Asking guitarists to stop strumming and start singing and chanting
  • JanDen
    Posts: 23
    I'm a choir director at a large Catholic church that has a long history of liberal pastors and even more liberal music directors (i.e., our music current director isn't Catholic; a previous music director was Buddist - I'm not kidding). Our new pastor has asked that the choirs begin using traditional music (the antiphons, chant, Latin and polyphony). However, we have numerous guitarists who will only play folk, contemporary, and praise and worship music. Our pianists are all used to playing elaborate, lengthy solos during mass and the parishioners are impressed with their virtuosity. We have no organists but do have an organ. I'm trying to comply my pastor's wishes but don't know how to ask these lovely people to stop strumming and start singing and chanting. They're convinced that what they have been doing for many years is right and what we're asking them to do is wrong. They argue that the traditional music isn't interesting and that we'll lose the youth. ANY suggestions would be most helpful.
  • First, if they believe what the pastor wants in music is WRONG they need to be removed.

    When people join the military they loose their hair. It's part of submitting. Get out the shears.

    Take over one Mass. Fix it. Let them strum to their hearts content at other Masses. Make them come to the fixed Mass and learn from it. Intend to move all that music to prayer services eventually. Most of them will drop out since for many of them it is more fun to play guitar at Mass than to attend Mass, and they will not show up for the prayer services.

    Pianists, if you must have pianists, have to change their style and stop playing music that people "notice", since that is a distraction at Mass. Encourage them to play at the prayer services or learn the organ.

    Insist on silence, no time filling with music. A simple piece during the offertory or piano, but 1/3 of these times should be silence.

    A true Buddhist would have canned all the bad, distracting music. It should have torn his/her soul apart. My Buddhist brother in law refused a choir directing job at a Methodist church since, as a Buddhist, Methodism is not his belief.

    A Catholic school in this diocese hired an elementary school psychologist/counselor who was an atheist.

    The true believers, the Catholics that play the music now that are there because they are Catholic, will grow to love the music that your pastor wants to do The others need to move on.
    Thanked by 1Gustavo Zayas
  • JanDen, are you located in California?
  • JanDen
    Posts: 23
    No, I'm in Colorado.
  • Boulder=liberal; your version of Berkeley.
    Anyway, as one of the few CMAA adherents that still advocates a role for the guitar at Mass in general, here are some off the top o' the head thoughts:
    *The key word of the mandate from the pastor is "begin." Begin to use chant, begin to use polyphony, Latin....etc.
    *Secondly, if you're not the director of music, but a director of only one of multiple ensembles, clarify with the DM and the pastor the extent of your personal involvement with this whole shift. And emphasize, strongly, that the shift doesn't have to be immediate or have the magnitude of a 7.5 quake/tsunami.
    *If your role is only with your choir, then stick to Noel's primary assertion here and elsewhere: a RCC choir doesn't require an organist/pianist/autoharp accompanist. Work on vocal proficiency starting with all of the requisite aspects that are perfectly honed by learning the basics and graces of chant. Having seen pretty much all of the most recent (within twenty years) chant resources, I am convinced that the Simple English Propers is the most versatile and accessible "system" to introduce four lines, square notes to singers who read modern notation or not. But there are loads of other very worthy volumes, modern notation in Latin and English, etc. on main webpage "chant resources."
    Whatever parish hymnal/missal "aide" is in the pews, plow through it over and over with a fine tooth comb analyzing which hymns and other pieces meet both theological and music muster as being traditional, or worthy of our sacred treasury. Compare your postive choices to the Vatican II Hymnal (a must own) for perspective. Look for modern compositions that are obviously chant inspired. Absence of stems on pieces like Barbara Bridge's WE WALK BY FAITH (OCP) are a dead giveaway. there are lots of such pieces, with stems or without. You just have to sing through them using a sort of "chant ethos." Anything mensurate, or metrical can still essentially be chanted.
    If your choir isn't stable enough to hold forth SA(T)B with strophic hymnody, then I'd advise you to have your men sing the hymn melody, with the women singing either the alto part written, or better yet the tenor part, whichever seems to move closer to parallel thirds or sixths to the melody. Unless you have a soprano that actually sings like a ten year old perfectly tuned and voice English choir boy, don't ever let any diva sing a descant. Makes no sense without a great pipe organ and a seriously good singing choir and congregation.
    If you do manage SATB quite easily, still no organ, absolutely invest in Richard Rice's SIMPLE CHORAL PROPERS (also found at Methodical, emulative of Orthodox homophony, and also using a sort of faux-bourdon verse formula that will help teach singers to move the text along outside of meter while still in SATB. Priceless.
    I don't want to address the issue of using the guitarists without more information on the whole program. But, political and terratorial sensibilities must be taken into account before holding some sort of plenum meeting that simply "announces" the pastor's desires and a timetable for implementation.
    There are many accounts of choirs who do occasionally require accompanimental assistance with all these types of music, and where a discreet and accomplished guitarist can provide that "intonational" backbone even with chestnuts such as "Panis Angelicus" "Adoro te devote," Ave Verum Corpus (Mozart), Adoramus te Christe (Lambilotte) ad infinitum.
    More later?
  • JanDen
    Posts: 23
    Thank you for your direction, Noel and Charles. I purhased a copy of Simple Choral Propers and believe it is a great place to start but I have questions. Our church only uses a -popular, yearly missal/hymnal publication that prints the ICEL entrance antiphon and communion antiphon in the missal portion. The Simple Choral Propers have different words to the entrance and communion antiphons than what are printed in the publication. Does my choir sing them anyway and the congregation doesn't have the right words (=they don't participate)? The offeratory antiphon isn't in the publication so would I also have my choir sing that and the congregation is silent? Thank you for patiently answering my questions.
  • Mark M.Mark M.
    Posts: 632
    There are a couple of other Colorado folks here, Jan… Carl D's in Fort Collins, and I'm in Greeley.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,329
    @JanDen: The Simple Choral Propers project started before the revision of the Roman Missal, and their texts were taken from a 1985 ICEL edition. However, it should still be OK to sing them under the provisions of the GIRM, since they qualify as "another suitable chant", which is an option for the entrance, offertory, and communion.

    Richard's web site says he is preparing an edition with texts from the new Missal.

    Since the texts of the propers of the Mass change from week to week, it makes sense for treat them as material for the choir rather than the congregation.

    But of course you can provide them to your congregation if you like: e.g., in the parish bulletin or in a weekly worship aid, if you prepare one.
  • I lost my entire music ministry (all musicians) when our new pastor came in and introduced polyphony and organ music. In order to placate everybody, I began the changes by slowly deleting guitar music and slowly introducing more organ music and Communios from Simple English Propers. However, the flutist, guitarist and pianist were highly offended that they could no longer "take over" the mass and made a large noise when they moved on (in one case a petition was even sent around to remove the pastor). These are people who I believed were highly motivated by their love of God and their desire to serve. But when push came to shove, they showed their true colors and found another parish where "we are appreciated for our talents". Last week for the Easter Vigil our former director made a visit and called me Easter Sunday to tell me everything that was "wrong" with the music.

    I have no problem whatsoever with praise and worship, charistmatic music outside of the context of the mass and have encouraged these musicians (before they left) to participate in prayer services where they could share their talents in the way they feel called to serve. They did not bite at this compromise at all.

    In my opinion, too many church musicians have gotten to the point where they use the mass as a forum for their own frustrated desires to be noticed and admired, rather than to engage in humble service to the people. I also agree that sometimes silence is more important than any elaborate hymns and have begun to use the period immediately following communion as a period of total submission to the Eucharist. I've also started to slowly get away from the "hymn sandwich" mentality of the past.

  • JanDen
    Posts: 23
    Musicteacher56-I'm sorry that you had to go through what you had to to get the performers to clear out. Our church is fraught with them. My main issue is our current MD has no knowledge or background with liturgical music, and our pastor has little knowledge and no time. However, the pastor wants chant, Latin and polyphony. So, all of the choir directors are on their own to make the changes. For a couple of years now, I've been quietly studying the litugical documents, reading books on chant and chironomy, and visiting sites like musicasacra. I think I now have a general understanding of where to take my choir (the good news is it's a well-established SATB group that trusts me). I will likely lose the guitars and they will complain; the congregation will likely grouse too because they've been fed a steady diet of performance music they applaud loudly for. I need to be careful with changes I make and be able to defend them to the MD and pastor.
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 990
    My experience was to be very gradual - this takes years. But even so, people will grouse. The most critical thing is the visible support of your Priest - when you push beyond that limit, you're totally exposed.

    Drop me a line if you'd like to get together to a more extensive discussion, I'm in Fort Collins.
  • JanDen,

    Oh how very similar your experience is to the one I've just gone through. I started here in South Dakota in August after an interim director was leading the group following the former director's death in February. I have a very supportive pastor and a very supportive and knowledgable associate pastor, so that helps.

    Anyway, during the first month I played exactly everything that was already previously scheduled and gritted my teeth the whole way through. We had this uber-cheesy refrain-based 'Gloria' and these 'Spirit and Song' songs that were just teeth-clenchingly bad. (One such example is the 'Blessed are they who are Poor in Spirit', you know, that ditty that has all the triplets. Being that I hated the look of it so much, I never practiced it up until right before Mass. I ended up playing it wrong, as if it were in 6/8 time; it ended up sounding like the 'Pirates of the Carribean' theme song).

    We changed Mass settings in mid-September to a Dom Gregory Murray Mass, a hymn-like tune repeated throughout. (I highly recommend a Mass that has a consistant melodic theme). I started playing half of the Mass on the organ, half on the piano as was always done. I started using hymns that were Christ-centered and got rid of the ones that were all about me, we, and I. (I like saying that they went "we, we, we all the way home.") I added the Communion of the Simple English Propers refrain and gradually verses after that. Eventually, for Advent and Lent, we only sang Introits and NOT hymns at the beginning of Mass. For Easter, we started with hymns and when Father began incensing, we ended the hymn and sang the Introit. We did this again today, with great success.

    Now how this go with the musicians? It has been a mixed bag. We had two folk groups here that would sing at random Masses everyother week. One was decent, but very ego-centric. The 3-women leadership of this 7-person group wanted nothing to do with this repetoire, even though I never told them what instruments to play/not play. They left right after Christmas. The other 4 of the group remain in service to the music program. The other group was middle age and older and not good. Their leader, a very ego-centric individual, left just before Easter. The rest of the group, mostly from the same family, had a meeting and decided they wanted to stay on but without their guitars. And so I have a much-improving group that can harmonize and yet do it without their strumming.

    On Holy Thursday, I had an all women's group that was very successfull and an all men's group on Good Friday that blew me away. We sang the Fr. Samuel Weber's 'Reproaches' and a 4-part (a cappella, of course) 'Ah, Holy Jesus'. It was great!

    Lastly, I would encourage you to lavish praise on your musicians when they take a step. It's been hard, but I provided a BBQ dinner for them one night and went through some new music for them. I bought some of them Easter bottles of wine with cards of appreciation. These things keep the troops happy and encourage them through the transitions and difficulties.

  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,381
    The Simple Choral Propers have different words to the entrance and communion antiphons than what are printed in the publication. Does my choir sing them anyway and the congregation doesn't have the right words (=they don't participate)?
    I assume that the congregation is provided with OCP materials, which reproduce the Entrance Antiphon and Communion Antiphon from the Missal that are provided in case the Introit and Communio are spoken (by the priest) not sung (eg. from the SEP or from the Graduale). This is unfortunate, for by doing so, not only are the words frequently different, but there are no Psalm verses that would normally be sung (by cantor or choir), making it impossible for people to follow along.

    If you want the congregation to participate, then either you have to provide printed text/music in some form (say, for the SEP), or have available music for the antiphon that is easily sung by rote upon hearing it sung through initially by the cantor/choir. It's not an ideal situation.
  • Simple rule of thumb: If people applaud the choir and the homily the choir and priest are not doing their jobs.

    Music and the Homily should challenge the people, giving them reasons to become more than they are instead of sitting still on the traffic jam that is the church all too often today.

    It's time for the feel-good make-the-people happy-contingent to move on.

    It's not their Mass.

    I wonder if there is a correlation between the cars driven by serious priests and those who are feel-gooders who want the people to be happy? Bet there is.
  • I agree that we directors need to provide our people with printed music as worship aids. But, as the old adage goes, "you can lead the horse to water...but can't make him drink it". I tried printing all the Lent ordinaries for the congregation. I recently found most of them folded like fans or untouched in the pews. It was very discouraging.

    And, Frogman, nothing disturbs me more than applause. I am not there for constant praise (or criticism). Unfortunately, we are living in a world where the "feel good" mentality of everything takes precedence over everything. Our new pastor gives wonderful, thought-provoking sermons. Our masses are meant to bring us closer to the Lord, and not give us a vehicle for entertainment.

    I think the mentality of many people that our priests need to be "friends" rather than shepherds hurts in many ways. I know in our parish, our former pastor golfed with many parishioners and allowed them to make all decisions in the parish (outside of the parish council). Last year I hired a band for our annual carnival and the head of the Knights of Columbus, who is also head of almost every ministry, decided he didn't like the music so he went to the pastor and complained. The pastor came to me, as director, and told me to "pay them and get rid of them". My heart broke as I "fired" the band for no reason other than one person's opinion trumped everything, and the pastor wanted to be "friends" with him. And, despite the fact that the pastor was assigned elsewhere, he continues to be friendly with many of our parishioners and even bad-mouths the new pastor. It's just been a horrible situation. And, of course, it follows through to the music.

    But, like many of you have said, it takes a long, long time to reform people's mentalities with regard to this.
  • JanDen
    Posts: 23
    Musicteacher56 - Take heart, you're not alone. I was a MD at a previous church and was stunned at how the pastor chose personal friends and favorites from among the faithful. The liturgical music will/would never improve at that church because of his constant interference. Any complaint by one of his "friends" meant a staff member was soon hung out to dry. The "Priest As Personality" persona comes with a high price tag. It takes a strong pastor to stand up to both staff and parishioners to implement any change and some are not up for it. I fear this is one reason we're not seeing the return of tradional music in some parishes.