Role of Organists, Choirs, and Cantors : LUSENET : Catholic : One Thread

I attend a large cathedral church that has an excellent music ministry and a nationally known Director of Music. Although I enjoy the music very much, the organ in my church (a Rosales with 3 manuals, 48 ranks) is played much too loudly, and the cantors, and choir are usually invisible to most of the congregation during Mass. Worship, it seems, should never be used as a showcase for the organ or any musical ensemble, no matter how good they are. Shouldn’t the organ be used to accompany the cantor, the cantor employed to lead the congregation, and the choir serve to support the people during Mass? Have others experienced this? Are there any guidelines?

-- Dan Webster (, August 27, 2004


I don't know about guidelines, but speaking as a former song leader ( I dislike the terms "Music Minister" and Cantor), the purpose is to get EVERYONE to sing. I hated Masses where it was all choir-oriented, or there was a lot of "call and response" from the Cantor, instead of just general singing.

I think it actually discourages participation from the congregation when you have some opera-trained (not necessarily well-trained, mind you) person in the role of song leader and they warble and vibrato all over the place. I was not classically trained (although I can sing in tune if I start off on the correct note), but it made me sad when I asked why a person didn't sing and they'd say, "but I like hearing your voice". That is not what the song leader is there for. I want to hear everybody, in tune or not! The only person who should be in tune is the song leader--and unfortunately that is not always the case, either....

Yes, I think there is a time and place for well-trained soloists, choirs, and huge organs, especially when you have those Cathedrals with their really wonderful accoutics, but imho, they should be separate musical events, not during the regular Mass.

-- GT (, August 27, 2004.

Thanks for your response. Most of the music at my church is antiphonal. The Ordinary of the Mass (Mass parts) change almost weekly and many of the Masses used are commissioned for the cathedral. Even specific Mass parts such as Gloria or Status, which were done one way one week will be done another way another week (with an added fanfare, odd accompaniments, or descants). Many Mass parts are actually from Hayden and Mozart Masses, which are no longer used, but have been adapted with antiphons for liturgical use.

The choir is comprised of auditioned, professional musicians. Readers, Persists, and Deacons are expected to chant, and our printed Order of Celebration assumes that everyone can site read. Regular members, usually those who are musically trained, follow quite well, and many of them appreciate the grand organ, the operatic cantors, and the six choirs, which produce a very high quality of worship that is not available in many other churches.

While I can still appreciate the reverence in all of this, I have begun to question whether this high-level of liturgical proficiency is carrying too step of a step price tag. Visitors (of which there are many) and those without musical training often feel left behind, and our church members are so well trained that our church seems to operate more like a Christian Temple than an inclusive, Christian community.

-- Dan Webster (, August 27, 2004.

What is a "Persist"? I've never heard that term before.

It sounds like you really have a lot going on there--just out of curiosity, how many of those people are paid? In my last parish we had one Music Director that was paid. His duties included playing at every English Mass (the Spanish community took care of their own music), rehearsing (usually evenings after people got out of work or school) with all the songleaders, and choirs, separate rehearsals for each Mass--5 Masses. Also changed out the Missalettes each month, and doing music for the school. He had to pay for or arrange for substitutes to play/sing if he could not be at Mass that weekend. Everyone else was volunteer.

I think when you have the "show" Masses you run the risk of people going back to the old ways of kneeling in private prayer and attending Mass, but not participating in it at all, even in the non-musical parts. I remember in the late '60s early '70's people doing this, usually they were praying a rosary.

My current Parish is rather small, and we sometimes have harmonica accompaniment, as well as flute and guitar (not folk guitar, more like classical). Very different from your Parish!!! LOL.

At the Parish with the music director, they had a youth Mass where one of the musicians played trumpet.

-- GT (, August 27, 2004.

Dan, I appreciate your point that generally speaking, the role of the organist, cantor and choir is to lead and encourage the congregation’s singing. But there is a place for the cantor/organ/ other instrumentalists/choir to “perform” alone. This can be uplifting to the spirit, and add to, rather than detract from, our experience of the beauty and wonder of the Mass. Naturally this style of music usually occurs in Cathedrals and other grand churches. Perhaps you could suggest the Cathedral parish have at least one “congregational singing” Mass each Sunday, or you could occasionally go to a smaller neighboring parish Church where they have this.

-- Steve (, August 30, 2004.

I want to know if anyone thinks it's "unchristian" to audition cantors to lead the sng prayer at a mass....Should the choir director let anyone who wants to cantor, cantor? Or should there be some rules and expectations? We just had a HORRIBLE cantor this morning and it was quite distracting and hard to concentrate on the mass.. I think anytime you create a distraction during mass, that is not right.

We are trying to get our choir director to hold some kind of auditions for cantors so that we won't be embarressed to be a choir member anymore.. I am tired of answering questions like, "Why do you let that person sing on the microphone!"

What do you think?

-- brigitte hohman (, March 06, 2005.

Of course he should hold auditions. If you are going to have liturgical music, you want it done right, so that it is inspiring and contributes to worship, not a distraction.

-- Paul M. (, March 07, 2005.

Yes, one minimum requirement should be to be able to sing in tune. It is not necessary to be able to sight read music if you always have a chance to rehearse it beforehand. I don't know if there is a requirement that the person be a Catholic or not. It is not uncommon for accompanists not to be Catholic.

Is this a paid position or not? If yes, then the parish (as in the people of), which is footing the bill has a right to expect a skilled musician. Sometimes, what happens though is that the jobs are not posted, and they go to the spouse of a parish employee, or to someone who's been a longtime volunteer, or, you get the picture.

If not, it is bit harder to be choosy. It is often a lot easier to get people to join a choir because of the social aspects (i.e., they're not singing alone in front of a huge group of people) than to be a cantor.

It is easy for people to complain (not directed at you, just in general here) when they don't realize the scope of the job of the cantor/song leader. If you yourself are afraid of public speaking, for example, you can imagine why it is difficult to find volunteers for public singing....

When I first started, I just kept reminding myself that the congregation is on my side, they are not looking to judge at all. I did have one gentleman who always mentioned it when I would transpose the key of a song from what it was in the book, but I was singing at 0630, and am not a soprano to start with, LOL. So yes, I would transpose songs so that I could sing them in tune within the range of my voice. With modern keyboards you press a button, with guitars you use a capo.

Do the choir members have to audition? I'm not being flip here--often you have to in public high schools. I bet that there is someone good enough in your choir to do the job, if they are given the right encouragement.

-- GT (, March 07, 2005.

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