Choir-Exclusive or Inclusive?
  • I have been In choir almost have my life, and I love it. About 5 years ago we were blessed with a husband and wife choir director and liturgical ministers. At the time they arrived our music ministry was ok, we had a traditional choir at the morning mass and a guitar choir later in the evening, this was the choir I belonged to we did many pieces that we all were proud to be a part of, but our church was changing and when the couple arrived they combined our choir with the morning choir to add more energy since we were now doing more contemporary music. In the last five years we did many great things, We did Amal and the Night Vistors, the Alleluia Chorus, a sung passion, all without worrying about who was in choir talent or otherwise. Now for some reason the choir director has become almost obsessed, in my opinion, with getting the right group of people for the right blend. We no longer sing in the choir loft and sing down below which is room for maybe about 12 people. Now I understand there is so much room, and I believe the idea of rotation came up which was dismissed because a good blend would not be achieved by that form of doing choir. A new choir was created for those no longer "selected" to sing in the morning choir, which so far doesn't seem to be going well in attendance, due to some ill feelings etc. In appearance it looks like he cleaned out the driftwood and created the the other choir for them. These people have been long standing members and very dedicated to the choir. To me it just seems wrong to make a choir after existing so long exclusive all of a sudden. I had never ever heard of anyone coming up to our director at church and saying our choir was bad. I know many people have spoken to him about this and I tried as well but was told whatever I said really couldn't add anything to the discussion and the decision was made and he stands by it. If this was 5 years ago and he set these standards then I would be more understanding, but to be here and do this now I just think this is wrong. I would appreciate your opinions on whether a choir should be exclusive or inclusive-Good Bless
  • Welcome Pendragon,
    I believe there should be opportunities for both types of choirs; one comprised of those inivited by the director by audition or personal knowledge of skills, and the ubiquitous "Y'all come sing" choir. They should be distinctly different enterprises. That does not mean that they cannot be combined for some festal or concert situations. But the director needs to work and direct with criteria and vocabulary specific to each choirs' corporate skill sets and receptivity.
    The "advanced" choir should eventually become the "standard" to which all other musical enterprises in a parish can reference. This all presumes liturgical and artistic competency and intuitive abilities upon the director, beyond doing stuff like "Amahl."
  • Charles Thanks so much for the welcome, I completely agree with what you say, if this was 5 years ago and these standards were set then, but now all of a sudden their is a concern for blend which seems to overlook people who had devoted there time to this choir, that is what makes me concerned and sad at the same time. It bothers me that these people who may not be as skilled as others are simply moved aside for the sake of blend as I said it just does not seem right. All for the sake of sounding better.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,176
    Sounding better is a good goal: after all, the music is here to serve a spiritual purpose, and its beauty helps to communicate the splendor of God to everyone who listens.

    Still, from Pendragon's description, it sounds like the choir director could have been more tactful about the change to the program. Instead of changing the membership of the existing choir, he could create a second group to sing the more advanced music once or twice a month. He could select the members by audition, so that everyone who wants would have an opportunity to be considered. Also, there should be some attention to improving the skills of all the singers.
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 993
    I'm with chonak on this one. Adding an additional, auditioned ensemble is far better than bouncing people out of a choir they've sung in for some time.

    Creating a "sheep and goats" scenario does no one any good.
  • don roy
    Posts: 306
    a big part of successful choir direction is how well you manage your "talent". An experienced choir member is (or should be) a well trained disciplined and highly valuable commodity.from the description above it sounds like said choir director isnt doing a great job in managing his "flock" and when his pool of talent dries up or leaves then good luck. once choir members leave then they pretty much are gone usually to more appreciative programs.
    on the other hand, ive worked with a choir whose members were absolutely toxic. this made it impossible for me to make any effective change because of the highly argumentative and strongly negative personalities of several choir members.
    in the end who knows what is driving your director. from what i can see hes just creating more problems in the long run by cutting off his "volunteer pool".
  • MJB, I trust you know that my proposal was identical to Chonak's, and not advocating a "sheep/goats" paradigm.
  • In several parish settings I have rehearsed the full choir for an hour or so on the easier music for the Mass and then rehearsed with smaller groups--a mixed-voice Motet Choir of more expert singers and/or a schola of people interested in chant--which sang additional, more specialized repertory. This allowed faithful, longtime singers to continue in the choir even if their musical contribution was slight while allowing more musically sophisticated singers the opportunity to offer up more of their skills.

    Remember: no one ever has a free-standing right to be in a choir. But equally importantly, everyone (especially those who have been dedicated to the choir's work) has a right to be treated kindly, compassionately, and honestly. This can create seemingly unresolvable dilemmas. There is a great hostility to standard-setting and excellence in wide swath's of our Church's parish life, and music is one of the areas most negatively impacted by this.
  • Thank you all for your comments, too be honest I am baffled at the change, I think if he would have done as Chonak suggested I think It would have been better all around, this way your setting up from the getgo that this is a advanced choir with certain goals to obtain. As I said this director has always been real good, then all of a sudden this. I just can't imagine our Priest coming up to him one day and saying, "hey your choir is getting bad you need to change things" To put it simply our choirs have never been bad or "toxic" to use don roy's words. We have always had a good choir pool and well received. Like I said before I know we have only so much room up front, but I still think if you manage all your people well you can still get a good sound with multiple groups if your willing to put the time in. What makes me sad, and I apologize for not mentioning this before, but my wife and best friend are still in the choir I retired last year before all this change, but my best friend who was actually the one who did everything music wise before this new director came is so disheartened by what's happening that he is thinking of quitting. No one has been as dedicated as him, he has been singing for over 30 years and if not for him I would not be where I am spiritually.
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 993
    Charles in CA - I would never suspect you of "sheep and goat"ing.
  • The sudden change would upset me a little, too. Perhaps you could ask the director, and hint at the need to clarify things for everyone. He risks losing members with better voices if people feel an allegiance to members who have been moved out of the choir.

    A director who knows voices should be able to blend many types. Sadly, many directors- even otherwise good musicians- do not have the technical skill to do this. But in fairness to your director, I don't know the voices he is working with every week.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,951
    I think we all want the best music our choirs can produce. However, some directors do suffer from pride. I have a volunteer choir and I knew what they were capable of when I took the job. I am content with that, and with whatever improvements that can be reasonably made. They are not the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and never will be. If others like the sound of my choir, then great. If they don't, then they should go listen to someone else's choir.
  • Singing Mum, that's exactly what has happened, my best friend is thinking of leaving choir because he strongly believes this is wrong, which is upsetting because he ran our old choir which was the workhorse pretty much for the church until the current music director was hired and as I said we were combined with the morning choir. At one point all of us combined we numbered about 30 people with 12 instruments. My son was in marching band at his high school and we were lucky enough to get some of them to join us which led to us being able to do the Alleluia Chorus. So as to our abilities I would say it varies from exceptional to amateur but I feel we did the music justice, but aren't most church choirs made up this way? Charles I think you hit the nail right on the head, you work with what God has given you and be thankful for it. There is a scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana has just fought and come to a agreement with a guardian of the Holy Grail and the person turns to Indiana and asks him "The Cup of Christ, why do you seek it, for your Glory or His?" As I said he has made his decision and stands by it, so in a way I guess it's mote point but I really needed to get this out of my system to make sure I wasn't being one of those whiny people. I thank you all for your comments they really help assure me about my thoughts:)
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,176
    Just as a bit of spiritual advice: it's best to be careful about the question of "your glory or His".

    When you go down that track, you can end up talking about the man's inner motivations. But only God knows the motives of anyone's heart. If we suggest that someone is seeking personal glory instead of serving Christ and His Church, it's as if we were claiming to know and see the soul as God does, and to pronounce judgment on its motives. We should recoil in horror from such a claim.

    Of course, each of us can examine his own motives. Any of us can be tempted to use our "work" in the Church to seek personal glory instead of advancing Christ's glory and His kingdom. But let's steer far from judging others' faults in such a way.
  • Chonak believe me I have no intention of going that path I would never pretend in trying to know someone's mind, or God's for that matter, although I have to admit I can't help wondering. Now I understand he's asked people from the new morning choir to help with the Tuesday night choir which was created for what was left of those not asked to sing in the morning choir, which is at the moment floundering for lack of people. I guess I'm just feeling frustrated and I apologize for my presumption of his motives. I just hope something positive comes from all this.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,951
    Of course we can not know someone's inner motivations, but hubris is pretty danged easy to spot. It sounds like this guy is going to tick everyone off, and eventually end up with no choir.
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    I remember being in a choir where basically anyone could join at any time--all you had to do was just go stand with the choir one Sunday and bam, you had access to the music and people were asking you to start coming to rehearsals all of a sudden.

    But what "everyone" sang in the choir was what the whole congregation sang anyway. I just stood with the choir so I could see and hear the alto part at the same time (which you can't do standing in the congregation). We sang a few songs during communion, etc., which the congregation didn't necessarily know... but for all the more difficult songs, the choir director selected specific people to sing them, and for a lot of the propers we had cantors. In that way, everyone who wanted to be part of the choir was part of the choir, and no one felt left out just because certain people were cantors and certain others were part of special ensembles.

    If the Catholic church really wants to encourage congregational participation, turning people away from choirs won't help. I think it makes sense to have one choir which does the "easy" stuff, or the stuff the whole congregation should be doing, and then specific people on top of that to be cantors, etc.

    Turning people away from any choir--especially those who have already been singing in it for a long time--basically tells them to "shut up and let your betters sing instead." I don't think V2 or any official church documentation advocates that. (In general. Not for things like propers or difficult polyphonic pieces.)
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,176
    I don't think V2 or any official church documentation advocates that.

    Well, maybe this is a good opportunity to review what Church teaching and directives say about the proper artistic quality of music in the liturgy, and about the selection of singers for the choir and as cantors (if it says anything on that matter).
  • francis
    Posts: 10,703
    I second chonak
  • I think it's important to try to do the best you can, but not at the expense of others. In my old choir when we first started back in 1980 we were ok, I know for myself I did not sound good, but thanks to my friend who I mentioned earlier with patience and good teaching made me and others better. We never turned anyone away and for some years we did struggle, but we were never so bad that anyone ever came up to us or our priest and said please make them sing better. Like all choirs we evolved and got better until as I said earlier we became the workhorse of our parish and we did some fun things like Hodie Natus Este, a great latin piece. Jam I somewhat agree with what you say if in the beginning you establish how the choir is going to function, but not after 5 years. Your choir is almost the same of what we did, we had some people do duets or solos for some pieces and someone who sang the psalm and some 4 part as well, so I think we pretty much tried to cover everything:)
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,176
    Here's what I found in one of the first documents on sacred music, Tra le sollecitudine (1903), by Pope St. Pius X:
    Nothing should have place, therefore, in the temple calculated to disturb or even merely to diminish the piety and devotion of the faithful, nothing that may give reasonable cause for disgust or scandal, nothing, above all, which directly offends the decorum and sanctity of the sacred functions and is thus unworthy of the House of Prayer and of the Majesty of God.

    St. Pius is speaking here primarily of the types of music to be employed in worship, but the thought may also apply to the performance. Of course no one intends ("calculates") to make a poor sound, but if there are singers whose sound would habitually cause grief or shock to the faithful, then they may need to be redirected to improve their singing before they are admitted to be active in a choir.

    [Note: I trust this was not happening in Pendragon's parish, but I mention it to indicate that there are standards. Sometimes people ask here about whether it's ever proper to refuse a volunteer admission to a choir. Some priests and parishioners, and some parents too, have the erroneous idea that absolutely anyone is a suitable candidate for choir.]

    But where to get training? Considering the condition of church music in most parishes, if a friend asks me where to learn to sing, I tell him to join a community chorus, not a Catholic church choir; that's because the directors of community choruses, on average, tend to be more knowledgeable and skilled at teaching people to sing, whereas church music directors are often hired primarily for their abilities as organists.

    Later Pope Pius writes:
    [Sacred music] must be holy, and must, therefore, exclude all profanity [i.e.,
    worldliness] not only in itself, but in the manner in which it is presented by those who execute it.

    When he wrote this, he was trying to drive out operatic-style music and theatrical-style singing from churches; now, we have other kinds of worldly singing to avoid: e.g., Christian "praise songs" that are imitation pop anthems with religious lyrics; or certain Protestant songs (e.g., "Amazing Grace", "How Great Thou Art") sung in the manner of blues singers, or dramatic soloists (think: "Tennessee" Ernie Ford).

    Pope Pius calls for each diocese to have a commission to supervise sacred music:
    Nor are they to see merely that the music is good in itself, but also that it is adapted to the powers of the singers and be always well executed.

    And this is an important note: the Pope knows that building up toward the ideals of sacred music is not a swift process. It is better to sing a less "ambitious" piece well than to have mediocre results on a more difficult work.

    So that's what I found in Tra le sollecitudine; anybody want to do another document?
  • francis
    Posts: 10,703
    Here's a couple of small stories about conversations I have had lately in the parish.

    One of the staff was scolding me about my not admitting anyone to the music program and that I shouldn't be so selective. (BTW, he handles money in the parish.)

    My comment went something like this:

    "So anyone should be allowed to participate in the music of the liturgy? Interesting! What if I suggested to you that anyone should be able to handle the money of the parish just because they were interested in doing so. They were not at all capable, experienced, never took any training in finances, and yet, because they are a member they have every 'right' to do so!"

    The response was, "Well, NOW you are making a good point!"

    Another time I was sitting at the breakfast table and someone was in the kitchen cooking up breakfast (eggs Benedict for a dozen parishoners after Mass). One of them spoke up and said, "Hey Francis... go in there and tell John how to cook those eggs!" I simply leaned over the table and said, "I am not a professional cook and I don't pretend to be. I would never go in there and tell a professional chef what to do as much as I would never expect anyone to tell me how to conduct a liturgical music program." (There were about three or four definite offenders who had done just that with me, sitting at that table, and the whole place went dead silent.)
  • Francis I think it's important to establish from the beginning what type of choir your going to run, making it known right off the bat that you have one choir which as Jam said would sing the more advance stuff and a second choir if you feel your not able to sing at that level. This way the responsibility thus falls to the parishioner to choose what choir is best for them thus everyone of all levels is welcomed. That's the most important thing is to make sure all are welcome. Changing midstream to me is just wrong.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,703

    I encourage all to step forward and participate in various ensembles at the level appropriate to their expertise in all programs that I oversee. The simplest level is the schola. It is the easiest for amateurs to learn and is the purest of liturgical music by far! I am not saying that your situation was handled well, but I am saying that there is much laxity in the concientous guiding of all involved from diocesan authorities all the way down to guitar strumming Bob in almost every parish. Standards must be slowly and carefully implented for the sake of the liturgy FIRST. We are responsible to God and His church to provide the best we have to offer.

    I would encourage you to pray for your DOM and the entire situation and then stand back and let the Holy Spirit work in everyone's heart for the better of all.
  • Amen to that Francis, it's up to the Holy Spirit now, but I do thank God I was able to find this forum that gave me the chance to air my feelings and get blessed responses, Thank You All:))
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    "Well, maybe this is a good opportunity to review what Church teaching and directives say about the proper artistic quality of music in the liturgy, and about the selection of singers for the choir and as cantors (if it says anything on that matter)."

    I thought that V2 really encouraged congregational singing. What I said was that I don't think the church wants to tell anyone, "shut up and don't sing with the congregation." I'm not talking about stuff only the choir does. I'm talking about the stuff the whole congregation does. In our choir, "everyone" sang with the congregation. The choir in that case is there to lead the congregation and also provide harmonies. There were only a few songs that the whole choir did that the congregation didn't (and once the congregation heard it enough, we'd get people joining in). Everything else was handled by special ensembles or cantors.

    Sure, you gotta pick good cantors! I'm all for that. And get the most musically-minded folk in the choir by all means. But you can't have the choir sing everything and the congregation sing nothing, can you? Isn't that one thing V2 was trying to reform?
  • francis
    Posts: 10,703
    The role of the choir has been highly misunderstood. I have had to re-educate numerous choirs what their role truly is from time to time.

    Now I don't promote the new music document "Sing To The Lord" as being particularly authoritative, but heck, even the USCCB is starting to wake up about the proper role of the choir.

    E. Ministers of Liturgical Music
    The Choir
    28. The Second Vatican Council stated emphatically that choirs must be diligently promoted while ensuring that “the whole body of the faithful may be able to contribute that active participation which is rightly theirs ”41 The choir must not minimize the musical
    participation of the faithful. The congregation commonly sings unison melodies, which are more suitable for generally unrehearsed community singing. This is the primary song of the Liturgy.

    Choirs and ensembles, on the other hand, comprise persons drawn from the community who possess the requisite musical skills and a commitment to the established schedule of rehearsals and Liturgies. Thus, they are able to enrich the celebration by adding musical elements beyond the capabilities of the congregation alone.

    29. Choirs (and ensembles—another form of choir that commonly includes a combinationof singers and instrumentalists) exercise their ministry in various ways. An important ministerial role of the choir or ensemble is to sing various parts of the Mass in dialogue or alternation with the congregation. Some parts of the Mass that have the character of a litany, such as the Kyrie and the Agnus Dei, are clearly intended to be sung in this manner. Other Mass parts may also be sung in dialogue or alternation, especially the Gloria, the Creed, and the three processional songs: the Entrance, the Preparation of the Gifts, and Communion. This approach often takes the form of a congregational refrain with verses sung by the choir. Choirs may also enrich congregational singing by adding harmonies and descants.
    SC, no. 114.

    30. At times, the choir performs its ministry by singing alone. The choir may draw on thetreasury of sacred music, singing compositions by composers of various periods and in various musical styles, as well as music that expresses the faith of the various cultures that enrich the
    Church. Appropriate times where the choir might commonly sing alone include a prelude before Mass, the Entrance chant, the Preparation of the Gifts, during the Communion procession or after the reception of Communion, and the recessional. Other appropriate examples are given in the section of this document entitled “Music and the Structure of the Mass” (nos. 137-199). The music of the choir must always be appropriate to the Liturgy, either by being a proper liturgical text or by expressing themes appropriate to the Liturgy.

    31. When the choir is not exercising its particular role, it joins the congregation in song. The choir’s role in this case is not to lead congregational singing, but to sing with the congregation, which sings on its own or under the leadership of the organ or other instruments.

    32. Choir members, like all liturgical ministers, should exercise their ministry withevident faith and should participate in the entire liturgical celebration, recognizing that they are servants of the Liturgy and members of the gathered assembly.

    "Sing To The Lord", Par. 28-32