Frustration with choir
  • I am a music director of a fairly small parish with a very conservative pastor. This pastor followed a very liberal one who allowed the director to do whatever she wanted in order to appease the people of the parish. Now that I've taken over, and I am also very conservative, I've run into many problems, including a choir that will not take direction and constantly compares me to our former director. There is a major split in the parish between conservatives and liberals and it's been extremely difficult to maintain the kind of sacred music our new pastor desires. All of the musicians have left to go to another parish where the music is more liberal and I am left with the organ only. That has caused a lot of complaints, but I am doing what I know to be right given the conservatism of our new pastor.

    I need some advice on how to continually introduce Gregorian chant and organ music to a choir and congregation who are adamantly against it. While Easter was beautiful, I had to hire outside vocalists to carry most of the music. I no longer have any cantors that are willing, or able, to carry chanted responses and propers.

    Thanks for any and all help.
    God bless to all.
  • Be patient. Introduce the music that you want to be sung in small increments instead of all at once. Make sure your pastor understands that it's not possible to immediately from Glory and Praise repertoire to chanted Latin propers without completely alienating the people. Bear with a little bit of flack for now for the sake of pastoral needs.

    My pastor always says to select music that helps people pray. See if you can gradually get them to the point where they DO pray through listening to chant. A little bit at a time...
  • Steve Q
    Posts: 96
    I have been in similar situations. It may be counter-intuitive, but I find that young people are much more receptive to chant than the old guard. You might try starting a youth choir, if you have enough young people in the parish.
    Thanked by 1tomboysuze
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,518
    I wouldn't blast them with Latin all at once. Start with some English chant, a small amount of Latin, and some anthems that they like. Perhaps some hymn-based anthems would be good. Changing this group will be a multi-year project.
    Thanked by 1irishtenor
  • Youth choir members often lead the adults to new things (even old "new" things). I once sang in the choir of a director who arrived and implemented tonic solfa (solfeggio, solfege, etc.) to improve sightsinging and reduce "banging out the parts on the piano." Adults grumbled until they saw their children doing their "choir homework," figuring out which note of a hymn or anthem is "doh" and writing their syllables in before rehearsal. Then the adults took to it and were amazed at their improvement.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,145
    I'm in the middle of a multi-year project myself. 2 years into it, and we still use the piano, still use some carefully-selected hymns/songs from the Gather hymnal.

    We also have done a few pieces of Latin polyphony, learned the ICEL chants of the Mass ordinary (though we don't use them as often as I would like...), sung from the Simple English Propers, sung from Rice's Simple Choral Gradual, increased the size of the choir by close to 50%, and learned a lot about how to sing for the liturgy!

    It will not be done overnight, but we are moving in the right direction--inching forward in God's kingdom, if you will.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,082
    Be sure your pastor supports you openly (which includes engaging critics of the changes in a way more than by appeal to authority), rather than using you as his foil for liturgical conversion.

    And remember, pastors come and go - not just liberal ones but also conservative ones (the alluring promise of the "biological solution" is oversold these days). The pastor may sign the paycheck, but the flock is the one that supplies the coin and volunteers in the first place. It's not always about sheep that attack; sometimes, the problem is ourselves, too (particularly if we are given to analyzing things in concept terms rather than understanding things in people terms - if one is a T (rather than an F) in Myers-Briggs-speak, one may have an Achilles heel in this regard when engaged in a ministry that front-faces with people)

    PS: The most important place to start is by addressing the *priest's* singing. If your conservative pastor is not chanting the dialogues and presidential prayers, then the cart is before that horse....
    Thanked by 2Gavin IanW
  • Sounds like a ten-year project to me. Are you there for the long-haul? Because if you are, Liam's right. Pastors come and go, (Just like the military. Hurry up and wait.) but the parish is always there. If I based our entire repetoire on what the current pastor preferred, we would be doing about-faces every couple of years. That could get rather expensive...

    Methinks serious baby steps are in order here.

  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,112
    Same here for me, a multi-year project that will take somewhere between 10 and 15 years. You cannot make change all at once. Slow and steady wins hearts and minds and know that it will only be finished at the parousia....
    Thanked by 1PurpleSquirrel
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,455
    But for now, have you thought about having a choir retreat? You could invite someone knowledgable and in line with church teaching to give it. Ask the choir to come armed with questions. Have the Eucharist and humility your focus.
    Thanked by 1PurpleSquirrel
  • PaixGioiaAmorPaixGioiaAmor
    Posts: 1,473
    Avoid the labels "Liberal" and "Conservative."

    There is "Fidelity" and there is "NON-Fidelity." There are "liberals" in high places in the Vatican, operating with the Pope's full knowledge and consent. But they are faithful to Church teaching.

    True Church "liberals" are not unfaithful; In the US we tend to label the unfaithful as liberals. These terms are not usually accurate.

    Strive to be FAITHFUL to the Church. Engage people on being FAITHFUL, not being "conservative" in accord with labels from blogs, etc.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Thanks, Paix. I was wondering what "liberal music" is...
  • Steve Q
    Posts: 96
    Kevin, 10 to 15 years? Good heavens, half our parish will be singing with the heavenly hosts by then! As may I....
    Thanked by 1canadash
  • Thanks for the advice. I have done things slowly, but even so, the Simple English Propers and organ music have been met (by some, not all) as alien and unfriendly. I do have a children's choir that have taken chant and embraced it. The parents are thrilled and the people in the parish think it's "cute for the children", but not something for the adults. I haven't gone totally chant nor organ. I still use the piano and use some of the music the congregation likes and can sing, along with good chant and organ. But, this congregation is going to need a lot of time and patience. Our priest has also introduced new services, i.e., Corpus Christi procession, formal Stations of the Cross, Divine Mercy prayer service, morning and evening prayer. There are some people who come on a regular basis, but others who feel he is "taking a step backwards". Our former director was a VERY charismatic director and our masses were full of Praise and Worship music with guitars, drums, flutes, etc. The organ was never used and gathered dust. When I took over and began some of the organ music, without deleting guitars at that point, the entire musician section left for another parish, without giving the organ music even a chance. They continue to lash out at our new pastor and me as music director and have used forums such as Facebook to get their message across. Our Deacon and our DRE also do not like the new pastor and have blamed me for a lot of things. But, as you say, time is on my side and I need to be patient. Thank you again for all the advice.
  • Since the singers have already left, I'd encourage you to take the 'half-full' approach. You are in the enviable position of building a whole new choir. And in 5 years several of the youth you've trained could be the core of your program.
    I also agree that the pastor needs to support you openly. It would be a great help for him to welcome you from the pulpit, state your credentials, ask for new choir volunteers himself, put something about you and why he's chosen you in the bulletin, etc. Maybe he's already done these things. He's investing in a program and he needs to help sell it. If people think it's wholly or mostly you driving, they won't support it.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Gavin
  • I will admit I have the pastor's total support. We work very well together. One of the major problems I am having is that I was director prior to his taking the pastorship, and prior to that was pianist for several years under a very difficult, opinionated director, who never gave me any credit and belittled me a lot. The former pastor never took my concerns seriously, so when the new pastor came in, everybody automatically assumed I would be against him and "go with the flow". In any case, he and I have a wonderful working relationship and he is dealing with his own difficulties with the parish right now. This parish is not open to change. In their minds, everything should always stay status quo. They had a lot of difficulty accepting the new mass translations, let alone any chant or organ hymns. Like some of you said, it will just take time. The children are like little sponges and work well with me (they've been my students for several years).
    Thanks again for all the advice.
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,908
    MusTeach56: You're not alone in that vale of tears!
  • JanDen
    Posts: 23
    Musicteacher56 - I agree with a previous poster. Sometimes it's necessary to weed out the folks who have a different idea of how things ought to go. In your situation, they have exited and you now have an amazing opportunity to build as you like/need. I like the old adage, "ending are sad and beginnings are scarey" - but I'd add that beginnings often create rare opportunites. With patience, you'll triumph. A great benefit you have is your pastor's support. Persevere!
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • JanDen
    Posts: 23