Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Of Cantors, "Song Leaders", and Soloists

Three days ago, I posted this blurb about cantors and "song leaders".  Today, I will continue down that road a bit.

If you noticed in the last blurb, I blatantly used quotation marks for the term "song leaders".  I did that because while some really do make an attempt to "lead" the singing of the people in the pew, for some, it's an audio/visual presentation.  Think of it as (quoting Happy Bunny with the big $&!+-eating grin) "Let's focus on ME!"  And again, many actually start listening (and staring) and stop singing.

But now, I'm going to go into the next phase of solo singing: the soloist.  This happens mostly at funerals and weddings.  Any organists reading this know of what I speak, especially if they've worked the northern Rhode Island circuit in the 1980's and 1990's.

I don't know if anything has changed since 1997 when I left my last northern Rhode Island parish as organist/music director, but certain funeral parlors had a knack for pushing soloists.  More than half the funerals I played in that area included a soloist, usually from outside the parish.  And, of course, many of them insisted on putting on their own show, and it was allowed by many a parish.  While, thankfully, nothing totally secular came about (except for one parish where the pastor once honored a request for John Lennon's Imagine, played, but not sung, as a recessional), but there was a good amount of crap being pushed.  There are a couple of soloists, probably deceased by now, who did use a repertoire of decent Catholic music, and, while they weren't doing Mass XVIII, they would usually do People's Mass or Christian Unity, both by the late Jan Vermulst, and not Massive Cremation, or the Jesuits Mass, or the current Missa My Little Pony.  But nonetheless, they come expecting to sing SOLO, and having the organist sing along with them (even if said organist is familiar with the tune, and whether in unison or in harmony) is generally frowned upon by the soloist, and sometimes even by the family who requested him/her.

Since breaking out of that circuit of having a soloist come almost unexpectedly every other funeral or more, I've been able to set a bit of a policy on soloists, and at my current parish, enforce it fully.  This goes basically for weddings and funerals, as there is no reason to work with outside soloists for Sunday Mass.

For example, if you're requested for a solo piece (e.g., an Ave Maria at the Offertory), fine.  You will get that solo.  But if you're familiarity with the Mass Ordinary settings is limited to Haugen, Haas, St. Louis Jesuits, and other similar composers disallowed at the parish, have a seat.  Speaking of Mass Ordinary, at funerals, we do Mass XVIII (with the pro Defunctis Agnus Dei) as a rule.  I am willing to give leeway to the aforementioned Vermulst Masses, plus Owen Alstott's Heritage Mass and Richard Proulx's Community Mass.  I'll even accomodate anyone who wants to give my own Holy Angels Mass a try.  :)  There may be some other Masses of similar quality that I may be able to sight-read quickly (or at least fake well).  Same policy goes with hymnody.

Wrapping this up: let's differentiate:

* Cantor: sings the versicles of the Responsorial Psalm, the Alleluia, and other such responsories.

* "Song Leader": leads the singing of hymns, Mass Ordinaries - those pieces that belong to the congregation.  Often accidentally becomes a soloist, by way of the dreaded microphone.  In no way should a "song leader" blare into a mic at the choir Mass.  Let the choir be the leaders.

* Soloist: sings pieces intended for solo voice.  Such examples would be most Ave Maria settings, the Franck Panis Angelicus, and the Faure Pie Jesu.  Often by accident a "song leader" becomes one by way of the microphone (see above).



Unknown said...

Love the Bill Lee reference.

Brian Michael Page said...

Spaceman rules! :)