When a volunteer cantor's voice sounds terrible . . .
  • teachermom24
    Posts: 294
    what would you do? One parish we often attend for Sunday Mass, as we did this morning, has a cantor who cannot sing. Her singing is not just a little off, it is way off and makes me cringe as do nails on a blackboard. It's that bad. I am good friends with the person in charge of the music at this parish (very small parish) and wonder if I would be out of line mentioning my reaction to her. I don't know what she feels she can do since she's a volunteer making up the volunteer cantor roster (and the pastor praises everyone who gets up to do anything, poorly done or not), so would it be better to say something or just butt out and avoid Masses where this cantor is scheduled? What does charity require?

    Thanked by 1JonathanLC
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,290
    Avoid the masses. I have a feeling the "person in charge" hears the same as you. Even in a larger parish, finding capable volunteers is often difficult. Those volunteers are not always jewels among the gravel, but may be all that is available.
  • Carol
    Posts: 310
    I think Charles is probably right, you will just have to avoid that Mass. You could volunteer to be a cantor there and then, maybe, there could be a rotation of cantors. After taking some time off as a cantor, and now back for a few years, I was thinking this morning about how much less responsibility one has when one sits in the pew. However when I sit in the pew, though, I frequently end up second guessing musical selections or the execution of the music. So I decided to be cantor and then I end up evaluating and second guessing only myself.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • teachermom24
    Posts: 294
    The singing is objectively awful. It's painful. I'm sure everyone with ears knows it but it's the "elephant in the room" no one will acknowledge. We are not members of this parish, though my children have been asked to serve as cantors. We declined since we cannot abide the normally dreadful "hymn" selections and the Protestant accompanist who doesn't know how to play the Mass well. We go here on Sundays my son does not play the organ at the parish where we are registered, avoiding serious liturgical, and other, issues there. This parish has several cantors on their roster, all of whom are fair to good. It is just this one woman who seriously cannot sing.

    We can always drive 2.5 hours to the TLM to avoid both places.
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,271

    We can always drive 2.5 hours to the TLM to avoid both places.


    It's worth it in the long run, trust me. Your spiritual life will thank you for the sacrifice.
  • PaxMelodious
    Posts: 244
    If you cannot offer to help, then keep your lips zipped. The organiser knows full well of the issues, and the pastoral issues involved.

    I have a volunteer singer whose voice is growing progressively flatter. She has cancer, and is much-loved in the parish. To a visitor, she probably sounds objectively awful. Parishoners know that she won't be with us for that much longer, and that she has a deep faith and love of music. She sings for as long as she wants to IMHO.
  • teachermom24
    Posts: 294
    There's the rub and, I suppose, one falls on one side or the other: is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass about the people and what they can do, or is about the worship of God and what is truly beautiful? I know that most all Novus Ordo parishes fall on the side of lay participants at the altar and whatever anyone wants to offer is wonderful, with a proliferation of lay readers, singers up fronts, EMHCs, etc, etc, etc. "It's just great you're all here and this is what active participation of the laity is all about."

    I fall on the side that our offerings should not be second-rate, should not in any way distract others from worship (which bad singing does), and whatever we bring to offer at Mass should be our very, very best and, if before the congregation, should help others in their prayer of the Mass. If I can't sing well, I shouldn't be up in front leading others in singing; if I can't read well (and don't care to prepare beforehand), I shouldn't be a lector.

    I really want to know what is most charitable in this situation. (Honestly, I think if I sounded that bad as a cantor, I would want someone to pull me out.) I don't think it's best to have a bad singer cantoring at Mass, but it's not my call. I can't even bring myself to ask the priest to speak about the wretched noise before and after Mass. So, yes, it seems our only recourse is to put up with it or make the 2.5 hour one-way drive to find a TLM.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen tomjaw
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,159
    One parish we... attend for Sunday Mass,....

    Your answer lies within this phrase.
    Thanked by 2PolskaPiano eft94530
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 3,824
    Perhaps the person in charge of music at that parish can record the various cantors singing at Mass (to be fair) and make the recordings available to the cantors for self evaluation.
    Thanked by 3CCooze WGS Cantus67
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 714
    It could possibly be a trial basis. If this cantor isn't doing as well during Mass, on the spot, as she may have in an audition of sorts, then perhaps she will be removed from the cantor rotation, anyway, and all your stress is for naught.

    I remember our previous DoM approving a choir member for canting, but he only did so twice (and in a rotation, of sorts, so basically his second chance was weeks later, but that doesn't mean she thought he was great), and then was no longer in the rotation. It was one of her better decisions, I thought, but it at least showed not only fairness of another chance, but competence of making this decision on her own - even though / especially since she was the one who approved him, in the first place.
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,479
    The Church musicians involved with Vatican II chose to encourage incompetent non-musicians to sing and lead music with a total lack of foresight and concern in drawing up the "musical new order" of the Mass, falsely requiring that all Masses should be sung.

    Imposing the typical order of worship and music of an ordained religious community upon local parishes who were once able to have a Sung Mass on Sunday as all the musical forces of the parish concentrated upon this now are instead part of a greatly diluted musical program as former stalwarts of the choir become "stars" as they cantor on over-amplified sound systems instead of joining voices in the choir.

    Out of frustration of the priests, anybody can become a cantor and anyone can play a guitar. If the Church leadership wants all the Masses to have music, then it's going to be that way and priests with no training or exposure to what music can and should be are not to blame.

    Going to a local priest and director of music and trying to decide how to tell a local director of music and priest that a cantor is not qualified to sing is only permitted if you are willing to volunteer for no pay to take this situation in hand and improve it.

    Please, I am not criticizing you but I am criticizing the ruling musicians in the Church who envisioned Vatican II as some sort of utopian "every parish should now sing four hymns AND have a choir AND a Gospel Alleluia sung by a specialist AND also have the Responsorial Psalm sung by another specialist (and the documents are clear that this is they way it should be. though, if necessary, only one specialist could sing BOTH the Psalm and the Gospel Alleluia, though clearly this is a second rate situation) and should now stand up and apologize and undertake serious action to lead the Church out of this quagmire.

    This is not in anyway the fault of those good people who try to lead music in local parishes.

    How is a parish going to have a choir at every Mass on a weekend to lead four hymns, a Cantor to sing the Psalm and a different cantor sing the Gospel Alleluia - in reaity, there are few, if any churches, that actually follow the instructions that this should be done at any Mass on a weekend much less at daily Masses. This CAN be done in a monastic community - and this is obviously where the liturgical new musical order of the Masses originated at Vatican II meetings.

    Monks and Nuns are great people - but lack the daily experience of being in a local parish. They are true Specialists, but at being part of a monastic community, not lowly members of a local parish trying to do with few resources way too much because the church documents of Vatican II call for it.


    So instead we have people who cannot sing standing up trying to lead people who do not want to sing all as a result of the musicians behind Vatican II.

    They were behind it. Those who are still with us need to come forward and confess and work to instead create a liturgical musical plan for small parishes that focuses on what music could be at a small parish instead of what we have now.

    Teachermom should not have to drive 25 miles to attend Mass. Prior to Vatican II you could not attend Mass anywhere but your local parish - and there was rarely a reason not to compared to today.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 929
    liturgical musical plan for small parishes
    They did that, it's the Graduale Simplex. All the forces you need are one cantor capable of sprechgesang. It's little more demanding than what is expected of (not neccessarily delivered by) any priest.
  • JonathanLCJonathanLC
    Posts: 36
    This is quite a predicament, but I think we have all experienced it. More often than not, it is due to lack of knowledge and training. I am working with a group of Afrikaans-Orthodox (*mindblown*) who are quite amateur, but they are so hungry to learn and improve. I must say that I am lucky to help out. The only issue now is growing the group.

    I would speak to your friend and offer the singer in question a few lessons - in fact I would offer some of my time if they were willing to take a Skype call. Surely they could be met half way. Ultimately it is up to the conductor/music director to take charge and simply tell the person the truth as gently as possible.

    Regarding a plan for small parishes - I personally do not feel that the Simplex (as a final product) was a great option, but the underlying principals are really good.
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,479
    liturgical musical plan for small parishes


    It's only a better mousetrap if people know about it, receive encouragement to use it, are offered workshops to train them in it and it is used in the Seminary.

    Publishers required to include it in missals/hymnals if they want to use the translated Mass text.

    Otherwise, the church mice remain safe.

    Thanked by 1a_f_hawkins
  • We have a rule at our house: If you didn't cook the dinner, you may not complain about the dinner. I think it's a good rule. It has, occasionally, led some children to volunteer to help with dinner.
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,271
    Taking into consideration, of course, objections made for the sake of one's own health - "Dad, are you sure you cooked this on the grill long enough? I love you and all, but I love you more than Mad Cow Disease . . ." (anecdote from experience)

    So remember EducationalMatriarchFourandTwenty, cantoring is a medium which is rare to find well done.
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,271
    Noel, your insights remind me of a remark T.S. Eliot made about the state of modern families in Notes Toward the Definition of Culture. The general idea he presents is that no one should go "halfsies" when it comes to raising a family: Men should either decide to join the clergy and remain celibate, or have huge families. Societies where everyone has a nuclear family of 2.5 children on average are bound to fail. (The .5 of course, 'rounded off' by contraception . . .)

    This is where the low/high mass mentality makes so much sense. Be completely ascetic or completely majestic. Otherwise, as you say, musicians are stretched thin and everything becomes bleh.
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • Maureen
    Posts: 635
    Self-evaluation is a two-edged sword. Objectively, I'm a decent singer who occasionally sings very well. But if you would ask me to evaluate myself, I would give myself a scathing review and never open my mouth again. Avoiding self-evaluation, and striving to evaluate myself as I would do for any other performer, is a constant struggle for me.

    There are probably a lot of people who should be instrumentalists rather than vocalists. But there is also a tendency in American parishes to regard all instruments except guitar as "too hard" for laypeople to learn. If someone shows up already knowing an instrument, he is treated as a miracle. There is no music development within the parish (unless there's a parochial school with a band), and no budget to grab professionals.

    There also seems to be a tendency in American parishes to encourage disabled persons to become singers, regardless of how their disabilities affect their vocal performance. These people are rarely assisted to learn to get around their disabilities and learn to sing better. If they have limited vocal ranges or odd vocal qualities, nobody writes them a part that lets them use their strengths instead of displaying their weaknesses.

    A fair number of psalm settings are written in ranges hostile to normal human beings. Music directors usually insist on every cantor attempting to sing the same melody in the same range, even though the settings are usually written for tenors or sopranos. Transposing the range is 'too hard.' (I've even heard some folks claim that transposition violates the composer's copyright, which is of course silly and incorrect.) Naturally, singing outside their own range makes a lot of cantors sound terrible.

    Finally, there's such a fear of public singing among most American parishes that it's like pulling teeth to get any cantors or choir members. So of course there's a great deal of tolerance for the substandard singer who actually shows up.
  • there is also a tendency in American parishes to regard all instruments except guitar as "too hard" for laypeople to learn


    I find that observation interesting. (I'm not in a position to confirm or deny it; I just find it interesting.) Guitar is 'easy' because most casual players learn about 7 chords, and never learn to finger-pick (and such is all that 'guitar masses' require, so far as I've witnessed).
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,419
    "even though the settings are usually written for tenors or sopranos"

    Well, there is that, and the apparent belief among some music directors that baritones and mezzos who constitute the bulk of male/female voices are just lazy tenors and sopranos.
  • baritones and mezzos...are just lazy tenors and sopranos.

    Wait.....they’re not? ;-)
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,419
    Well, there is an issue with choral directors who place inordinate value on the voices than mezzos and baritones that skews how they deal with people. Even with trebles...I am reminded of something a friend of mine told me just 3 months ago when her son, a now-former treble of a boys' choir, was rather curtly told by the director that he (said boy, that is) was free to leave, as it were.
  • KARU27
    Posts: 87
    A fair number of psalm settings are written in ranges hostile to normal human beings. Music directors usually insist on every cantor attempting to sing the same melody in the same range, even though the settings are usually written for tenors or sopranos. Transposing the range is 'too hard.' (I've even heard some folks claim that transposition violates the composer's copyright, which is of course silly and incorrect.) Naturally, singing outside their own range makes a lot of cantors sound terrible.

    Ah. This is what I think about, pretty much every Sunday morning. Whether the range in the Alstott R & A is awkward for most everyone, and makes a mediocre singer sound awful. (Except yesterday. Yesterday I bothered to go to EF Mass, and it was heavenly.)
  • KARU27
    Posts: 87
    As for the original post, I'm imagining what any church music director's life would be like, if everyone felt emboldened to say what he (or she) thought about the local talent, or lack thereof. : )
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • Carol
    Posts: 310
    I sing the Alstott R & A every week. I find the range acceptable for the most part. I often do NOT find the accompaniment acceptable. There are frequently weird minor 6 or 7 chords which don't support the singer as well as more straightforward harmonies would. My husband accompanies me on tastefully finger-picked guitar and we often change the accompaniment so it is less "exotic." The psalm settings are better than the Gospel Acclamations. Sometimes we totally rewrite the melody of the verse since I am the only one who would know.

    The small parish issue is the reason my husband and I are even doing music for the Mass. We have unaccompanied ICEL chants, no propers, and the "4 hymn sandwich." The congregation responds when the celebrant chants. If the Church wants more than it needs to provide the necessary education.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen bhcordova
  • I am a non-lazy baritone verging on bass who fakes being a tenor in choir, as needed. When I cantor, most of what I sing is chant and is written with a blessed moveable do. When I sing something that is in modern notation, I have a blessed organist who can transpose.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,159
    Well, there is that, and the apparent belief among some music directors that baritones and mezzos who constitute the bulk of male/female voices are just lazy tenors and sopranos.

    I adhere to the opinion that it is timbre, not fach or register, that most affects congregations' inclination to enjoin a "cantor's" vocal lead. That, of course, presumes the other factors are solid and used well.
    Regarding Alstott's R&A arrangements- Overall, I don't think they're harmonically realized enough for both keyboard and (particularly) the guitar. I regard many of them akin to jazz lead sheets requiring serious explication.
    Thanked by 2Carol bhcordova
  • teachermom24
    Posts: 294
    Teachermom should not have to drive 25 miles to attend Mass. Prior to Vatican II you could not attend Mass anywhere but your local parish - and there was rarely a reason not to compared to today.


    The nearest Catholic church to us, which is supposedly our proper parish church though it is a mission, is 20 miles away. We went there once but the horribilis "music" ensured we'd never return (it's hard to describe but if you've ever seen the movie Beethoven and recall the woman playing the home organ, that would kind of get close).

    We live in the rural South--not much around these here parts.

    I have come to the conclusion that there are two camps regarding church music: those who believe music at church is about and for us, and those who believe it is about and for God.
  • Cantus67Cantus67
    Posts: 159
    I always submit to people that it CAN get worse. You have the right to avoid any mass where such singing is a distraction especially if you have viable alternatives.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1JRKyZj12E
  • teachermom24
    Posts: 294
    Yes, it can get worse, and today we experienced worse. My college-boy son and I attended 8:00 am Mass at our "regular" parish where my 19-year-old son, Peter, is the organist (plays twice a month at 10:00 am Mass because the parish can't "afford" him to play more)) since I had to get him to meet his ride back to college at 10:00.

    The "music" was computer-generated recordings of music with singers, starting with "Were You There". Sometimes it cause me to weep . . . In an earlier thread, I wrote about the Mass on January 1 where my two organist sons sat in the pews while the recorded music played on. I wrote to our bishop with the hope he would call on our pastor to correct the abuse but instead our pastor just informed us that the parish can't afford to pay an organist.

    Today, after communicating, I asked for guidance to know what to do; how could we help in this situation? The answer came to me to have Peter volunteer to play the organ at all the 8:00 am Masses. He agreed and so has submitted the offer to do so. If accepted, this will also solve the other problem of avoiding our alternate parish with the cantor who can't sing since our family would attend where Peter plays the organ.
  • Carol
    Posts: 310
    This does seem like the best solution. Your parish has a need and your family has the God given talent to fulfill the need. Perhaps the pastor was hesitant to ask someone who obviously deserves to be paid to work "gratis." I pray that this is a fruitful arrangement for all. The parish is treated to appropriate liturgical music, your son has the opportunity to hone his skills as a musician and in working with others in the liturgy, and you get to attend Mass when you're not gritting your teeth. Sounds like a win-win-win!
  • teachermom24
    Posts: 294
    Our pastor said, "no" to the offer. The reason:
    No one in the diocese can volunteer to do anything that they normally get paid to do.


    Peter is now offering to take a 50% pay cut to allow him to play at the other Masses.
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 714
    Wow. So, every parish in the diocese has a fully-paid choir? That must be awesome!
    (I really doubt this to be true.)
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,286
    Teachermom, what does the "masstimes.org" site give you for distances to the nearest parishes? I think trying gimmicks with your current pastor (like the pay-cut offer) is just not likely to succeed. Driving a few miles farther may be worthwhile if it lets you find a Mass that is more within the normal range.
  • Well, that's a shame. Clearly he is going to find a reason to say 'no', then, no matter what the offer. Obviously it isn't about money, or whatever. He just doesn't want it to happen.
    Thanked by 1CCooze
  • teachermom24
    Posts: 294
    It occurred to both Peter and me this morning to drop the "fight". This isn't a battle we need to fight and put our pastor in a corner to try to force his hand. He'll just say no anyway when he's run out of policies to hide behind. He will be gone soon enough (within weeks). We need to focus our attention on praying more fervently for our next priest. A few concerned families will begin meeting weekly to pray a Rosary for this intention.

    We live in the rural South--Catholic parishes are few and widely spread. The nearest to us are 20-25 miles away, and they're pretty much all variations on the same theme. To get to a parish that is significantly better would mean a 2-2.5 hour drive each way.

    It's Lent. More prayer. More sacrifice. More quiet.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • PaxMelodious
    Posts: 244
    Wow. So, every parish in the diocese has a fully-paid choir? That must be awesome!


    That's not what the policy says.

    It says that if someone is paid to sing in one place or time, they cannot volunteer to also sing in a different place/time. This is a sensible policy from a stewardship point of view, because it protects the church from claims about not paying for all services rendered or hours worked. Many organisations that work on a combination of volunteer and paid-staff have similar policies.

    So a singer is either paid, or they're a volunteer. Not a mix of both.

    Same applies to janitors, secretaries, music directors, youth ministers, whatever.

    Thanked by 2Incardination Elmar
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 714
    I understand your rationale, but that's not what her block quote says.
    Either way, my post was obviously a joke.
  • teachermom24
    Posts: 294
    This is a sensible policy from a stewardship point of view, because it protects the church from claims about not paying for all services rendered or hours worked.


    Wouldn't it be nice if parishes could be run less as secular businesses and more on common sense? So many policies are in place that hinder ministry; they work against, not for, the good of the Church. Examples are legion.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Carol
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,565
    it protects the church from claims about not paying for all services
    This is never an issue for churches that aren't allergic to putting contracts in writing.
    Thanked by 1MichaelDickson
  • Yes, it does not seem to me (a non-lawyer to be sure) to be an intrinsic problem, but rather a manufactured one. I teach and get paid for it. I also volunteer my teaching services in various venues (including, at times, in a church), and they seem to have no problem accepting my volunteer service.
  • If the pastor is concerned with policies and finances, say this. I would love to come and give my money to this parish. I also would like to recommend this parish to my friends and family. But the singing of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is so awful that it is a major distraction. I will neither come here nor give my money nor recommend this parish until the singing is significantly improved. State your disapproval of the music selection, if you want. Lastly, tell him you will be going to _________ (the nearest church with good music). If you will be receiving a new pastor, then schedule a meeting with him asap and mention your concerns. I am sure the new pastor knows about that parish. His mission will be either to keep the status quo or turn things around. Pray always.
  • PaxMelodious
    Posts: 244
    Wouldn't it be nice if parishes could be run less as secular businesses and more on common sense?


    Indeed. Let's get business right out of the equation. Having full time people in any role just creates dependency on individuals, rather than strong communities. Let everyone be a volunteer. They can feed their families by working for mammon elsewhere. In church, they work for God and the rewards are infinite, and out of this world.



    Is that really what you'd like???
  • That seems a rather extreme interpretation of what was said.
    Thanked by 1teachermom24
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 631
    Indeed. Let's get business right out of the equation. Having full time people in any role just creates dependency on individuals, rather than strong communities. Let everyone be a volunteer. They can feed their families by working for mammon elsewhere. In church, they work for God and the rewards are infinite, and out of this world.


    Unfortunately, it has been my experience that this is exactly what happens.
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,271
    Ah yes, Lord, she said; the dogs church musicians feed on the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.

    Matthew XV:27, New Revised Choir Director Edition
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,512
    if everyone felt emboldened to say

    Everyone?
    How about One person per Mass after the new pastor arrives?
    Yes it happens.
    In a weekend it nukes a twenty-five-plus-year-culture into the stone ages
    all in the interest of styles.
  • teachermom24
    Posts: 294
    If the policy is in place to protect full-time workers, fine, but that doesn't apply in our situation. The organist position at our church is very part-time, not full-time, normally 6-7 hours per month (two choir rehearsals and two Sunday Masses). It wouldn't hurt anyone for my son to volunteer to play at extra Masses. This is what I mean about bureaucratic policies that don't take into account real situations, just the most extreme.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,286
    I think that sort of policy does have a rational basis. If one organist is willing to work half his hours for no pay, it creates an incentive for the parish to squeeze out the other organist. Working for that parish can become a race to the bottom.

    If the diocese is concerned about having workers paid decently, then such a policy makes sense: that if a function is sometimes assigned to paid workers, it should consistently be treated that way. That doesn't mean all musicians would be paid equally, but if they are really doing the same work at the same skill level, it is rational to pay them equally.
  • janetgorbitzjanetgorbitz
    Posts: 861
    I agree... in fact, we have a situation at my parish where there are four different choirs, each with its own director. Each choir has a rehearsal each week, and plays for Mass 3 out of every four weekends a month (I know, it's complicated). I am the only one who receives a stipend (because I asked for it when I started). It isn't much, but I have a philosophical problem with a parish not being willing to pay musicians (they don't expect the secretary or janitor to work as a volunteer, after all). It is a matter of whether it is valued appropriately, imo.

    So... I have begun taking June and July off each summer (it is a terribly busy time for me and we all appreciate the break). I was discussing it with one of the other (volunteer) choir directors. She was saying that there wasn't any way she could take such a break as there wouldn't be anyone to take care of music for the Masses. I told her that the solution would be to pay all the choir directors and begin working to hire musicians when replacements were needed. As long as she works as a volunteer, she is correct... she will have difficulty finding anyone to fill in when she needs to be gone...

    I am not the director of music (our parish doesn't have one), nor do I do any of the scheduling, so it is up to her (she does those things as a volunteer) to take care of...
    Thanked by 1eft94530
  • Elmar
    Posts: 61
    ... discussing it with one of the other (volunteer) choir directors. She was saying that there wasn't any way she could take such a break as there wouldn't be anyone to take care of music for the Masses

    This should be the easiest part of the problem ... when a volunteer says he/she needs a summer break of, say, six weeks - so be it! There is no contractual obligation to fulfill, after all, so just tell the pastor well in advance ... am I missing something?