How to (re)grow a choir?
  • Angelina
    Posts: 27
    Hello all! It's been a long while since I've posted, but I just wanted some feedback if you had it.
    I've been in my position for three years now, and my choir has shrunk.
    It's me on soprano, my husband singing alto (he's a tenor really), a lady on tenor (really!), and a gentleman on bass (more of a baritone, really). We have had various others, but they have dropped out for health reasons, or time, or other excuses. Frankly, I think they are intimidated with the genre and 'all the Latin'. (We are a NO parish, but we sing the Ordinary in Latin). We sing chant and motets and traditional hymns, yes, but it's nothing super difficult.

    It's just getting really grueling and thankless. I don't want to 'perform' at Mass, but I don't want to lower quality either. Should I make compromises in the style? Is there a new tactic to get people to join choir that I haven't thought of?

    I'm relatively young and the average age in our parish is probably upper fifties. Perhaps age is a factor? Previously the church had several choirs at a time I believe, but they did...different music.

    I'm at a loss and trying to not despair. I can't build a music program with four people. I guess it's not really a question, but regardless, I'd love your feedback and personal experience in this matter of getting people to sing in the pews and the choir! Thanks!
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 1,539
    We were 4 when we started, it has been difficult, but we kept going. 12 years later we have 2 Bass, 3 baritones, 2 tenors, 4 Altos and 2 sopranos...

    It is never a good idea to lower the quality, we would never have gained the professional musicians that sing with us.

    A friend now directs the choir at a nearby Parish, her day job is a music teacher at a top London private school, she tells us that when she went to Mass she would sit as far from the 'choir' as possible and try not to listen to the noise.
    When our chant choir turned up to sing on a monthly basis, as part of a plan to improve the music, the parish found they had a very good director of music to from a new choir.
  • I heartily agree with tomjaw: do not lower the quality of music. You want people who are interested in making real sacred music. Those who don't share this interest can only debase the choir, such as it is. Why, their presence would make it not a choir at all.

    On a more positive note, you might offer some catechesis (do you have Sunday morning or week night study classes and such?) about sacred music and the choir to your parish. Put a weekly music column in the parish newsletter. Be sure that the choir and music are on the parish website. Place inviting posters around. Ask the pastor to encourage qualified persons to join the choir and mention the spiritual benefits of doing so. Listen for voices in the congregation that would compliment your choir and speak to them personally. If there are 'announcements' at mass, ask to give a short presentation of the choir's role in the spiritual life of the parish and its need for growth. Are there known musicians or qualified persons in your parish? Contact them personally or by telephone. Invite them for lunch or for a coffee. Etc.

    I am reminded of a statement I encountered by Vladimir Ashkenazy on youtube the other night: 'if art does not reveal the eternal it is mere entertainment - and therefore not art at all'. This, I should think, applies 'in spades' to sacred music. We attend liturgy to encounter, express, receive, and adore the Eternal, not to be entertained. Don't lower your standards.
    Thanked by 3tomjaw CHGiffen Elmar
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,099
    Angelina, I understand your situation. I have days I would rather have four good people than some that I have. My choir has aged, and I have lost a couple of folks who can no longer climb the loft stairs. A few years back about one third of my choir left and went elsewhere because they didn't like our pastor at the time. Being honest, some of the ones I have left really can't sing very well. However, I muddle on. Having four good people is not a bad place to be, and is a good base to build on. Don't despair and don't get discouraged.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,474
    One word:

    Choristers.

    Children don't have the issues with Latin that adults have been conditioned to have over the past 50 years. They soak things up like sponges, and will make the adults try harder.
  • Angelina
    Posts: 27
    Thank you for the reassurance. I am going to teach music at the Parish School of Religion this year and I aim to have them singing at Mass. Hopefully it will be a kickstart. I have offered various classes for adults and chant camp for kids, but they were poorly attended by parishioners. Sometimes improving music feels like a losing battle.
    Thanked by 1eft94530
  • donr
    Posts: 942
    Its only a loosing battle until the last fighter surrenders. So don't. Keep up he good fight and eventually win the war.
    Thanked by 1eft94530
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,574
    If you let the campfire smoke drift into the tent even once,
    you will smell it forever after.
  • I found this post encouraging too! It's all very easy to let poor attendance or lack of choir members to wear on you... but we must remember Who we're singing for at Mass anyways, so let it be your best!
  • This is an unlikely scenario, but in some cases it is advantageous to dismiss the current group and start a new one. As I said, the instances where this would be the best course of action are rare.
  • Ali
    Posts: 31
    Hi! I'm mostly a lurker on this forum, but I've had some success with recruitment and thought I'd share.

    My #1 tool is a "Festival Choir". For 8 weeks leading up to Christmas and again before Holy Week, I invite any and all parishioners to join this short-term commitment to make our Christmas and Triduum liturgies extra special. I've had many people join over the last few years - at first out of curiosity and now because that choir turns out to make really beautiful music! From the festival choir I've converted a few each year to regular choir members. The key is that my festival choir rehearses with the regular choir and as much as possible at the same time as my regular choir so then after the big feast day is over I make the, "Well, you've already been making this part of your routine for the past 2 months..." pitch. I actually have it announced that I'll be outside Mass taking names a few Sundays before rehearsals begin and looking in the whites of people's eyes has quite the effect!

    #2 - The second most powerful tool I have for gaining musicians is a direct request from my pastor. I can smile and ask folks I know have a great voice all I want. They easily say no to me. But the big man in charge? That's harder to say no. I would not be a Catholic today (converted 2.5 years ago) nor would I have my job if the pastor of my husband's church hadn't called me after our honeymoon and asked me to join the choir. I remind my current pastor of that often and he has always obliged when I've asked him to approach a parishioner for me.

    Hope that helps!