The choir loft: is it beautiful?
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 612
    Sunday I was sitting in the large choir loft of a very beautiful church, listening to the homily. It occurred to me (in a moment of distraction) that my view was as follows: a random assemblage of electronic equipment and music stands; the wall at the front of the loft (which is about chest-high and mostly solid); the chandelier nearest the loft; some large saints to my left and right on the upper walls of the church; and parts of the ceiling. I could hear the homily via some loudspeakers in the loft. There is a row of chairs at the back wall, where I was sitting. We sit on those during the 'be seated' parts. Otherwise we stand at the low wall in front and look out over the congregation, though being attentive not to step on too many of the cables and electric boxes which run in all directions on the floor, especially near the wall.

    I wondered later if anyone has a loft that is beautiful, or if they are all merely utilitarian. Thinking back on the other lofts I've been in, they all serve as a combination of storage and practicality, with equipment, microphones, music stands, chairs, trunks, boxes, cabinets and myriad other items in all directions, and no sense of being "in church" except via your imagination or by standing at the rail/wall and looking out over the congregation towards the altar. This includes centuries-old churches that are otherwise spectacularly beautiful.

    Given the effort put into making many churches so beautiful, how are the choir lofts not also beautiful? Or are some lofts beautiful and I just haven't seen them?
    Thanked by 3Kathy BruceL CHGiffen
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,603
    Does this count as a choir loft? image
    Thanked by 2tomjaw CatherineS
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 485
    Here are some photos of the choir loft of St. Mary's Akron, Ohio. The organ is an Austin Organ, electro pneumatic. The steps leading up to the choir loft were on both sides of Vestibule. The fellow in the photo is my good friend Tom and a photo of the choir from 1995. I'm in the back row second from your left. I would say we had at one time 20 - 25 singers, men and women. The loft was not particularly spacious and so rubbing shoulders with your neighbor was common place! Certainly brings back a lot of fond memories for me. I miss all of them. I can't tell you how many times I went up and down those steps.
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  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,603
    St George's, the other Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral in London has the same choir position as Westminster, but the space was not designed for it.
    https://www.google.com/maps/uv?pb=!1s0x487604bceebffb5d:0xf27e1a543478b10f!3m1!7e115!4shttps://lh5.googleusercontent.com/p/AF1QipN8_u3bfhAArYWrmXnsrVcRqvYO6Jsf_RsK0x-R=w298-h160-k-no!5sst georges cathedral southwark - Google Search!15sCgIgAQ&imagekey=!1e10!2sAF1QipN2SGuLTTZ0t0G22WEcYkjMGWaQnCH27_4QpKv7&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjh_5jrifTxAhUBiFwKHVWIA88QoiowJXoECG0QAw

    Irrelevant question - ¿Is there anywhere esle in the world with the Metropolitan Cathedrals of different provinces sharing a parish boundary (mid river)?
    Thanked by 3tomjaw BruceL CHGiffen
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,155
    I spent 20 years in a beautiful Gothic building with an also neglected loft. The loft was built early in the last century for a small children's choir from the school next door. It was not only cramped but clearly indicated that the loft was never one of the parish priorities when it came to budget time. The addition of sound equipment only provided something else to trip over and that frequently happened. The rail was not high enough to meet current safety standards and children had to be watched very carefully. We finally discouraged them being there unless a parent could watch them full time. One soprano - why is it always them - of the large hipped tribe nearly pushed someone over the rail while trying to bulldoze her way through to the exit stairs which also didn't meet any current safety standards. The fire marshal had grounds to close the loft down but I suspected the fact that he happened to be a parish member saved us. I often said that musicians are unfortunately like the plumbing. No one notices it until it malfunctions. The loft was also ignored.

    Austins are good instruments,. I knew of one in a local church that came on and worked every Sunday for over 50 years. It was never out of commission in that entire time.
    Thanked by 1Don9of11
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 485
    CharlesW, the Austin organ at St. Mary's was installed in 1929 and is still in operation today. I know it has had numerous tunings and part replacements both mechanical and electro. The organist center in the bottom row of my photo, was 13 at the time of the installation of the Austin organ and he played for the children's Christmas Eve Mass the same year. There are some microphone in the loft but are really only necessary for those who sing softly. The acoustics of the church were once rated by sound engineers who installed the sound system as being amphitheater quality.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,155
    The acoustics where I worked were, I thought, the best in town. The problem was elderly folks, including choir members, who needed hearing aids but wouldn't wear them. Their hearing losses were as great as their ability to complain to the pastor. It was a people problem not a building problem. I'm not surprised about the Austin. They are reliable.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,052
    @CatherineS this is a great question. I'd say most are aesthetically bad. It's tough to keep things tidy once you have a lot of cables, etc., around, and old buildings in particular aren't going to have storage for odds and ends. We've tried to clean things up here in the midst of the organ project, so I'm looking forward to doing more of that, too, as we organize in the aftermath (getting stands in holders, etc.)

    It's always concerning to me that, in a loft, it's easy to feel like you're just "musical meat", not connected to the celebration. The new layout here will allow the musicians to see Mass downstairs for the first time in a decade, which is exciting. We'll see!
    Thanked by 2tomjaw CatherineS
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 1,143
    Views from our choir loft are beautiful. Not as unobstructed as before all the electronics came in, but still mostly quite beautiful.

    Views of the choir loft? Well, our beautiful organ pipes definitely help, but one can still see the microphones, etc., from the nave, and so it could be better.

    Views in the choir loft? That's a slightly different story. In general, it is still a lovely space. But, it's hard to not see the electronics, the retrofitted cables and microphones, etc. I don't think they'll ever go completely away, but I do wish there was a way to make them less conspicuous. Having both choir mics and permanent individual microphones can be frustrating to look at and to make appropriate use of.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,311
    Which leads to the natural follow-up question:

    Is *the way to* the choir loft beautiful and, that also means, safely accessible (including safely accessible for Communion to be administered during Mass)?
  • I sang a requiem yesterday, and the stairwell to the choir loft had recently had the carpet removed. The carpet tacks, however, were still there. I prefer wood to carpet, even unvarnished wood which could use some TLC.

    The loft itself was more utility closet than shrine, but since it was so stubby, there really wasn't much to do but view the other choir members and face the altar.
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 7,976
    I have seen many if not most choir galleries that were shamefully trashy, what with tottering stacks of books and papers scattered everywhere, electrical chords snaking all over the floor, and haven't been tidied up in decades. They are poster areas for disorder run amok.

    The choir gallery should be as immaculate and orderly as the sanctuary 1) because it IS a part of the church, 2) because the choir that sings therein should think enough of themselves and their space that messiness would be abolished and pristine neatness should be the immaculately clean and happy norm.

    This is yet another reason that choirs should be 'in choir' or in a designated space near the sanctuary where all can see and hear them, and they are a part of what's going on. Out of sight too often equals that absence of orderliness and cleanness that should mark the space as fit for song to the All Holy. No part of his house should be an out of order mess.
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,308
    Well, it's funny, but we are discussing the renovation of our choir loft. Over the last 50 years there has been a TON of junk stored there, I threw out 10 large bags of of papers, xeroxes, boxes and trash.
    On the good side, it is quite large, and a fairly large choir and orchestra could fit.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • GambaGamba
    Posts: 334
    To MJO’s excellent point –

    I think there is a difference between “beautiful” and “orderly and functional.”

    I have always thought that the loft should only contain what is necessary and helpful for the musicians singing the liturgy. Nothing else. Old music and bulletins, non-musical equipment, etc. gets in the way and is a distraction. My singers bring in the music they need for that liturgy from the choir room and return it there afterwards to be filed. Only the hymnals and other permanent resources stay put from week to week.

    But I don’t think a choir area must per se be beautiful. Certainly it is wonderful if it is (see any choir stalls in fine old churches). But in churches where the choir is stuck in a balcony, I don’t care if I have worn hardwood floors and hard chairs with no kneelers, suitable audio equipment to hear what’s going on at the other end (if a large or acoustically bad church), great big mirrors for the organist, and good black metal music stands. Whether the equippage is beautiful or not matters less than if it is workable and useful.
  • Gamba, I agree with you that an "orderly and functional" choir space is more desirable (and attainable) than one that is "beautiful."

    The parish I sing at regularly is not ornate, but very conducive to prayer and meditation. It is simple and beautiful. When I first walked in, I did not even notice the choir loft. For that reason, I love the choir loft. I firmly believe that choir lofts and those in them should not stand out. For lack of a better analogy, I think the choir provides the "soundtrack" to the visual ceremony of the liturgy. The choir and its place need not be visually beautiful because the sanctuary and the actions happening there serve that function.
  • Schönbergian
    Posts: 818
    This is yet another reason that choirs should be 'in choir' or in a designated space near the sanctuary where all can see and hear them, and they are a part of what's going on. Out of sight too often equals that absence of orderliness and cleanness that should mark the space as fit for song to the All Holy. No part of his house should be an out of order mess.

    Though I agree, one also has to confront the issue that most older Catholic parishes are not acoustically suitable for a choir positioned at the front of the church, and sound much better with the choir speaking directly into the nave from the rear. (Modern Catholic churches often have space for a choir at the front, but also universally have terrible acoustics in general, wherever the musicians are placed.)
  • SponsaChristi
    Posts: 236
    This is yet another reason that choirs should be 'in choir' or in a designated space near the sanctuary where all can see and hear them, and they are a part of what's going on. Out of sight too often equals that absence of orderliness and cleanness that should mark the space as fit for song to the All Holy. No part of his house should be an out of order mess.


    Not sure how well that would work when we had sopranos who would breastfeed (openly and uncovered) while singing.
    Thanked by 1trentonjconn
  • trentonjconn
    Posts: 181
    Mixed choirs in the loft, all male choirs/scholas vested and in the sanctuary if possible. That's my take on when to do what.
    Thanked by 2tomjaw francis
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 612
    Breastfeeding in Church using a shawl... ;)
  • SponsaChristi
    Posts: 236
    Breastfeeding in Church using a shawl... ;)


    Not all women in our Latin Mass do that. Given the current woke culture, I don’t think anyone is going to say anything.
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 612
    Well, then there's even more variety in the Church than I thought: including 'woke' TLM-goers. ! (I'll move that line of thought to the TLM argument thread.)

    But the point of the choir loft question was to do with the atmosphere of the choir loft being conducive to prayer *for the choir*. That is, sure the choir loft looks and sounds great to the rest of the congregation, but should some effort be made to keep a 'church' atmosphere in the loft itself in terms of design/style/decor?

    I've rarely met a 'church atmosphere' in terms of comportment. I wondered if it would help if the singers felt as if they were in church (because of the design/decor of the loft), rather than in a storage room or forgotten dusty attic.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,311
    FWIW, covering while breastfeeding was more an artifact of early Modernity than Medieval Catholicism, so wokeness is not necessarily in play.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,155
    When I grew up breastfeeding was a common occurrence and no one thought anything of it.
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 612
    Tangent alert.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,311
    Well, I never considered the analogy of breast to tangent...could become the latest euphemism. "Tangent Alert!"
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,593
    This thread reminds me of Randolph Nichols' commentary on a painting set in a choir loft, "The Organ Rehearsal":
    https://www.chantcafe.com/2017/06/at-the-met-lerolles-the-organ-rehearsal/
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 612
    It's profoundly reassuring to see thst choir lofts were dusty long ago!!!
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,155
    Choir lofts get neglected for a number of reasons. Ours ranged from the new janitor not having a key to one janitor not even realizing the loft was there. Another custodian was deathly afraid to go anywhere near the organ. I think sometimes lofts are just out of sight and out of mind. Choir members can be notoriously messy and leave bulletins, sheet music and paper behind and not make any attempt to clean up after themselves. We even found cheerios under one set of bleacher rows when we had to get under it to run a new cable to the organ. I am sure that came from a child or two a parent brought with them. Since I rarely played for weddings - that grief I didn't need in my life - I found that wedding musicians and singers could leave their own messes behind. Stuff happens.