Friday, October 3, 2014

Laudate Dominum de caelis....

One of our readers is having a parish problem, the contraction of the Divine Office within his parish. Weekly Compline, Vespers once in a while, and Terce before the high Mass on Sundays were formerly sung. The Compline group, Vespers, Terce, and high Mass on Sundays all require a choir. Thus far, they have one paid cantor and a vacillating group of volunteers. The parish is mostly disinterested in the liturgy, but not entirely. They have tried and failed to form a choir, never quite connecting with the "single-male-liturgical nerd" demographic so essential to liturgical excellence. Any advice? Any creative ideas from experience? Any outlandish ideas for this fellow which might work?


  1. A few things to consider,

    I assume the Parish is Tridentine Roman?
    How large is it?
    What are the demographics?

    My thought for Divine Office is to encourage whatever groups/ministries to schedule their meetings around the Office so they can attend it before/after their meetings. Also, get the priest to advertise it and encourage participation (though you and I both know from experience that this does not necessarily increase attendance). Maybe the priest should give a sermon on the significance of the office? Maybe the parish should distribute extremely abbreviated prayers from the Office for lay use (the Melkite church already does this with the "Publican Prayer Book", which I own)?

    As for the choir, have they tried walking up to someone and going "Would you like to be in the choir?"

    I've seen it work.

  2. I wonder if the fact that the music is lead by a paid cantor rather than a voluntary one, in ipso, discourages the more typical, organic formation of scholae cantorum in medium to large Trad parishes. Reason being is that average people get the perception that singing in church is something requiring a professional expertise for which they need and should not apply (which is completely untrue especially the singing of chant). And let's say that a "choir" (understood in the modern sense) is not lacking but a schola, something specific to chant, psalmody, and the establishment of a choir (in the traditional sense) is not to be found because music rather than the Liturgy is held to be a higher good by way of the compensation angle. I'm not saying that remuneration is wrong (justice may require it), but perhaps it is worth exploring if it does have a negative effect on the formation of liturgical choirs.

    As for the Office, how does one turn the tide on 500+ years of aliturgical practice in a single parish? I don't think even one priest, outside the exceptional cases RadTrad has written about, can convince the hoi polloi of the importance or even necessity of the sung Office no matter the number of sermons, etc. In my travels, the Office succeeds only where there are a minimum number of clergy who pray it daily in common (e.g. SSPX priories, seminaries) to which a certain but small contingent of better informed laity often joins in.

  3. For my part, as an eastern Catholic with nearly thirty years experience as a cantor/choir director, the problem with most Western cantors (at least these days) is that they look upon themselves as singers, rather than teachers.

    My suggestion is that if your friend wishes to succeed, he should start by making the texts of the hours available to the people, and to start by simply reading them aloud together in prayer.

    The next, and crucial step, would be to start teaching the congregation the psalm tones. Going through them a few minutes before the service would greatly help. Repeated practice makes perfect. At that point, the cantor could chant the antiphons, and the people could chant the psalm tones antiphonally (that is, right side alternating with left in the church).

    Gradually afterwards, the cantor could start teaching how to sing the square notes for things other than psalms. Of course, in doing all this, a square-note music program would probably be helpful.

  4. Oh, and one other thing: the practice of miking and amplifying the voice of the cantor tends to be a turn-off to congregational participation. Besides, anyone with even a modicum of vocal training can outsing most congregations. An amplifier is an unfair advantage, rather like a performance enhancing device. Best to keep things to a level playing field.

    So also with organ accompaniment to the psalms. It is another congregation turn-off. It also lends to the idea of performance rather than prayer. Leave the organ to the prelude and postlude to the service. It would be better appreciated if left there.