Solos during Mass
  • amindthatsuits
    Posts: 846
    Many long years ago, as I was making progress in my singing lessons, I innocently asked what solos it would be good to know if I wanted to be a cantor. I unleashed a torrent of abuse on myself, so distasteful that that marked the end of my regular participation in this forum. I am the reason that those notices start appearing—- thank you to the administrator—-To watch your tone. I see now that there’s an entire page of rules.

    This was especially frustrating as I subsequently learned that a perfectly simple answer would be: something for weddings; something for funerals; something for emergencies—followed by a list. Indeed, people have come along and periodically appended such helpful lists to the record of the original donnybrook.

    But that’s not all. As I have studied chant more, it has become obvious to me that many of the more athletic chants are written the way they are, because the composer had a good soloist. It is hard to explain the elaborate Verses in the Offertoriale any other way.

    This discussion seems to hit on a lot of good points, and so I repost it here:

  • francis
    Posts: 10,354
    Do solos belong in the Liturgy? // Some are against solos because of the temptation for singers to make it all about themselves, rather than for the sake of the Liturgy. Regular solos may cause congregants to look to the Liturgy as a concert, rather than a public prayer in which they themselves participate. Last week’s post highlighted congregational singing in the Liturgy as the visible manifestation of the Mystical Body of Christ here on earth. One may ask how there can be any greater purpose for singing during the Liturgy than this?

    OK... There are two types of (Roman) liturgy... NO and VO...

    In the NO, the liturgy is a linear event. One thing leads into the next and in general, no two things are occurring at the same time. However, music sometimes accompanies action. However, music tends to be the more "observable element" when an action is taking place.

    In the VO, the liturgy is a layered event. Music, action and congregational participation are somewhat independent of each other. There is more of a sense of time(less)ness in the VO. If a Credo or Gloria is significantly longer, it is expected that the ordinary will be seated and move his Beretta as appropriate. You might say that music and action give defference one to the other depending on the length of a particular rubric.

    This is a HUGE difference. Why? Well, when approaching the subject of 'singing a solo', the NO is almost exclusively focused on the present moment. If the vocalist is singing a solo, everyone is usually focused on the soloist (if in the sanctuary) or his/her voice (if in the gallery).

    Soloists that I have accompanied (for 40 years) in the NO, have always sung in an operatic style, and with an operatic attitude (if you get my drift).

    Soloists that I have accompanied in the VO have only sung chant, or in a chant (pure tone) style.

    Nevertheless, we do find an ancient precedent for solos in the Liturgy. In the Early Church, music was sung primarily by a solo cantor, sometimes with simple congregational responses. Later, more challenging chants were written for soloists (e.g. verses for the offertory chants). Even today the Liturgy will at times call for a liturgical solo: just think of the Exsultet and the Christmas Proclamation.

    Again, attitude is key... one can sing these chants with an 'operatic attitude' or a simple pure tone style that would work with two or three or more singers, mostly sounding the same.

    One may well argue that solos are appropriate for the Liturgy, since the Liturgy is an occasion at which we offer our best to God. For example, the presentation of the gifts at the altar did not always include simply monetary offerings, but also the best fruit, bread, wine, flowers, and works made by human hand. The offertory chant, likewise, developed as a sumptuous musical offering to accompany the presentation of the gifts. The offertory, thus, was a moment at which the musicians would offer their very best work to God.

    I am not sure where this attitude or understanding originates, but a 'sumptuous musical offering' seems novel to me. We do not offer our 'very best' work to God at only the offertory... we offer our very best throughout. There is no 'highlight' of music at an offertory. I think this is a novel idea.

    On a practical level, some kinds of liturgies attract congregants who are largely not familiar with the proper songs and dialogues. These moments tend to be well suited to the singing of a solo, since such congregants are unlikely to participate more than as observers. (This is perhaps one of many reasons why “Ave Maria” has become the quintessential wedding and funeral solo.)

    The Ave Maria (Shubert I suppose?) is not a quintessential wedding solo. It is a misplaced, popular piece of romantic music which is subpar in my estimation.

    Some solo works are sacred, but still not meant for the Liturgy. I’ll never forget learning this lesson in my early years as a cantor. I chose a solo to sing at Mass which was the text of the Magnificat verbatim. The organist that day was a sub, and not Catholic; the solo was six minutes long. Halfway through the piece, I looked up and felt my heart drop to the floor. The priest was already done and waiting at the altar. There was no way to signal to the organist to truncate the piece, so the priest, not knowing how long the piece was, ended up standing there for three of the longest minutes I have ever experienced in my life. The issue? The liturgical hierarchy had essentially flipped, with the music taking precedence over the liturgical action. Lesson learned.

    If the musicians involved knew anything about liturgy, this piece would never have been programmed from the getgo.

    To include a solo during the liturgy, then, requires a delicacy of attention:
    • The solo piece must be a sacred (i.e. set apart for God) composition, with sacred lyrics (e.g. not a secular, top 10 hit).

    'Set apart for God' is not the definition of sacred music. Sacred music is music that was actually composed for the liturgy itself using the texts of the Mass.

    • The singing of the people belongs to the highest degree of sung participation in the Liturgy. Any solo work should not eclipse or replace those parts of the liturgy which belong to the people to sing.

    Maybe in the NO, but not true in the VO. The people singing (active participation?) is not a crucial aspect of liturgy.

    Just my 2 cents.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,843
    Maybe in the NO, but not true in the VO. The people singing (active participation?) is not a crucial aspect of liturgy.

    It should be. Councils and popes have said the people should sing the parts of the liturgy that rightfully belong to them. It seems some musicians work harder at suppressing singing by the people than they do at encouraging it.

    Good solos can be a welcome addition to the liturgy and are often better music than the rest of what is programmed. It all depends on specific circumstances.

  • francis
    Posts: 10,354
    Just curious... which popes and which councils?

    And of course... "It all depends" negates everything.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,843
    If I recall, Trent and Vatican II both called for congregational participation, e.g. singing the Ordinary. PIus X, for one, called for the same. I remember that Paul VI did, also.

    It all depends in the sense that "Brighten the Corner Where You Are," would have limited validity in the liturgy. Some of the classical settings of scripture, prayers, and such would be a different matter.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,354
    Would like to see the proof of those claims and in context of where they were spoken or written. Thanks.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,843
    In his Instruction on sacred music, commonly referred to as the Motu Proprio (22 Nov., 1903), Pius X says (no. 3): "Special efforts are to be made to restore the use of Gregorian chant by the people, so that the faithful may again take a more active part in ecclesiastical offices, as was the case in ancient times".

    Address to Italian Bishops, 14 April 1964 (DOL 21) Paul VI
    “The liturgical reform opens up to us a way to reeducate our people in their religion, to purify and revitalize their forms of worship and devotion, to restore dignity, beauty, simplicity, and good taste to our religious ceremonies. Without such inward and outward renewal there can be little hope for any widespread survival of religious living in today’s changed conditions. … [P]romote sacred song, the religious, congregational singing of the people. Remember, if the faithful sing they do not leave the Church; if they do not leave the Church, they keep the faith and live as Christians.”

    There is much more. You can look it up.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • francis
    Posts: 10,354

    PX is promoting Gregorian Chant, which would be the ordinary of the Mass. The only thing I have heard coming from the people is one (simple) setting of the Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. So to promote OTHER singing and not even singing the ordinary is out of proper order of importance.

    As for PVI, well he is the pope that DISSED the GC outright. There's a real dichotomy in what he says and what he did. It totally went against the motu you mention.

    Our congregation knows and sings two or three settings from the Kyriale. I believe that is what is being stressed in the part you offered.

    BTW... did you read number 7?
    7. The language proper to the Roman Church is Latin. Hence it is forbidden to sing anything whatever in the vernacular in solemn liturgical functions — much more to sing in the vernacular the variable or common parts of the Mass and Office.

    There is much more... would you like me to look it up?
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • hilluminar
    Posts: 114
    Perhaps the more recent Fathers of the Church have something like what the Maronites do in mind: The faithful are always led by a cantor. They chant the Propers, which are hymns written by St. Ephrem or St. Jacob of Serug, to simple melodies in the vernacular tongue. Most everyone knows the hymn tunes, and they sing to the rafters. Everybody sings. Both the tunes and the beautiful words are imprinted upon the minds of the faithful. Sometimes the cantor ornaments the melody exquisitely. If the faithful in the Roman rite were led by a cantor, and chanted the Propers, which are usually the Psalms, to reverent melodies, in the vernacular tongue, in unison, the faithful would be truly participating in the desired way, and these Psalms would be imprinted upon the minds of the faithful. I love the quote that CharlesW printed out above from Pope Paul VI's address to the Italian bishops, and it is worth repeating: "Promote sacred song, the religious, congregational singing of the people. Remember, if the faithful sing they do not leave the Church. If they do not leave the Church, they keep the faith and live as Christians."
    Thanked by 2CharlesW LauraKaz
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,843
    I think that many of the practices that originated after Trent, for example, freezing the congregation out of participation which seems more in line with the monastic practices that infiltrated and dominated the church, is the problem here. It is now the case that even if something were prescribed in scripture, the more Trad-minded still wouldn't do it if it were different from that to which they are accustomed. It seems all that is confined to the Roman Rite. Thankfully, the rest of the church went in another direction and sings joyfully during the liturgy.

    Remember, if the faithful sing they do not leave the Church. If they do not leave the Church, they keep the faith and live as Christians."

    He was right on that since something has driven far too many away. Listening to a chant concert every week could be one of the things that could do it.
    Thanked by 1hilluminar
  • francis
    Posts: 10,354
    Unfortunately, the more recent fathers have had in mind something completely different than what the church has always done. I will testify that I was a part of the “singing crowd” and wound up leaving the Faith behind for many years. I was an ecstatic singer, and I composed, published and led others in the ecstatic songs. And now look at the church. It is decimated. It has lost its way. It abandoned its tradition only to embrace novel practices… it has become protestant just like all the other wayward strains that profess to be Christian, but in reality have fallen off the barque.

    We cannot continue to think that our ‘new and marvelous ways’ will revitalize or renew the Christian faith. It is only by holding on to what was handed down to us that we will carry forward the kingdom of God.

    Return, O people to the Lord, your God, take with you words, saying, “Lord, we have stumbled, take away our iniquity.”
    Thanked by 2tomjaw LauraKaz
  • trentonjconn
    Posts: 414
    To bring us back to the purpose of this thread, Kenneth is absolutely correct in his assertion that things such as offertory verses, gradual verses, etc. were intended for soloists, is he not? This is, of course, a vastly different practice from Aunt Gertrude warbling the Schubert Ave over a microphone in the middle of communion. But nevertheless, there is absolutely traditional precedent for SOME solo repertoire. Singing solo is not malum in se.
  • LarsLars
    Posts: 94
    how about solos during Mass...... by a priest?
    now we sing hymn nr2.: "Sweet heart of Jesus"
  • francis
    Posts: 10,354
    Lol - I did have a crooner once, a young priest. But he wanted to do a concert of Irish music in the church, and I think he sang Danny boy and I played the piano.
    Thanked by 1Lars
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,843
    There was a priest in town who aspired to the stage. He would hold the host high and sing in a resonant baritone, "the body of Christ" with great embellishment. He also never missed an opportunity to sing loudly anywhere in the mass. The local musicians referred to him as "Broadway Joe."
  • francis
    Posts: 10,354
    And the likes of Broadway Joes and Crooners have wandered from the path, leading souls with them, and to the right path we must return.
  • mmeladirectress
    Posts: 1,019
    Two cents…. If you desire to do solos during the Mass -
    short of entering a seminary - become an organist, and let your fingers sing.
  • MarkB
    Posts: 924
    I have had potential new singers express interest in volunteering to be a soloist or a cantor rather than say they want to join the choir. The most conceited among them write something along the lines of, "God has blessed me with a beautiful voice and I want to praise him by singing at Mass."

    Although I am tempted to reply with something like, "I'm sorry, but we have no openings for divas at the moment," I tell them that they are welcome to join the choir, sing with everyone else in the choir, and after some time and experience they are welcome to express interest in being a psalmist.

    Not a single one of them has ever replied back nor joined the choir.
  • TCJ
    Posts: 884
    I heard someone in the congregation who had a good voice, so I asked her if she would be interested in singing in the choir. She said she was interested in singing, but not with the choir. I never called her.
  • CatholicZ09
    Posts: 197
    I’ve been a cantor at my home parish for about eight years, now. I often go to my diocese’s cathedral for Sunday Mass when I’m not on the schedule at my home parish. I’ve had numerous choir members and cantors come and tell me I should join the choir, but I can’t make practice during the week (I care for two elderly family members, and an evening choir practice each week is not something I feel to which I can commit). Plus, the choir sings each week at the noon Mass, and I’m always one that prefers to go to an earlier Mass. So, while I would love singing at the cathedral, I’m always afraid to ask about becoming a cantor and denying requests to join the choir for fear of coming off conceited.
    Thanked by 2francis Bri
  • francis
    Posts: 10,354
    Yea... I had cantors (diva types) who would not sing in the choir and wanted only to sing as a cantor solo. And singing from the altar is not good either because then they have an audience.

    At another position I had the cantors with me in the gallery and they did wonderfully... no ego to get in the way with them.
    Thanked by 1DavidOLGC
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,843
    I had a talented gentleman who did not want to sing in the choir because the basses were awful. They were legacy basses whose best singing days - if they ever had any - were behind them. One bass in particular is now throwing the heavenly choir off pitch, I'm sure. However, the choir sang for one mass on Sundays. The cantors carried the other masses and I don't know what I would have done without them. There is room for both choir singers and cantors.

    I was fortunate in that the pastor would not allow cantors down front.
    Thanked by 1Bri