Volunteer choirs, commitment and standards.
  • As I'm in a new position, I'm facing the same questions we all face as choir trainers: How to balance an attitude that suggests that "volunteer" means, "I can come and go as I please and as fits my schedule", and "we sing just fine, we've done the same thing the same way for umpteen years, so we know what's going on" with the desire to set some goals and improve the program or set it on a defined course?

    My current position has had what can be best and most charitably described as an inconsistent tradition. The choir had only sung for Christmas, Easter and several other select celebrations under the director previous to my predecessor. He also permitted people to come and go, attend rehearsals or not, and sing for the celebrations anyways. I was told tonight that there were some who wouldn't come until the last rehearsal and the choir was huge, and everyone had a good time. I cannot speak to the quality of sound, but I can say that the majority of music they sang were simple 3 and 4-part arrangements of hymns and carols, with few real "anthems" or pieces of complex polyphony. I don't believe there was any attention paid to things like diction, vowel formation, intonation or blend and balance, but by all accounts this didn't seem to matter, as long as the music was grand and everyone had fun.

    My immediate predecessor attempted, for better or worse, to raise the bar quite high, asking the choir to sing every Sunday, rehearsing them on Sundays after Mass, adding paid section leaders and inserting Latin, Gregorian Chant and complex polyphony into the Masses almost immediately. I only heard them sing several times, and was told that they weren't in their best form on the days I heard them. I was also later told that the volunteer core of the choir shrunk very quickly, leaving only a few hangers-on.

    One member in particular has informed me that because of his job situation he wouldn't be able to attend rehearsals if I moved them back to a weekday evening, which is what most folks would prefer to Sunday after Mass, but that if I gave him the music he'd be able to have it ready from Sunday to Sunday. As he put it, "I'm not stupid, I know what I'm doing when I practice the music at home." I tried to explain to him that it's not just about learning the notes, it's about working together as a choir to blend, etc. He didn't seem to like the answer, and wasn't convinced that consistent rehearsals were necessary. If the choir sings the same music from previous years, he said, they'd know it really well and could sing it on the spot. You get the picture of the discussion.

    The conundrum I face then is this: Do I let the previous status quo of "if I can be at rehearsal I will, but if I miss I still want to sing on Sunday" stand, or do I try to impress on the choir that a certain level of commitment to attendance, etc., is really important for the success of the program?

    The collective wisdom of this group is greatly appreciated.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    If you stick to the status quo, they'll probably not improve. But of course you can't just INSTITUTE laws and expect them to be followed. And hey, status quo can be helpful. Much, much less work. I'm not going to dis that. You have enough to do repairing the congregational hymn repertoire there, from what I've heard. You can increase quality very, very slowly with the status quo.

    On the other hand, if you want to make something great there, I'd say you're facing a problem of attitude. Build up a feeling among the choir of "we want to do something great". Get them having high expectations. THEN you can say "we won't be able to do X unless you all show up to rehearsals." And not only will they gladly agree, but they'll also police the other members for you.
  • One thing you might do is send out group email notes--everyone is on the list--following the rehearsal, talking about points, about how much fun it was, how it was great to read through this piece or that piece, about the liturgical calendar, reflections on what happened, etc. This build a sense of community and establishes you as the leader. It also makes people feel kind of rotten for not being there. Then we they show up, they will sense something from other choirs members, something of a hint of exclusion of some sort. Then the person will eventually realized that a choice must be made.

    Anyway, this is a good thing to do every week following rehearsal. IN time, people will start informing you when they will or will not be there.
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,473
    I have been in the situation myself.
    You need to kindly stick to your guns. Make it clear what is expected, this is not a club, it is a choir for the worship of God. As you know, the only way to establish a good choir is through regular weekly rehearsals. You might lose some folks that don't want to rehearse. But eventually you will pick up others who will be committed over time. There may be others in the parish who have not joined the choir because it has not impressed them as far as committment or quality. I think as really good choir will attract other good singers over time.
    You Might consider have section leaders in the choir, get four people who are committed to your vision, then ask them to take attendance. If people don't show, ask the section leader to kindly call them and pastorally ask them if they are ok, etc, this shows people that they are expected and missed when they are not at rehearsal. I think this works better than just saying "everybody is important".
    You may have to continue to talk personally with the core members who want to only occasionally rehearse. You might win some of them over and some not. Having said this, it takes time.
  • The Three Week Rule
    Let them know that you will rehearse everything to be sung for three weeks, at least, without exception.

    Since so many people are so busy, they need to understand that they are expected to sing every Sunday that is possible, as long as they have attended at least one rehearsal in the last three weeks.

    And, welcome everyone when they arrive, especially when they arrive late. Keep a positive attitude, if they are late coming, make a comment that you are glad that they could make it, you know how busy people are/bad the weather is...whatever, but do it in a way that really acknowledges their effort.

    You will get some negative thinkers, pessimists, who will complain about this approach. You have only one choice. Make it clear to them that it is your choir, and they will either accept this or absent themselves from the choir. And educate your pastor that you are having a group that is inclusive rather than exclusive so that when these "yippers" (my apology to all little, yapping dogs) start yipping at the pastor about you letting people sing who have missed rehearsals, he knows the full story.

    If you can silence the "yippers" and beat them to the Pastor, you will do fine. These glass-is-half-empty people can kill your program.

    Do not turn away older singers whose voices are failing. Blend them into the section, and balance the section so that they do not stick out. They are afraid that they are failing and will be excluded. You keep them in.

    Look to parents of home-schooled youth, especially those that are "different". There is nothing better for an autistic child/youth who is functionally able to be part of a choir, to be in the choir. There may be moments when they act inappropriately, but just ignore when that happens, and make sure everyone else does. This is a great service to these children/youth, a tremendous help to them, and it also makes your choir a place of love rather than a battleground.

    The pessismists will bitch about this, too. Good time to rid yourself of them.

    Take time at the end of each rehearsal and Mass to say goodbye and thanks to every choir member.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,951
    I have some folks who can't be at every rehearsal. Fortunately, they actually can take the music home, work on it, then rehearse with us before "performance" - I don't like that word, since it is not what we do. There were a couple who never came, so I had to tell them they couldn't sing with us if they never rehearsed.

    We have a collection of good people - as our friend Marymezzo says, we have good music, nice people, and no politics - who sound reasonably good together. Who could ask for more? However, I don't expect the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on Sunday mornings. It's ok to aim high, but at some point reality enters the picture. It's live music so something can always go wrong.
  • Do you want to build a good, competent choir or a social group? Competence comes first, then socializing. Those who want to socialize will find another outlet.

  • AngelaRAngelaR
    Posts: 309
    I like Jeff's point about building the community. Unfortunately, in the Catholic Church this is an aspect which is easily neglected. In the Cathedral Chant School we have infrequent potlucks (this Wednesday for instance, we will end our rehearsal with a potluck).

    I'm also trying to build the sense that this is a service to the wider Church, as well as an opportunity to enrich one's own prayer life. We're not just there to have pretty music, but as servants we need ourselves to enter more deeply into the sense of what we are doing as a part of the Liturgy. I am working to help us develop a deeper appreciation of the texts of the chants we are singing.

    Every person in the Church has this spiritual and relational need; they just might not recognize it. If it is done right, most should keep coming back, because they will feel that need being met.
  • Don't want to drag too far off the topic, but part of the problem is this idea of "Music Ministry" wrongly applied. If the attitude is that the ministry is directed towards those in the choir (The Choir is there to serve those who belong to it)... then the result will be laziness. If it is made clear that the choir SERVES THE LITURGY, then there is a reason to aim for excellence.
  • You are absolutely right. The word Ministry now covers people who deliver meals on wheels.

    Choir is part of the liturgy, not the ministry as it is understood today.
  • I'm astonished at the lack of service ethic in the Catholic Church regarding music. In the Baptist Church of old (I don't know if this is still true), if you could sing, you sang. Period. There was no choice about it. If you were a member with some musical talent, it was a tithe to sing in the choir. Something you did.

    In Catholic parishes, people do it 1) if they have some talent and are not embarrassed to sing, 2) if there is nothing else going on on rehearsal night, 3) if they are praised to the skies by the director and the pastor, 4) if they are willing to come to Mass early every week, 5) if they are willing to sit apart from their family, 6) if the music is something they like to sing, 7) if they like the other choir members and have unrelenting fun during every minute of participation, 8) and so on.

    It is a disgrace.
  • In the Baptist church if 10% of the people are not in the music program, there is something wrong.

    Of course, Wednesday evening choir rehearsal means that nothing, nothing else is ever scheduled during that time.
  • I have often wondered if having an explicit minimum standard (weekly Sunday Mass attendance, yearly confession and communion) means that many Catholics tend toward a lowest common denominator approach to their participation rather than toward some sort of 'highest common aspiration'. Certainly the average level of volunteerism and financial generosity is lower among Catholics, even when adjusted for income and family size. And yet we all know parishes where these commitments are expressed at very high levels.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,703
    I had the same exact situation in my latest post. I raised the bar and required rehearsals. Some fell off the bandwagon, but it was usually those who had mixed agendas or were there more for socialization than for the worship of God. Now I have a core (about half) who truly want to sing and are devoted to music. Size should never be the guide. Quality is what we want. Of course it all needs to be handled delicately. Others are now coming who are more serious since it is no longer a club.
  • Quality attracts quality.
    The mediocre look after their own.
    Catholics tend to respond to calls to purposeful sacrifice.
    Easy commitment = easy to leave.
    Never apologize for what is right.
  • G
    Posts: 1,397
    Of course, Wednesday evening choir rehearsal means that nothing, nothing else is ever scheduled during that time.

    Oh, if only.
    I have reminded the LitCom, the priests, that none of our "lay ministers" makes even a quarter of the time commitment that is expected of the choir, yet no one else is treated so cavalierly, or time is treated as so valueless.
    Choir rehearsal?
    You're having it on THURSDAY?
    THIS Thursday?
    Oh, it's been on the calendar? as it is every Thursday night?
    Oh, I din't know you meant the one that comes after Wednesday...
    Oh... well, all right, sure, go ahead, you won't bother US as we have our diaconate meeting/wedding rehearsal/Lifeteen jamboree/pontification by the DRE/practice for the parents of the First Confessors....

    Okay, I made up the part about practice for the parents of 1st Confessors, they don't actually practice for their role in the ceremony.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • We're Orthodox. We don't have the resources (people or money) you do. And from parish to parish, there is a great deal of variation in the quality of the music, depending on what resources are available -- and to us, the choir is an integral ministry of the church, since we have a sung liturgy (even at our parish council meetings, the prayers at the beginning and the end are chanted). Having said that, we are in the midst of our own music revolution, against the professional choir polyphonic music that began with Peter the Great and extended into the first half of the 20th Century, to bring back the simpler, modal, chants that do not require professionals to sing. You don't need professionals to have beautiful liturgical music. You only need a mission for the choir, that they are not there to be pretty or as a nice adjunct for special servics, but that they sing the liturgy; you need people who are willing to contribute the time and work; and you need the clergy and choir directors to support the mission. Generally on a Sunday, we have between three or four women and five to eight men by the time the Great Doxlogy begins at the end of Matins and the choir takes over, and usually three chanters (all male) for Matins. We do a fairly good job, I think (there are a number of sound clips posted on my website, all from a cheap recorder).

    With God, all things are possible.
  • Mr. Z
    Posts: 159
    In response to the Orthodox comment - revolution against - the church is not about, or should not be about necessarily "either/or" but "both/and" and why pit the two. There is in some quarters, and I am not saying it is in this case, but, in some quarters a resentment toward "trained" musicianship and a branding of the same as some sort of elitism. Now, granted, there are snooty directors, but let's have a little respect for the music in the church. Your comment, to me, could be taken as if to say: "Well, in the time of Charlemagne their came about this movement to have an educated clergy, and only they were allowed to deliver sermons. We have seen fit to right this ship, and now, every Sunday, a different parishioner delivers the sermon, and I think we are doing a pretty respectable job." At least this is where this can lead. BTW, I sing in an Eastern Rite church choir, most read music, the choir director is well qualified, and unfortunately underpaid, I am a professional myself, not paid. I would not be singing for a volunteer choir with no professional leadership. (I would think we are talking about the leadership being professional, almost no one has a totally paid choir - please let me know if you are being well understood here). I have never seen that work well, though I will take you at your word. But this, hopefully, is not your idea of an "ideal" I would hope, because it rarely works well, except perhaps to those who don't hear very well. I do like simple congregational singing, led by choir or cantor, or.. and it can be fine, just simple and not a performance. Sure, but ad hoc, non professionally led choirs are never really that good, not in my experience. So, for me, simple congregational or trained, well led choir, or some combination.
  • People have lives. I occasionally have one myself. The only person who never misses rehearsal is me because I'm the director.

    My rule of thumb is if the motet, antiphon, etc. in question is new, you can't have missed more than one rehearsal out of three for the piece and especially not the last one. There will always be another time to sing that work.

    And so far, there have been no outbreaks of violence in my women's ensemble.
  • Francis and DBP, I agree with your statements entirely.

    I might add that a tiered system is handy when stepping into a choir that has more and less dedicated members. Some people so somethings, and everybody does everything else, as in a schola/chamber group within a wider choir. Or even a funeral/wedding/outreach group that can be called upon occasionally to augment the choir. This way people who really should move on because of time conflicts, etc., but don't want to leave can have a way to contribute.

    Also, if the pastor wants quality, its helpful if he drops by or even leads prayer in rehearsal occasionally. More people will be on board and see changing, higher standards as part of an overall program, rather than the dictates of a new, hot-shot director.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,703
    Yes, tiers are the way to go. We have an satb choir, elementary choir, schola cantorum (and of course we have our... ahem... contemporary music ensembles (english and spanish) :{}) but it gives everyone who wants to participate a place to land.
  • Look, all I was saying was that a parish choir should be a parish ministry, and not a professional concert. Given that the choir has the mission of singing the liturgy (as opposed to singing AT liturgy), prayer, and practice, a great deal can be accomplished.
  • Absolutely: we all know of choirs whose best singing and greatest diligence are reserved for concerts and events outside the parish, including jaunts to Rome, Ireland, etc. Now goodies like these can be framed in ways that enhance a choir's liturgical singing, however, the balance is not always easy to achieve. Similarly, we also need to make sure that our choirs are not operating under a silent-but-deadly assumption that authentic singing of the liturgy cannot aim for the same level of polish and professionalism as non-church musical ensembles. Many times this is framed in the same 'sing the liturgy, not at the liturgy' statements that are otherwise so appropriate for reminding choirs of their proper disposition. Indeed, there is a bias against artistic excellence almost everywhere one turns in the average parish, many times fed by a faulty implementation of V2 teachings of the dignity of the laity.
  • "[T]here is a bias against artistic excellence almost everywhere one turns in the average parish, many times fed by a faulty implementation of V2 teachings of the dignity of the laity."

    Truer words were never spoken.
  • From St Tikhon's monastery:

    "The Russian style of four part singing was developed in a time when singers were plentiful and often professional. This is no longer the case in some parishes (especially mission parishes.) This does not mean, however that four part singing should be done away with altogether. It obviously still has a place in the hearts of many of the faithful and should not be taken from them by force. However, it is important to look at one's own parish liturgical situation critically. We must ask: Are we forcing people in our choir into molds that are no longer appropriate and practical for our circumstances? In either case, we must proceed with great care and caution. Music in the Church is a delicate pastoral issue. The choir director must always be in dialogue with his or her priest about any changes in the musical repertoire of the parish. Choir directors must be sensitive and yet practical: What is going to work and what is going to produce an atmosphere of prayer and worship for my local worshipping community? The goal is not necessarily great sounding music (it is a great and necessary plus, albiet secondary) but rather prayer and communion with God. God is the end or rather the goal, and music is one of the means to that goal, not the other way around ...

    "Oftentimes, the choir director and members are totally focused on making the four parts of the harmony blend and come together. The music in this case sounds nice, but this focus can make the worship feel superfical and too outwardly focused if not even showy. If the heart of a singer can not focus on the text, the text loses its power because it comes from the head and not the heart. Music that is sung from the heart is powerful and transformative. All Orthodox Chant is quintessentially text oriented: the music ideally illumines the text, highlights the text, and communicates the text. If this is not being done, either for the singers or for those who hear, what is the point? We lose our focus and goal if the sacred word does not lead us to REAL contact with the Eternal Word."
  • I sang and directed for years in Russian Orthodox and Byzantine choirs and it's still the music that plays in my head most of the time. In the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) and churches that used their music, there was quality singable music for every service. Of course, if the tenors didn't show up, you had to rearrange things on the fly. And that could be hair-raising for the director. I pined for sets of published SAB arrangements. And I appreciate the work being done to get out more two-part arrangements, especially of Znamenny.

    I only occasionally had to cope with folks who wanted to sing past our resources (probably remembering festal liturgies of their youth). One great advantage in Eastern liturgies is the complete integration of the music into the liturgy. No one would expect the choir to stop singing "because Father's done now."
  • I won't be long before the folks at Tihkon monastery are singing "Sons of God" and other "music sung from the heart."

    Developing a deep mastery of singing is something accessible to pretty much anyone. With limited exception, I can't think of one person (man, woman or child) who with a bit of dedication to the discipline of learning the art is incapable of developing the mastery of the art without sacrificing their prayer and "REAL contact with the Eternal Word."

    Frankly I find the comments posted from Tihkon to be the straw dog of post-modern trash music in the American Catholic parish church experience in sheep's clothing. The arguments are tendentious and disingenuous.
  • Yet it is you, not us, who struggle with inappropriate music, kumbayah, pseudo-folk, and other near blasphemous works. How ironic, given your nasty remarks, Mr Andrew.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Begin with chant and build from there; then you'll have the right attitude.
  • Pride goeth before the fall.

    (See the next comment for explanation).
  • rwprof,

    Yet it is you, not us, who struggle with inappropriate music, kumbayah, pseudo-folk, and other near blasphemous works. How ironic, given your nasty remarks, Mr Andrew.

    I'm not the one who posted the remarks stating that the high and noble art of choral part singing is more for show and leads people away from a focus on the Eternal Word, or somehow prevents folks from entering into the transcendent mysteries of the Mass, such as is stated plainly in the quote you posted.

    I didn't intend to be nasty, I did however intend to address in a very direct manner the assertions made in the quote you posted. As you've chosen to turn it into an issue of the tone of my remark rather than responding in a way that would address why my point of view is incorrect, it would seem to me that it is you who has chosen to be nasty rather than return the directness of the questions, hence my suggestion of disingenuousness.
  • I can't speak for anyone else who habituates or lurks here in this forum, but I can't help but notice a steady increase of rancor and contentiousness in various threads.
    The charity and love of God, the Liturgy and one another are the factors that kept me in CMAA. I would mourn the loss of any of these as represented by the constructive dialogues carried here. I've experienced the demise of many other similar fori because of proliferating ad hominem contradictiveness overwhelming critical argument and discourse.
    Thank you for your kind consideration.
  • I do not doubt for one minute that there are those who sign onto this forum for the purposes of being an agent provacateur. I recall a problem shortly after signing onto this forum when Todd Flowerday made an appearance and took advantage of the forum to provoke rancorous debate and send many otherwise legitimate issues and questions down the proverbial rabbit hole. Unfortunately for him, he had been known for this on other boards and was banned by the moderators of this forum, and for good reason.

    The original point of the immediate thread was not to debate whether or not part singing or the approach of Eastern Orthodoxy versus Western Latin Rite to the application of certain uses of choral music was right or wrong. It was to determine how to properly, fairly and with pastoral concern develop and build a choral music program in a parish with folks who wanted to control or co-opt the purposes, expectations and disciplines of the choir.

    A quick read of rwprof's comments above suggests that he takes issue with the use of well-prepared and well-executed choral music to the liturgy. His comments sent this thread down a deep and unpleasant rabbit hole with his contention that "professional choirs" (a term I never used, nor promoted, nor do I favor) do not somehow belong in the liturgy. His comments, ISTM were not relevant or in keeping with the topic at hand. Within the Latin Rite, the Holy Father, together with many years of writings, documents and instructions from the Holy See has addressed the issue of training and maintaining choirs at all levels of the church. This requires folks who are trained, some professional and some not.

    Perhaps my choice of words in rebuttal to the quote he posted from St. Tihkon's monastery were too strong. I am passionate about what I do and what I believe in. I, nor anyone else who regularly participates in discussions here, are interested in rancor or ad hominem attacks, but the passion we have sometimes colors the words we choose. For that I do apologise, but I won't apologize for asking direct questions or challenge those who make wildly generic or tendentious assertions in place of well-thought critical argument and discourse.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I think there's a middle line, David and rwprof. I work in an Episcopal church now, and I've noticed that the choral music, hymns, etc. are very performance-driven. It's an intangible thing, but I can definitely tell the difference. And I've been to an Orthodox church and seen what rwprof talks about: people just DO the liturgy, no fuss about preference, quality, etc. But I've still found Catholic churches (the majority that have some form of "choir", perhaps) where the "choir" is a group that sings in front of an overamplified microphone for the hymns, making up their own harmonies.

    Check that, it's not a middle line. This is a triangle. The "performance" mentality of protestant churches and many large Catholic choirs is one corner. The other is the "feel good" mentality of "it doesn't matter what you do, so long as you're there every now and then." The 3rd corner is chant, and just doing the music of the liturgy. I repeat, this is a starting point and it's something altogether different from either mentality. Perhaps the ideal would be in the middle; doing the music of the liturgy, with quality music (performance), and having a choir that enjoys it (feel good).
  • David, you have no need to apologize whatsoever. And I firmly believe that as these forums acquire new readership and contributors, the "agent provacateur" factor seems to increase proportionately as well.
    To the subject at hand: I have the privilege of having a core schola of about 12-16 voices who were auditioned and have remained under my direction for 17 years counting. We have another 8 or so floaters, plus the students who return during vacations and breaks, some who sang with me in middle and high school. We're kind of the Pointer Sisters of classical church music in our little town of 130K folks (We are Fam-i-lee! Or was that Sister Sledge?) Consequently, we have a great deal of polyphony, chant and later musics encoded in the cells over time. Last week, for example, we chose to use Fr. Lindusky's English translation for Pierluigi's SICUT for Communion, and we only need one rehearsal in reality, English or Latin. But, each time out, I take the opportunity to have the singers notice and observe something new that enhances both their understanding of the WHOLE piece, text and music, in order that by Sunday what was well-worn to us remains fresh and vibrant. And I mean that in both spiritual and aesthetical realms (aren't they fused, anyway?) I think that a DM that is provided an opportunity to form a quality ensemble AND a y'all come sing quire has the benefit of providing both musical and pastoral leadership to a spectrum of interested and invested volunteers.
  • The arrangement I've decided to opt for:

    - Volunteer choir that rehearses every week for about 1.25 hours in prep for a "choral Mass" once a month.

    - A mixed schola of compensated scholars (SATB) to sing chant and polyphony as well as act as "section leaders" for the volunteer choir when the "choral Mass" is sung. The "choral Mass" will feature polyphonic settings of the ordinary (save the Gloria . . . still sorting that out), as well as some of the propers. The schola will sing every Sunday. The "off-Sundays" (those other than the once a month "choral Mass") will feature the schola to sing the communion proper and chant the responsorial psalmody and gospel acclamation as well as an occasional motet.

    - The Christmas Midnight Mass has always been a "come as you are party" and much of the music is from the Polish tradition (kolendy), so Christmas Eve is not going to be the time for high-end anthems of the King's College variety, at least not this year.

    If I can keep this whole thing from going up on two wheels through Christmas, I'll see what I can do to move it from there.
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,577
    Given the above two quotes, I thought of the large volume
    Thirty-five Years of the BCL Newsletter 1965-2000
    and the various items among the 114 pages of newsletters
    leading up to the Jan-Feb 1968 Newsletter containing
    "The Place of Music in Eucharistic Celebrations".
    When you see danger signs, especially through historical hindsight,
    it is important to speak and make known those danger signs.

    DA, you are in good company ...
    although in this Forum you were only chided for sounding the alarm (you are still sane and alive).

    Can I say that I am troubled by quotations without clear citations?

    Using Google, I was able to determine that the quotes actually come from

    It is a website somehow related to
    based upon context, and that the contact info for both provides the same city and zip code.

    Unfortunately, the quotes provided above are out of context and therefore misleading.

    The two quotes are excerpts from a long explanation of why the website is promoting music in two parts.

    Why only two parts?

    The answer to the question, "Why only two parts to this music?" has, ironically, a three part answer:

    1) Practical: This music is ideal for mission parishes, older parishes with just one dedicated choir director (and a few singers) as well as for daily services. However, it is also apparent that many choirs no longer have trained singers. It is realistic to say that for male voices, very few men are real tenors and very few are real basses. Most male voices are baritone. Hence, it is actually rather unethical to force untrained singers to sing out of their tessitura (outside their given vocal range.) When basses do this, it will just sound silly. However, men who sing tenor without using proper techinque can permanently damage their voices.

    Now you can start reading the earlier "cherry-picked" quotes.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Sounds wise, David. There's very little any of us can do about Christmas services.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,703
    For the record:

    The quality of music (it's composition and performance) have everthing to do with the disposition of the musicians and nothing to do with the level of difficulty or style of music. The disposition of mind and heart toward an attitude of prayer can be had by those singing a Bach Cantata and totally evacuated singing "Sons of God." Content has nothing to do with the proper disposition of prayer and authenticity in spirit.
  • 'Begin with chant and build from there; then you'll have the right attitude.' Gavin, this sounds like a reasonable and wise statement. Chant done well takes thorough preparation and high standards, but does not (most commonly) devolve into prideful performance. It is a prayer that, through diligence, strengthens the heart, mind, soul, and soul to praise God with skill.

    Charles, I for one appreciate your pleas and share your hopes for CMAA.
  • Mr. Z
    Posts: 159
    Provocation is not the intent of most comments, including strong and prodding assertions, in the sense of seeking to purposely ruffle feathers. On the other hand, strongly stated "pronouncements," with sometimes agendas attached, may need to be addressed in straight matter of fact terms, vetted, principally because to not do so runs the risk of having questionable assumptions gain validity on such rarified and erudite forum. If one feels confident enough to make (and one should know when one deals in controversy) broad and sometimes brazen assertions, then one should know that those may be met with something just as strong. Again, in neither case should one be assumed to be demanding one's pound of flesh, no not at all. Vigorous discussion is, or should be, fine. In fact, given the stakes involved, without at least some mild controversy we might as well be discussing crochet or baking.

    Of course, one should take the extra step sometimes to make sure counters to such assertions are not taken as ad hominem. And those who offer such loaded statements in the first place should not presume that others are just lurking in the shadows ready to pounce on any statement they disagree with with some sort of vitrol to boot. I just don't see that.

    I have been visiting here a year. The very name Catholic Music Association of American has the "ring" of a professional association, and though that is not specifically asserted in the self description, we can, by a quick glance over the names of the BOD, understand that it is indeed "professional" in focus, without necessarily marginalizing the committed amateurs. But music is too difficult an art for the dilettante to be very accomplished in the highly nuanced, multi-disciplined and demanding field as is the realm of "high" church music, and this is what Gregorian and polyphony is. For your consideration:

    * Officers and Board of Directors
    * President: William Mahrt
    * Vice-President: Horst Buchholz
    * General Secretary: Janet Gorbitz
    * Treasurer: William Stoops
    * Chaplain: Rev. Father Robert Pasley
    * Directors: Susan Treacy, David Hughes, Scott Turkington
    * Program Director: Arlene Oost-Zinner
    * Publications Director: Jeffrey Tucker
    * Directors Emeriti: Rev. Father Ralph S. March, S.O.Cist; Kurt Poterack; Rev. Father Robet Pasley; Paul F. Salamunovich; Very Rev. Monsignor Richard J. Schuler

    Lots of professionals here? You betcha.

    I have felt the need to challenge higher ups exactly here on ideas proposed that, to my best understanding, risk undermining the "professionalism" within the ranks of composers by an undue emphasis on dismantling of copyright theory seemingly as a reaction to the sometimes poor judgment and stewardship of some of our Catholic publishers. Good topic for frank debate, and the principals involved seemed not to be in any way personally offended, but just the idea that the stakes would be understood for what they truly were and discussed as if the outcome in either direction posed serious ramifications, well others seemed to judge that the site was now doomed and no longer a place of respit. Respectfully I disagree. Others did as well. Again, certain topics call for proper vetting of premises and assumptions, and, as well, the realm of "unintended consequences" must be considered. Perhaps these kinds of topics need to be avoided by the same set that should not watch the manufacture of sausages or the law.

    I don't think it can be stated strongly enough that the undermining of professionalism has had disastrous, hideous results in the Latin Rite Catholic Church liturgy. Why wouldn't those attached to Orthodoxy, or the Byzantine Rite, scream at the top of their lungs if necessary at the specter of anything getting even close to the liturgical undermining of the Divine Liturgy. Latin Rite Catholics have been screaming for years, as they should; sadly there are far too few decision makers willing to even hear those screams. Thankfully, we have as of yet not heard anything approaching a scream here, but the eyebrows do go up and I would say that seemingly "up for grabs" sentimentality being waved is a huge red flag, and justifiably so. I don't think the tenor of these types of discussions necessarily indicate an abandonment of civility, and if one is chaffed just because someone strongly disagrees, and again, with good reason, IMHO, then who is at fault?

    Now, good people, thinking people, can differ on certain subjects and remain true to the ideals of the faith, as those here on this board will undoubtedly concur. But roads previously traveled and proven dangerous need warning signs, and sometimes more than a few, and come to think of it, warning signs are not usually nicely worded, and cannot be most times and still be properly understood.
  • Interesting comments. For me, three traits drew me to the CMAA: the focus on excellence, the absence of professional snobbery, and the liberality of spirit.
  • don roy
    Posts: 306
    as usual jeffry you hit the nail on the head (but then again, whenever do you not?)
  • All my life I loved to sing. As a boy, I loved singing chant and then increasingly, little by little, more difficult traditional sacred classical music. At first, I loved the wonderful Sisters who taught me music during music class and then from a wonderful elderly Anglican Choirmaster - a true inspiration and gentleman! Even as a child, I could tell what music was beautiful, meaningful and what was boringly ugly and or lacking. I remember as a boy when I first heard and sang, "HOW LOVELY IS THY DWELLING PLACE" by Brahms. I also became a concert violist. I love that music too. But THE main principles throughout my musical life have been these, 1) if its worth doing, then do it to the very best of your abilities, skill and situation, 2) respect the music AND the people with whom you make music, and 3) I see music as an enormously valuable and deeply meaningful gift from God which allows me and others to express ourselves to God and each other and MOST IMPORTANTLY MY LOVE OF GOD AND HOW HE WANTS ME TO BE TO HIM, OTHERS AND HIS CREATION.

    As a child and all my life, how could I not miss any opportunity, (whether a rehearsal - which I especially loved or performance), to make great, beautiful and deeply meaningful music; especially with others. To me, great music is born from love and sacred music is the highest expression of that love. Everything in music, to me, boils down to love! If I am in love with God, I will strive with my utmost heart and being to express it in all its myriads forms and avenues between myself and God and others.

    As a violist in a string quartet, how could I miss a rehearsal and disrespect the other members? God sees all you know! Or how could I miss an orchestra or choir rehearsal? I saw myself from the perspective of being a piece of the puzzle (even if I was a small and seemingly tiny piece), and thus the picture was incomplete without me. Then after much hard work, others' valued my poor efforts and love of music making so much that they wanted to help my education along through financial means like a scholarship and then afterwards to pay me; to encourage me to continue. All this because I LOVED this music and GOD! (Are you getting the point)? It doesn't matter whether I was a professional or not and still doesn't. All I know, is that because I love HIS music and HIS gift and ultimately HIM - I want to do my best, be my best and always be there for HIM and others because I serve HIM best by trying in some small way to serve, help and hopefully inspire others. I am currently semi-disabled now and can't get to a church, I can't sing with others except on the Internet when I listen to their efforts. The CMAA's recent recording of their AVE MARIA by Bruckner made me cry with joy. I am sure that there were BOTH professionals and volunteers in that choir but I could sense through hearing that their hearts were united in love of God.

    In Christ there is no East or West,
    In Him no South or North;
    But one great fellowship of love
    Throughout the whole wide earth.

    In Him shall true hearts everywhere
    Their high communion find;
    His service is the golden cord,
    Close binding humankind.

    Join hands, then, members of the faith,
    Whatever your race may be!
    Who serves my Father as His child
    Is surely kin to me.
  • "A quick read of rwprof's comments above suggests that he takes issue with the use of well-prepared and well-executed choral music to the liturgy."

    Completely wrong. I object to the professionalization of the liturgy. The liturgy is not a performance. It is worship. Nor were those quotations taken "out of context." The monks at St Tikhon's chant two-part liturgical music because the text is the point, and because the liturgy is not a performance. It makes no difference whether one is Orthodox or Catholic. The liturgy is worship.

    There is nothing "kumbayah" about my point. We sing a variety of chant schools (Kievan, Prostopinije, Byzantine, Znamenny, Moscow, etc.) and while we have no professionals, we take our ministry seriously and do a good job. However, we have a great deal of congregational participation. Nobody could ever get the impression that they were there to listen to us.

    It isn't professional v. Woody Guthrie. That's a false dichotomy. If you sing chant, then chant is, by definition, simple. Now, if I had my druthers (which I don't), I would draw the line in the sand at tonality and we would sing only modal music. But that would mean no Slavic music other than traditional Znamenny, and we have lots of Slavs. It would be unproductive, and probably uncharitable.

    St Tikhon's is, by the way, the oldest Orthodox monastery in the United States. Other than New Skete (yes, the monks that publish the dog books), and they converted as monastics so their modernism comes from elsewhere, we have no modernist monastics. As far as liturgical music goes, their position is about as conservative and traditional as it gets.
  • My goodness, I turn away from the forum long enough to play a couple of Masses and read Julia Child's autobiography and when I come back everyone is at 6's and 7's.

    Everyone seems rather touchy of late, but the times are difficult and we're moving from the silly season of August into the "oh my goodness, it will be Advent before I know it and I don't have any [fill in relevant voice part]".

    You know, there are many posts I write - and then I delete them before hitting "add your comments."

    So let's stay calm, civil but still interesting, and remember that tomorrow's feast is the beginning of the Christmas fast for more traditional religious orders.
  • "and the principals involved seemed not to be in any way personally offended, but just the idea that the stakes would be understood for what they truly were and discussed as if the outcome in either direction posed serious ramifications, well (sic) others seemed to judge that the site was now doomed and no longer a place of respit.(sic)"

    Mr. Z, I cannot help but conclude your last phrase meant to address the concerns of my first post in this thread. I believe, if that is the case, that you've mischaracterized my concerns significantly. I did not judge that this forum was now doomed at all, or have I ever said or regarded this forum as a respite from conflict and hostility elsewhere in such forums. Like Jeffrey stated, the focus on excellence is accompanied by a distinct lack of professional snobbery as well as the expressive freedom of our individual spirits. I regard your contributions as extremely valuable. I make every effort to understand the nuances as well as the obvious thrusts of arguments deliberated here. I often fail in those efforts, but not for lack of trying.
    Maybe I and others can and should be regarded as amateurs, dilletantes or a "set that should not watch the manufacture of sausages or the law...," but I assure you, I am not chaffed by these processes, I just wonder at what point does all of the nit-picking become mere sophistry?
    Mr. Andrew's topic seems quite forthright, practical and professional.
    I have had the privilege of seeing great numbers of young adolescents present at two colloquiums and a chant intensive. What could they "make" or "take" from the occasionally pedantic banter of this and other threads that go down the rabbit holes? Or should that not even be of concern because we are "professionals?"

    And per usual, what MJB said.
  • Mr. Z
    Posts: 159
    My good Mr. Charles,

    I have absolutely no bone to pick with you -- (at least until now, with your annotations of my quotes. Respit is used correctly here. These might be taken as gratuitous and as sort of a "backatcha"), in fact, you have defended my takes here probably more than once and I had no thought of you specifically in any of this. In fact, this is mainly aimed at some sentiments expressed more vociferously on other threads. Also, "doomed," of course, should be seen for the rhetorical device that was meant, i.e., slightly hyperbolic. This was a general observation about civility being deemed paramount here, which is as it should be, but not, IMHO, to the avoidance of uncomfortable truths, spoken, of course, in charity and hopefully civil in tone. That is all. (I can't say I have lived up to all of that at all times, but I acknowledge the correctness of the shared appreciation for those maxims). That and people reserving judgment while allowing those making claims or putting up counters to those claims be allowed to offer clarification if those statements lack clarity or seem untenable taken at purely face value.

    The "professionalism" I allude to is much more an attitude than an academic achievement level or pay scale or even peer review. It is simply taking seriously the role of music within the context of what we do, and is alluded to by me as not some sort of line of demarcation, as it is a wall of defense against those for whom standards matter very little, and this should stand out front and center in most of what I try to contribute. That is all. I am sure we all fall short of certain benchmarks of "professionalism" from time to time, so it is a way of saying we go for the gusto. I used to work, many years ago, for a not too gifted saloon singer from Italy, but who kept working and kept his audiences happy and loyal. He told me, in one of my more "unprofessional" moments, that when you call yourself "professional" you can no longer use the word "because." I knew exactly what he meant. I think that is one of the best things I have heard, even though it was not easy to swallow at the time, and it echoes in my mind a lot even now, many years hence. Of course he was referring to the word "because" as employed in some sort of excuse making mode - which I am sure all of us do from time to time.

    Can I ask, Charles, exactly what is "professional snobbery?" Is "professional snobbery" different from "unprofessional snobbery." I am not being facetious, I really want to know.
  • Does anyone else have anything helpful or constructive to add with respect to my original post question?

    If not, would a forum administrator, in the interest of maintaining some decorum of the forum (pardon the rhyme), kindly close and sink this thread?
  • Before this thread sinks (as it should), I would tell David to stick to his guns (in a charitable way). If you can't come to rehearsal, you can't sing in the choir. People want to join my schola all the time without coming to rehearsal regularly. I tell them to come and listen to us sing. In a congregational setting, those who can't come to rehearsal will make a valuable contribution from the pews.

    Some choirs offer the option that people can come for a limited but continuous set of rehearsals prior to Christmas or Easter in order to sing on those feasts. However, they must come to ALL the rehearsals. You know, you always have to remember the folks who come every week.

    And David, keep us posted on your progress.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,176
    If I understand right, *anybody* can sink a thread, even a thread they didn't start. The "Sink this discussion" link in the left column does the trick.