Paid ringers in every parish
  • I'm more and more convinced that this is a requirement for a solid music program. I've written up my thoughts here.

    Additions, corrections, etc., welcome
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,665
    JT is dead on.
    Thanked by 2Ben Yanke IanW
  • Jeffrey, you hit the nail on the head. I think there are several kinds of parishes though, as I've often said. Some can go straight on and pay for four ringers immediately. But maybe some choirs have a solid bass and alto section, but not so much a solid soprano and tenor section. Perhaps they could just start with two ringers. The culture is most certainly moving in this direction...another option is to build a relationship with a local college and create a choral scholar program. Give them a stipend for the term, work with the college to give them internship credit, and allow them to choose music, prepare the choir, and conduct Mass once a term. It's a win or the parish, but also a win for the student. I think we all know that most vocal performance majors will, at one point or another, take a job as a church musician, and often they have no clue what they're doing. This gives them the chance to develop some experience that they probably won't get in college.

    If you attempt this idea, I'd suggest working up a plan to pay for it or as much of it as you can before presenting it to your pastor. Even if its a relatively small amount, budgets are tight and pastors can, understandably, be worried about spending more money. There are often ways of shifting money in your department, or offer to do fundraisers. 10K isn't a dreadfully large amount of money to raise. Think outside of the box. It's definitely doable!
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  • Ally
    Posts: 226
    The internship could include a giving recital of some kind, which could be a part of a "dinner/concert" evening fundraiser, for example. The choral scholars want performance experience in addition to needing church experience (most likely), they need recitals and concerts on their resumes, and a lot of them should have some repertoire ready to go anyways. Easily done.

    I think it is a wonderful idea.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    I will Xpost this at MSF and CC.
    KLS' observations are, thus far, the most cogent. Jeffrey, with all my love and respect for what you've accomplished, you latch onto an idea in a nano-second, give it some measure rationale and reaction, and then call it a panacea. And the little post-script about "Oh geez, maybe the voice major section leaders might convert, what a bonus!" I am actually quite stunned that you would wager that a 10-12K budget item line (30-36K under Karl's) would mitigate a slew of other fundamental musical and liturgical maladies that have centuries of plaque-buildup. It's almost Obama-Congress-worthy a burlesque-"Throw money at it." Have you ever managed college kids at a McD's or KMart? Their work ethic, voice or music majors or not, isn't exemplary. Imagine you've planned and rehearsed all year for Allegri's MISERERE for GF, and your section leader soprano has the C3, and you've got the rest of the quire all pumped up to do this high water mark. And Wednesday, she calls you and informs you her mom wants her in Reno on Thursday for Easter weekend. This kind of thing goes on with our volunteers, for sobbing out loud, not to mention kids getting a paltry 50 for Sunday AND a rehearsal? Oh, and they tend to move around a lot, whether in 2 or 4 year programs. Oh, and some of them never pass Theory 1A or sight singing because they've skated by in MS/HS being coached and coddled by teachers who don't teach and parents that know they'll be on and WIN American Idol, the Voice, or the X Factor.
    Your solution buys into the culture. We are supposed to embrace that which is counter cultural. To beg, as if we're Francis of Assisi, for that bass voice to just try and show up one Wednesday night, and then work like hell's on our heel to get him/her to realize how much a difference they will make in the musical offering to the people of God, and therefore to Christ, as part of their tithe and sacrifice.
    Sure, I'm paid. Less than I was as a public school teacher and without the perks and increases that come with that corrupt public culture. But the money ain't the draw, never was. Neither was the health care, tho' for consistency's sake and tenure it has enabled me to stay put for 21 years. But I'm supposed to be Harold Hill with degrees and a plan other than to "think about it." And I'm supposed to teach little ones to love to be "singing Catholics" against all history and odds BECAUSE THEY WANT TO PLEASE GOD by their efforts. And the pay-off for that is never in the choir or the sanctuary on Sundays, it's in the classroom and rehearsal room when the "aha!" moment hits all of the choir and they know at once and together "We did that!" Thanks be to God.
    There's no magic bullet, Jeffrey. Stop looking for one and then putting it out into cyberspace like the latest "As seen on TV" remedy.
    Cherry on the top? I'd like to see some of the urban liturgical mecca/mega choirs try to do what some of attempt without their ringers.
    Thanked by 1Andrew_Malton
  • Many pastors I know are extremely frustrated by the lack of singing talent in their parishes. They have high ambitions to sing the propers, to revive polyphony, to have authentic Gregorian chant. They want to have this weekly, not just on special occasions. They want to be part of the answer and not perpetuate the existing problem.

    I think that melofluent is right in many ways. However, taking into consideration this first paragraph, Jeffrey is right.

    If you have a pastor who wants a choir, will show up at rehearsals to go over chants, encourage the paid singers, pay them, honor the choir as a special living beast that is integral to worship and let you run the choir like a business - meaning, paying enough to make it worthwhile, and also work with you through the hassles of training the singers to be competent and reliable and letting go those who are not, it can definitely work.

    I have had that experience in two presbyterian churches. The paid singers did sectionals each week, greatly expanding rehearsal time, they became friends with their singers and helped them by warming them up and giving mini voice lessons. There was no animosity among them as a result, but a partnership.

    In a Catholic church this can work. You will find your choir attracting members from neighboring parishes is you and father offer special events like a choir school class, a class in reading chant....

    This has been and is done without money in quite a few choirs of members on this list, who "employ" singers without paying them from outside the parish, who find out about your program (that's #1 on the list and is one reason paying can work, since you become known as a parish where choir members are paid) by constant bombarding the local catholic paper with notices about events - what you are singing, classes you offer.

    You have to work to make them feel welcome, you have to dump choir members who resist outsiders and you will have some like that. Cut them off immediately.

    Very few singers in parishes who like to sing decent music are happy.

    Steal them.

    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Earl_GreyEarl_Grey
    Posts: 864
    All the above points are valid. I started out as a paid cantor in college. I was a music major, but not studying sacred music. I wouldn't be where I am today without having that stipended cantor position. Paid section leaders can work well, but maybe not in every situation. No, it's not a cure-all, but it offers the untrained singers something to aspire to. If all one hears at church are untrained singers belting in a microphone, how can we ever hope to cultivate a new generation of singers to beautifully sing musica sacra? Proper musical education is absolutely necessary as well as liturgical catechesis, and supportive clergy but so are good musical mentors.
  • MELO -
    Jeffrey's suggested measures could go a very, very, long way to improving the choral culture and music programs of many parishes. Certainly, as you have intimated rather indelicately, his proposals are not panaceae, and, further, as you suggest, not all voice majors and other college students are ideal participants in a parish music program which aims to be a quite serious one. Many of them are ethically and responsibility challenged, some quite seriously so. Many more are happy and proud to be a part of serious music making and would jump at the chance (and the stipend) actually to participate in fine motets and anthems, and even as a plus, to get to direct a mass or an anthem on their way to becoming choirmasters themselves. We must avoid the tempting old habit of judging students and teenagers by the ones who get into the newspapers for doing awful things... or who are not trustworthy in music making: these are a small minority of teenagers and young musicians, not the majority, which often displays exemplars of virtue... fine young men and women who are pursuing their goal in life.

    So, while there are attendant problems which you bring before us, it seems to me, yet, that you have raked Jeffrey over too many and too hot coals; certainly more than of which he is deserving - at least in this matter.

    It seems to me that this problem goes much deeper in Catholic liturgical culture in the US than can be summed up by the questionable dependability of some paid singers and the laughable non-participation on the part of adults and youth the the parish choir and other musical endeavours. Speaking of a minimal ideal for a moment, it isn't farfetched to expect an average medium sized parish of appreciable means to have a well balanced volunteer choir of at least 20 persons, with at least four (eight if affordable) paid section leaders, serving under a competent full or at least 3/4 time choirmaster-organist who has a real organ to play and knows how to play it.

    I do not see this paradigm as the solution to a problem. I see it as something that should be normative, not extra-ordinary, a given in a church's life, the absence of which would be cause for feelings of great loss, or of incompleteness. For there is an incompleteness, a vacuum, where these things, these normative musical attributes of parish liturgy, are not found.

    This raises the question: why are they not found in most Catholic churches, but are in most Protestant ones? It is in answering this question that we discover why Jeffrey's suggestions are taken to be by some as a simplistic panacea. It is also where we find that those who took issue with him have done so on thin ice. The problem, put simply, is Catholic liturgical culture as it has come down to us. It is a culture in which 'the people' are taught, trained, and shaped in many subtle ways to be largely passive, or at best, marginal, participants in the mass. They are not really taught that their active participation is necessary or important. They are not expected to really know what spiritual and theological treasures unfold in the ineffable drama that is each and every mass. They are as likely to come late and leave early as they are to 'attend' to the whole mass as something in which they are an inextricable part. They are, to repeat, largely marginal and passive in a liturgical act in which the priest is understood to be the only one whose role is critical or necessary.

    Thus, when, like Protestants, Catholics are taught and believe that the eager participation of every individual person is important, that his and her responses, utterances, attention, and song are not only greatly desired but are a precious and prized responsiblity and right, will we see better hymnody, appreciation of choral repertory, and chant, flower in a setting in which all are not just participants, but insist on performing their part as well and as spontaneously as the priest. This does not at all diminish the unique role or importance of the priest. Far from it: it increases it!

    Attending liturgy at an Anglican church and then going to one at a Catholic church, one will be struck immediately by the atmospheric differences. Aside from theology, one will note that the Protestants or Anglicans are full of life, eager, energetic in their song, their responses, their Alleluyas, in every part of the mass that is theirs. They speak with one voice and do so in wonderful rhythm with the priest. No one has to motion for them to stand or sit. They KNOW when, and do it irrepressibly as one body. They are taught from their youth up NOT to be passive observers, but active participants. This is in stark contrast to the Catholic church in which responses are sort of mumbled, song is usually rather mumbled (not that it's likely to be anything worth singing!), they can't stand, sit, or kneel without someone motioning for them to do so, and their engagement in the mass as the unified act of a community of believers pales in comparison to that of Protestants. This has been injected into their genes from their youth up. Well, of course, the desideratum lies in a marriage of these two realities. Protestants (at times) can seem irreverent to a degree that would, indeed, be out of place in the Catholic church; but, Catholics can seem utterly dead, lifeless, to a degree which is, also, out of place in a Catholic church. This needs to change. And, when it does, the wisdom of Jeffrey's suggestions will become apparent. For they would be hallmarks of a truly worshipping people who are fully alive in (and because of) the presence of their God.

  • dad29
    Posts: 2,126
    Egads, Mr. Osborn, your experience of Catholic churches is.......awful.

    It is fair to say that RC's have not grown up in a culture of 'singing at Mass.' But to paste all RC parishes with your unhappy's a bridge too far.

    I've been in five different parishes (all OF) over the last 20 years. None of them are the bunch of sad-sacks you portray, albeit all could be "better" at singing.

    This brings up the question: is the purpose of worship to sing well? Is 'good sing' a marker of 'good parish'?

    Because, frankly, it ain't.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,469
    Good singing is a nice thing to have. Paid singers are not an option at my parish. One of my predecessors would bring in paid singers for his concerts to get a better choir sound. The resentment is still there, to this day.

    Yes, Catholics are taught to be passive, but some of that is from rampant clericalism. If Catholics were less passive, they might have run rotten clerics out of town years ago.

    I know it is hard to convince musicians, but in the Catholic Church, we are not always considered "essentials." In Protestant churches, although they do have "The Real Absence," they do value musicians - or at least, some of the mainstream denominations do.
  • This comment assumes what MJO says is true: Catholic music is dead and lifeless in part because of the music but also in part because the PIPs are basically dead and lifeless.

    If musical participation will come only when they are alive in their faith, then it is basically a kind of liturgical piety that is needed. But if a liturgical piety is needed, they need a reason to be pious before the case can be made for it.

    So really, there's a simple answer that's also a hard answer. Just like there's no secret to losing weight --- diet and exercise --- if MJO is correct, there's no secret to promoting liturgical participation, internal or external. It'll come down to reinvigorating a genuine faith, full of Eucharistic piety. It takes support from your pastor, and it will only grow slowly, involves scheduling worthy music, &c. Individual tactics may vary, and they should, but there's no secret to the overall strategy.

    That is, if we want the external sign to be a sign of something, rather than an end in itself.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Jackson, you live in Houston. As I understand it, in Texas there is a legal defense that goes something like this: Judge: "Lamar, why did you shoot Earl dead?" Lamar: "He needed killin', yer honor." Judge: "Well, okay then. Case dismissed."
    You yourself have raked many souls, including mine, under the white hot weight of your intellect many times in the past, for far lesser points of deference.
    Jeffrey's a grown *ss man, he can defend himself and his opinions if he's standing fast with them. Problem is, he also has a penchant for dreaming up concepts such as his post at the Cafe that are not well thought through, premised upon general and stereotypical presumption that will frame and suit his remedy nicely, and then sells them with a Harold Hill certainty. And my response was not intended to decry the solution as one of a myriad that can be considered. It was exactly intended to ask Jeffrey to look beyond the confines of his intellect and mind's eye, which is where I dwell in my career and do many of us. Nothing of what he proposes is "wrong." Nothing of what I characterize is "mean spirited" or untrue either. I have managed both kids at Kmart and college ringers. It is not a long term nor guar-an-darn-teed solution to any and all your choral needs at yer bereft, languishing parish.
    If all of us CMAA advocates would practice what Christ preached we'd listen a heckuva lot more to our detractors like Mr. Flowerday, and examine his analyses of just why everyone doesn't think the same way we do. And, BTW, is there some sort of group-think rule in place at CMAA that for seven years I've failed to get the memo? If there is, then I could rattle off a whole bunch of names of other much more notable intellects and tree-shakers in the RotR crowd who also didn't get the memo.
    Jeffrey writes what he writes, as do we all. If he, as he has publicly said time and again, wants this forum to remain open to all free ideas and expression, he will accept that his zeal for this latest elixar solution could possibly strike many folks as counter productive to all that CMAA philsophically stands for.
  • MELO -
    I hope that my remarks were not conceived of as half as in- or ill-tempered as they saem to have struck you and dad29. In my mind they assuredly weren't. I shall stand by them as generally ringing true of much in Catholic liturgical culture in this country (and, most probably everywhere else). If this weren't so, Catholic parishes would not need that person at the microphone to tell them when to stand, sit, or kneel, and try to cajole them into singing something that is insulting to sing. They would just know these things and do them, and would just know what the hymn is because it is printed in their service folder and they would WANT to sing it. The person at the microphone would not only be unneeded but viewed as an irritating intruder.

    As for Texas? I have never heard the legal defense which you quote, but do find it amusing... and rather Texan. I, however, have never claimed to be an exemplar of Texan-ness... nor has any Texan ever thought that I was.
    There is a bumper sticker which one ocassionally sees in 'these parts' which reads 'I wasn't born in Texas but I got here as soon as I could'. Well, I wasn't born here, but was brought here by my family at a young age. I've been trying to get out ever since, but seem for rather vague reasons not actually to do so. After all, this is where my friends and colleagues are... AND, this is where Walsingham is!
    Thanked by 1E_A_Fulhorst
  • Too many pastors feel music is just the "icing on the cake", and feel it's not important enough to pay for musicians and/or choirs that will be dedicated and responsible enough to attend both sectionals and full choir rehearsals. Sad...........
  • Well, I was one of those college ringers who converted.And yes, where I am now, we had key personnel who "had to" go out of state for Christmas. Well, gee, I have an 81 year old father who doesn't have a lot of Christmasses ahead of him, and I had to leave directly from the 11AM Mass to be with him. Fact is, if you're hiring college students, the kindest thing you can do for them is treat them like professionals, expecting them to use a professional skill set (with perhaps a little more slack than you'd cut a London layclerk), and canning them if they don't. If they "never pass Theory 1A or sight singing", you'll teach them that they'd best do so, or learn to enjoy a career as a barrista. That's a favor to them, the profession, and the Church.

    If we want to stick with chant, we can get away with trained volunteers; that's what most parishes had through most of history. That might be the solution for parishes who can't or won't hire professionals. But if we insist on singing a repertoire written for professionals (and worse, singing repertoire from several different periods, where the professionals had very different stylistic expectations), we're going to have to hire professionals.
    Thanked by 1Jahaza
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I'm wondering what in Charles's opposition to the idea can't be said about paid music directors.

    I managed singers before, college-aged and otherwise, good and bad. You keep the good and fire the bad. They help out the choir a lot, and the choir loves to have them. Potential joiners see a larger, younger group and get more excited about it.

    "Fact is, if you're hiring college students, the kindest thing you can do for them is treat them like professionals"

  • Liam
    Posts: 4,440
    Well, in addition to be a fruit of the decay of popular musical literacy in the past century, this is also the fruit of a centuries-old juridical focus on liturgy: the focus on Doing It Right In The Minimum Amount of Time And With The Most Efficient Effort To Satisfy What The Law Requires. Pastors got that memo centuries ago: Trent's reforms in practice were directed primarily to the first three words.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I think Charles has a point about Jeff's tone, but I wonder if Charles has read any of Jeffrey's political writing. It's much the same sort of thing: if only everyone would ____, the world would be perfect! I, too, find it overbearing, but also endearing in its eagerness.

    Yes, the hyperbole is spread thick, but that's part of the charm. Perhaps why that's why we have Chant Cafe - getting more voices out there, so the excesses of one needn't reflect on us all?
    Thanked by 1E_A_Fulhorst
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    I am gratified, Gavin, that you reiterate my real and only point in your second post, because my "opposition" in your first was not about his "idea." And I did declare unabashedly my love and appreciation to Jeffrey that he enriches our world and has thus eternally endeared himself to me. He may be scratching his head now over that and muttering "With friends like Charles...." but it wouldn't be his first time.
    Oh, and yes, I have read some of his economic writings distilled at CRISIS. And actually taken in a YouTube interview about econ which was ebullient. But the content is way above my pay grade.;-)
  • Too many pastors feel music is just the "icing on the cake",

    In seminary priests who sang chant in Latin from the Liber went to their parishes understanding the need for music in the mass, in the convent sisters who sang in Latin from the Liber during their novitiate went to their parishes knowing what the nusic should be.

    They were the coaches of the male and female farm teams of chant, teams that produces priests, monks, sisters and nuns at times.

    We don't have farm teams or coaches, instead we have lay people whose experience unless they have been exposed to CMAA who know little or nothing.

    JeffreyQ, we need to hire them...or train them. You're right.

    Thanked by 1elaine60
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    JeffreyQ, we need to hire them...or train them. You're right.

    Noel, in either case, the "we" you speak of are supposedly degreed and experienced Catholic DMs, of whom rightly Gavin suggests are not created equal, cookie cutter CMAA folk.
    Given that, I'd rather train the youngster whom I encounter in a parish or school situation. If I have to resort to fishing for ringers, I ain't much of a DM, save for the fact that I am self-aware or deluded to the point I am incompetent. Not a healthy scenario.
    If you're flush, and have your pastor's carte blanche, live in that market.
    I work in a mega parish. I have to account for every dime that is spent in a world where the zombie apocalypse winds along our mother parish after 7am every morning.
    Outside of accompanists' invoices (as private contractors) I virtually function in a net sum zero methodology. And that, among other things (thanks Chuck Giffen) keeps me in the picture to proceed and progress.
    And, the proof is in the pudding. I have everything in the cards pointing to a former high school, un-remumerated student taking my position seamlessly (all things equal) in a few years. Deo Gratias.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • I come at this topic from a slightly different point of view. I am a cantor at my current church and a volunteer ringer in the choir. However I currently live in a mid-sized city and can get away financially with just the added income from a couple of funeral masses a month. In looking for work as a young singer though, all that is out there on sites like choralnet are positions as a section leader at Episcopal and Lutheran churches. I love my faith, but I also need to make a living. Unfortunately for me, that may result in my singing at a protestant church for a time, unless I can find a Catholic parish that is willing to pay me for my skill set. I know a number of young, emerging professional singers who are in the same boat.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,227
    Excellent, truly high-level choirs have paid section leaders. I have served as a paid section leader in both Protestant and Catholic choirs. Now, as a DM, I have them in my choir. Because of them, we can do better music, and we produce a better sound, always enhancing the liturgy.

    Thank you to Jeffrey for a great article.
  • R J StoveR J Stove
    Posts: 302
    I have only just realized that in this context "ringers" does not mean, as I had previously supposed it did mean, "bell-ringers."

    Maybe, as Leo Rosten would have put it, "I should of stood in bed."
    Thanked by 1canadash
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,469
    I long ago accepted the fact that I have a volunteer choir of mostly older people, and that they will not tolerate paid singers. As much as I might like a better sound, they do not, and will never rival the Mormon Tabernacle. My choir has its good days, and also the days that are not so good. It is as it is, and likely will remain.
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,478
    Excellent, truly high-level choirs have paid section leaders.

    I think that many priests don't really care if they have an excellent or truly high-level choir. This is not important. The leaky roof is. The fact that the choir director is frustrated by the lack of attendance or dedication is really the director's problem and a another problem of many, especially in a large parish. I think that a choir which provides the necessities for Mass and the feasts is enough for the majority of priests.
  • donr
    Posts: 969
    Actually I believe that most priests would love to pay for DMs, Organists, Cantors and section leaders. Unfortunately they have choices to make and they have parish councils to contend with. If the Catholic congregations actually gave 10% of their earnings like a lot of protestants did there would be plenty of money for all of this. The unfortunate thing is that the average parishioner in our church, gives less than than $5 a week. A parish can not run on this. So they cut out where they can. If you have volunteers who will do it for free, why pay them.... and you get what you pay for!!
  • jpal
    Posts: 365
    Two years ago I hired a cantor/chorister and she sang just alongside all the volunteers for almost a year before starting to take more of a leadership role. By that time she had gained the friendship of everyone else as well as respect for her talent. People trusted her and listened. I just hired another singer who will be "broken in" in a similar fashion. Over the next few years hopefully I'll have the funds to get two more.

    The volunteers see what the pros have to offer, and since the pros are willing to become a part of the choir's social aspect, and really get to know the other singers before starting to lead, they are seen as "part of" rather than competition.

    I didn't plan it this way. If I had my way, when I got here I would have hired four hot shots right off the bat to help me whip everyone into shape. I'm glad I didn't have the funds to do that, because I think that patience will pay off in this case.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,469
    Unlike some Protestant churches, Catholics don't get to keep so much of their money in the local parish. The diocese "skims" a hefty percentage from offerings, to support a sometimes bloated chancery and various assorted programs and hangers-on. Some of those expenses may be justified, some maybe not. If the parish is connected to a school, even more money disappears into a black hole. I wonder if comparisons between Protestant and Catholic churches are a bit like the apple/orange argument.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,789
    ... I virtually function in a net sum zero methodology. And that, among other things (thanks Chuck Giffen) keeps me in the picture to proceed and progress.
    Really, melocharlie??? I am so confused, but you are welcome. :-)

  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Well, Chuck, I haven't had to submit or pay for a JWPepper invoice in those seven years. So, I think that's a great factor in that I can report to the administrator and the pastor that our monetary budget is allocated for accompanists covering 18 weekend/holyday Masses. And then we have been able to purchase, in some cases double sets for rehearsal/church, the PBC, Cath. Choir Anthology, Simple English Propers and RR's Choral Communios from stipends given us from weddings and funerals. Money well spent.
    And by the way, we loved singing your carols and motets this last Christmas! It was a pleasure prior to MIdnight Mass sharing with our parishioners how your resource has revolutionized and vitalized the return of musica sacra to RC parishes worldwide.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,789
    Ah, duh!! But don't thank me; instead, please thank CPDL and its many generous contributors of public domain and other free music. CPDL has had a record year: nearly 2,200 new editions were contributed, including more 1,700 newly available works, passing the 15,000 works mark in December, 70% of which are sacred music works. As of today, CPDL lists 1,774 modern sacred works, of which 1,496 are choral works other than hymns.

    melocharlie: Thank you especially for programming some of my own works this past Christmas. Between your programming and CBS (their Christmas Eve special "One Christmas Story" had a delightful performance of my arrangement of "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing" sung by the Berks Youth Chorus), I was truly humbled and gratified.
  • Bravo, Jeffrey. Choral Scholars, as we call them, have deepened the way we pray and appreciably enhanced the quality of music we offer for the past seven years at Saint Peter's in Columbia, South Carolina . I rehearse our choral scholars, either as soloists/cantors, or in pairs or quartets, to sing all our "organ" (now called "choral") Masses each weekend. You prep one cantor or combination thereof, have an extended Saturday rehearsal before that first Mass of Anticipation, and you're good to go for the entire weekend. I fail to understand how so many parishes endure the results of a hasty rehearsal between an over-worked organist and a nervous volunteer cantor that inevitably ends in disappointment for all concerned. Without a doubt, having choral scholars is something parishes should get behind: whether they be recruited from the local college or university community or from your town high school.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,469
    Without a doubt, having choral scholars is something parishes should get behind: whether they be recruited from the local college or university community or from your town high school.

    I think choral scholars would be wonderful. However, if it involves money, it is the pastor who decides how much is available, and how it should be spent. If the parish is unwilling to provide funds, it puts the director in the position of having to do with what he has. That may turn out well, or it may not.

    BTW, just got my brochure on the upcoming regional AGO convention in Mark's area. I am trying to finagle a way to attend at least some of that. It should be well worth attending.
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    I think choral scholars would be wonderful. However, if it involves money, it is the pastor who decides how much is available, and how it should be spent. If the parish is unwilling to provide funds, it puts the director in the position of having to do with what he has. That may turn out well, or it may not.


    I still don't understand how a pastor can expect to hear professional-level music without paying anyone.

    Would you ask a professional bricklayer of 40 years to repair your chimney for minimum wage? Let alone free? Purchase the materials himself and work on the house at times that are most convenient for your personal schedule?

    Quality comes with a price ... you get what you pay for.
  • I've belonged to and sung in or supported Anglican and Catholic and and Eastern Orthodox liturgical singing, and Mennonite and secular-but-singing-in-church choirs all my life. I've never been paid (except to accompany). Maybe one choir, not a liturgical choir, had paid ringers. That's the context, and:

    1) no parish I've recently known or belonged to could shake another 30k/yr loose from the money tree even it it wanted to.

    2) no parish I've belonged to, neither priest nor people, wanted "professional-level" music, even when they wanted good music or sacred music (which not all, alas). The choir should sound like _us_ singing our best to God. (Granted, this attitude sometimes amounts to anti-art, anti-culture: sacred sing-along. But even when there's a parish musical tradition, it still should sound like "us".)

    3) ... And it should _be_ us. In communities and parishes I've belonged to, a musician "brought in", even a volunteer and let alone an underpaid student, would be anomolous unless and until he "joined the community". No more would you "hire in" an actor as a lector, would you?

    4) this has nothing to do with the question of paying the director of music, who (if there's any kind of music programme at all) needs to be paid because of the large amount of work he needs to do - and invariably is paid something, in my experience.

    No doubt I lack breadth of vision. For example, I haven't ever worked with a cathedral choir. But some of the above discussion seems to be from another planet.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,469
    Andrew, as you indicate, in church music there are the "haves," and then there are the "have nots." The "haves" sometimes live in a world most of us long for, but it doesn't reflect reality in most parishes. I am somewhere in the higher middle, in that I have, but not greatly.
  • donr
    Posts: 969
    I think that in a perfect world professional musicians and singers would get paid to do their craft. Although I agree with Andrew above on most points I have to say that there is nothing wrong with striving for the ideal.
    I know that I will not be paid because we are a small parish with no budget. I do it because someone needs to do it and it is a labor of love.
    However, I have to say that when things are purchased in the Parish that I think are foolish like the revolving one year hymnal and seasonal Missallette it makes want to scream that they could be using some of that money to at least compensate the organist(even a little stipend or a yearly party or ?).
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,469
    I am a paid DM/Organist, but it is a rather small salary. I could easily double or triple it if I left for the Protestants. Granted, that would mean leaving many of my long-time friends. All other musicians are volunteers. CPDL is my greatest resource, and I am most grateful for it.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • jpal
    Posts: 365
    Well said about the wasted money. The first thing the priests and I did was slow and then stop so much money from flowing monthly/yearly into a black hole (which, in our case, was OCP). Switching everything to Vatican II Hymnal/public domain music has saved an incredible amount of money that can, in our case, be directed toward personnel. So now we pay less for "stuff" and more for people. This is a lot of money because we have somewhere around 900 slots in the pews that had to be filled with disposable materials.
    Thanked by 2donr elaine60
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Mark, your nomenclature for what Jeffrey indelicately (thank you, Jackson) refers to as "ringers" is telling and quite to the point of my quibbling with the premise of JT's argument. In your parish for seven years you, Mark, are in place to further these young musicians' expertise and skill set. And commentary here and at the Cafe supporting this worthy enterprise no one ought to criticize. But that was NOT made conditional in JT's clarion call, that there be someone qualified to mentor these students from ringer to choral scholar status. I know that JT did modify his call in his last paragraphs to all parishes who want this quick fix, but the overall thrust was "This would work for everybody right now!" And tho' I want to avoid redundancy, the experiences of Todd, Andrew, myself and far many others to cultivate the vineyards of parish music organically, varied they may be, stand in stark contrast to your exasperated certainty that homegrown choirs, "so many" of them, fall into your preconception of hasty, over-worked and nervous programs that "inevitably" results in dissapointment for all. Even if you cite more than a few anecdotal tales of evidence, you cannot decree those to be the standard. But yet, even if they were, I take comfort in Andrew's honest preference for humility as well as effort rather than performance expectations that meet an urbane pastor's criteria.
    If one wants to know how I really feel about changing the terroire for future musical harvests, read Kathy Pluth's article at the Cafe about longitudinal progress via starting children's scholas in parishes.
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    I'm writing an article for my church bulletin about sacred music, pointing out that it is "of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art," (SC112), and I can't help but comment here that it is flat out unacceptable that any parish expect that it be a "labor of love." Mine does, and it was one of the first things I complained about (and apparently others complained that the DM was getting paid but they got nothing). It's a major frustration of mine, and I am certain that its the reason we are not able to find as many musicians as we need. (It's one of my long-term goals to get these people a little cash for their time and talents).

    "If you're good at something, never do it for free."

    We're talking about the most valuable art of the church. I bet those stained glass windows weren't free. Did the carpenter build the pews for the sake of "stewardship?" Who installed the A/C unit? Was their work "volunteer," and did the manufacturer offer the unit for free as an act of "ministry?"

    And, as I've asked before ... how many church secretaries work for free?

    With no budget to compensate competent individuals for their service toward the church's most treasured art, they will all inevitably leave for someone who will pay for their years of training and experience. The "stewardship parishes" will never improve.

    You want to improve your flooring? Hire professionals. You want to improve your music? Hire professionals. You want art which lives up to the status of INESTIMABLE VALUE? Hmm, hire professionals.

    Zero is not comparable to inestimable. We know that our organists and singers will never be millionaires through the church, but a reasonable living wage ought to be expected for something of inestimable value, shouldn't it?
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    I'm starting to wonder if this discussion has wandered from practicality to philosophy for its own sake and merit. I've taken pains to distinguish what I believe Jeffrey said, what I think he meant to say, and to respond about generalities with realities. No one has suggested that parishes ought to fully abandon the all-volunteer music staff modality. To the contrary, beyond organists/accompanists/choirmasters/DMs, if a parish is flush, begin a choral scholar enterprise.
    But though, such as in a situation like mine, where we have five/six paid accompanists over 18 Masses, a FT DM, the heart of this enterprise has to remain in the volunteer singer focus.
    Most of those Masses have choral ensembles under the direction of the professional accompanists, who rehearse them weekly. We also have a youth minister whose undergrad was MusPerf who leads with a huge, successful ensemble at generally two Masses per Sunday whose job description and remuneration doesn't mention music. We have professionally trained singers who not only volunteer their time covering Mass assignments, but who also mentor young singers training to be psalmists (we don't train cantors, personal choice of mine.) And we also mentor those who direct/play and direct on techniques that help them get from A-B more efficiently.
    But if one of the psalmists, or small duo/trio ensemble singers were to request payment, the floodgates of losing the whole music program would be destablized greatly.
    I mention this only as an example that philosophy and remedy must be tailored. There is, as I've tried to emphasize, no easy and long lasting fix that'll work in all cases just by going to the nearest HS/JC/College and putting up a handbill.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,418
    One thing that hasn't been mentioned at all yet:
    It seems to me that any parish large enough to have money for paid singers is also large enough to have a requisite number of volunteer singers.
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    We have professionally trained singers who not only volunteer their time covering Mass assignments ...

    Well then, I'll just go and ask my professionally-trained mechanic to volunteer his time covering my next 10,000 mile check-up.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,784
    Somebody tossed out a number of $30K, but the budget probably doesn't need to be that high: four singers, 52 weeks, at, say, $75/week (adjust for your location); that comes in at $15.6K. A little more if you add the Triduum and a few holy days.
    Thanked by 2Gavin E_A_Fulhorst
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Richard, that was an adjustment earlier in the thread about having the scholars at not just one Mass, but three.

    @ryand-not only was your analogy completely not germane, but it was definite snark if not snide, not to mention a foul ball dismissal of a fact that many of us who've been at this for many decades probably benefit by: spouses who are professional musicians who function virtually as adjunct to their spouses' principal duties, as well as other singers/musicians with degrees who haven't forsaken stewardship to their parish through talent.
    Thanked by 1E_A_Fulhorst
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    At my most recent former parish, a two-church cluster, we set up a four-person choral scholars program for one Mass (of 4), at only one of the parishes, every two weeks. Excluding Holy Week, each student was paid up to $500/semester (for no more than 10 Masses), and they rotated the cantor position for no extra charge. Total cost: $2000/semester. The students did not sing during the summer but they did provide extra music for the Triduum and occasionally for Holy Days at the regular professional rate.

    After two full semester cycles, reception was so warm that the second parish finance council requested an apportionment to have the singers at one of its Masses as well. The moral of the story is that if you start slow, instead of throwing out a massive figure from the start (as in the above 52-week plan, which is hard to contract anyway since people do occasionally go out of town), congregations have a better shot at getting behind your work.

    Second, it is possible for "the ringer" group to raise some of its own money with a Christmas concert or some other concert with donations taken at the door.

    Last, I bristle somewhat at the notion that musicians should get up in arms about doing stuff "for free." I usually sing on a volunteer basis at several Masses I would attend anyway and request payment for those that I wouldn't (e.g., at another parish, "Thanksgiving," etc.). My wife and I both have doctoral degrees in music and for a couple of years we were the only cantors for the Saturday Mass at our parish--all volunteer. We would just show up and sight read the music, and since we had to go to Mass anyway...

    (Incidentally, I also do the majority of my own car repairs and have had occasion to call the dealership service desk for advice, which they have always given freely!) :-)
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,665

    i will gladly sing for your car repair event for a modest fee
  • While I am not a paid section leader, I am on the top of the cantor list for funerals and such and get paid through these. I think in many cases, even this would be passable for most emerging professional singers like myself. At least we get something for a trouble this way, assuming you rotate through cantors for these things and not just always call the same person every time. This still isn't enough compensation for everything I do for the parish (I am essentially an assistant DM), but it does take some of the sting out of the investment of my time.
    Thanked by 1canadash
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,115
    Francis, you crack me up.