Volunteer cantor with small child in front of congregation
  • Hi everyone,
    We have a rotation of volunteer cantors for one of our masses. One of the men has a 4 year old daughter who has started sitting with him in front of the congregation the last three or four times he has been scheduled. It appears that "Mom" is working or or otherwise hasn't been able to come to mass to help out while "Dad" is singing. Even when "Mom" and/or "Grandma" were there, the little girl clings to "Dad" and he lets her stay. Our church building does not have a choir/organ loft - it is all located in front to the left of the sanctuary. This 4 year old behaves as one might expect. I can't blame her at all, but it is nonetheless distracting from the sacred liturgy going on.
    I plan to be speaking to our pastor and music director today to see who would like to approach this cantor to ask that the little girl have another family member or guardian to accompany her while "Dad" sings for the mass.
    But I'm wondering if anyone has thoughts on the best way to present this case without giving the "your children aren't welcome at mass" message that I'm trying to avoid. Granted, that would be a misinterpretation and over-reaction, but I want to come prepared to give a sound and charitable advice and action plan. Any lessons learned from prior experience would be so helpful.
    One last note on my role in this ordeal- I am the organist for the parish but not the music director. This is happening at a mass where the choir director isn't present. So, I think I don't really have the explicit authority to make this call. On the other hand, I am the music director "proxy" when she isn't present. And I think immediately
    “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you..."

    ...not quite the same context, but still comes to mind.

  • The simplest approach is to ask the cantor himself if he can give his full focus to the singing if his daughter is clinging. Then ask if it's fair to put a 4-year old up in front of such a large congregation with a microphone at hand. The point isn't the child, in this case: children are children, and can be expected to act as such. The problem is that in that situation the child is being made the center of attention, which is neither fair to the child, nor the assembled congregation, nor God.
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,912
    Not to mention that if nobody is directing the child's attention to the Mass, she isn't learning about what is going on.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,949
    How desperate are you for cantors? When I have had a genuine lack of them, I took what I could get. In more plentiful times, I became a bit more choosy.
    Thanked by 1CCooze
  • The first church is the domestic church. For all people in your music programme, their first responsibility in their family. If family responsibilities means they are unable to cantor, then you have Mass without a cantor, or you schedule someone else to do it.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,949
    Having cantors visible in the front makes a difference. Mine are in the loft, so no one would know if they brought a child. One lady brings her 2-year-old grandson with her every Sunday and sings in the choir. He's adorable, seems to love music, and causes no problems.
  • Could you install a Rood Screen between the cantor and the congregation?
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,774
    ...thoughts on the best way to present this case without giving the "your children aren't welcome at mass" message that I'm trying to avoid.
    Ahem, yes, that will take some exceptionally good luck. You are proposing the drawing of one line, but sitting with her father sounds pretty unobjectionable in itself. You'll have to speak directly to the distraction, and relocating it may not be enough.

    My own experience is once being censured for inviting a chorister whose wife sat in the back with small children. The pastor had long ago a nursery set up next to the sanctuary with toys and drawing materials, but I was supposed to know better than to encourage children at Ash Wednesday services...
    Thanked by 1themindfulyokel
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 1,259
    I've been cantor for multiple EF (full Gregorian) Masses with my kids in the pew with me, and some with one child in my lap while I was about 8 months pregnant.. That church is in a similar set-up: there's a balcony, but it's not a choir loft. The choir area is in the "front," to the "left" of the sanctuary. I usually choose to sit in the back pew to sing the Mass there. I know everyone can hear me, but (even when my husband is able to take the kids so they aren't in my same pew) I don't have to worry about the fact that I don't need to be up front in the (left-of-) center of attention. Maybe that's just me.
    I don't use a microphone the few times it seems there might be a "need" for me to be closer to the priest (ie access to the organ for his cues because we don't have an organist that Sunday, or something), either.

    You didn't mention the use of a microphone. Is there one?

    Is the child impeding his ability to do his job? If not, and the priest hasn't made a complaint, could we consider that perhaps people aren't supposed to be (and probably don't need to be) watching the cantor, anyway?

    On a side note:
    I bring my 3 kids, solo, to daily Mass and sit in the front pews, for their benefit. I know that sometimes they don't behave like the angels we might wish them to be for the entire 30-40 minutes, but I also know that they get more "out of it" (and consequently do behave better than if they were in the back) when they are closer to the sanctuary. I have yet to be asked to sit elsewhere because they are too distracting.
  • Could you install a Rood Screen between the cantor and the congregation?

    Some churches already come with a Rood Little Brat Screen - it's called a cry room. I'd make this purple if I had the energy.
    Thanked by 1Casavant Organist
  • Chris - To me, that is a wonderful way of approaching it! Thank you, Clerget, too for your addition! My first born is still in utero, but I think I would be very receptive to that sort of reasoning if I were in his situation and I will need to be doing the same balancing act soon enough.

    I agree and reiterate, there's nothing wrong with what the little girl is doing, and she is learning as she grows.

    We can get by without this gentleman, but I am still interested in keeping peace and gentle persuasion rather than "firing" him so to speak. If it comes to that for lack of persuasion and/or cooperation in good-faith, so be it.
  • I hope you didn't think I was implying that this little girl is at fault. We could wish all of our problems were as weighty as dealing with a charming little moppet who loves being where the music's at.

    I think this is one of the few situations where I can see the benefit of having a choir loft. Besides, of course, being able to talk/eat/drink/text/sleep/flirt out of sight of the congregation. (The preceding sentence is coming up purple, right?)

    You know, the dad could always use this time to teach the child some of the basics of cantoring. Like, teach her how to hold up her left arm at a 45 degree angle; then just hold her up and squeeze her when it's her cue to cue . . . (Man, this purple button is just not working at all tonight . . .)
    Thanked by 1themindfulyokel
  • Stimson, you'll have to teach me your ways of the purple text, once it starts working ;) I don't think anyone here is implying that the girl is at fault nor did your tongue-in-cheek comment about rood screens get taken seriously (I hope not anyway). The girl is quite a cutie, but she also can get into mischief and has a "theatrical" personality. That makes things like microphones and manuals, pedalboards and wooden risers that are quite sonorous under impact (from feet or things dropping on them) even more appealing.

    CCooze, I appreciate your weighing in with practical experience. It sounds like you have been able to manage having kids with you while performing music ministry during mass quite successfully. We do have microphones - many actually. Due to the size of the church building, I don't think they're necessary other than to support the system we have to assist people with diminished hearing (fancy, I know!).

    For the record, I think having kids in the front pews of the congregation should be greatly encouraged. I am not a fan of making parents feel guilty about a crying child or feeling like they should be taken out of the church. The more they can see and hear the better! I do however think there is a distinction with the situation de jour. It's actually not as easy to see the sanctuary and the ambo from the choir area as it is from the front pews that face the altar. It might actually be more engaging for the little one to be able to see something. It is distracting to the father of the child. But I can wait for him to be ready to start a hymn/psalm or extend an intro. Sometimes in order to sing he needs to let her climb around the choir benches.

    Off topic a little... It's also wonderful that little guys and girls can experience TLM/EF mass. Even though less of the mass is audible compared to the OF mass, I have found with my nieces and nephews as well as other children, they are taken into it. It also helps that the EF masses in our area tend to be celebrated in ornate churches with lots of sacred images that we can look at quietly and teach a little that way too.

    Anyway, I'm still waiting and praying while I consider all of the elements and implications to what I may say. Again, I am only looking for a charitable and just solution for everyone. Father is distracted and bothered by it but is avoiding confrontation. The music director feels similarly, but has her own complications... Thanks all for your input. It's been a huge help!
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,949
    When I am confronted by any difficulty or problem, I pray and ask Jesus what he would do if he were in my situation. How would he handle it? Then I shut up and don't worry about it any more since it works out far better than anything I could have done.
    Thanked by 2PaxMelodious Viola
  • My kids are older now (12, 11, 9) but they started attending gigs with us when they were very young. As a result, they have excellent manners in musical situations-sometimes better than the adults sitting around them. Our church has little cards in the pews that say "God put the wiggle in little children" and something else about parents don't be afraid to come to Mass with young children etc. I don't mind the wiggling, but if the child is screeching constantly, running around, touching things she shouldn't, then I might reconsider the situation. I think you are on the right track to encourage Dad-cantor to turn this into a teaching experience for his daughter. Keeping her engaged in what's happening will hopefully reduce the mischief.
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 2,724
    If you put your children in the front bench they see what is going on... oh and they remember, just watch what happens when they get home and start acting out the Mass. My two year old has mastered quite a few parts of the EF Mass and regularly attempts to give out 'communion' at family prayers at home, using a side dish as a communion plate and an old goblet as the ciborium!

    We had a first blessing today at Mass, and blessing of herbs... will see what happens at family night prayers in a few moments.

    I may find time to add more experiences of how to occupy up to 7 children (age 0-12) at a TLM/EF Mass.
    Thanked by 2Elmar CHGiffen
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,391
    If church musicians refer to their service as "a gig," they should not be surprised when their children one day say, "I don't do those gigs any more."
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,301
    Fr. Krisman,

    I believe Fidem is a professional orchestral musician (in addition to her church work) and was probably referring to "gigs" in that context.
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,391

    Thank you for your observation but, actually, I was not referring to Fidem's comment at all. However, her use of the term "gig" for contracted musical events reminded me that many church musicians (including a very close relative of mine) refer to all the weddings, funerals, Masses they sing and play for as "gigs." I've told my relative to stop thinking of musical service to the Church as a gig and a paycheck.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,301
    You'll get no argument from me on that one!
  • IdeK
    Posts: 87
    My piece of salt :

    When I was around 3/4 years old, my father sang in the gregorian schola every sunday at the early morning Mass. As I was an early-waker child, he sometimes took me with him, along my older brother who was an altar server at that mass (Gregorian OF). Mom and the 4 other siblings went to the late morning Mass.

    So I was with the schola, sitting on the kneeler or on the bench, watching everything (including Elder Brother serving Mass), hearing everything and... being with my belove father. And, perhaps, disturbing the schola with my behavior (though I don't remember that part. Sure, I behaved very well and was the cutest of all little girls).

    To this day, these memories of sitting at the feet of my father with the schola are still among the fondest of my childhood memories. If there is any possibility to keep her without her disturbing too much, don't rob her from that.
  • KARU27
    Posts: 184
    Can the child not be bribed with a lollipop or something (after Mass, preferably)? Can she sit still in the choir pews while the dad gets up to sing?
    Alternatively, I bet there is some sweet older lady who could play substitute grandma for a little while.
  • A child (or any other non-ritual person) of any age does not belong in the sanctuary - ever.
    The sanctuary is solely for the sacred ministers and those, such as cantors, who fulfill a ritual function. No one else, aged 4 or 94, belongs there. This is an affront to the people, to the ritual, and to God. Schedule another cantor and politely and respectfully let this gentleman know that his daughter may not sit in the sanctuary. (Do you have a cry room? Could she sit with friends of the cantor? Surely there is a 'Christian' solution to this.)

    It is astonishing that anyone could not know this, or couldn't intuit it.

    (It's really odd the the priest hasn't said something - long ago.
    Thanked by 2ronkrisman JL
  • Jackson,

    It is astonishing that anyone could not know this, or couldn't intuit it.

    Perhaps you missed the evolution of church architecture? Perhaps you missed the restoration of the liturgy as accomplished by the former Archbishop of Tehran?
  • KARU27
    Posts: 184
    When I was around 3/4 years old, my father sang in the gregorian schola every sunday at the early morning Mass. As I was an early-waker child, he sometimes took me with him, along my older brother who was an altar server at that mass (Gregorian OF). Mom and the 4 other siblings went to the late morning Mass.

    IdeK, were you in public view, or were you in the balcony? Were you prancing around in the sanctuary? I suspect not...
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,391
    the former Archbishop of Tehran

    Who's that? Are you perhaps confusing him with the former papal nuncio to Iran?
  • My apologies, Fr. Krisman. I stand completely corrected. I'm reading his book The Reform of the Liturgy now, and am learning much -- but evidently I forgot what his promotion was.

  • For the record, if my kids have to come with me to my church job they are coming to work with me. If I'm playing for a concert or someone's cocktail hour, it's a gig. Hope that clears it up for y'all. And of course I hold my position in church music higher than a simple "gig" so no worries there.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • I've told my relative to stop thinking of musical service to the Church as a gig and a paycheck.

    Back to the days when, as is common still in many countries, when Catholics are expected to play without pay...by priests who are paid a salary and a Mass stipend.

    A priest's gig is what he is paid to do. And he receives a paycheck.

    Why shouldn't we?

    This is exactly why all but a very few expert Catholic organists are playing in Protestant churches and Synagogues.
    Thanked by 1PaxMelodious
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,175
    I'm not sure I understand the situation altogether. Is the 4-year-old in the sanctuary with the cantor? If so, can she be dressed like the (other) altar servers and sit with them?
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 1,259
    "It is all located in front to the left of the sanctuary"

    In my mind, this meant that none of the people in this scenario are actually in the sanctuary.

    While this (attached) choir is "to the left" of the sanctuary, and should act like they know they are in plain sight of the congregation, are they in the sanctuary?
    In such a design, it seems that the altar area itself (up the steps) is the only sanctuary.

    In this particular setup, if a child is over where the organist can see her, does it necessarily follow that everyone can see her?
    Thanked by 1themindfulyokel
  • Hi again
    I am sorry for abandoning the conversation here, but I do appreciate the feedback and discussion. There's a lot of food for thought here.

    I've become even more sympathetic to this cantor and his family though I never did have any feelings of judgment or resentment about this. I only wanted to do what was best not just for one party involved but for everyone. It was awkward to have our pastor and music director both indicate that they were having difficulty and that it was disruptive but then to ask me to act instead of them...

    I understand that kids will be a little noisy and wiggly and that's a part of the family of the Church. Some are more active and vocal than others, but that's still fine and innocent.

    An update in case it helps anyone in the future (in addition to all of the other feedback provided by the community of course!):

    I was able to give the dad-cantor a break on the schedule due to his lack of availability anyway (thankful that I could have some time to just think!) and worked with our parish to put some aids in place. The church now has children's picture Bibles, young-person's missals, and a few other things to help engage and occupy young ones at their parents' discretion. It actually has been helpful, I think. And children can be even more engaged than in a cry room even if they are only looking at a book.

    The picture in the post from CCooze is quite similar to ours, for the record. No one from the music ministry is in the sanctuary other than to proclaim the responsorial psalm. In the case of the dad-cantor, he didn't go into the sanctuary even for that purpose. The difference for us, however, is that the organ and piano are actually behind the cantor/choir. So everything going on really is more visible by some (but definitely not everyone!). Adults in the choir and organists misbehave too! ;)
  • Carol
    Posts: 854
    I grew up going to Mass many times with my mother when she was cantor, and I do think that is the how many of our future cantor's will develop a love for Mass and sacred music.
    We sat in the front pew and "minded" each other. Remember, the length of time this will be a problem is short and soon the child will be old enough to sit in the pew alone and be well behaved. To offend a willing cantor would be a shame, but having a child truly distracting from Mass is not permissable either. It really depends on the child's behavior. I like the idea of having some else be a "grandma" to the child. This is not an easy problem and I pray you have divine guidance and wisdom to find a solution that is mutually successful.