Toxic Church Musicians
  • Recently I had the strange experience of being a guest directing a church choir and a few friends came along to sing as well. Strange because, although I was in a different church, I saw the same people. Not in body, but in spirit. And it wasn't just friends said "It's another Catherine! It's another Henry!"

    So, in honor of these characters, it would seem appropriate for us to each take a moment and draw a picture in words to make these people...and their motivation...evident.

    This is not intended to be cruel, nor hurtful in anyway. There is a good chance none of these characters would recognize themselves as being what they are. It must be disquieting for them to visit other churches and find their mirror images.
  • The Microphone Lady

    She comes up and makes it clear from the start that she announces the hymns and it's clear that you'd better not get in the way or expect to get plowed over. It's her way or the highway. She will also take on any task that needs done, but never gets them done. It's power, and it's in her fist. She's got the microphone.

    Unfortunately, she insists on warmly welcoming everyone to Mass, no matter what you and Father try to do. When this comes up, she says, "Sorry!" and smiles. You know she's going to do it again.

    This person will fight the use of any in-pew worship guy because, honestly, she could care less about people being able to follow the Mass and the music.
  • The Disapproving Male

    Like the male bird, this character will be well-dressed. Upon closer scrutiny you will find even his tie is held in place with a stickpin.

    When he is not in the choir he will be found standing at the back of the church to observe everyone. He is a stickler for locking doors and being heavily involved in a Catholic men's association of some sort.

    He will do nice things for people if they are in his line of sight and in his interest. Otherwise, you don't exist.

    You will find things getting done that you did not intend to get done...and had no intention of doing. And this will be held against you.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,452
    It's three things: leadership, leadership, leadership. You either have it in a pastor, or you don't. Either one of those characters would last about 30 seconds with my pastor.

    I have heard people are the same everywhere, so there must be some truth to it.
  • The Anything For Father Lady

    This lady has the best intentions and will be supporting of your work unless it in any way in her mind goes against what Father wants. If that happens, and there is a good chance that it will, stand back, far back. Be prepared with explanations for Father.

    If it makes you feel any better, he is probably aware of her. If he's not, you are in for a ride.
  • The Golden Choir Member

    This person worships the ground you float above and will stand up for you no matter what. They, with their honest admiration of you, the way you live your life and your musicianship no matter how humble it may be, make every day worth getting out of bed for.

    They do not question your authority even when you are wrong because they understand that you are flesh and blood just like them. When they help you, and they will, it is with the best of intentions.

    This person is very interesting to work with since, for example, they may dislike the idea of choir robes and singing in Latin, but go along with it anyhow without complaint. Then when you find out their feelings it comes as a shock since they seemed supportive. They are, and will continue to be because they accept you as their leader.
  • Noel - WONDERFUL !!!!!!! I sense a book in the making here.
  • The Sidetracker

    A well-meaning (usually alto) who asks questions about small details or dress for Pentecost right in middle of trying to get the tenors secure on an exposed part. She/he is a stickler for detail but often has little sense of musical priorities.
  • So far you have left out the Teen Bongo Player

    Our parish now has one. An entire Mass is given unto this gentlemen to play randomly on anything and everything. Laugh, cry, whatever, but it is a reality. I've thought about writing about this but it is kind of pointless.


    A: Should a teen be given a set of bongos to play during Mass, and permitted to play whenever he wants and whatever he wants?

    Q: This is inadvisable, inasmuch as bongo playing is generally considered incompatible with the required solemnity of the liturgical occasion. In is, in addition, most likely the case that a teenager just learning bongos lacks the requisite sense of decorum and the needed judgment to make independent decisions about when during the Mass the bongos should be played and the manner in which they should be played. Indeed, a rich and historically based understanding of the Roman Rite indicates that there is very little proper role for the bongos at Mass, excepting perhaps to provide an additional acoustic enhancement at the strepitus at the close of Tenebrae services during Holy Week.
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    I think a solution for the teen bongo player would be to send him to an Ethiopian church for a few months, where they do drums RIGHT.
  • And don't forget Father Phillips' (Saint John Cantius) fond favorites, the Cigarette Alto and the Whiskey Tenor.
    To which I might add the Ben and Jerry Soprano (scoops) and the Wild Bulls of Bashan Baritone.
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 990
    There is nothing I love more than the discreet use of a frame drum on a bit of medieval (or quasi-medieval) polyphony or a lauda. You simply need to confiscate the drum as soon as the piece ends.
  • don roy
    Posts: 306
    while i certainly understand about the adolescent bongo dude at least hes not a dyslexic 10 year old with a shaking "egg"a microphone and no, and i mean no,sense of rhythm.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,657
    Ah yes... What is SOOO tempting to the human condition as an animal skin stretched over a hollow chamber? I have Do Not Touch signs plastered all over the Timpani in English and Spanish. The Mallets are in a secret hiding place. It's kinda like fish to water.
  • New church, 24 hour traffic through the choir loft to reach the Adotation Chapel.

    Alarm system sensitive to movement in the church proper during the night, but this coverage does not extend into the loft.

    Alarm system also programmed to respond to sudden loud noises in the church in these hours.

    Timpani in Choir Loft + Noise Alarm System = some embarrassed Adoration Chapel people when the alarm goes off.
  • Those Who Must Conduct

    It's like a sudden attack of Tourette's Syndrome...if a conductor does not give a clear beat, in some people's opinion, suddenly people around the loft begin tapping feet, gesticulating with their music or downright stick their hands out and start waving patterns.

    To make it even more bizarre, none of them are in synch.
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    I would observe that most people really are more of a joy to work with, if you yourself are radiating joy. And if we realize that we are ALL human.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,452
    I know there are exceptions, but it has been my experience that the choir often takes on the temperament of the director.
  • bgeorge77
    Posts: 190
    The Young Fogey:

    This youngish male (usually a male) spends the entirety of Mass involuntarily grimacing-- alternately at the choir and then at his own grimacing self. If they sing das Haugenschmaltz, he will wish they sung old timey hymns. If they sing old timey hymns he will wonder why they don't just sing propers. If (if!) they actually sang propers, he will shake his head at how they are dragging. While he may be able to sing, he is never in the choir, the mere thought of singing from THAT GREEN BOOK being too much for his lamentably fine-tuned aesthetic sense. When asked by the choir director why he doesn't join up, he must muster up the force of Samson to restrain himself from launching into a pop-eyed tirade complete with diagrams. He will smile unconvincingly and say, "Perhaps someday." He often looks enviously at those who don't seem to care one whit about what kind of music they sing... wouldn't it all be easier that way?

    (This post made possible in part by a long look in the mirror.)
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 749
    The Whiskey tenor? Convert him to whisky. Problem solved.
  • I, myself, prefer Bourbon. :-)
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,368
    I guess these quirks and issues can be taken all sorts of ways. For my part, I have the surreal sensation of living in a Bing Crosby movie.

    I'm Ingrid Bergman, if you want to know...
  • I consider myself a porter bass.
  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    Make mine an Argentine Malbec. Perhaps that's why I have a happy choir, with perhaps one exception.
    Remember Psalm 104
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,066
    Passive-Aggressive Piano (wo)man

    It matters not if the parish in question customarily uses primarily well-executed, tasteful a capella and/or organ music: this person will always comment positively (or rather, even pithily) when the piano is used. It matters not if the execution of said piano music is poor or even inappropriate; this person has musical "tunnel vision". This person, who may be otherwise a sound Catholic, is a primary obstacle to musical and liturgical reform in most parishes. Any suggestion that using the piano is less festive than the organ or less effective in leading congregational singing usually results in bared teeth, wagging heads, and/or looks and comments of scorn and derision.

    I heartily second the bourbon recommendation, although I would add a fine cigar and something like a Walker Percy novel to it. Sometimes one thinks that's the only way we can get by...!
  • The Chair Mover

    This singer always has to move his or her chair so they are not sitting where they are supposed to sit.
  • The Non-Sharer

    You are trying to save $ so you order half the number of anthems you need.

    This member stands back and refuses to sing from a shared copy.
  • The Organist Who Should Be Someplace Else

    Yes, he's paid to be there, but he really should be playing at a Protestant Church that would appreciate his talents. In his opinion.
  • gregpgregp
    Posts: 632
    The Forgetter

    No matter how many times you give this person the music, they don't remember to bring it the next time.
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 749

    Perhaps the eyesight of the Non-Sharer isn't what it used to be?
  • Since my experience with non-sharers has been that they are chair-movers as well, there seems to be some antisocial component...but the eyesight issue coudl be part of it.
  • don roy
    Posts: 306
    I have several

    the "I coulda had a career but got married instead" soprano. there is a high correlation between these people and excessive vibrato

    the critic, this is a person with limited knowlege who wouldnt be caught dead in the choir (because the choir is beneath them) but they are only too quick to offer negative (usually biting) critisism of anything and everything

    the volunteer with conditions. this is a singer who only does what they want when they want, usually a solo or perhaps shows up the dress rehearsal before easter and proceeds to disrupt rehearsal because they dont know the part and demand immediate attention..
  • The Inopportune Harmonista-
    (I've only dealt with two in 40 yes., but they were both great voices (and knew it), and one an in-law, the other a priest celebrant.)

    Someone who insists upon improvising harmonies at a 6th/3rd to gregorian melodies such as mode VI Alleluia, or where a well-honed unison is the maxim goal. Nothing sez "look at ME" more insistently! Not to mention the disturbance to "The Force" which is the ecstacy of com-munion via unified pitch and sound.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,657

    How true how true!
  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    One inviolate rule- do not make your singers share music. If you can't afford enough copies find something else.

  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    Here's my fav- the person who NEVER has a copy of the music in his/her folder, but at the end of the season when you are sorting music you discover at least two and on occasion three copies of said octavo.

  • Lawrence
    Posts: 123
    The Concert mistress

    (Usually a soprano, in my experience)

    Sits where the concertmaster/mistress of an orchestra would sit: to the immediate left of the conductor. Thinks she/he is the Queen of England, there to take the Prime Minister (that is, the conductor) to task for any decision which is not approved of.

    "Aren't you going to conduct that whole measure of rest?" (from a rehearsal of Bruckner's Locus Iste, September 2002)

    "We've never sung this one before." (applied to anything in Latin)

    The concert mistress is also known to organize boycotts of rehearsals in response to the conductor's attempts at establishing some reasonable sense of discipline.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,657

    I can lend you some gunpowder from another thread about blowing up music... perhaps you can provide it in a well gifted snuff box for the prima dona.
  • Don Roy - Such a singer (usually a soprano) is also known in some circles as "the Queen Mary" - whose vibrato is so wide that one could sail the Queen Mary, QEII or Titanic through it.

    I am keeping a listing of all these - I think it would make a wonderful little booklet for choir members, pastors and other fellow church musicians. As a professional violist, I have heard just about every VIOLA joke there is and all this humorously reminds me of them. I love reading, smiling and laughing at these because, sad to say, there is so much truth in 'em all.
  • The "I'm having a sectional at my house this week." Singer

    Some of these are quite useful to have around!

    [if Barbara M. or Phyllis & Glenn C are reading this, this is in your honor!]
  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    Has anyone mentioned the singer who has his/her name engraved on a seat? Evidently, it is impossible for her to sing well anywhere else. (It's right undfer the choir sops mike)

  • How about ALWAYS-LATE-WITH-NO-EXCUSE? Many times, retired, with nothing to do all day, but late to every Rehearsal and/or Mass Warm-Up. Or, perhaps, a (male OR female) "diva" who enjoys making a grand entrance after everything is proceeding nicely. Climbs over/around several singers already in their appointed seats, can't find the necessary music (noisily digging through folder), and distracting all, including the Conductor, in the process.

    Or, an extension of Lawrence's "We've never sung this before" person: after 5 (yes, 5) rehearsals of a given piece, during the last warm-up before a Holy Week Mass, says (looking around with deer-in-the-headlights panic) "Have we ever SEEN this before???" Very frightening for the Conductor.
  • dad29
    Posts: 2,124
    Or--a new one to me--the singer who can NOT simply flip from the Introit to the Kyrie in his Liber. Doesn't use the ribbons, doesn't have a holy card, and (most important) does NOT have a CLUE as to the sequence of singing stuff during a Mass, despite having attended that Mass 52x/year...
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 749

    If the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (and some other places that go with the job) were to criticise any of Her Prime Ministers, you can be sure she would do so politely and diplomatically and that it would be well deserved.

  • It wasn't on this list, but recently someone said that after service the Queen told him the choir was quite loud and she asked if the choir had been expanded with paid singers.

    Others immediately posted that every time that they have played she has said the organ was too loud.

    A friend confirmed this, saying...she ends up sitting right in front of the organ so many times that it is always loud!
  • It would be OK with me if she lost the N. Ireland title...
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,576
    Donnaswan: "discover at least two and on occasion three copies"

    Ahhh yes, a sighting of the ...


    Like its moniker, it likes to keep many instances of its resources close at hand,
    that way regardless of location, irrespective of looking left or right, it is bound to
    retrieve quickly the desired morsel. The digging always produces delightfully unexpected results;
    the item has inexplicably managed to change itself since the burial
    (it was a pecan but now a walnut or empty shell, or, it was mp but now mf or unmarked score).
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 749

    Unfortunately, it wouldn't be OK with the majority who live there (though that could change if enough Catholics take note of Humanae Vitae ).
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 749
    * The Tenor who always sings slightly flat.
    * The Tenor who always sings slightly sharp.
    * The Tenor who always sings slightly behind the beat.
    * The Tenor who does his best not to display irritation at the other three.
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 749
    The choir member who guesses loudly when learning a piece (it's no more or less likely that they're a Tenor than another voice).