Friday, January 29, 2016

Of Cantors, "Song Leaders", and Microphones

I know I've touched on this previously, well, way way back when I was blogging regularly under the Christus Vincit moniker, but I don't think many new readers (the few I may have) will want to try to dig back a decade into the archives to see what I (or any blogging partners I had) really wrote.  Or will they?

I am a regular poster and lurker on the Facebook page "I'm Fed Up with Bad Church Music".  It's a great group for venting about really bad music that often takes place in our churches.  And it's not only for Catholics (though a good number of us are).  Many Protestant faiths are represented on the page as well.  It's one of many ways some of us give an example of what NOT to do at church.  The page is extremely active, not to mention well over 11,000 members strong!  And, like any other page, you might get a small handful, or maybe even one or two who join the page for the sheer purpose of calling us out for our task at hand, but that we'll save for a future post.

Anyhoo, on the above mentioned page was posted a video of a guitarist and singer at (surprise, surprise!) an Episcopal church bellowing (and I do mean "bellowing") the infamous I Am the Bread of Life.  You know, the ditty often referred to as "Toolanbread", after the ditty's songwriter, Sr. M. Suzanne Toolan, RSM.  I would normally expect such at a mainstream Catholic church, and I'm sure even most Episcopal organists would writhe in pain after hearing this!  Here is that video...

Like any other thread in an active page or listserv, while much of the thread stayed on topic, there were places that branched off into discussions about cantors, "song leaders", and the dreaded microphone.  That is my inspiration for my post as it appears below the following lovely string of asterisks.


A cantor's basic role is to sing the Psalm, whether it be in the form of the Responsorial Psalm, the Alleluia (and its versicle), a Communion responsory (proper preferred).  Those are the things usually assigned to a cantor.  Of course, the responses to such Psalmody belongs to the congregation.

The role of "song leader" (if one is really needed) would be to lead the singing of the hymns, the Mass Ordinary, and other items that belong to the congregation.  Ideally, at Masses in which the choir is singing, then the choir is the "song leader".  More on this two paragraphs down.

Does a cantor or "song leader" really need a microphone?  Under proper conditions (acoustics good, singer(s) trained to project well, congregation's turn to sing), no.  I remember a liturgy committee leader (who had a brother for whom I worked for eight years later on) once telling me back in the summer of 1983 that if the person leading is singing too loud, the congregation will very likely "start listening and stop singing".  And in many cases, he's right.  So, why the microphone, except to attract attention to oneself?

My biggest pet peeve is not only a cantor or "song leader" (Don't you just love the way I use quotation marks?  Tee hee!) blaring into a microphone, but even doing so when there is an able and competent choir singing.  Is that really necessary?  I've seen it in small churches and cathedrals alike.  The choir is singing, yet there is the "song leader" up front, blaring into a mic, flapping his/her arms up in the air when it's time for the people in the pew to sing (we have to hope and pray that said "song leader" does not have B.O.), thus the choir is hardly heard.  Before I took the job at Sacred Heart, my wife Ann and I once went to a small church not far from home where the situation was exactly that for the entire Mass!  The choir, a very competent one, I might add, was basically relegated to serving as the back-up group for their "featured singer".  And wouldn't you know, just months later, a pastor from another church called me up, asking me if I was interested in the organist position there.  I learned that he was looking to downgrade the music program severely (not in his words, but he talked up his moves like they were bragging rights).  That included unplugging the three-manual Moller pipe organ and replacing it with an electronic "keyboard", hiring a "song leader" from the outside, and relegating the choir to merely backing up their "featured singer" (and yes, the pastor used the words "featured singer")!  This, sadly, is what it has come down to in many parishes.

More on microphone abuse:  More than once have I played a funeral where the family requested a singer who was not only microphone happy, but very loud, and very warbly.  Funny thing is that in both cases that come to mind the most for me, the opening hymn was Amazing Grace, and in both cases, it sounded like this:
Without amplification, the hymn was sung fortissimo ("ff", or "very loud", for any non-musicians reading this).  Add the mic, the end result was an earth-shattering fortissitissitissimo ("ffff" or "extremely loud").  In the latter case, the parish secretary asked me what the hell that noise was, as she could hear it from the rectory!

First of all: LOSE THE MIC!  If the singer is trained properly, he/she will project.  As a member of a chorus in high school (a public high school, mind you!), we were trained to project, so that we could be heard without the aid of microphones (or at least "excessive microphones").  I was Jud Fry in our high school production of Oklahoma! in my junior year.  We all had to project.  Even the women with the softest of voices that got roles projected.  They made themselves heard with no amplification whatsoever.  We were very fortunate to have a choral director (Mrs. Nectar Lennox) and a drama teacher (Miss Gail Frappier) who taught us those things.  GIA Publications may be publishing a lot of crappy music as of late, but they did come out with a couple of good buttons that were being sold in bulk.  One of them was "BACK OFF! LET THE PEOPLE SING!"

Next: Carpeting --- if it's killing the acoustics, get rid of it!  You don't need it.  So now that's two things we don't need - excessive mics and carpeting.  Save your scuttola!  Thus the other GIA button: CARPET BEDROOMS, NOT CHURCHES!"

Finally: if you have a drop-ceiling in your music area, lose it!  I had to deal with one in a former parish whose name and location I will not mention.  It was a nightmare!  It also had carpeting.  Nightmare times two!

If the choir sings at Mass, let them lead the hymns and sung Ordinary.  You don't need a separate "song leader" to drown out the choir.  Teach them to project as a group.  Give the cantor parts (Psalm versicles, etc.) to someone within the choir who can project them from his/her spot in the choir.   You can even write choral versicles.  There is no written rule stating that Psalm versicles have to be sung solo.  Here's a sample video from St. Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, Australia (where George Cardinal Pell of ICEL fame was Archbishop until February 2014):

You may have to fast forward to spots like the entrance hymn and the responsorial Psalm.  But you will notice that there is not a cantor within eyesight or earshot in that mammoth cathedral.  Not to mention the musical selections are of very high quality.  Oh, and it was merely the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time!

Carpet bedrooms, not churches!
Back off! Let the people sing!



Thursday, January 28, 2016

Sunday IV at Sacred Heart

The music for I-31-16, the Fourth Sunday of Ordered Time, or Fourth Sunday of the Year (following the Latin "Dominica IV per Annum").

Entrance hymn: To the Name of our salvation, "Oriel"
Gloria: Holy Angels Mass, BMP, or spoken
Psalm 71: R. I will sing of your salvation, Richard Rice
Alleluia: setting by Owen Alstott (chant-style setting in A-flat, with verse to tone 8G)
Offertory hymn: At the Name of Jesus, "King's Weston"
SanctusHoly Angels Mass, BMP
Memorial AcclamationWe proclaim your death, O Lord, BMP (Holy Angels Mass)
AmenDresden Amen, arr. by Theodore Marier
Agnus DeiHoly Angels Mass, BMP
Communion anthem: Ubi Caritas, Mode VI
Post-Communion hymn: Jesus, Name of wondrous love, "St. Bees"
Recessional hymn: All hail the pow'r of Jesus' Name, "Coronation"

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sunday III at Sacred Heart

Here it is, the music for Sunday I-24-16, the Third Sunday of (not so) Ordinary Time.

Entrance Hymn: Praise, my soul, the King of heaven, "Lauda Anima"
Gloria: Holy Angels Mass, BMP
Psalm 19: R./ Your words, Lord, are Spirit, and life, BMP
Alleluia: setting by Owen Alstott (chant-style setting in A-flat, with verse to tone 8G)
Offertory hymnCome, Holy Ghost, Louis Lambillotte
SanctusHoly Angels Mass, BMP
Memorial AcclamationWe proclaim your death, O Lord, BMP (Holy Angels Mass)
AmenDresden Amen, arr. by Theodore Marier
Agnus DeiHoly Angels Mass, BMP
Communion anthem: In thee is gladness, Giovanni Gastoldi
Post-Communion hymn: Jesus, my Lord, my God, my All, "Sweet Sacrament"
Recessional hymn: Rejoice, the Lord is King, "Darwall's 148th"


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Sunday II at Sacred Heart, Normalcy, and a Little While

Two of my favorite quotes come to mind, well, perhaps three.  

The first is Warren Harding's famous campaign quote in his 1920 successful bid for the White House, "Return to normalcy".  Before Harding was President, there was World War I (I don't think people back then knew there would be a World War II not long after), and, as I interpreted this in second year U.S. History class in my sophomore year of high school, it was the calming after the storm.

In our Liturgical Calendar, we have such a "return to normalcy" in the form of Ordinary Time (Seasons after Epiphany and after Pentecost in the Extraordinary Form Calendar), where, though the Mass is still much more than just plain old ordinary, it is that calming after one of the busiest seasons of the year.

The second and third quotes I speak of here come from my pastor and Jesus, respectively.  This winter portion of Ordinary Time (in Extraordinary Form, Season after Epiphany) will last "for a time", until that time of Lent begins.  In this year's case, because Easter is early (March 27), Ash Wednesday is early (February 10).  So even shorter than "for a time" is our current portion of Ordinary Time.  It's just "for a little while".  And in the case of the traditional Season after Epiphany, that "little while" is even littler than that, as Septuagesima (often dubbed as that "little Lent before Lent") is on January 24.

So, "for a time", or even better, "for a little while", especially fellow parish musicians, enjoy the "return to normalcy" while you can.

Without further ado...

Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

We have now put away the Mass of the Shepherds and are switching to an English sung Ordinary, my own Holy Angels Mass, "for a time".

Entrance hymn: Songs of thankfulness and praise, "Salzburg"
Gloria: Holy Angels Mass, BMP
Psalm 96: Proclaim his marvelous deeds to all the nations, Sam Schmitt
Alleluia: setting by Owen Alstott (chant-style setting in A-flat, with verse to tone 8G)
Offertory hymn: Sing of Mary, pure and lowly, "Pleading Savior"
Sanctus: Holy Angels Mass, BMP
Memorial Acclamation: We proclaim your death, O Lord, BMP (Holy Angels Mass)
Amen: Dresden Amen, arr. by Theodore Marier
Agnus Dei: Holy Angels Mass, BMP
Communion anthem: Cantate Domino Canticum Novum, Vincent d'Indy
Post-Communion hymn: I need thee every hour, "Need"
Recessional hymn: Hail to the Lord's Anointed, "Ellacombe"


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Music for Holy Mass: Baptism of the Lord

I know of many who think Christmas ends with the Epiphany (the "12th day of Christmas").
Then you have the retail industry and mainstream media who have screwed up Christmas so bad, they think it starts on All Saints Day and ends at midnight on St. Stephen's feast day (December 26), not to mention that Jesus isn't even thought of in their eyes.  It's all about cuddling up by the fire and riding in a sleigh and swapping gifts to them.
Christmas actually ends with the Baptism of the Lord, which we celebrate this Sunday.

So, without further ado...


Entrance hymn: On Jordan's bank, "Winchester New"
Gloria: Mass of the Shepherds, Pietro Yon (except 7:30: Gloria VIII)
Psalm 104: O bless the Lord, my soul, Royce Nickel
Alleluia: Alleluia "Divinum Mysterium" (Mode V, adapted by BMP)
Offertory hymn: Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding, "Merton"
Sanctus: Mass of the Shepherds (except 7:30: Sanctus XVIII)
Memorial Acclamation: Mortem tuam annuntiamus, Domine, chant
Amen: Dresden, arr. Theodore Marier
Agnus Dei: Mass of the Shepherds (except 7:30: Agnus XVIII)
Communion anthem: Break forth, O beauteous heav'nly light, "Ermuntre Dich" (arr. J.S. Bach)
Post-commuion hymn: Let all mortal flesh keep silence, "Picardy"
Recessional hymn: Songs of thankfulness and praise, "Salzburg"

Come Monday, it's back to "Ordinary Time", folks.  A "return to normalcy" for a brief time, as Ash Wednesday is only a month away (February 10).