Have you ever had a volunteer cantor who probably needs to quit?
  • CatholicZ09
    Posts: 276
    To preface, I’m not a music director, but I’ve been thinking about this and wanted some input.

    We have an elderly woman at my parish who is a cantor and probably has been one for about 30 years or so. She knows liturgy well, is always available, dependable, etc. But the problem is, her voice has likely had its better days. It’s at the point where she’s really shrill on most pieces of music (almost like nails on a chalkboard), gets lost sometimes while singing, etc. Many parishioners have commented how she needs to quit singing and they dread hearing her. I often brush it off because I’m a cantor as well, and I don’t want to gossip about other cantors. I will tell people maybe to let the pastor or music director know how they feel, but really, what do you do with a volunteer who likely needs to hang it up but most likely won’t on her own volition? Do you just keep on keepin’ on with it or get rid of her?
  • TCJ
    Posts: 977
    I was the organist at a parish who had a volunteer cantor who needed to quit. He wasn't old, but his sense of pitch left something to be desired. It wasn't up to me to decide, so he kept singing and nobody did anything about it.

    For choir, I've had a couple people remove themselves from the choir of their own will due to a failing voice so I've not had to make that decision myself. Yet.

    My recommendation is to do exactly what you have done, sending people to the MD or the pastor since it's not your responsibility and let them handle it. If you're ever in a position to make that decision yourself then you do need to gently let them go at some point or another.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,711
    Just an idea.

    If you have numerous cantors, you might print a sheet about cantor skills, how to improve, materials to read, etc. then finally, suggest that at the beginning of the liturgical year each cantor should make a self review or assessment. Am I improving my skills? Is my contribution a help or a hindrance to liturgy? Etc. If the person is honest they might just step down. If they dig their heels in you might ask them the question directly or have the pastor do so.

    I had a couple of these in my last position and if they have a diva mentality it’s truly a thorn in the side for the parish.
  • Liam
    Posts: 5,007
    One way is to have annual voice check-ins on an individual basis for all cantors (and choristers where it can be an issue).
  • CatholicZ09
    Posts: 276
    That’s actually a good idea regarding voice check-ins. Unfortunately, I don’t see it being something that’s implemented, but I think that would be the most surefire way for someone to know how they sound. I remember her telling me years ago that she doesn’t listen to herself, and that could be half the problem right there.
  • I suppose if you're not in charge, but something needs to be done, you can point out the situation to whoever is in charge, and then that's all you can do. It her "performance" is unbecoming at Mass (and the Mass deserves the very best we have to offer), the music director should be informed, and hopefully the music director will make the right decision.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,956
    I had two who lasted much longer than their voices did. They became awful with age. Unfortunately, I didn't have anyone else to take their places. There were some folks who could have done well, they just didn't want the job.
    Thanked by 1ServiamScores
  • francis
    Posts: 10,711
    I eventually began wearing

    https://www.macksearplugs.com/

    when I went to Mass to avoid the distraction.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,956
    How do you think I made it through performances by the middle school string orchestra and the recorder recitals? Earplugs are good.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,183
    If you live near one of these voice teachers, get him or her in for a choral workshop (or send the cantor for individual coaching):
    https://www.mcclosky.org/teachers
    The McClosky voice "method" aims at healthy singing and at recovery for damaged voices.
  • jcr
    Posts: 132
    By all means contact the McClosky Institute. David Blair McClosky was the founder of the voice therapy clinic at Mass. Eye and Ear Infirmary and a singer and voice teacher of some reputation. It was my good fortune to study with him for quite a while. He died in 1988, but there are students of his and of his students who are familiar with his methods. Of particular interest in this case is the help for the aging voice. It is likely that there is someone connected (certified) with the institute in your area.
  • Carol
    Posts: 856
    When I saw this discussion title I thought, "Uh-oh, my organist posted about me!" Being a 68 year old female, I am only half kidding. I mentioned to our organist that it might be time for me to retire but he begged me not to because there are others he would consider weaker singers. We are all volunteers and two are mid-20's and the rest of us are collecting social security!

    I listen to myself as I sing and sometimes I do think it is nearing the time for me to hang it up. I hear weak spots in my voice, but I am learning how to compensate. I try to never listen to recordings of myself because that undermines my confidence and when my confidence is shaky so is my voice. It is hard to know which kind of pride may be at play-- not wanting to be anything less than perfect and therefore stop singing or thinking I am still fantastic and everything is fine.... I think my husband will let me know when it is time to step down if I haven't figured it out for myself.
  • Liam
    Posts: 5,007
    People who hang up their chorister spurs can support congregational singing from about 1/2 (if the actual choir is in the loft) to 2/3 (if the choir is closer to the sanctuary) of the way back into the main congregational seating from the sanctuary. There's a place for you eventually. I've borrowed an architectural term and called it the retrochoir for 30 some years....
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen tomjaw
  • francis
    Posts: 10,711
    Carol.. I wish all my singers had your disposition and aire of reality. Your sensitivity to the matter probably means you are careful to ‘do no damage’ and you really need to keep singing as long as possible. I have had divas who I think are so determined they are still singing from their graves.
    Thanked by 2Carol tomjaw
  • Carol
    Posts: 856
    Liam, I totally agree and will join the "retrochoir" when the time comes although there is no choir in our parish- covid destroyed it. I sang for a funeral this week and many of the other cantors were attending the Mass. They sang and therefore the congregation sang, especially on the Mass parts,

    Thank you, Francis.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • CatholicZ09
    Posts: 276
    I think part of the problem, at least in my parish, is the cantor is often over-amplified by a mic that needs to be turned down a bit, especially in a congregation of parishioners that actually sings. Loud mics can make even the good cantors sound not as good.

    Carol, I think the fact that you have the self-awareness demonstrated above shows that you’ll know when it’s time. However, I think you are in the minority.
  • Carol
    Posts: 856
    Thank you CZ09. Using a mic correctly is key to encouraging singing and setting the EQ correctly is also important. I know purists here will object to any amplification, but a cantor in a church with poor acoustics really has no choice when accompanied by the organ.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,501
    One of the "problems" is that she is "dependable" and "available." It's really difficult to find someone who is both of these things. People are often not, bailing for no reason. So, she is available. She is called. "It is better than nothing." We had someone like this and she did something egregious and ended up losing her position. I don't miss much about her except for the "dependability" and the "availability". (And 30 years is not really that long. ;) )
    Thanked by 3tomjaw Carol LauraKaz
  • mmeladirectress
    Posts: 1,082
    CatholicZ09- Might it be possible to pair this cantor with another? We always use two.

    (If challenged you could explain that having soloists at Mass has never been a Catholic thing - apart from the celebrant of course. At least, that’s what I was taught)
    Who knows - with two cantors, you might be able to ditch the mic
    Thanked by 1tomjaw