How to Fight Against the "Participation Argument"
  • There is one persistent point that is constantly put forth by a particular parishioner who does nothing but complain to me about our weekly selections: "the congregation isn't singing." We are an Ordinary Form-only parish so, for good or for ill, we utilize much hymnody. While I favor hymns that are unambiguously orthodox and are rooted in traditional Western hymnody, our parish spent nearly 30 years in the clutches of Glory & Praise-type music (in fact, G&P used to be in the pews!). This particular parishioner CONSTANTLY conspires with a group of like-minded friends (which are all of a particular generation - if you catch my drift) and causes me grief upon grief. Subversion, underhanded tactics, rumor and then-some peppers all that they do. It must be said that they are a very small minority, but they are relentless in their (unhealthy?) obsession with our parish's music.

    Call me what you will (I call it respectful and pastoral), but I constantly throw this group bones. Just about every Sunday, I grit my teeth and program at least one song that should please them. Do I ever receive their thanks for not completely ignoring their complaints and for attempting to accomodate their points of view? Very, very rarely. For nearly 30 years the complaints of some of our parishioners about the G&P music went unheeded so an entire generation grew up with that music. So, I deal, week after week, with the main agitator who never fails to complain that "the people aren't singing." Of course - when they do sing the songs that are older than 30 (which is really quite often), that is never pointed out.

    So, hear's the question: how do you all fight the argument that "they aren't singing"? Practical advice would be greatly appreciated!
    Thanked by 1themindfulyokel
  • Dave
    Posts: 64
    I believe that many people don't sing simply because they don't want to. I worked in a parish where I was forced to program the best (read: worst) of contemporary music. Few people sang. I programmed traditional, orthodox hymns exclusively for another Mass. Few people sang. If everyone was singing, I must have been going deaf. I don't think I was.

    Point is, we as music directors, organists and cantors can do everything under the sun to encourage the PIPs (people in the pews) to participate. We go to great lengths; we contribute a certain percentage of what is needed. The people need to choose, of their own will, to make-up the rest of that percentage.

    Ordinary congregations that are not trained cannot sing a lot of the G&P and OCP hyper-contemporary music because of the irregular rhythms and weird vocal leaps, and simply because the music is insipid. Why they don't prefer the easier, more memorable traditional hymns is truly shameful.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Ask them why they aren't singing. Why aren't they participating? Do they have a problem with Catholic music? Do they have a problem singing orthodox texts set to skillful and beautiful melodies? Could they be rebelling against the guidance of the Church? Do they have a problem with authority? Etc.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Honestly, I just say "well, that's their problem." Let me ask this: is the singing really bad OR is it just that the busybodies (I know EXACTLY the type) keep saying so even though it's not the case? If it's the former, I just blame the congregation. I'm reminded of a quote from a celebrated 20th century theologian who said "people who don't celebrate by singing are not healthy." I just look at it that way. My early Mass is practically silent, no matter what I do. One of these days I'm just going to have a ZERO congregational singing Mass - use the antiphons and organ music for everything. It won't solve anything but it will amuse me. The sad thing is people would probably enjoy it...

    A couple more suggestions. Maybe respond "What have you done to encourage others to sing?" Or, if you're feeling snarky, say "yeah, the singing was pretty weak. Must have been that glory & praise song at offertory..." Actually I had that precise fight break out at choir last year. Someone said "This congregation sang well when we did songs we liked!" and thankfully another shot back "Are you crazy? They NEVER sang here!" I don't know, I guess I see it as being like when people tell me I play too loudly. I just respond "no I'm not, you're just not singing loud enough." Let's not forget that the participation argument is focused on the valid fact that the congregation has a JOB to do - namely the responses (and hymns) of the Mass! If you're doing your job, you can't be blamed for others not doing theirs.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Oh, I was assuming dogwood was asking about the cartel of parishioners who resist, and why they don't sing.

    Other people don't sing for a huge variety of reasons.

    I've sung with Protestants of various stripes. They don't sing especially well either, despite the common comparisons. Those that I've been with sing well only when they sing well-constructed (if banal) hymns of two generations' standing or more which have words that don't try to "reach out to a particular demographic" or ape any particular lyrical style. "Amazing Grace," for example. "The Old Rugged Cross." "What a Friend We Have In Jesus." Protestants sing those loudly, but when it comes to contemporary pop service music, the singing largely collapses to the level of average Roman Catholic singing.

    People know when they're being condescended to. That shuts most of them up.
  • WGS
    Posts: 222
    It's up to the celebrant. For the O.F. of the Mass, the 1st Degree of Participation as specified in Musicam Sacram is quite sensibly designed to enhance participation. If the celebrant is firmly leading the congregation with greetings, he will get their responses. Notice that the 1st Degree is almost entirely dependent on the celebrant's participation. Then keep in mind that none of the 2nd Degree or 3rd Degree may be sung unless all of the 1st Degree is being sung. It's up to the celebrant to make that choice. Perhaps some Directors of Music are trying to redesign the liturgy of the Church according to their own musical preferences.
    Thanked by 1KARU27
  • gregpgregp
    Posts: 632
    As someone who has come very late to the whole notion of propers and that something outside the universe of the 4 hymn sandwich actually does exist, I'd like to make a couple of observations. I've spent twenty-something years in choirs and twenty-something years NOT in choirs, and to be honest, I've never felt much like singing as a PIP, even when the hymns are things that I might have scheduled had I been in charge. I always thought that a lot of this was due to human nature, and that most people act like teenagers long after they've grown up: "Don't tell me what to do! I won't do it now, even if I like it!"

    Learning about the true nature of the E.F. (and reading "Why Catholics Can't Sing"), however, gave me an additional insight. I think we're asking people to do more than they want to. Sure, the musicians can and will get up and sing the Entrance, Gloria, Responsorial Psalm, Gospel Acclamation, etc.,etc., etc., but the PIPs just don't want to learn all of it and make the effort (and it IS an effort, if you're not a musician). Throw out the 4 hymn sandwich and bring in Propers, though, and the situation is reversed, both musically and psychologically: now they don't sing everything, and the things which they do sing (the Ordinary and the Dialogues) are the same week after week: no learning the latest ditty that someone saw performed at the workshop.

    What that means for the O.F., I couldn't begin to say. I just hope that EF starts exerting some gravitational pull on the OF. Hey, our choir started singing the Anglican Use propers in Advent! We still do hymns too, but who knows?
    Thanked by 1rich_enough
  • There's always that church in x-town where they sing really well. As I travel from parish to parish checking things out either as a singer or a one-time PIP, I notice that most congregations don't sing well enough to bother calling it congregational singing. There are plenty of exceptions, however. I've been in churches where the whole places belts out the tunes we deride so often. There also churches where solid hymns are sung pretty well too. I concluded that, in those places, there had been a competent music program (either sacro-pop or hymns) for a good long while (10 years seems to be the average) and the quality of the playing and singing of the ministry was solid. The other places? 2 situations. Either someone has come in and changed the status quo creating some resentment and some readjustment OR the leadership has been very poor. No one wants to sing along with a lousy cantor or an organist who misses notes and plays way too slowly.

    Then, there are people just like my wife. Nice voice, but doesn't want to sing in church. Too self-conscious about her voice, especially when no one else seems to be singing.
  • My answer to "They aren't singing".

    "Yes, you're right - they're not. And what's more, it's going to take a long time for them to start singing: People who aren't immersed in the music of the Church require regular repetition of the same melodies so that they will become comfortable singing them. I'm not going to change my music program because the people of this parish require stability and consistency in the music, so that they will feel confident enough to sing out."

    If you continue to get harrassed about why you're not using G&P, ask them to sing one of the songs out of G&P, but stop them every time they make a rhythmic mistake. I suspect that a LOT of congregations put together their own "simplified rhythm" versions of some of these songs (and indeed a lot of other "modern" hymns) - "Companions on the Journey" is probably one such hymn (if I'm thinking of the right hymnal here).
    Thanked by 1KARU27
  • One more reason for not singing - the building acoustics. I any one person cannot hear the persons next to them singing, nor hear/feel the room being filled with singing, they will feel even more uncomfortable singing themselves. I have been in rooms, even large rooms with tall ceilings, that have certain acoustic deadening materials - so it's not just low ceilings with celotex panels that do it.

    But I agree that it's more human nature. I believe that it is the job of church musicians to provide the best music possible, and for the priest to do likewise in everything he does. But it is up to each PIP to decide what level of both interior and exterior participation to display. It should not be our goal to MAKE every person lips do the same thing, and hand/arm gestures be like synchronized swimming at the Olympics. Simply engage their hearts and minds - that's the job of the vocation!
    Thanked by 1KARU27
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Amen, Steve. Acoustical deadness in a room is death to singing, period. Where do people like to sing? In the shower. Why? Because of reverberation and acoustical vitality. People think they sound good in the shower. It's torture to put people in carpeted rooms and expect them to like it. The room doesn't give their voices any help, they can't interact with the sound as it happens, and they feel like they're constantly fighting something. It's horrible to sing in that situation, and who can blame them? Acoustical deadness is for recording studios, where some engineers want to isolate sounds completely from any ambience because they want to add custom-built ambience back in, at the end. It's a matter of control. In a church, acoustical deadness suffocates singing. Tear out the carpet. If you're worried about people slipping, create some ushers.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Sorry for all the emphases. It's one of those issues that just strikes me as utterly perplexing and irrational.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,139
    Fr. Weber sent this one to me.

    http://wdtprs.com/blog/2007/12/ncr-another-editorial-whine-about-pope-benedict-and-liturgy/#comments

    M Kr,

    The Old Oligrach says it better than I ever could…

    “Liturgy. From the Greek, Leitourgia, from leitos, people; and ergon, work. If I had a nickel for each time this one was abused, I’d be a rich man! Liberal liturgists often falsely remark that this word means “the people’s work.” Their intention is to justify more “active participation” of the congregation in the Mass, or worse, the theory that the presence of the congregation is necessary for the validity of the Eucharist. The proper translation of this etymology is a public service. Don’t believe me? Consult the LSJ’s entry at Perseus.

    A leitourgia is an event staged for the general public by experts at the expense of a private individual. When my rich friend Plutarch agrees to dole out money to commission Aristogeiton to produce a performance of Antigone for the edification of my town, he’s just performed a leitourgia. As you can see, the emphasis couldn’t be more traditional. Far from being involved in the actual performance of what takes place on stage, the people are the audience and beneficiaries of the service.

    The service is performed by a professional corps of actors, whose specific competence is the task at hand. In the same way, a military officer oversees the leitourgia of a corp of carpenters and masons erecting a public building. Performance of the service is the actors’ duty alone. As with any public service, there may be some audience members who are better educated than the actors, or more devoted to the works of Sophocles, or more charismatic in the community, but this does not make them actors. That is the task of the priest. Lastly, the play itself is written by a genius (the Lord), carefully preserved over time (tradition), and made possible by the gift of a rich man (i.e., drawn from the apostolic deposit of the Church).

    Is there no role for the audience then? Of course there is. It is receptive, which is, after all, an action. (Receptivity is based on captio, capturing, after all!) Their mode of activity is to become fully immersed in the dramatic action, participating in its heights, pondering its depths, and experiencing its catharsis at the end. A play cannot be a play without presuming some audience, however small or however private. Yet the play is always for them, not by them. If these liturgical liberals weren’t shameless pragmatists, they would pay closer attention to what is contained in the word, leitourgia.”
    Comment by Franklin Jennings — 28 December 2007 @ 3:31 pm

    Now my own comments:

    After reading the Winter issue of SM, artice, "Beauty is a Road to God", I thought it was interesting to see how quickly people will give their own definition to the defense of a particular way of thinking.

    On page 26, Eleonore Stump really undoes her entire argument (which took 14 pages to build, and yes, I read the entire article).

    "We need to keep clearly in mind what the end of liturgy is. As the word itself implies, it is to serve the Lord, in worship."

    ...and further on....

    "...then we are prohibiting for some people the purpose of the liturgy, as if the Lord of the liturgy cared about the worship of only some of his people and not all of them."

    Well, this is a very fragile assumption at which to arrive after 13 pages of philosophical discourse. God arranges for us the very formulae of the liturgy through the action of His Son, Jesus Christ and then through the Holy Spirit as the liturgy unfolds before us through history. The liturgy really has nothing to do with 'our worship' or more poignantly, 'our PREFERENCES in worship'.

    Here is another way to say it. "What is God's preference for how He is to be worshipped?" That answer WAS clearly defined in the developing history of liturgy from the time of Christ to the moment when we 'fell from grace' and preferred to redefine the Liturgy to be that of our own self-expression. ([TIC] could that have possibly been around the time of VII?)

    So, from this we ascertain that we need not fight against the role of "active participation" at all! We simply need to bring clarity to how that role is defined within the liturgy. The Bridegroom (Jesus, the active giver of the gift) gives to the Bride (The Church, the receiver of the gift). All are actively participating! Tis the same in the marriage - a clear giver and a clear reciever, but both are participating for sure.
    Thanked by 1themindfulyokel
  • jr3672
    Posts: 4
    I am the organist of a small parish in Quebec and I am proud to say that most of the parishioners love to sing and actively participate in not only the hymns but all the acclamations and different parts of the mass. We do have a wonderful choir of about 12 members who love to practice weekly. Using familiar hymns and hymn tunes and playing in a key that is not set to high greatly encourages everyone to sing. We currently use cbw 2 which is filled with great hymns. Also we have a supplement that I have put together with hymns that are not in our hymnal. Also in the supplement I have included some french hymns that are really appreciated by our french parishioners in this anglophone part of Quebec. Suprisingly the anglophones are very receptive and appreciate the chance to try french hymns. So to summarize keep it simple, use familiar hymns and hymn tunes and play In a key that is singable for all.
    Thanked by 1dhalkj
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,374
    .

    (c) M. Jackson Osborne
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,891
    Who keeps resurrecting these old threads? Drive a stake through its heart and start a new thread.
    Thanked by 1PaxMelodious
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,374
    Mea culpa! I didn't see at first that this was from '08!
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,891
    Agree with your position, Salieri. I wondered how many who participated in this originally even read posts here 9 years later.
  • You could try the following:

    God gave us free will, and He wants us to use that free will to love Him as a freely given response. Some people don't think they can sing, and others feel unable to sing because of individual circumstances (how can I sing when I'm so frazzled just getting to Mass on time?) while still others think that music doesn't belong at Mass, so could they please have their 35 minutes with God on a Sunday morning without having to pretend to want to sing?

    On the other hand, there are people who will sing, regardless of what is programmed, because they have music in their hearts, and those who think they have good voices but can't commit to the choir, and so they sing lustily from the pews, whether they sing in tune or not, and still others who sing with the choir, but from the pews, even the polyphony the choir sings, and sing it well.

    God made us each with unique gifts, and so one way to respect those gifts is to not force OTHER people to do things, just to make US happy.

  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,304
    On a topic which is always 'hot', why not consider what past contributors said?
    As a PIP I find the most frequent discouraging thing is organists who play too loudly. I need to be buoyed up, not drowned out! The most encouraging thing is a celebrant who sings his dialogues with the congregation.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,891
    "As a PIP I find the most frequent discouraging thing is organists who play too loudly. "

    We do that on purpose to drown out the bad singing.
  • "We do that on purpose to drown out the bad singing."

    No, Charles, in Catholic parishes, people do it to mask the fact that no one is singing. That's also the reason people give microphones to cantors.

    Thanked by 1MarkS
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,895
    play In a key that is singable for all.


    I've had a very nasty go around with a cantor and the Pastor about this at a previous parish. Which key(s) are singable for all? I find the key for most songs in Gather Comprehensive (which is a common example, and is what we have in the pews) to be too low for me (I'm a tenor) to sing comfortably.

    To the point of the original post:

    The complaint that "the people aren't singing" is a red herring. My suggestion would be to speak with the Pastor regarding this to find out if there is, indeed, a real problem in that area. I would also suggest that the complaints are, indeed, a red herring.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,891
    "No, Charles, in Catholic parishes, people do it to mask the fact that no one is singing. That's also the reason people give microphones to cantors."

    Block quote has been out all day. The Russians did it!

    My congregation sings quite well and loudly enough to be accompanied by full organ. Should I mention they were not singing at all in 2001 when I took the job?
  • Too high??? Pshaw!
    Too high a key is largely more a psychological than a real problem. Singing an E at mass or singing the same E at a party (with or without spirits) or a sporting event are distinct realities. Thus, I have little sympathy for whiners whose only excuse for not singing at church is that the music is too high. The problem is attitude and desire, not can't. If people want to sing an E, there is nothing that will stop them from doing so. To wit, one should have heard the people at Walsingham last night producing thrilling high E's in the refrain of Salve Regina caelitum at the close of the Assumption mass. One could tell that not only were they singing those high notes with ease but that they relished doing so. It's all in the head.

    As for the organ being too loud - sing more robustly, more heartily.
    One can, with patience, train one's people to sing as softly as he plays, or as mf or as ff. Each dynamic level has its place in making sense and beauty of the literary text, and inviting the people to sing it sensitively.

  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,895
    Bravo, MJO, well said!
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • IdeK
    Posts: 44
    "As a PIP I find the most frequent discouraging thing is organists who play too loudly. I need to be buoyed up, not drowned out! The most encouraging thing is a celebrant who sings his dialogues with the congregation."

    I couldn't agree more. Here our organist plays very loudly, I love singing in the congregation usually but here I can't. I can't sing if I'm just not hearing myself singing ! Mikes too heavy don't help either. And bad cantors, of course.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,139
    a loud simulacrum CAN be too much.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,139
    a loud simulacrum CAN be too much.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • You can say that again, Francis.

    (Even a soft one IS too much!)
  • Elmar
    Posts: 104
    Too high a key is largely more a psychological than a real problem. Singing an E at mass or singing the same E at a party (with or without spirits) or a sporting event are distinct realities.

    When I started with my choir, sopranos complained about e'' being too high (and went flat begining from c''). Then I made them sing one of their favorite Marian hymns a capella to check whether hold tune this way. Not only they kept straight on tone - the sopranos spontaneously added their usual descant without the slightest problem, going up to f''!

    Block quote has been out all day. The Russians did it!

    Not even North Koreans [edit: spelling OK now?] can prevent you from typing the html tags manually!!!
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,891
    "Not even North Coreans can prevent you from typing the html tags manually!!!"

    Of course, but Chonak needs to know when something isn't working.

    Who are these "Coreans" of whom you speak? Spell check must be out, too. ;-) That spelling for Korea pre-dates the 19th century. You must be even older than Jackson.

    Agree on sopranos since I encounter the same. Pitch is often perception rather than reality. Or it could just be a soprano thing since they are difficult creatures prone to complaining.
    Thanked by 1Elmar
  • JL
    Posts: 158
    Surely the Coreans are fans of this guy.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chick_Corea
  • Elmar
    Posts: 104
    Who are these "Coreans" of whom you speak? Spell check must be out, too. ;-) That spelling for Korea pre-dates the 19th century. You must be even older than Jackson.

    Maybe it is indicative that the place where I grew up was first mentioned in 1036 ... don't remember how we spelled Asian coutries at the time, though ;-)
    Unfortunately no chant manuscripts of the epoch survived in our local church; no idea whether to blame the 30 year war or V-II, in case there existed any in the first place ...

    By the way, the html buttons in the comment window still don't work (for me).
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,891
    "By the way, the html buttons in the comment window still don't work (for me)."

    I think it is this thread for some reason. Maybe because it is old. I can use block quote on others, but not this one. Go figure. The Russians did it. ;-)
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,895
    Was it buttons in medieval Russia? IS OUTRAGE!
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,891
    New calendarist Sergianists to be sure.