Congregational singing competition
  • Presently there is an excellent thread going on, about encouraging congregational participation in the singing.
    So as not to sidetrack that, I'd like to post a related question

    Everyone has probably had the experience of reciting the Rosary with the congregation, and found that there always seem to be a handful of people who (deliberately, and not quietly) lag behind everyone else by two words or even more in all the prayers.

    When we sing the Kyriales, alternating the schola with full choir and congregation, just recently I am hearing a handful of the same folks, who drag the people's tempo down and just will not stop doing it.

    in case you wonder why our tempo is so fast - I don't think we sing all THAT fast, but I have heard many people sing the ordinary much - it's a diplomatically unanswerable question. The celebrant requests it, so dot's just wot we do.

    But even if that were not so, it's just inappropriate for a few individuals to compete with the organist and choir. Any helpful ideas what to do about this?
  • Maybe some people just naturally drag when they sing and can’t hear that they’re behind.

    I’m the most useless drummer because I’m constantly dragging out of fear of my tendency to rush.
  • davido
    Posts: 895
    Mmela, probably one of three things is true:
    1. You have a few highly educated musicians in your pews who disagree with your tempo and are trying to make it slower
    2. Those dragging don’t really know the music and are trying to split second sing
    3. Those dragging the tempo are old and deaf and have no idea what your tempo is

    Odds are good it’s not #1
    Thanked by 2madorganist tomjaw
  • Davido - i hope it's not #1, because they will not win out over the pastor!
  • I tend to take the approach that the organ is master of the tempo, and I’m master of the organ, ergo, I’m master of the tempo. I sing while I play, so I make sure to ensure natural breaths (I’m taking them, quite literally, and not merely inferring them intellectually whilst not actually singing). This helps me ensure a.) what I’m playing is truly a singable tempo and b.) helps me maintain proper tempo, regardless of what the slowpokes are doing downstairs. We are taking my tempo, thank you very much!

    It’s also worth noting that while “it’s too fast” can be a legitimate complaint, taking things too slowly bothers people too; it can be boring, or just as bad: tiring to sing when you have to hold things out unduly long.

    One thing that can help is a strong introduction to the music, which sets expectations clearly. Another can be soloing the melody to really bring it to the fore. This can help less-sure singers, and make it painfully obvious to people who are not singing with you. Then they appear the odd person out.

    Also, I’m convinced some people just have no idea they’ve made such a habit of it. We had one such a parishioner who was always one word behind during the rosary, and had a booming voice. He’s moved away now, but it was distracting. He was slow to speak naturally, so I don’t think it was obtuseness on his part… he was just a big fella who took his time in all things.
  • I agree that the organist sets the tempo and everyone else is supposed to follow. Where I run into a problem is if the cantor or choir gets a little behind me, I naturally adjust to match (as I was taught about being in an ensemble).
  • Discretion is the better part of valor. Sometimes it’s ok to adjust, but sometimes it’s also ok to plow ahead. I have one cantor who really enjoys ignoring my tempos, so I happily encourage her to sing the correct tempo with my playing. :-)
  • Carol
    Posts: 856
    We used to have a cantor and a less skilled organist (primarily an accordion player) and the two of them had a "death spiral" of slower and slower tempo that was really painful! I stopped being a cantor during this organist's tenure, because it was so annoying for me that it was an occasion for violent thoughts! This is the guy whose musical playing my husband designated as "musical malpractice."

    Our present organist sometimes shaves an 1/8 of a beat off the end of whole notes which leaves me with no breath, since the downbeat has arrived before I can breathe. If he was singing along as @ServiamScores does, I don't think he would be prone to rushing.
  • JonLaird
    Posts: 245
    It is an age-old complaint of music directors, made worse in our day by dead acoustics (since a live acoustic has a beautiful way of consolidating tempos and amplifying consonances), as well as by the American preference for efficiency as an end in itself. I have also worked for priests who give similar instructions, and I gently try to help them have reasonable expectations based on the particular situation.

    In a previous parish, I did manage to solve the problem of a very loud and slow singer by inviting him to join the choir, which he did, and he proved to be a capable chorister once he was reigned in.

    I second Serviam's remarks about the importance of the introduction by the organ. Also, experience can teach the organist when it is appropriate to drive ahead, and when it is appropriate to slow down a bit to "catch" the singers.

    The bottom line, however, is that the best tempo range is something that is discovered, rather than dictated, based on the piece, function, space, singers, etc.

    I'm reminded of a few pertinent directions for singing attributed to John Wesley especially rule VI:
    Directions for Singing. That this part of Divine Worship may be the more acceptable to God, as well as the more profitable to yourself and others, be careful to observe the following directions.
    I. Learn these Tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.
    II. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.
    III. Sing All. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.
    IV. Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.
    V. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
    VI. Sing in Time: whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
    VII. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your Heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
  • Competitive singing is the enemy of good ch;oral tone and blend.
    I sometime ask the weakest singer to sing a note and have the rest of the choir, person by person enter matching that results in a beautiful choral tone. You can build on that.
    If you have any competitors in your choir you need to teach them how to blend (and that it's not all about them, but about the choir)..
    Thanked by 2Carol CHGiffen
  • francis
    Posts: 10,707
    rule number one... blend with your friend... i constantly stress this to my four choirs, and as soon as i do, it makes a huge dif.