Singing at Church
  • Today I went to evening Mass. Some parts were sung.
    The Kyriale used was Missa Simplex. The Priest, as no organ is used at evening Mass on Sundays, started the singing too low for me. I automatically try to sing higher in such situations.
    I am a tenor who dont like singing lower than C3.
    The same thing has been experience before in other situations. This also happens at sing-alongs. People are often not very nice to us who dont sing low. If I as a tenor reach down to A2 it wont sound too good. Even Silent night in Bb (which is the key used in the hymnal we use at church) is too low.
    I see some issues here and I pray you'll give me some wisdom.
    It seems that most men and women dont like singing in the tenor and Soprano range. They sing lower. What are your experience(s)? And what is your lowest note as a tenor? What is your range?
    Most people who lead sing-alongs or a Priest at Mass seem untrained when it comes to leading people into singing. Shouldnt Priests be trained in singing? What does the Church say about this? And shouldnt singing at Church be for all people? I mean, shouldnt a Priest choose a better key so that all can sing? I often get upset about such stuff since understanding other people is hard for my brain (even if I am a musician).




  • Liam
    Posts: 3,686
    At least in the USA, most people are not sopranos or tenors; instead, most people are mezzos and baritones* - and without training for their upper ranges so their ranges are often stunted compared to trained singers of their type (so, for example, we're talking baritones singing G2/A2 at bottom and E4 at top, not A4, unless the line is well prepared and the singers are very warmed up, as it were). Moreover, most likely have little experience outside of church singing much together - singing in family and social situations is much less common than it once was now that music is primarily heard rather than participated in.

    * I've read estimates in the past (not online) that tenors are roughly only about 20% of (male) voices in North America and Western European cultures. Baritones maybe 50-60%, and basses the rest, not counting the truly odd birds like male altos or folks with remarkable ranges (on the female side of things, I think of someone like the fabled Ysaye Maria Barnwell of of the African-American folk group Sweet Honey in the Rock, a bass with reasonable middle range voice). So choosing pitch for a congregation with trained tenors in mind would exclude more men from singing than choosing pitch with untrained baritones in mind.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,089
    Perhaps the priest in question is a bass who doesn't like singing above C4.

    Maybe you might try parallel organum at a perfect fourth or fifth above?

    I'm not sure whether these comments shouldn't be in purple.
    Thanked by 1Don9of11
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,296
    The simple Praetorius/Berthier round Jubilate Deo (in C) neatly covers my (untrained) range, but I notice the youtube videos that Google throws up first all move that low G an octave up.
    640 x 1005 - 124K
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,089
    @henrik.hank - What is your range? C3 — ??
  • There was a time when the hymnals had four parts to each hymn and the congregation sang in their respective range...but that was back when singing was taught in school.

    I’m a woman who comfortably sings tenor and have no problem singing down to A2. I suspect I have a stunted upper range.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Liam
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,089
    @SponsaChristi ... I've known several women who are tenors or even baritones in range, several of them professional musicians.
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  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,675
    Well, some of the famous old hymnals (e.g., the St. Gregory) were published in melody-only editions for the congregation, so a lot of parishes left part-singing up to their choirs.
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  • Liam
    Posts: 3,686
    Well, SATB pew hymnals for Catholics have not been common in the USA....They are common for Protestant denominations.

    Famously, shape-note singing does not classify voices by sex, just range. When you go to a shape-note sing-in, the square of voices will often show women and men in both middle parts, and maybe a female bass or two - not sure how many men would ever show up in the soprano section.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW Carol
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,885
    Looking at older hymnals, one quickly discovers that key signatures in modern hymnals have been lowered. Congregations can't reach the notes that they reached with ease in earlier times.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,089
    When I studied conducting with Margaret Hillis in the late 70s, I recall the first time we talked and being amazed at how low her voice was. She was an amazing musician, deeply adept in every sort of music from instrumental to choral, and her attention to score reading (and marking) was phenomenal.

    One of the music directors of the oratorio society that I sang with in Virginia was also a lady with a very deep voice.

    On the opposite send of the spectrum ... or side of the coin? ... in earlier years I would often sing soprano, usually on descants to hymns. And to this day, during chorus warmup, I'll frequently sing up an octave, with the sopranos & altos. But my days as a countertenor (usually mezzo or alto range now) are waning. So I sing mostly bass.
  • So I sing mostly bass.
    Ahh - what fond memories are those of the days when I could sing bass, countertenor, and treble! I have tapes of me singing treble on Tallis motets and such. My range now is little more than an eleventh... with the eleventh being more or less flat.

    I have known lady tenors. While their voices are in the tenor register their timbre is not at all that of a true male tenor. It's more or less like the female soprano, whose vocal timbre is very distinct from that of a boy treble. Plus, they just can't seem to resist spoiling things with even a smidgen of vibrato.
  • I just jump up an octave whenever necessary (quite frequently here in Canada with how disgustingly low some hymns are in our hymnals). You'll be covered by the women anyways.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • There is a bit difference between singing in the 11 am Mass and the evening Mass. At the high mass the music is more prepared. It seems that those who lead the singing at a high mass takes it more serious than a Priest at an evening Mass.
    It is like people just dont really care about it.
    How should a Priest at evening Mass deal with singing? I always take singing at Mass extremely serious. It is obvious that some Priest dont care about the C-C rule found in the hymnal. This range is the basis of the melodies in our hymnal.
    Bb2-Eb4 is the range I have to sing at church.
  • SATB pew hymnals for Catholics have not been common in the USA.

    (rant deleted)
    How many people here have been part of the solution to that problem? As Chonak said, it's an old tradition. One of the few things that the Traditional Roman Hymnal (1st ed) did well was having parts in the book. So of course that disappeared in the 2nd (though the new choral ed., which my wife gave me for xmas, is not so much more money than the pew ed that it couldn't serve as a pew ed.)
  • ViolaViola
    Posts: 302
    Happy New Year everyone!
    Someone mentioned singing no longer being taught in schools. I think that has had an effect.
    From time to time I work as an official accompanist at music festivals, and I have noticed that a lot of music now sung by such school choirs as still exist is pitched low. Much of it is pop music based and led by teachers who don't have musical training.
    We are in the process of forming a children's choir for the church, led by a musician experienced in working with young voices. He begins rehearsals with vocal exercises to get the children singing higher notes with confidence. I think this is a way forward.
    Thanked by 3Carol CharlesW CHGiffen
  • Ken of Sarum
    Posts: 331
    Viola - teaching kids to sing is so easy if you use simple logic, common sense and old fashion nursery and folk songs first, to make it fun for them (pre-K to 2nd grade), and then start introducing solfege and plainsong chant. And most important is teaching kids to make a singing downward AH while yawning. Don't focus on words at first.

    Start on c above middle c and go down to f above middle c. All nursery / folks songs, for now, should be pitched in the range of F, G, and A to start.
    Thanked by 1Viola
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,307
    Someone mentioned singing no longer being taught in schools.

    From what I heard at Christmas, singing is no longer taught in some (many?) choirs either.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,370
    What's amazing is to look through old Hymnals and see the pitch migration southward: Some are less drastic like WINCHESTER OLD moving from G to F, or EASTER HYMN going from D to C, but when was the last time you saw WINCHESTER NEW in D Major?!

    My comfortable range as a tenor is D3 to G4: I don't sing as much as I used to outside of the church-choir realm (mainly chant), so my upper register isn't used very much, and is a bit rusty. Anything below D3 is best left unheard.