Musicians in the sanctuary?
  • Friends,

    I have already read other posts in which people debate the pros and cons of having musicians or cantors at the ambo or in the sanctuary area vs. the choir loft.

    I have a very practical question. A priest friend has asked me what the "official documents" say about where the musicians should be and if they are barred from being in the sanctuary. I told him off the cuff that my impression was that there was no specific prohibition of musicians in the sanctuary, but by a long-standing and reasonable custom the sanctuary is to be reserved for sacred ministers and those functioning as such (e.g., altar servers) -- and musicians, while contributing to the liturgy, are not to be simply equated with sacred ministers. But then I said I would look into the matter further... and here I am, wondering if anyone out there has any documentation handy that would be pertinent!
    Thanked by 1E_A_Fulhorst
  • TCJ
    Posts: 632
    My guess is -- but maybe I'm wrong -- that the organist should be where the organ console is. As to where everyone else should be... I'll leave that up to the experts to answer.
    Thanked by 1Andrew Motyka
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,008
    Organist should be where the console is. I like this. At last, reason and logic on this forum - although there probably is an obscure document somewhere that says otherwise.
    Thanked by 1Andrew Motyka
  • TCJ
    Posts: 632
    CharlesW said...

    Organist should be where the console is. I like this. At last, reason and logic on this forum - although there probably is an obscure document somewhere that says otherwise.


    It may seem obvious, but one thing that made me decide to post that is a comment I got from someone at the church I used to play at concerning from where the psalmist should be singing. He said they should be up front. Me... "Uh... I am the psalmist for 60% of the Masses..." No way the organist is going to run down the stairs, get to the ambo, sing the psalm, then rush upstairs again for the alleluia!
    Thanked by 1E_A_Fulhorst
  • donr
    Posts: 940
    Here is what "The Roman Missal - 3rd Edition" English 2011 has to say in paragraph 61...
    It is preferable for the Responsorial Psalm to be sung, at least as far as the people’s response is concerned. Hence the psalmist, or cantor of the Psalm, sings the Psalm verses at the ambo or another suitable place, while the whole congregation sits and listens, normally taking part by means of the response, except when the Psalm is sung straight through, that is, without a response.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,008
    Typical document. It's up, or down, but sometimes on the left, when it is not on the right. But it could be underneath if conditions are right.
  • donr
    Posts: 940
    However to answer your question more directly TRM - 3Ed also has this to say ...
    The Place for the Schola Cantorum and the Musical Instruments
    312. The schola cantorum (choir) should be so positioned with respect to the arrangement of each church that its nature may be clearly evident, namely as part of the assembled community of the faithful undertaking a specific function. The positioning should also help the choir to exercise this function more easily and allow each choir member full sacramental participation in the Mass in a convenient manner.122
    313. The organ and other lawfully approved musical instruments should be placed in a suitable place so that they can sustain the singing of both the choir and the people and be heard with ease by everybody if they are played alone. It is appropriate that before being put into liturgical use, the organ be blessed according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual.123
    In Advent the use of the organ and other musical instruments should be marked by a moderation suited to the character of this time of year, without expressing in anticipation the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord.
    In Lent the playing of the organ and musical instruments is allowed only in order to support the singing. Exceptions, however, are Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), Solemnities, and Feasts.
    .

    So with this said.... no where does it say that the organ and singers can not be in the loft and in many cases because the organ is in the loft putting the cantor, psalmist, and choir there would position them to exersize their function more easily.
    Thanked by 1irishtenor
  • When the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) talks about the position of the choir, it neither specifically mandates nor excludes the choir's location within the church. However, it would seem that the sanctuary would not be an appropriate place, given that "The schola cantorum (choir) should be so positioned with respect to the arrangement of each church that its nature may be clearly evident, namely as part of the assembled community of the faithful undertaking a specific function" (GIRM #312). Having the choir in the sanctuary would seem to go against this directive and separate it from the congregation.
    Thanked by 1E_A_Fulhorst
  • donr, thanks for the quotations.

    rich_enough, your argument is very acute and apt. Thanks for sharing it.

    Is this really all there is in the documents that are still binding as far as details for the Ordinary Form are concerned?
    Thanked by 1E_A_Fulhorst
  • donr
    Posts: 940
    Again it says this in 294
    The faithful and the schola cantorum (choir) shall have a place that facilitates their active participation.113
    but then right after that, still in 294 ...
    The Priest Celebrant, the Deacon, and the other ministers have places in the sanctuary. There, also, should be prepared seats for concelebrants, but if their number is great, seats should be arranged in another part of the church, though near the altar.
    .

    So we could conclude from all of the this that the faithful and choir should not be in the sanctuary but the Celebrant, Deacons and other ministers should be.
    I suppose some will say otherwise.
  • The following does not address music during the liturgy, but may be helpful or persuasive.

    Nov. 5, 1987, Declaration of the Congregation of Divine Worship, concerning concerts in churches:

    # 10. e. The musicians and the singers should not be placed in the sanctuary. The greatest respect is to be shown to the altar, the president's chair, and the ambo.
    Thanked by 1donr
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,304
    Not documentary, but rather first-hand advice.

    I have worshiped AND sung in all of the following arrangements:
    1. Choir in a loft
    2. Choir in stalls, at the front of the sanctuary (the Chancel?), (Anglican style)
    3. Choir literally in the Sanctuary, off to the side
    4. Choir literally in the Sanctuary, behind the altar
    5. Choir towards the front, near the sanctuary, but on a separate "platform."
    6. Choir not in a loft, but still towards the back, on a raised platform

    Every location has its pros and cons, but some more than others.

    By far, the WORST location I have experienced (both as a PIP and a choir-member) is in the Sanctuary itself. Now, mind you, I don't have any big issues about who should be "allowed" in Sanctuaries, and I'm not a fan of the theological barrier represented by altar rails and rood screens. Nonetheless, there is no getting over the fact that singing by the choir is not the main event of a Mass, and that the action of the altar ought to be in the limelight, as it were. As a PIP, I find them distracting, and as a choir-member, I find myself very self-conscious. The worst part is that most other of my fellow choir members did not find themselves as self-conscious as I did, so they were given to all manner of abuses, such as whispering, fumbling with copies, and unwrapping cough drops.

    Unfortunately, I've also been in a few too many lofts where the choir felt that no one could see them, and so knitting, check-book balancing, and poor dress were the order of the day. Also, I've been in a few lofts where the Music Director clearly did not consider the loft to be part of the liturgical space and so allowed it to become cluttered with all manner of (forgive the language) crap.

    Were I in the position to design a church building and/or decide the placement of a choir, I would think that the most important question would be: what - precisely - is the role of the choir? Not in the abstract, not in some document- but here, at this particular church, given the way this congregation "does" liturgy (or plans to), what is the role of the choir in relationship to the liturgy and the congregation.

    I find it interesting that Episcopal Churches, where the choir has a more explicitly performance-oriented role (by way of Anthems), that the norm is a loft. Whereas, in Catholic parishes, where the choir has (or should have) a more liturgical focus (by way of Propers) that the norm is generally space up front. This seems backwards to me, and is indicative of the fact that most people blindly follow not tradition, but rather habit, heeding neither traditional precedent nor the logical dictates of any specifically-professed theologies.
    Thanked by 1E_A_Fulhorst
  • I find it interesting that Episcopal Churches, where the choir has a more explicitly performance-oriented role (by way of Anthems), that the norm is a loft. Whereas, in Catholic parishes, where the choir has (or should have) a more liturgical focus (by way of Propers) that the norm is generally space up front.


    I'm an Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian, and our choir (which sings anthems and propers) is in a west-end loft. But I wouldn't call that the "norm": if anything, the norm in Episcopal churches is the divided monastic-style choir in the chancel. Although more churches are doing something different if they "modernize": having the choir face the congregation from the other side of the freestanding altar, or sitting among the congregation and getting up front just for the anthem.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,304
    re: Episcopal/Anglican practice...
    Interesting. In New England, all the Episcopal Churches I visited had a choir in the chancel, English style. In Texas, in my Diocese (Fort Worth), all the choirs I know of (but one) either have a loft, sit in the back, or would do so if they could.

    Marion Hatchet, in his guide for Episcopal church music, suggests that the chancel seating for the choir was a late-19th-century trend, born of a misunderstanding of a parish choir and a monastic choir (a confusion, if it could be called that, echoed in TLS's ban on female choir members). I have no way of knowing if this is an accurate assessment, or what "the norm" really is in the majority of parishes.

    If it were up to me, I would have the entire congregation sit "in choir," that is, antiphonally, with the choir filling the front four rows on both sides at the West end. I think such a setup would be the best of all possible arrangements: no weird disembodied voices, the ability of the congregation to look at the choir if they so choose, the inclusion of the choir within the congregation, the choir not distracting/competing with the action at the altar, the choir and chancel not creating a vast distance between the congregation and the altar. But that's just my opinion.
    Thanked by 1E_A_Fulhorst
  • The only people who should ever be in the Sanctuary are the sacred ministers.
    If the church has an actual Choir (i.e., an architectural space in the Chancel but not in the Sanctuary) then that is where they belong. Ideally, all churches should have Choirs to accomodate their choirs rather than having them in a choir gallery in the west end of the church where, being out of sight, the quality of their spritual, and musical, participation and leadership is significantly degraded.

    As for the predominance of choirs rather than galleries in the Anglican tradition, it is very much in imitation of cathedrals, which, in England, were usually monastic foundations. Even small village churches very often had a 'choir' separated from the nave by a rood screen. This in contrast to the continent, where cathedrals were less often monastic and singers were placed in west choir galleries since the building's architecture had no 'choir' between nave and sanctuary.

    I quite agree with Adam about having the entire congregation sit choir-wise just as if they were a monastic community.
  • I recall reading some reference to choirs being behind a screen if they were in a prominent position. Unfortunately, I cannot find the reference to it, and I think that it is a marvellous idea.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    The church that I grew up in, built in the late 60's, originally had the choir behind a screen. I'm not sure how I feel about it - the disembodied voices always weirded me out a bit.
  • The ideal place for the cantor (and, to lesser degree, other singers) of course, would be near the sanctuary in order to have a better sound coordination with the singing of the sacred ministers (celebrant, deacon). In the historical Churches in Italy, for example, there is no 'Western' loft at all. The organ loft is usually behind or above the quire/choir stools. But there are such examples North of the Alps, too.
    In this picture, the cantor is on a sort of bema in the middle of quire, protected by two bodyguards armed with large forks. Here his visibility is no problem because it obvious that he is not performing or entertaining the 'audiences' and his liturgical role is clear. However, this works only when the cantor is at least a tonsured cleric (or maybe a layman supplying for such). In a typical novus ordo situation, it is more suitable for cantor to be hidden in the loft. I suppose, most cantors would feel better so.
  • Sorry, the correct link to the picture, here.
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,713
    First off, there is no official directive which mandates that the choir be in the sanctuary, just in case someone tries to tell you that.

    On a practical level:

    1) A choir 'doing its business' in the sanctuary is a distraction from what IS important: the celebrant. Even a highly-disciplined group has to move music, respond to cues from the director (some of which will be un-subtle), and move with the music. Sneezing, coughing, or sudden emergencies WILL be more of a disruption if it's in full view of the congregation.

    2) If there is a loft, it is the bestacoustic setting for the choir. Loft-placement eliminates the "need" for artificial voice amplification which is the foundation for the 'disembodied voice' complaint.

    3) Placement in a loft does NOT mean that the choir 'is not part of' the congregation.

    4) More generally, Mgr. Schuler posited that the choir has two missions. First, it is a substitute for the congregation singing 'to God' while singing music that a congregation cannot sing (e.g., Propers or polyphony). Second, it is a substitute for the angelic choir in singing 'to the people'. In effect, this puts the choir "in the middle" between the people and Heaven. While the Mgr's theory does not per se eliminate placement in the sanctuary, it does lend weight to loft-placement if at all possible.

    5) Finally, rear (or loft) placement lifts the "performer-face" onus from singers (which has been placed on priests who are versus populum). It also eliminates the problem of 'stage fright' which a noticeable minority of volunteer members DO have.
    Thanked by 1francis
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    "2) If there is a loft, it is the best acoustic setting for the choir."

    I don't know that this is necessarily true all the time. I've heard plenty of bad lofts in my day.
    Thanked by 1Liam
  • I think west-end loft placement works best if there's not a big gap between the loft and the people: if the choir can be just above and just behind the congregation, the choir's voices (and the organ) can support the singing well. Glad to say this is the case in our (Episcopal) parish.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    And this is a big problem in Catholic churches: people sit underneath the loft, then complain "I can't hear the choir!!"

    ......
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Gavin, the Strunk/White version of your statement:
    "Big problem in Catholic churches: people sit..., then complain...."
    End of story.
  • lol, you summed that up pretty well
  • What do you do if the organ console is in the sanctuary and the organist is (gasp) a woman?
  • All I can say is that it is unimaginable that anything at the National Shrine would be illicit, both because of what it is and because of the current administration there, and the choir is in the sanctuary between the altar that is normally used and the High Altar under the baldichino, which I have never seen used.

    Kenneth
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,304
    >>unimaginable that anything at the National Shrine would be illicit

    really?
  • Now, now---the liturgies are punctiliously correct. And I have never heard anything, really, that is even squishy on doctrine. Once, one very good priest said something that sounded like the "seamless garment" argument on social teaching, but afterwards he seemed surprised that it had come off that way, and that would be about it.

    So, yes, in the context of this question, it would be unimaginable that the choir was positioned there if that were illicit.

    Kenneth
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,008
    Just curious, Kenneth. Why is the high altar never used?
  • You got me. It is WAY back, the way it is in St. Peter's, but you can see fine if you aren't in the transept.
    Kenneth
  • Although, in keeping with the way the place is run, last time I took pictures of it, the baldichino was spotless.
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,713
    Liceity is NOT an issue here.

    To say that "there is no law/regulation which REQUIRES choir-in-front" is entirely different from saying that "it is illicit to place the choir in front."
    Thanked by 1Andrew Motyka
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,758
    To adumbrate Gavin's point, lofts are not always the best acoustical solution, and I've observed plenty of lofts that were worse than the main floor, in acoustical terms. The main issue for the effectiveness of the choir's ministry is optimizing acoustical placement, though it's not the only issue. The oldest and probably longest tradition is that the choir belongs between the sanctuary and the main body of the faithful.

    In any event, there is nothing that requires a choir to be in the sanctuary, and I believe the documents are such that such placement should be viewed as a stretch at best.
  • Likewise, there is no document that requires it to be in the loft. As I posted in another thread:

    Let's not forget that the "choir loft" is a modern invention by Church standards, is it not? The only approved document I have ever seen mention this is "De musica sacra et sacra liturgia" III-4 no. 67 (1958): The organ should be located in a suitable place near the main altar, unless ancient custom or special reason approved by the local Ordinary demand otherwise; but the location should be such that the singers or musicians occupying a raised platform are not conspicuous to the congregation in the main body of the church"

    St. Sulpice in Paris comes to mind...

    This is the last binding church document on the subject that specifically mentions placement. All of the suggestions in the GIRM are clear as mud.
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    What's an adumbrate, and are you comforted and validated, Gavin, that your point has been adumbrated? (Don't anyone bring up Francis, the Talking Mule or Mr. Ed!)
    And thanks, Dad, since you brought liceity in here, my head is itchy.
  • Thank you, everyone, for the reflections and the quotations.

    I think this subject has probably exhausted its potential at this point, given how few are the binding directives and how many are the prudential circumstances and situations.