Congregational Singing Etiquette
  • I was reading an older post about someone complaining that a member of the congregation was singing loudly and could be heard over the choir and that it was interpreted as showboating.

    At my parish anyone who sings with good technique would either sound like they’re a lone singer trying to compete with the loudly mic’d cantor singing in a soloist of style because no one in the congregation sings, or if they do, it’s quietly to themselves, or they would be a lone singer singing louder than the choir because the choir is weak-sounding and its members aren’t the most experienced.

    What is the proper etiquette for congregational singing when you’re musically and vocally competent? (Joining the choir isn’t an option, nor do I want to, since they sing a lot of contemporary stuff).
  • Sponsa,

    "Etiquette", in this case, depends partly on where you are.
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,764
    I think it's a bit situational. We once had someone visit our parish who was a trained singer and was just passing through. She could have nearly functioned as cantor without a microphone because she was so loud. It was clear that she was a highly trained singer and was just projecting in keeping with her skills and training, not "showing off". I was pleased to hear her singing, although I think as a matter of personal prudence it might have been appropriate for her to turn it down a bit. A sort of, "read the room" situation. At least in this instance, I don't think it was showboating, much like I don't think I'm showboating when I sing out at other churches (and am often alone in doing so). But I also don't try to compete with the cantor, especially if everyone around me is very quiet.

    There ARE people who do make a habit of showboating, however, and that is clearly inappropriate, regardless of skill level.
  • How is congregational singing to occur if people who can sing don’t sing, because no one else is singing?
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,992
    There are people who in so many words effectively think Catholics in the pews should sing but rather feebly and not be audible more than 2-3 feet away. They are a legacy of generations of discouragement of singing. Handicap their opinions accordingly.

    IF you're musically and vocally competent, sit yourself halfway to two-thirds of the way back into the main worship space where your voice will best be blended by the acoustic and sing musically and competently. A supporting voice, not a leading voice.
  • CatholicZ09
    Posts: 273
    I sit about midway in the congregation whenever I’m not the cantor, and I have a louder voice, I would say. It depends on the Mass I attend. The Saturday evening 6:00 p.m. Mass has far less people who will sing, but the Sunday morning 10:00 Mass has a more vocal crew. I find I sometimes “stick out” when I sing at the 6:00 p.m. Mass because everyone else is quieter and/or not singing, but that’s really not my problem. I don’t showboat, but I do sing at a normal, but not-too-loud volume. Depends on the hymn, too.

    Catholics need to sing more. That’s one thing the Prots have always done better than us. I hate to say it, but it’s true.
  • WGS
    Posts: 299
    and carpets surely do not help! I recall singing in a 1990s newly constructed church which was carpeted throughout the pews. You could not hear the person on either side of you! All you could hear was your own voice. I believe it is a fact that most of the pips will not sing unless they hear singing from those located nearby in the congregation.
    Thanked by 1LauraKaz
  • Carol
    Posts: 854
    I was at Mass in a church other than my own one Sunday and a woman turned around at the end of Mass and said to me, "Would you like to join our choir?" I laughed and told her that I was only passing through, but she should keep her ears open and continue to invite people to join the choir. I usually try to sing at a medium level when I am in the congregation.
    Thanked by 2ServiamScores Bri
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,992
    "Would you like to join our choir?"

    The best answer to that often is: you need more voices in the pews, not in the choir.
    Thanked by 2madorganist Bri
  • Carol
    Posts: 854
    Where I'm from, we need more voices in the choir, especially younger voices. Actually, I love to hear the parishioners chant the "Our Father" in my parish. We have been chanting the Our Father in English here for about 30 years. I find it very inspiring. The only challenge is we do chant "For the kingdom.." and the celebrant meanders with the pitch so we come in to lead the first few notes to keep it on pitch. If not, it is painful.
  • There is a Catholic church in Houston which has
    wall to wall carpeting, pew cushions, AND padded walls.
  • I've often said that we should turn our schools into prisons, and build real schools.

    Is this parish you're describing a converted Jesuit retreat center OR psychologist's office?
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • I have a couple of different settings for my voice.

    #1: singing at home---with emotion and sometimes really loudly;
    #2: singing in a choir or chorus, doing whatever the director tells me to do;
    #3: singing as part of the congregation at the vast majority of Masses, in which I try to blend in; and
    #4: singing in church at Christmas, in which case see setting 1.
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 690
    In my parish the choir has only been singing on major feast days. It would seem that Corpus Christi does not rate high enough this year for the choir to sing. When times like this occur, I'm in the pews and I can tell you about the only time everyone in the congregation is actively participating or singing is when when we sing/chant the Lords Prayer otherwise they don't sing or they sing to themselves. I thought about why this was and came to the conclusion that the Lord's prayer is probably the only piece of music that never changes from one week to the next.

    There are other factors at work in my parish that create or that foster non-compliance by the congregation especially when it comes to singing, everyweek a different Entrance and Communion antiphon, Responsorial Psalms and about every three months or maybe five a different gospel alleluia or Mass setting. Also, when the cantor sings it is not whats in the pew missal. Kind a hard to follow along or participate when the philosophy is "Oh they've heard this before, or we sung this before so they'll know it"

    I only bring this up because as a choir member in the pew, our congregation isn't singing and have to believe this is the case in many parishes. This may not make any sense but when I was growing up and when I first joined the choir forty some years ago, we had one Mass setting, one Alleluia setting, traditional hymns that people knew and what was in the missallette is what the choir or cantor sang.

    Today it seems that we need to keep the congregation guessing and then question why they are not singing. Some food for thought.
    Thanked by 3CharlesW LauraKaz Bri
  • There are other factors at work in my parish that create or that foster non-compliance by the congregation especially when it comes to singing, everyweek a different Entrance and Communion antiphon, Responsorial Psalms

    Chanting the Mass propers is the ideal. The Mass really should be sung. There’s nothing stopping singing a hymn (metrical, not these folk songs or contemporary P&W song from Spirit in Song) from being sung after the Mass proper. This is what they do at the Ordinariate where congregational singing is quite popular.
    Thanked by 2tomjaw LauraKaz
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,764
    To add to what Sponsa says, it is also possible to do both hymns and propers. For instance, today we will sing an entrance hymn whose text is a trope of the entrance antiphon, and once the priest reaches the altar, the hymn ends and the schola begins chanting the introit. We invert the pattern at communion, where we first chant the communion antiphon, then sing a choral motet/anthem, and lastly sing a communion hymn as communion is finishing and purification of the sacred vessels takes place.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,397
    Writing for Anglicans, in the Prayer Book tradition but promoting Parish Communion, Percy Dearmer advised "you cannot expect a congregation to know more than three settings (of the Ordinary)". That was where the CofE was around 1920, and I think is where many Catholic parishes are now.
    IMHO PiPs should not need to read anything normally; they just need to say/sing 'and with your spirit', 'Glory to God in ...', 'Holy, Holy, ...' etc., leaving cantor & schola to cope with the propers (and sing them so that the words can be understood). Oh ..., and for the schola not to usurp congregational singing; I am very resentful when a 'choir' of aged croakers regales us with a vapid Mass setting they learnt in second grade.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 2,037
    Re: the hymn and introit thing, I'm not going to tell people what to do, but as a PIP when it comes to the NO, on the rare occasions these days that I attend it, I'd rather just do the introit, which is what the book envisions, and then choose one really spectacular hymn on the way out. And for communion, I would like to see restored, one of these days, the practice of singing the Communion chant at the purification; in our parish, we do it after the triple recitation of "Domine, non sum dignus" (TLM…) and it's either very long, leaving us no time for anything else, or we have to sing at least one hymn (sometimes repeating it), because it's so short. Now, normally, and in fairness, the organ plays when permitted, which is a relief; this is all to say that singing at communion beyond what's required is something that I loathe with very few exceptions (one of them being, surpisingly a good version of "I am the Bread of Life," the Proulx arrangement of which is excellent).
    Thanked by 1LauraKaz
  • ...what they the ordinariate...
    Actually, in the Ordinariate the pattern is

    Organ voluntary -

    Processional hymn
    Introit at the censing

    Gradual - AUG or P-B depending on the gravity of the day.

    Alleluya - likewise

    Offertory Antiphon
    Motet or Anthem

    Sanctus & Agnus - Merbecke, Willan, or on great feasts, a choral setting

    Communion Antiphon
    Anthem or Motet

    At the dismissal - hymn

    Organ voluntary -

    Our people really take their singing seriously