at some point during the week to rehearse on your organ and set up his registrations, pistons, and memory levels for all the service music - maybe even to say 'hello' to the pastor and assure him that he is in good hands. An organist who doesn't do this is courting disaster.
    Thanked by 2CCooze CHGiffen
  • JonLaird
    Posts: 204
    When I have a non-Catholic visiting musician for the first time, I try to give them a binder of everything that happens during the Mass, with their music inserted in the proper place. Then there is no doubt about cues and the whole event is less intimidating. This is a lot of prep work but everybody benefits and you'll find your subs become more confident and personally grateful.

    For an organist, I may give precise tempo instructions in advance.

    All of the Mass ordinary settings and responsorial psalms we use are plainsong. So usually, when I have to be away, we don't even need a sub. The pastor does not mind the whole Mass -- hymns included -- being a cappella, led by one or two cantors.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,380
    I think priests do need to be a little understanding and patient of subs. I play organ once a month for a local small parish. I find flying in once a month to be rather stressful. I'm not used to the organ or the church which has very strange architecture. It's difficult to see the priest from my vantage point. There are lots of distractions when you aren't used to a church. If the sub only made a couple of little mistakes, I think he did well.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 726
    About 'prompters' and such.


    While I mostly agree, I think that if the DoM is away, someone should be designated as "in charge," so to speak. Not that they get to change things around, but to keep everything running smoothly, as is the norm at that parish.
    Things shouldn't fall apart just because one person (whatever their role) is missing. Visiting musicians shouldn't be offended by someone's attempt to keep them in the loop.
  • In my mind, there should be a group of at least three singers at each Mass who stand with the organist and sing. Leading the singing congregation with their voices along with the organ, one of them can cue the organist. This group would do a much better job of leading the singing and singing the psalm, if necessary, and the gospel alleluia than one singer in front of the congregation, amplified.

    The ideal number of singers could vary from 3 to more - the rule of thumb in Protestant churches is that 10% of the congregation can be expected to sing in a choir. And this does lead itself towards progressive solemnity - the most populated Mass on weekends would have the largest choir, as it was in the past.

    "Sing Along with Mitch" (who was a fine classical oboist) on TV succeeded because it a large group singing on TV. I don't think anyone was ever inspired to sing along with a soloist - as proven by the decision at ball parks to have a soloist sing the anthem instead of it being accompanied by an organ.

    Having a person to cue the organist at every Mass is ideal - it gives you time to really concentrate on play the organ - I recall wrapping up the entrance music at a big celebration, there was a clatter and I was told, "keep playing, the bishop just fell down."
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,440
    The trifecta. Catholic, competent and respectful.


    I'm so tempted to make a Bill Clinton "safe, legal, and rare" joke. Just not sure which is which.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • JesJes
    Posts: 487
    This is so hard!
    Finding the triple threat.
    Catholic, Organist/singer, can Read!
    I swear I'm not that great an organist or singer but I get the job because I am catholic and can read music.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW CHGiffen
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,003
    As I have mentioned in other posts, we have our cantors positioned next to the organ, both in the church organ loft and in one corner of the parish hall. We have a number of local substitutes, some Catholic, some not, most having substituted at Catholic Liturgy regularly. We put our most experienced cantor with the sub to help everything flow. If the cantor is a block away, at the "ambo", according to regulations (gag!) it is of no help to the organist. I hate cantors up in front, waving arms or not. the music emanates from where the music emanates. Period.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,727
    I think it is a mistake to assume cantors must be in front because of "regulations," because those regulations also state that another suitable place is acceptable. My cantors are in the loft. I can't communicate with a cantor who is half a block away. I have even had to tell one wedding cantor to, "get your arse in the loft."