• PolskaPiano
    Posts: 137
    I have a cantor I need to dismiss from cantoring. Her voice blends fine in a choir, and she is involved with an ensemble, a funeral choir, and the regular adult choir. I would hate to lose her in the choir, but after too many chances, I need her to step down. I attempted to bring my concerns to her months ago, but she broke down crying. It feels like breaking up! ha. Has anyone found a gentle way to dismiss a cantor who isn't quite good enough?
    Thanked by 2Don9of11 Elmar
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,804
    Does she receive a stipend on which she is partly dependent for her living? (That's about the only fact IMO that would potentially involve some additional consideration in terms of framing and timing.)
    Thanked by 2Don9of11 Elmar
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,610
    Tell her that everyone has different musical talents - hers lie in ensemble work while others might work better alone. Let her know how much you appreciate her in her other capacities, then stand your ground.

    Another idea is to do a re-audition of all the cantors and let her go after that. That way it wouldn’t seem like she is being singled out specifically.
    Thanked by 2Don9of11 cesarfranck
  • Carol
    Posts: 476
    Can you give more information as to why you feel the need to dismiss her? If she is so instrumental (no pun intended) in the choirs, why is it necessary? Can you do retraining or recommend voice lessons to bring her up to your standards for cantoring? Can you have her step down temporarily till she can learn the skills she is lacking?
    Thanked by 2Don9of11 cesarfranck
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 217
    Breaking up is hard to do... There is no easy way to tell someone their not cantor material. If you have exhausted all efforts to help her improve and your confident that nothing else will help this person then you got to tell her. Carol and matthewj offer some excellent suggestions but remember your obligations and the trust that the pastor has placed in you.
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,804
    Word of advice: Do not succumb to any temptation to inform her by email or letter.
  • IdeK
    Posts: 48
    Word of advice : do not just prevent her from cantoring (not scheduling her...) without telling her.

    It was done to me. It hurts when you find out you are not wanted anymore, but nobody has had the nerve to tell you and the person in charge of the scheduling just stopped to include you, and you don't know why.

    (That was my former parish, when I was 22. I now cantor with much joy in my current parish, which I am sadly leaving in a few weeks/months).
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,084
    I would love to be in the position where I could pick and choose cantors. Currently, I have one cantor left after the others moved away.
    Thanked by 2cesarfranck Elmar
  • cesarfranck
    Posts: 98
    If she cried earlier, this is going to be very difficult for you to navigate. The above suggestions are all excellent. If you are not going to ask all cantors to audition again, you certainly need to have a third party whom you both trust present when you deliver the bad news to her. I am not suggesting that you be manipulated by tears. I do think you need to do this very cautiously based upon the details you gave.
    Thanked by 3Liam Elmar Carol
  • PolskaPiano
    Posts: 137
    Liam- No stipend
    MatthewJ- I have avoided "reauditioning" but that seems like a wise idea now
    Carol- Thanks for asking. It turns out that she was just beginning the process of learning to cantor- but did not actually cantor yet- when I arrived. She stepped in to show me the ropes even though they weren't always right! (lol)
    Re responsorial psalms: thought many cantors still struggle with the unmetered chant verse, hers is very rigid and metered, almost accenting every work. Quite a few times she doesn't get the notes right or misses a line. In my opinion, the tone of her voice is not pleasant to listen to on the psalm tones or even refrain. I can only describe it like a laser beam, compact and forceful. I have worked with her to lift the palate, sing open (ahs), sing from the diaphragm, how to chant less forcefully and more naturally, but whether nerves or something else, when she goes up, she falls back to the previous habits. My biggest problem was she would slough it off and laugh afterwards and say, "Well, the important thing is that I tried." I understand this may be a way to protect herself from feeling bad.
    Liam, Idek- Of course not. I understand.

    Don- I actually do believe some help could get her closer to where she needs to be, but I do not enjoy working individually with her. There is a lot of time spent, but I am starting to get the feeling that I should be putting the time in with her.

    I do not wish to work individually with her each week, but I would be open to helping her when she is scheduled to cantor. Or perhaps we could do a cantor workshop this summer. Or a weekly time where all the cantors rehease (we have 4 weekend masses). Comments, criticisms and ideas welcome.
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 217
    PolskaPiano, something our MD has done is to have the cantors sit in the pews, our church architecture is what I call "round-about" (https://stpaulakron.org/directions-campus-map) so the cantors sit in various sections and one after the other goes to ambo and chants the psalm, preferably the same one, just like you would for Sunday Mass so if you play the organ or piano, just practice like you do for Sunday. They all grade each others, strengths and weaknesses, such as eye contact, command of the psalm tone and the text, articulation, do they bow before the altar, etc., you can make up your own criteria, the point is, each cantor helps the other and of course you're grading each of them as well. This might seem a little silly at first but it can be fun and educational. Any criticism from the cantors or yourself has to be constructive and not demeaning. I would say keep working with her but include the other cantor's no matter what their skill level is, no cantor is perfect. I'm sure all your cantor's could use a little help or a lot, perhaps even a refresher course.
    Thanked by 1sergeantedward
  • Carol
    Posts: 476
    This sounds like a person who could become a cantor with the right encouragement. If you are able to work with her on the psalm, that might be the best solution. I like the idea of a cantors' workshop and having cantors provide feedback to each other. I think having another cantor mentor her might also be useful if you have someone who could do it. If you do feel the need to actually let her go, I agree that having a third party sit in is a wise idea, especially if you are male and she is female and prone to crying- I would enlist a kind older woman to be there. I think if she doesn't already think of herself as a trained singer, encouraging her to take voice lessons doesn't tear her down. It recognizes that she has talent and desire but needs to work on real confidence, intonation, and expression in order to sing the psalm properly.

    Don9of11 I don't cantor down front any more but when I did, I tried NOT to make eye contact. I kept my chin up, but I didn't want the focus to be on me as a person, but on the text of the psalm.
    Thanked by 1Don9of11
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 217
    Carol, I usually made eye contact during the response of the psalm, the verses you almost have to keep your eye on because publishers it seems are always changing the words. I wasn't able to do this with through composed psalms, which I don't care for, I prefer the Gregorian tones which can be easily mastered. In our parish, I found through comments and conversations with parishioners they felt a connection to the word of God that was being proclaimed to them when I made eye contact. I'm sure it varies from parish to parish.
    Thanked by 2a_f_hawkins Carol
  • Carol
    Posts: 476
    Don, that makes sense to me. As was the custom, I did have to raise my arm to indicate the response should be sung by all. I really prefer being up in the choir loft, as we currently do here. You are right, a lot varies from parish to parish.
    Thanked by 1Don9of11
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,468
    Have a watch of how people in a conversation avoid talking over each other, and yet leave hardly any gaps in the flow of words. It is, I think, done with eye contact. If the assembly is small enough a responsorial psalm will work like that without arm waving.
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 217
    I don't care for raising the arm (even though I did), after all you're supposed to be Catholic congregation, you ought to know what to do!

    Carol, I love to sing in the choir loft. My first 30 years of singing in the choir was singing in St. Mary's choir loft. Now I'm being punished, I'm in the corner at St. Paul's...lol.(we don't have a choir loft)
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • If the congregation is led competently with musical cues, arm waving is not only un-necessary, it's distracting.
    Thanked by 2GerardH Carol
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,804
    Often, but not always. Depends on acoustical favorability of the space and congregation location in it. I've been in spaces where no amount of competent aural cues will do as well as the visual ones.
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • CatholicZ09
    Posts: 25
    I am a cantor at my parish, and I found the arm-waving very uncomfortable and comical at first. My music director likes us to raise both arms to signal the start of the hymn or the response, but I only ever lift one arm for about two seconds. I feel that both arms makes me look like I’m signaling a touchdown.

    I know one cantor holds both of her arms up during the whole refrain of the responsorial psalm. It makes me feel so awkward. LOL.
    Thanked by 2Don9of11 Carol
  • tandrews
    Posts: 37
    There is a certain cantor I remember in grad school who would conduct everyone with both hands at the beginning of each hymn and psalm refrain.
    Thanked by 1KARU27
  • KARU27
    Posts: 107
    If the cantor is going to wave her arms around, she may as well conduct. It might be more useful that just the upraised arm!
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,468
    Musicam Sacram (my emphases)
    21. Provision should be made for at least one or two properly trained singers, especially where there is no possibility of setting up even a small choir. The singer will present some simpler musical settings, with the people taking part, and can lead and support the faithful as far as is needed. The presence of such a singer is desirable even in churches which have a choir, for those celebrations in which the choir cannot take part but which may fittingly be performed with some solemnity and therefore with singing.
    GIRM 104. It is fitting that there be a cantor or a choir director to lead and sustain the people’s singing. When in fact there is no choir, it is up to the cantor to lead the different chants, with the people taking part.
    IGMR 104. Decet adesse cantorem vel magistrum chori ad cantum populi dirigendum et sustentandum. Immo, cum deficit schola, cantori competit diversos cantus moderari, populo pro sua parte participante
  • Hawkins,

    Some definitions are now needed.

    A properly trained singer can sing Gregorian chant. In terms of the public worship of the Church, a person who can not sing Gregorian chant is not properly trained.

    The means to achieve solemnity is to sing the various parts of the liturgical act.

    "can not take part" is, apparently, the result of being missing, not unqualified.

    Cantors and Choirmasters necessarily lead in distinct manners. The Latin seems to suggest that either a cantor or a choirmaster could lead and support the singing. In what way might each one lead or support the singing of the assembled lay faithful?

    What does "as far as is needed" mean? Is recorded music an appropriate level, even though it's forbidden elsewhere?
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,468
    CGZ I agree definitions are needed, I don't think we now have them. Way beyond my responsibility, as a PIP in a small town in a tiny country, to provide them.
    I would, however, suggest that "as far as needed" refers to relatively complex music assigned to congregations which if assigned to a choir would be conducted (a modern invention). I have been in congregations at special events in English Metropolitan Cathedrals where we needed conducting, but did not always get it.
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 6,859
    ...as far as needed...
    This, is it not, is the kind of language which is not really intended to establish a definite guideline or provide specific standards. Rather, it is couched purposefully to mean whatever a given reader wants it to mean; that whatever a certain cantor in a certain parish or cathedral situation deems is 'needed' he or she is free to do it. Do not the pirouettists and arm flailers do what they do under the pretext that it is 'needful'? - and the Church is not about to set them straight with definite directives and a prescribed aesthetic because it really doesn't care.
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 226
    Does God care?
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 6,859
    Does God...
    It matters to God whether we do or do not care - and how much we care.
    If we do not care, it means that we are ambivalent (if not totally 'care-less') about our worship of the All Holy. Yes, our caring could not but be pleasing to Him. Conversely.....
  • Jackson,

    You placed the "not" in the incorrect place, in my reading of the situation.

    You wrote: "is not really intended to establish a definite guideline".

    I think it is more correct to say, rather, "Is really intended NOT to establish a definite guideline".

    The only other possibility, it seems to me, is that the rules can be applied in a Catholic way only by those who already have a Catholic heart.

    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,538
    Quite a few times she doesn't get the notes right or misses a line. In my opinion, the tone of her voice is not pleasant to listen to on the psalm tones or even refrain. I can only describe it like a laser beam, compact and forceful.


    The misguided notion that there must be singing at a Mass, no matter how poorly it is sung, sadly opens the door to singers who cannot sing as leaders of music at the Mass.

    Thanked by 2Viola CHGiffen
  • ViolaViola
    Posts: 318
    I agree so much with the last post. Someone recently said to me (about another church choir) 'they had a go at the Hallelujah Chorus, and it really wasn't too bad'.
    I would have found that Mass an Occasion of Sin (as they used to say to us at school) because I would have been incensed by what seems to have been the poor quality of the music. But unaccountably some people seem to feel that a have-a-go attitude is something to be desired. Maybe I am being elitist.
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 6,859
    Maybe I am being elitist.
    If you are accused of being 'elitist' then you know that you are doing something right and good.
    It doesn't mean that you are actually, objectively 'elitist' -
    it means that someone just doesn't like what you are doing and is attempting to brand it as something beyond the pale.
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 226
    I do think there is a difference between people having the real capacity to do better (including aptitude, education, culture, money, books, teachers, etc.) and communities that simply have bigger fish to fry, or are so 'behind' in these things that to prohibit them singing unless they do well would be like banning children's school concerts on the grounds that they are often badly performed. They are edifying despite the badness, and the beginners have to begin at the beginning, and will give up in sorrow if not allowed some context in which to participate in things. And if there are none of the above-mentioned things, they may not ever get better. Aptitude is probably the only thing that is universally available. But without the rest it languishes.

    But for instance, who is to tell the sisters at the convent down the street that their singing is like fingers on a chalkboard? They sing every Mass every day. They seem totally cheerful about it. They wail their way through hymn after hymn, with gusto. They've probably never heard anything else.

    Should the parish that has had nothing but a guy on electric guitar and three ladies singing for decades just have silent Mass? No one sings along, usually, but apparently no one has complained (except me, privately, to God and to you).

    The next parish down has no music at all unless it's a funeral and the family paid to have the keyboard player come; this despite being in a wealthy area and having a large congregation. Sometimes one of the more creative priests sings random things during the Mass - possibly in Greek or Hebrew, with melodies I don't know.

    The sisters at the next convent over have no musicians but gamely sing strange "hymns" about fraternity and solidarity every morning.

    I dare not go to Mass at the Jesuit place that's designed like an auditorium, with padded chairs and abstract art, lest it terrify me.

    I'm pretty sure some of the folks that listen to us chant the propers at the EF every Sunday wish we would sing some fun hymns instead. Even some of the priests have asked us to. The schola director rigidly refuses, on the grounds that if you give an inch, they'll take a mile and in a short time all chant will be replaced by an EF four-hymn-sandwich. I believe him.

    Just on a random note: I once chanted the ordinary for a deacon's ordination, at his request. His fellow ordinand got to choose the music for the hymns. It was a rock band. Gregorian chant alternating with rock music was weird as heck, but the bishop kept a straight face, and I did, too. The kids in the band were very nice, though leaping up and down yelling during Mass seemed weird.

    I'm not sure if things need to change from the bottom up or top down, but I think a good deal of divine intervention is needed. And it seems to me that 'fixing the music' is only one of many things needing fixing.
  • Carol
    Posts: 476
    Today I have read through several different topics and realize I have a lot for which I should be grateful. The sacred music in my OF parish has evolved over time. We still do not chant the propers, but our current pastor (and the one before him) chants many of the prayers. We use mostly ICEL chanted Mass parts and the PIP do sing these well, we chant the Our Father well, too. We have the four hymns, but I don't think you would be horrified if you happened to attend Mass here. Above all, most people in this parish do understand the purpose of music in the Mass. We have had several priestly vocations arise from our parish in the last 50+ years, and I don't think that is a mere coincidence. Our parishioners, especially the families that have been here since the 60's, are good Catholics. It could be better, but we are not doing too badly compared to some places.
    Thanked by 2Blaise cesarfranck
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,732
    hers is very rigid and metered, almost accenting every work. Quite a few times she doesn't get the notes right or misses a line. In my opinion, the tone of her voice is not pleasant to listen to on the psalm tones or even refrain. I can only describe it like a laser beam, compact and forceful.


    From a few hundred miles (or more) distant, looks to me as though she's 'freezing'--stage fright. Often (not always) that's cured by practicing the material a lot before putting it 'on the road.' Sometimes the 'freeze' results in pitch problems, too. If you REALLY want to try a rescue, make her do the lines for at least 30 minutes before attempting at Mass.
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • Sometimes stage fright is conquered by a simple prayer: "May the angels sing with us".

    Sometimes stage fright is caused by [cut off in mid rant] .... the fact that the acoustics in the practice room and the church are sufficiently different.
  • Carol
    Posts: 476
    As a fairly seasoned cantor, I have noticed that stage fright usually occurs when one is focused upon oneself. Being very comfortable and well prepared with the psalm prior to the Mass and then being able to focus upon the text during the Mass will produce the best result- non-mechanical singing and the best technical singing the person is capable of. Running through the psalm with the accompanist, to be sure of how the melody and accompaniment mesh, is very useful even if you have picked out the melody at home and are solid. I was recently thrown off momentarily by an atypical G9 chord which was created by my melody note against the accompaniment (thank you Owen Alstott & OCP).
    Unfortunately, it was the "post mortem" analysis that revealed where I had gone astray. Lesson learned for me. I also mark up my text when necessary to be sure I don't lose my place, if I find during rehearsal at home that I am having trouble tracking and backtracking through the lines of text. Some of you who are younger and better trained musically may find this overkill, but for me these tricks keep me from becoming nervous.

    If possible, to set this person up for success, look ahead to a week when the psalm is very simple and mostly step-wise, especially if it is repeating a familiar psalm melody and assign it to this singer if you think you want to try and get improvement for this person.
    Thanked by 1Incardination
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,130
    imno the quickest way to extinguish any good congregational singing is to put a cantor with a mic in from of them.
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,568
    imno the quickest way to extinguish any good congregational singing is to put a cantor with a mic in from of them.


    You have to make sure that they extend their hand mechanically at a forty-five degree angle at the point where the congregation is supposed to join in. That seals the deal!
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 6,859
    Yes, the microphone is de rigueur -
    As is raising the arms the 45 degree (no less!) angle -
    But to ensure the heartiest singing one must perform the little pirouette while the arms are raised -
    Flailing of the arms is optional but recommended for the best results.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,084
    The cantor microphone in my loft hasn't been turned on in many, many months. Notice I used "cantor" and "loft" in the same sentence. They are in the loft and that's where they are staying.
    Thanked by 1StimsonInRehab