Organists vs. Singers?
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,177
    I think the concept of "liturgical" versus actual East was not so much brought about by scholars but by architects: A side altar might not face East, and if the property did not permit a building to be built with the altar along the East-West axis, that created a problem and the main altar would not face East (either versus apsidem or versus populum). I don't think that "Liturgical East" really came into its own until around the 16th century, when new parish churches were being built in already heavily-populated towns and cities: I don't know of any Mediaeval churches that are not built on an East-West axis with the main altar facing East (real Mediaeval churches not neo-Gothic churches from the 19th century). Of course, I wouldn't blame Trent for that: I would, though, blame the Renaissance equivalent of the city planner and building inspector.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,943
    Could be. I think, though, that when you don't make an attempt to preserve tradition, it fades away.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,177
    It's not so much a question of preserving a tradition insofar as Ad Orientem is concerned after Vatican II---its a question of iconoclasm in the name of progress by a small elite. I have seen no record of the average parishioner or average priest or even bishop clamoring for Versus Populum celebration on the eve of the council: it came afterward, in a wave of clericalism from an elite group of modernist liturgists, who were able to convince a bunch of gullible bishops and priests that this was "what the Pope wanted", and in their ultramontanist hyperpapalist jesuitical obedience to the person of the Pope did it, and for those who resisted, their communist curates did it for them by vandalism in the middle of the night. (I have heard many horror stories of curates who smashed high altars and sawed down baldachinos in the middle of the night to force an elderly pastor's hand to "get with the times".) Not to mention that the defunct ICEL translations of the GIRM didn't help matters.

    Unfortunately, in the West, unlike the East, a cult surrounds the person of the Pope so much that he is oft seemed to be as the Oracle of Delphi : for many priests and bishops trained in the "Old Church", obedience was taught in such a way that all that was needed was the words "the Pope wishes it" to be uttered and it was done without a second thought lest those who 'disobey' cut them selves off from the Unity of Faith.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,771
    I had assumed liturgical East was a sort of European quibla towards Jerusalem, but here's some of what The Catholic Encyclopedia says:
    The practice of praying while turned towards the rising sun is older than Christianity, but the Christians in adopting it were influenced by reasons peculiar to themselves. The principal of these reasons, according to St. Gregory of Nyssa, was that the Orient contained man's original home, the earthly paradise. St. Thomas Aquinas, speaking for the Middle Ages, adds to this reason several others, as for example, that Our Lord lived His earthly life in the East, and that from the East He shall come to judge mankind (II-II, Q. lxxxiv, a. 3). Thus from the earliest period the custom of locating the apse and altar in the eastern extremity of the church was the rule. Yet the great Roman Basilicas of the Lateran, St. Peter's, St. Paul's (originally), St. Lorenzo's, as well as the Basilica of the Resurrection in Jerusalem and the basilicas of Tyre and Antioch, reversed this rule by placing the apse in the western extremity.
    Some writers explain it by the fact that in the fourth century the celebrant at Mass faced the people
  • JesJes
    Posts: 576
    @heartfeltsong I've had little time to examine further comments apart from your first opening thread worthy comment so I am responding to that directly.

    I am an organist. (Not really.)
    I am first and foremost a bassoonist by undergraduate degree; my post-graduate degree enabled me to wear the hat of choral conductor with a degree, and my other post-graduate degree enables me to wear the hat of "teacher."
    Can I play the organ for the liturgy at the standard of musicianship of a grand concert organist? No.
    Can I play the organ for the liturgy at the standard of musicianship it takes to understand the purpose and style required? Yes.
    Would my standard of musicianship compare to that of a grand concert organist? On occasion yes.
    Now, I don't have the same technical ability as those fancy organists do but what I do have is a solid grasp of the purpose of liturgical organ music and sometimes I execute this knowledge better than (some of) the grand concert "pomp and pride" organists.

    Would playing the organ qualify me to take a choir... probably not. Does taking the choir to qualify me to play the organ. Absolutely not. These are separate skills I have to master and I must admit I've preferred taking on roles which involve co-operation with conductors and organists both more qualified and completely unqualified to do these roles. I just love the learning that takes place.

    If by solo singing you are referring to cantors or a motet I can't see any issue. That being said, if there is the opportunity to do a choral motet with polyphony I'd rather do that than have a dramatic opera singer taking "the stage" to sing like an olympian.

    Tasteful, liturgical, solo singing - got no problem with it. Accompany it all the time. (and am apparently the first accompanist being asked to play louder because the singer - despite her qualification - unfortunately sounds like a prima donna and changes the words to suit her buddhist belief.) I would enjoy accompanying the appropriate singer with the appropriate liturgical solo, can't see the harm - but I rehearse a community choir for a reason - to let them sing beautifully and learn how to read music and soar in communion.

    But hey, I'm a nerd. I do all this and hope NOBODY APPLAUDS IN CHURCH!

    WELCOME friend! We always need more trained vocalists.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,943
    Richard Mix, Gamber indicated in his book that the priest and people faced east in the original St. Peter's. The doors facing east were flung open and priest and people faced the rising sun. This was a common practice in churches built by Constantine and his mother. When the new church was built, preserving the altar over the tomb was critical thus causing the altar placement and orientation to seem off in the current building.
    Thanked by 2Salieri Richard Mix
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,943
    Jes, I think you are correct that we could use more trained vocalists. Unfortunately, vocalist training as it exists in our universities and colleges is singing for the stage or the opera. Not much emphasis at all on church singing.
    Thanked by 1BruceL
  • mmeladirectress
    Posts: 1,076
    Jes -
    you wrote >> (and am apparently the first accompanist being asked to play louder because the singer - despite her qualification - unfortunately sounds like a prima donna and changes the words to suit her buddhist belief.)

    you're not using past tense here; the priest is OK with this?!
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,072
    I enter with trepidation, especially as this discussion seems to struggle to stay on topic...

    I'm an organist with a BMus (organ perf. & mus. ed.) and MMus (organ/sacred music), who has sung in choirs of varying quality since I was a kindergartner (so, 30ish years). This includes a current stint singing with an excellent early music choir here in Birmingham directed by another organist-singer who has similar training to me, but a Yale DMA and was associate director of music at a residential choir school. I also was a member of the top choral ensemble (section leader in one) at the two major universities I attended. Some observations (replete with some generalizations, hopefully not as many as the OP, but hey, this is anecdotal, so here goes):

    1) Obviously, an organ degree does not make you a good singer or choral director;
    2) Generally, playing the organ is going to put you in contact with a lot of choral music. If you are smart, you pay attention and learn, and even go study on your own with someone you see that seems to have it together.
    3) It's difficult to be any good at all with the organ without a solid music theory background, which is also an essential skill for a choral trainer.
    4) Most organists do NOT have voice lab as students, which I think should be a part of programs. I missed having this. On the other hand, now we have...the interwebz.
    5) Not very many people take up the organ, since it is (I think without exception) the most challenging instrument to play. So, it takes lots of time to prepare for your degree...I think schools are wary of loading people up too much (with things like vocal ped, which is, admittedly, another instrument).
    6) Most organists DO have to take practicums in leading church music programs, and these are often very thorough and leave you prepared to lead in most Protestant denominations. Some also include a Catholic component. Almost all include some sort of reading of chant, even if it's not super in-depth. You are at least aware!
    7) Most organists do have accompanimental duties in university if they are on scholarship, with instrumentalists and/or singers. I wish I had had singers instead of saxophone and trombone...that rep is...not fun.
    8) It is difficult to get a degree without satisfying all of the above. On the other hand,...
    9) It is very possible to get a degree in voice (or even a terminal degree in voice) without doing ANY of the above (excepting #4). How do I know this? My wife has a BMus and MMus in voice, and while a fantastic singer and good musician, had to do a lot of this on her own. I have many friends who have likewise suffered from this. It is also big business to get people to pay their own way in vocal programs, something very uncommon for an organist.
    9a) I live in a major metropolitan area and direct (I like to think) a reasonably good semi-pro Cathedral choir. I have a TERRIBLE TIME finding pro singers who have solid fundamentals as musicians, even after they have a degree and/or years of experience. Even those that do sometimes have substantial pedagogical issues that I have to help correct (vowel inconsistencies, poor production, unhealthy vocal habits, bad placement, the whole nine yards). We only have a few in our group, so they have to be really good and they have to work very hard. In exchange, I can make things reasonably lucrative for them, and try to be sure they know they are more than just a monthly expense to me.
    10) Vocalists often seem to struggle to understand that being in a choir should indicate that they intend to submit their vocal gifts to the larger whole. This seems a very basic idea for any ensemble. If they can understand this, do it well, and still work on the solo singing, they will have a decent job. The ones I have like this probably can make quite a bit every year just from weddings, for example. At the same time, those that cannot adjust seem relegated to a life of singing for whatever parish will take them. I think of one person in particular here in town who really fits this description. There always seems to be an issue wherever this person goes...but there is but one common thread...

    Anyhow, this is a big time TL;DR, I know. Compounding all these issues is the fact that salaries have remained stagnant in our field for over a decade, we are constantly being asked to do more with less, and yet lip service is paid to "high standards" by clergy and professional organizations alike. I have a couple excellent private organ students, including one who is an amazing keyboard talent. Do I want to recommend this career to him? Not sure. So, who knows? Maybe there will be lots more openings soon. I pray we have the people (organists or vocalists...doesn't matter to me!), but I'm not optimistic.
  • East is relative to where you are. If your church is in India an east facing church won't be facing Jerusalem.
  • JesJes
    Posts: 576
    @mmeladirectress present tense... priest not okay... but can't do anything til the bishop bothers to put him in charge of the parish.

    @CharlesW agreed. Where have the sacred music courses gone? I was going to study one in melbourne straight out of school but it shut the year I applied. 30 people applied and it shut down because that was not enough to run the course. So sad.

  • This comment sums it all up, I think:

    Why can't people just be servants of the liturgy, and shut up and say/sing what the books tell them to?

    It's never about the singer, the organist, the choir, etc.. As soon as "what I deserve", "what I am owed", "what rights I have", "what position I hold", enters the picture, worship suffers.

    None of us is perfect -- it is easy for ego to cast a shadow over what is important. Every time I have to sing a solo (propers included) I try to remember that fact about (my) human nature. Sometimes God helps me out by allowing me to screw up.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,167
    Heartfelt, wherever you are, the sun still rises in the east. Muslims change their direction of prayer according to their location, but we generally don't.
  • Still, Heartfelt's point is valid. The sun may always rise in the east, but Jerusalem is not always to the east. At least not to those who are east of it. So, do churches east of Jerusalem face east, or west where Jerusalem is?
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,167
    The churches of the Near East also face east: the gesture seems to predate Christianity, but has gained an eschatological meaning, focused on the New Jerusalem symbolized by the rising sun.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,384
    Wikipedia says: The earliest Christian churches in Rome were all built with the entrance to the east, like the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. [ref]. The old Roman custom of having the altar at the west end and the entrance at the east was sometimes followed as late as the 11th century even in areas under Frankish rule, as seen in Petershausen (Constance), Bamberg Cathedral, Augsburg Cathedral, Regensburg Cathedral, and Hildesheim Cathedral (all in present-day Germany).
    And This article can be found as Part II, Chapter 2 of Pope Benedict XVI’s book The Spirit of the Liturgy, available from Ignatius Press.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,771
    Jerusalem is East from Jericho, if you're willing to go the long way.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,943
    I don't know that we easterners are facing Jerusalem, just the east where the sun rises, as Chonak notes. That is the direction from which ancient tradition says Christ will return.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,943
    Jes, I studied music in a Baptist university. The praise & worship people were around, but some of the faculty were old school and wanted to promote good church music. It wasn't Gregorian chant, although we did touch on it, but stressed well-written and reverent music for use in worship.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • m_r_taylor
    Posts: 320
    This thread is going everywhere - it’s circumnavigated the globe heading due east once already. Keep it up!
    Thanked by 1BruceL
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,384
    OK - "The sun may always rise in the east" - but in Finland, where it will rise at some times in the NNE and sometimes SSE, the language has separate words for six compass points, not four.
  • I am quite partial to the choirmaster and organist paradigm. I've known too many who, though educated in organ performance and sacred choral music, were quite gifted as vocal coaches and choral directors, to be swayed by those who lament the predominance of organist-choirmasters. I have, on the other hand, known some primary vocalists who were mediocre choirmasters who knew and cared very little if anything at all about Vatican II's chosen or preferred instrument and our historic patrimony of choral music.

    Over and against the mere vocalist, however, is the trained choral director and voice specialist. One of the finest church choirnasters I have ever known is the choirmaster at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church, across the street from Rice University, where he earned his doctorate in voice paedagogy. I have heard precious few choirs in my entire life who were as astonishingly good as his choir. (His organist at Palmer is Ken Cowan, professor of organ at Rice.) He also loves the organ and is a good amateur organist, and is chair of the music department at the University of St Thomas, where his student choir, the University Singers, are amazing to hear.

    It would be difficult to choose whether he or the choirmaster-organist of Christ Church Cathedral, whose cathedral choir and whose secular Houston Chamber Choir are almost totally cerebral in delivery, was the better choral person.

    There is no objective reason that a choirmaster must be an organist also. But the two talents in one person really is ideal. One gets the impression (reading between the lines) that those who lament the predominance of the organist-choirmaster paradigm really don't like the organ very much, if at all (and may think that being a vocalist automatically makes them choral directing material). This is sad and reprehensible because the organ is the one instrument which has an historical and existential relationship with Jesus and his Church. The 'king of instruments' is the instrument of the King of kings. It is the sole instrument chosen by the IInd Vatican Council and appearing in its documents as uniquely appropriate for Christian worship and has graced the worship of God at least since it was introduced into Roman liturgy by the seventh century pope Vitalian (and there is literary evidence of its use outside of Rome as early as the fifth century). Railing against the organ is iconoclastic - and mean.

    The single 'instrument' that is superior to the organ is the human voice, which is so sacred that I have trouble thinking of it as a mere 'instrument' - it issues from the life of a living person as no other medium can - it is the living voice of a living person, not an 'instrument'.

    (And! The ubiquity of organ simulacra and synthesiser 'keyboards' does not do much to endear the organ cause.)
  • @heartfeltsong An idea maybe?
    7 years ago, I simultaneously experienced some of the same frustrations you describe, and “discovered” the Proper of the mass and the Roman Gradual.
    I started singing the Proper of the Mass, sometimes in English (Adam Bartlett’s or Father Weber’s), often a-cappella, wherever a pastor and/or MD would let me. Seven years later, singing every week from the Roman Gradual, mostly a-cappella, has yielded the following benefits, mostly unexpected:
    - better understanding of the liturgy and of the important place in it of the Roman Gradual,
    - vocal and musical benefits: fluent sightsinging, no more need for voice lessons or coaching with piano. Chant is like honey for the voice.
    - ability to help other singers constitute scholas
    - appreciation from priests who can now decide to sing the mass, whatever their level of practice of doing so , and have a trained cantor to “answer them”, Tridentine or Novus Ordo (volunteer: no budget needed, especially for these expensive organists). We prayed a full Tridentine Triduum this year which was a very real and heartfelt sacramental experience to me.
    - appreciation from organists who can complement the singing in liturgy, not support it or play “accompaniment”.
    - much less time spent in rehearsal (better ratio mass/rehearsal with chant than with any other type of church music I ever sang)

    If this intrigues you, please visit where I support my various chant projects.
    I hopes this helps,
  • Hi LongBeachChant:
    In our Diocese it seems either the organist and/or liturgy committee pick the music. I have tried in several cases to find a place currently that gives the vocalist a voice without success.
    I sang for free for ten years at three different churches and picked the music only at two where I was their whole, free, music department (and when the organist where I was a paid vocalist for 19 years needed me to do it as his other job had him working overtime), but that was many years ago when VII had caused a desolidification of liturgical rubrics.
    HOWEVER, now, it appears the new bishop has backed off encouraging parishes to have paid vocalists and only supports organists as the paid part of the music department. (I make this assessment based on the lack of help wanteds for cantors. Only organist jobs are advertised.
    We have a number of priests with naturally gorgeous voices who sing when it strikes them to "by the seat of their pants" and therefore believe this God-given gift is something all should make available without charge. (Again an assumption on my part based on having a position dissolved by one who no longer wanted me spelling the organist on Saturdays with guitar and voice. The organist didn't want to be spelled and they put him playing Saturdays as well. As the priest put it when he let me go, "We don't pay for people to just sing." That's verbatim.)
    (If I stopped practicing and just sang without practice no one would be happy including me! And while the priest can make all sorts of errors it would scarcely go without complaint if I did the same. I can sympathize with the organist negotiating that scenario.) Also those without and without that charism who are oblivious to drowning out the cantor when they do because they have a throat mic.
    I come in to church early on Saturday afternoon and see the cantor struggling to memorize the psalm response which apparently he/she is only now receiving through the MD pounding it out repeatedly on keyboard so no one in the parish can pray. Why is it so hard to give an adequate amount of time to the vocalist to learn what is coming up the following week? The director knows what the psalm will be--it should have been rehearsed with the upcoming cantor a week ahead and the music given to him/her to practice. Then, perhaps they would be able to concentrate on the words so they could be understood instead of worrying about the melody.
    I was asked to be a cantor and teach the kids how to sing (whatever that means in view of the fact the church is connected to a grammar school) by the head of the liturgy committee. I no longer want something like that and especially not as unpaid worker. It just isn't a fair request. Teaching especially requires lots of prep. I basically lead from the pew which I was afraid might upset the other cantors but I have been told they are so glad I'm there for them to lean on. For a few years with two other MD's I did an occassional solo and that was well appreciated by all as well as myself for being given the opportunity. Now I am told by the new 21 year old MD that solos are out and inappropriate and I have to be a choir member so she can decide where to put me. I don't do well with officiousness.
    So that's just a part of the story. There are lots of things paid and unpaid vocalists are hit with so don't think the MD is the only one with difficulties. In one place I would have to catch a woman who was in choir and had epilepsy fits while singing. The choir stood on the altar above three steps and once the woman had a fit and the woman on the other side didn't catch her other arm in time and she pulled me down the steps with her, just missing crashing into the organ (which she had donated to the parish.) Those of you who are MD's in cathedrals with a decent budget are in a different ball game I'd venture to say.
    Anyway I hope that last gives a smile. It is the truth.
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,696
    The Cathedral in Phoenix (originally a parish of Tucson), despite being built in a time of some interesting choices, does face east.
    Thanked by 1BruceL
  • rich_enough
    Posts: 1,033
    LongBeach Chant -

    Great to hear of your efforts. There's a reason the Church teaches that Chant is to have the first place in the liturgy - and it's not just a matter of custom or aesthetics, as many people think. As you point out, it's eminently practical - it works in all situations, fits the voice, etc.

    But the most important reason is the very first thing you say - a "better understanding of the liturgy." Hymns and solos, since they're not part of the liturgy as chant is, can actually draw people away from what is going on and our proper response to it. Chant draws us in.
  • madorganist
    Posts: 906
    As a church music director, apart from choir members not showing up, there is nothing more frustrating than cantors who are unable to sing a responsorial psalm or similar music well after one or two read-throughs. This is especially true with paid cantors, but no less true with volunteers. The situation you describe with a cantor reading so poorly that he or she has to memorize the response in order to sing it decently, and the organist pounding out notes in the church shortly before Mass, is intolerable. Music directors hire cantors to make our work easier, not to create more work for ourselves. If there are lower expectations from volunteers and they are unwilling to learn the music on their own or meet with the organist during the week, they should find another way to serve the needs of the parish. Finally I remind you that Vatican II said that choirs including women are not to be placed in the sanctuary (Musicam Sacram 23), and GIRM 312 says that the schola cantorum is to be positioned so that its nature as part of the assembled community is clearly evident. Placing a mixed choir a few steps from the altar does not fulfill these requirements and contributed toward the liturgical distraction you mention.
    Thanked by 1mmeladirectress
  • madorganist (I suspect that equates with zany and not angry?)
    Placement of the choir or anything else was already set up before I got there. The organ was up front so the organist could scarcely run the choir if they were in the loft. I don't know why they set it up that way. I don't see how the choir in a loft two stories up and behind the assembly is any more part of the assembly anyway. In our cathedral (I never worked there but sang once with them) they are up front behind the altar. The expense of setting up a liturgical situation that conforms to all the rules is usually beyond the budget of most of the parishes I've attended anyway.
    Having the psalmist come downstairs and process to the ambo from the organ loft for the psalm is also kind of silly and distracting no matter how quiet and unobtrusive one is. I'm not sure what the best place for the choir would be but neither of those two choices
    (behind the altar or in the loft) seems to fit the bill in my opinion. Acoustically having them imbedded in the pews where the parish sits would be suicidal. Most choirs are not adequately miced (miked?) either. The organ shakes the rafters while the vocals are totally overshadowed.
    The persons who came up with that guideline may have been right on in terms of religious symbolism but the practical problems of carrying it out...
    The freebie cantors may not read at all. Regardless of the organist's need for making things easier, not harder, (and I certainly can appreciate that especially at my age) you can't always get what you want and which is worse going over music enough in advance to let the cantor go home and practice or trying to drum it into him/her right before Mass? One problem is that they dropped Respond and Acclaim which everyone could manage even at the last minute for some other source which has complicated melodic lines in the verses--nothing ends where you think it will.
    ( I am not the best sight reader in the world but if you tell me what music to look up ahead of time you don't have to go through it with me at all. I suspect I'm not alone there.) It may take less time out of your schedule in the long run to do it in advance. Do you have to sight read all your music and get it 20 minutes ahead of the service? Although you probably could manage it you'd never be giving your best.
    I thought the cantor was there because he/she had a special gift for presenting the psalms/hymns and was an enriching element. I never thought it was purely for the convenience of the MD. No wonder I'm confused over my role. Kind of makes me feel like the upstairs maid.
    Thanked by 2madorganist CHGiffen
  • MJOsborn:
    Thank you for setting out the many considerations encountered in deciding who should do what. We had a talented keyboard player as MD (he just left) but he had no musicality. He played everything as fast as he could. I knew singing with him he wouldn't miss any notes but trying to shape things tempo-wise was another story. The new girl has a great deal of musicality but apparently could use some people skills. The prior fellow was a really nice guy.
    I don't think we have addressed this issue--people skills and does "too much" musical learning and ability so isolate you from the people who'll be working with you to make it hard to empathise and thus communicate. I guess being an organist or a vocalist has little to do with it but I would think one who sings can better appreciate other singers' needs.
    Then too, is the MD's job to be inclusive or exclusive? Does your parish want someone who facilitates musical expression in those wishing to participate or want the MD to be the bad guy telling less than sterling talents to get lost?
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,384
    madorganist - Musicam Sacram was produced by the Consilium (Bugnini et al) not by the Council Fathers, choir placement does not seem to have been mentioned by VII. The rule is just a repeat of the (then) existing legislation, however I know of no subsequent change.
    In view of subsequent practice in regard to readers, psalmists and Eucharistic Ministers, I think that a review would be heplful. Westminster Cathedral seems to be content to have a cantor sitting vested in the (liturgical) choir stalls, whether man or woman.
    Thanked by 2madorganist CHGiffen
  • madorganist
    Posts: 906
    Thanks for this information, @a_f_hawkins. The document bears the heading
    5 March, 1967
    which is what I was going on, but you're absolutely right. The Council closed December 8, 1965, so anything after that obviously wasn't voted on by the Council Fathers, but it is nonetheless classified as a document of Vatican II.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,771
    The organist didn't want to be spelled
    You do realize most organists are paid per service, don't you? Rather than "versus", a 2-way empathy is called for.
    Thanked by 1madorganist
  • SponsaChristi
    Posts: 392
    If you want an instrument closer to voice I found the trumpet to be close

    Actually, the oboe is the closest to the human voice. Some include the violin and cello, but the double reed of an oboe mimics vocal chords, and its diversity in expressiveness when played well is greater than all of the other musical instruments out there.
  • Carol
    Posts: 852
    I don't think I would want to sing like an oboe. I have sounded like one with a cold, though. LOL
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • madorganist
    Posts: 906
    I thought the cantor was there because he/she had a special gift for presenting the psalms/hymns and was an enriching element. I never thought it was purely for the convenience of the MD. No wonder I'm confused over my role. Kind of makes me feel like the upstairs maid.
    You're right. I'm sorry if I was a little harsh in how I phrased what I wrote. If you're trying to understand the organist's side, that's how a lot of us think.

    I spent a number of years at an organist position where I was expected to show up for choir rehearsal and play whatever the choir director set out for me without any prior practice, which normally shouldn't be a problem for a professional musician. My successor had (and caused!) all kinds of problems there because he was unable to sight-read well. Apparently, he wasn't skilled at quick study either, as the choir director started giving him the music several days in advance and there were still wrong notes at rehearsal. I've experience similar problems with paid singers. Some sing wrong notes when they've had the music a week in advance and recordings at their disposal. BruceL's comments are right on target.
  • SponsaChristi
    Posts: 392
    I don't think I would want to sing like an oboe. I have sounded like one with a cold, though. LOL

    Clearly you’ve never heard one played well. My condolences.
    If this doesn’t bring you to tears, clearly you have no soul.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,298
    Wow, we're Rick Rolling people about oboes now?! LOL
    250 x 214 - 82K
  • Schönbergian
    Posts: 1,063
    In a perfect world, there would be no need for a cantor for anything except the Responsorial Psalm.

    That being said, as a paid singer I can absolutely sight-read hymns and Responsorial Psalms without needing plenty of run-through or even the music given to me days before. I usually mentally walk myself through the verses and that's it - and that's what I'm paid to do. I don't think that's particularly exceptional for a professional (in the literal sense) church singer, and I've seen reasonably adept volunteer choir members easily learn an RP on the Sunday of.

    If we're talking complex polyphony, that's a different story (although much of that receives little rehearsal in my pay grade) but I see no reason that any paid singer worth his or her salt should expect something as basic as an RP a week in advance or be unable to work properly. That's what you're paid to be able to do.
  • ...absolutely sight read...
    Though I'm sure that Schonbergian is remarkable, the abilities he enumerates should not be at all remarkable. They should be taken for granted in anyone who thinks that he or she is a cantor. Why does someone who can't perform something as basic as a psalm and its responsory in three minutes (let alone a week!) even think of being a 'cantor'. And, why is he or she even put in that position? Such persons are not cantors - they are not what a cantor is.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 5,159
    I was also going to mention the oboe is much more akin to the human voice than the trumpet, but alas my internet was down until just now. One advantage that wind instruments have for accompanying voices, especially the oboe & English horn (but this is general statement), over the organ is more than the ability to sustain the "wind" (sound, which obviously an organ can do), but also the ability to inflect (I didn't say inflict) subtle changes in volume/intensity of sound (in each part being played) that an organ simply cannot achieve; moreover, in an appropriate genre, such instruments as an oboe or English horn can gradually impart a subtle vibrato on longer sustained notes. much as the human voice often does. The point I'm making is this: an oboe or English horn can sing very much like a human does, albeit wordlessly.

    Never believe the saying that "the oboe is an ill wind that nobody blows well." Some people blow it very well indeed.

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    Better still (although evidently longer) is the entire BWV21 cantata, with the oboe appearing often in the texture:

    width="640" height="360">

    And finally, here is a piece of mine "Descent of the Dove" for English horn & harp ... enjoy!!
  • Scintillating, Chuck -
    And then there is what Mozart does with an oboe in slow movements.
    I agree that the oboe is most like the human voice.
    But it's a tie betwixt oboe and 'cello as to which is the most poetic.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,695
    bwv21... is there anything that even approaches it? Yes... if I had been able to be born one more time, I would immediately take up the cello as soon as I could hold it, and I would play until my last breath. If hands could sing, it is through the cello.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,177
    Of course the Serpent also has a very vocal quality. Here's some Palestrina with lots of diminutions:
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,966
    In the non-percussion instrument families, to my taste (YMMV) it's often the alto-equivalent instrument that seems most companionate with the human voice. Woodwinds: oboe/English horn; Brass: horn; Strings: viola.
  • I did not have the pleasure of trying to play an oboe but have always loved the sound. I have no idea what sort of technique for producing the correct pitch is involved. I wasn't so much talking about how the instruments sound as how the sound is produced since that seemed to be the whole point in approving of the pipe organ. With the trumpet, not only is there a breath component but the physical manipulation of the lips to get the pitch which I felt made the instrument more voice-like not in sound but in production.
    At least, as a vocalist I felt a definite connection. You sort of have to think like a singer to get it to work. (Please lets not quibble over vocabulary, okay? I know "work" isn't the best choice of words.)
    I was and still am an excellent cantor. I do not accept your rejection of anyone who doesn't have all of the many qualifications you seem to think you deserve to have before allowing a person to participate in your music ministry. Most of them aren't necessary at all. One would hope having given cantors the music beforehand and gone over it that they would have enough pride to be sure to get it right. It's a sad state of affairs that doesn't happen for you. Sorry to hear it and I sympathize as it reflects on you. I always made sure I did whatever was necessary to be accurate.
    For those who don't, is the solution to stop trying on your end to make it a possibility for them? Maybe you should ask them to record your rehearsal with them on their cell. When I was a sort of co-director for our choir I made up practice tapes for the choir to use to practice. I did the same when I prepared the kids at the Catholic school where I taught music twice weekly for the hymns at monthly kid Masses. I asked the teachers to have them sing with it once a day. People who have a whole week to forget what to do usually do forget. Many can't read or don't read accurately. They need to hear it.

    Richard Mix
    The organist I referred to already was paid a salaried position as music director. His overly loud playing was so over the top the pastor had techs come in to limit how loud the new organ would play so he wouldn't blow out the system. (That was one of the reasons the church needed a new one.) The price was so high (although the organist was able to cut it significantly by supplying the pipes from another organ he was able to access) that the whole focus of the church became to raise enough money to pay it off. The people who were at my Saturday Mass didn't want the purchase and unfortunately someone quipped to the priest that Saturdays were not days with the organ. That eventually spelled the end of my job as the organist started playing every other week
    on Saturdays and told me the pastor was giving him extra pay to do it. (The organist requested it and got it.) Eventually I was cut out totally. I certainly can't feel there is any symbiosis between voice and organ at church although that, to me, would be the ideal.
  • Schönbergian
    Posts: 1,063
    "Many qualifications"? If you can't read a melody meant for the non-musical PiP and an even simpler psalm tone without needing arduous levels of preparation, then what are you getting paid for? What was all of your vocal preparation and education meant to do? Heaven forbid that something more intricate were scheduled for the day!

    I don't consider my working conditions a sad state of affairs; I know my psalmody and I give a convincing reading of whatever Psalm I am given without the weeks of preparation that seems to be expected of many non-liturgical singers. It is a Scriptural reading like any other at Mass, and one should expect musicians to read straightforward music as fluently as language.

    I apologize if I come across as dismissive; but I hardly live in a city where sacred music is prized, and yet I still know volunteer cantors that receive their material the day of and perform admirably. I am simply perplexed that there are so few expectations for a paid singing position where you live. It is akin to an organist demanding only one accompanied hymn be played so that he or she can memorize the harmonization and ensure that every detail is worked out ahead of time when spontaneity should be the lay of the land.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,771
    The organist I referred to already was paid a salaried position as music director and … the pastor was giving him extra pay to do it. (The organist requested it and got it.) Eventually I was cut out totally. I certainly can't feel there is any symbiosis between voice and organ at church although that, to me, would be the ideal.
    I have to agree it doesn't sound like a collegial relationship.
  • Amen to Schonbergian's comments just above here.

    There are, without doubt, many notable exceptions, and I have been privileged to know and work with some of them. The majority, though, of singers (even degreed singers) are the worst readers of any. They cannot pick up a piece of music and read it at sight or mentally hear it without having someone play it on the piano for them, and then it takes them quite some time just to get the notes, much less make music of those notes. I am not alone in this experience. Singers are the worst musicians, are the worst interpreters, and always need coaching. Precious few of them should be directing choirs, particularly when, to boot, they don't know or seem to care much about our patrimony of choral music. They tend to like religious songs that they heard somewhere. They are not trained as church musicians.
    As I said at the beginning, there are many notable exceptions, but they are quite the exception.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 5,159
    Oddly enough (in light of MJO's observations), I sang and thrived in the early (Renaissance) vocal music ensemble Zephyrus when I lived in Charlottesville, directed by Paul Walker (now on the faculty of Notre Dame), in an ensemble that ranged from 10-16 singers or so, and we rarely, if ever, had to resort to having parts played through on a keyboard (whether it be a piano, organ, or harpsichord). I had the distinct impression that Paul's (and soon to become my own) philosophy about learning a cappella choral music was best left to a cappella rehearsals. It helped that we were collegial enough to point out cheerfully or to be happy when corrected of occasional mistakes.
  • I have had some choirs who rehearsed a cappella. What delights!