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- February 12, 2012 at 10:56 pm #308104John HowellParticipantGood point, Helen, but it leads right to the question, what is meant by “leading” the congregation. Singing the right notes and rhythms with good phrasing and understanding of the words, certainly, and the SATB parts if that’s what the choir does. But unless one assumes electronic amplification, it can actually be rather difficult to HEAR the choir with the organ honking and (we pray) a full house with everyone singing the melody in unison, octaves up, octaves down, and sometimes other interesting intervals not present in the hymnals.I doubt that anyone is advocating NOT going over the hymns in rehearsal. My wife always did, whether it was with the junior choir or when she was filling in with the senior choir. And the younger kids in the Choristers could pick up the melody instantly with the once-through organ introduction, and were actually only reading the words from the hymnbook until they got a little older and were reading the notes as well.All the best,JohnFebruary 13, 2012 at 11:56 am #308157thomas brownParticipantTo John’s (later) point, while I value the influence of the choir in leading congregational hymns, by far our BEST congregational singing is on those rare Sundays (alternating weeks in the summer when choir sometimes takes a Sunday off) when the choir is not in the loft but seated among the congregation, and I have a large choir. This is primarily an issue involving the size of our sanctuary and the organ volume. Whenever we do special hymn sings, I never put the choir in the loft; rather I encourage them to scatter among the congregation. In addition to the common and familiar ways of encouraging congregational singing, some of the less direct ways we do so is by including occasional a cappella stanzas and in the (community building) practice of assigning different stanzas to men and women/children. A cappella stanzas are often very beautiful and moving. (Logically this works best with familiar hymns. The effect is greatly enhanced by the choir richly singing parts–not unison–from the loft.) Basically, I think these practices increase expectation and challenge the congregation to become fuller participants….February 13, 2012 at 12:24 pm #308161Nan Beth WaltonParticipantI would say that leading the congregation’s song is a pretty vital part of what my congregation expects from our choir. We don’t have a choir at our early service, so the folks who attend then are on their own, but the choir at the later service really assists the congregation singing by their powerful voices and knowledge of singing and musicianship. I rather imagine that one of the reasons my congregation sings in parts is that our choir does so…the singing in the congregation gets a lot of support from the choir. I also believe leading the congregation’s singing is my first responsibility, and probably why I was hired for this particular job…it is on the top of my interests and skills. It helps me a lot when I get some say in the hymns selected, because I can pick them so that each service contains familiar hymns whenever a new hymn is selected. When I cannot select them, I look very carefully to the new hymns to see how I can best lead the hymn for the congregation so that they will sing with the passion for the text and tune of the hymn, and be less concerned about their ability to sing it at all (though there are some who are always less wiling to try…who can control that?).Nan Beth WaltonFebruary 13, 2012 at 2:55 pm #308172Marie Grass AmentaModeratorGetting back to the orignal issue–is it proper for a Church Leader to tell us, as the church music professional, to spend most of our time rehearsing hymns in choir rehearsal even if it means not having the choir sing as often? Having the choir lead hymns is one thing but being expected to take time away from the function of the choir–singing music to enhance/enlarge the message of the Lectionary or Homily and lead worship–is another. And this Young Church Musician was hired to get this church choir back on track after several years not having a choir. You can’t get a choir back on track if they never sing.In my 25+ years in mainline Presbyterian churches, I would also hear this about hymn singing and the congregations–especially as we eased into new hymnals. And it was also suggested to me to take time in my rehearsals to go over hymns–no one ever suggested not having my choir sing–my choir would not have stood for it (a couple of my altos would have eaten them for lunch!). My solution was to use any hymn that wasn’t as famillar–usually there was one–and incorporate into our rehearsal warm-ups for that week. Singing them on a loo or ahh, in SATB, and working on blend was great to get the choirs thinking, too. It didn’t take time away from rehearsal since it was a standard part of my rehearsal.It may interest you to know I got a phone call yesterday after servcies from the Young Church Musician and he told me the Warden complimented his children’s choir. They were adorable–4 to 9 year olds–and sang very well, even getting applause. The congregation’s hymn singing went well but the YCM chose all of the hymns for yesterday instead of others choosing them. That might tell you something.MarieFebruary 13, 2012 at 8:21 pm #308214Ronald Richard DuquetteParticipantFolks – Point: Irrespective of the denomination we work for/with/in, the general view is the choir, when singing, is there to assist and lead the congregation in singing the hymns, responses, etc., that are a part of the liturgical flow of the service.Point: Unless the hymns are extremely well-known, upcoming hymns of the next service are rehearsed before tackling other matters. (In our case, we add the Responsorial Psalm and the Gospel Acclamation to the rehearsal mix – this is for Mass.)Point: This isn’t about the issue – Marie’s last post told us that her YCM’s Children Choir had done a bang-up job, and he’d picked the hymns. My question, Marie: Did the Warden complain about not having “perfect” singing from the congregation?Point: While confrontation may not be the best answer most of the time, the problem here seems to be that someone (the Warden) has stepped out of her lane. Unfortunately, the person who should firmly put her back in it (the Rector) doesn’t seem to either want to or acknowledge that there is a problem. That leaves the problem squarely in the YCM’s lane. Yes, to address it politely and cooperatively would be the best; but there are times when steel needs to be shown. This may, and I emphasize MAY, be one of those times. As I said in my original post, this may be also a case of “I’m an adult, young man, and you’re not yet, and so you’d better listen to what I say and do it” even if not put precisely in that harsh a way. He needs to make it clear that while indeed he may not be as experienced as others, he is nonetheless the hired professional, and that his understanding of his professional responsibilities is NOT to have a congregation singing “perfectly” (whatever that may be, and by whomever’s judgment), but to encourage the congregation TO sing in praise of God. Furthermore, if it gets to this point, he should point out that the Warden is NOT his supervisor, but that the Rector is. If the Rector is unhappy with what is going on, she needs merely to speak with him and make her intentions known; but that second-hand or other-hand information is not a good way to run a railroad. I also pointed out that the result may be that this Warden will not ever be a friend; if not, too bad, so sad; onward to the next issue, please. Now, if I misunderstand the dynamic and the hierarchical arrangement (and no matter that this may be a “low-church” Episcopalian church with much less emphasis on hierarchy), there is STILL some sort of hierarchy, or otherwise it’s chaos – which this is threatening to become.Now, perhaps the YCM’s experience with the kiddies’ choir may encourage him to think that the situation is improving, but I think not. I think the Warden might simply think that the “aw” factor with the kids is more important than “perfection” (Lord knows, I’ve run into THAT problem, only this time with a Parish Administrator – a pastor-in-training – who felt that the little 3rd grader who led the congregation in song along with the choir ought have sung perfectly – this from a man who claimed no musical knowledge, and yet he was a perfect critic! – and I hastened to point out that “lambs must first learn to bleat, Father, before they ‘baa’ well as sheep”), and that criticism of the wee ones is going to be more of a problem than it’s worth. She’s still out there, lurking. Beware.RonFebruary 14, 2012 at 12:03 am #308223Marie Grass AmentaModeratorI do know the Warden didn’t not say anything about the congregation’s hymn singing this week. In fact, the YCM chose what he thought would be “kid friendly” hymns for this service since he knew the kids would be a big part of it, responses and all, before this all unfolded. Given his meeting last week and his following of this thread, he wanted to go over one of the hymns with the kiddos–“Wade in the Water”–during rehearsal. In a twist of irony, the Sunday School superintent thought going over the hymns would take time away from the kids rehearsal of the anthem–stop laughing, will ya–so he didn’t rehearse it and they all did a really good job despite not going over it.This tends to be “low church” Episcopalian and I don’t think they know what they want, musically, and I think that is a huge problem. He’s been told he’s “not Anglican enough” and then told to be more “Catholic” and then dragged to Taize services to get “ideas” for music, by the Warden–all of those things can be included in a good music program but the church musician should be the one to decide where and when within the music program. I do agree with you about stepping up about this. I just don’t understand the Rector not speaking up–it doesn’t make any sense to me. He has to be firm about the Warden overstepping and YCM has to be the adult about it–he has the degrees in music, not she, and I have told him so a number of times. But what do I know–I’m just his materfamilias. Yep, you read that right and in Latin, too. And he’s worried someone will google and figure out who he is, so Mum’s the word. And why I’ve posted for him.I have gone to help out with his choir a few times and they have a huge case of low self-esteem. Probably from a few people telling them they’re not perfect. It always amazes me when non-musicians think choirs/singers should be able to perform perfectly the first or second time they sing something or give up, not realizing “practice makes perfect” is not just a cute saying.I told him not to get too comfortable with the Warden’s praise of the kids. Lurking is a good way of putting it.Thanks everyone. Ron, you are such a helpful, giving person!MarieFebruary 14, 2012 at 8:35 am #308244Ronald Richard DuquetteParticipantMarie – Oh, wow, the problem is worse than I thought! Your comment about “not Anglican enough” (meaning….what, exactly? Not enough “high” church – what a dear friend called “Episcalopian” – so high even Catholics of the old school variety got nosebleeds? more Catholic than the Pope – esp. this one?), more “Catholic” and then “Taizé” (?!?!?!?!?!) – this church has no idea what it wants to be “when it grows up.” I gather that bleeds over into everything – liturgy, prayer life, etc. Man, what a mess “filius primus unus” (my Dad used to say that! :-)) has gotten into. When the Rector herself doesn’t seem to know or can’t/won’t articulate what direction she wants this congregation to head in, it can make anybody’s head spin, and the implication in an earlier posting that a power struggle was going on becomes much clearer now. This is really about the “soul” of the worshiping community in question, and he’s just a pawn in the struggle. This Warden is either confused about what kind of music should be part of the worship there – to go in one breath from “not Anglican enough” (suggesting high church) to “Catholic” to “Taizé” means this person hasn’t the foggiest idea of a musical direction – or this is part of the power struggle. You CAN have a service where the music is a mix – I do that all the time here at Belvoir, because we’re not just serving a single-age group, but everybody from babes in arms to nonagenerians and from all over the place (literally – an Army base) – and their musical experiences and (un)willingness to sing is a primary issue – but to whipsaw the person responsible for the choice of music (with constraints, I gather) means that NOTHING satisfies. (And as we all can admit, THAT can be a power play in itself – keep the pot boiling, keep folks running around and in confusion, and NOBODY has the time to look at the Warden and what he/she should be doing.) I don’t know if the YCM has specifically requested a one-on-one with the Rector to address this and other musical issues, but if not, it’s overdue time, I think. Without a clear sense of where this woman wants to go and how he can help her partially get there via the music program, it’s going to continue to be chaos, which I sensed and commented on in my last posting. Oh, my, this IS really bad.However, that said, a little gleam of light just came on. I think we’re tending to see just the negative here, and understandably so – but I wonder if the Warden’s efforts “dragging him to a Taizé service for ‘ideas'” isn’t actually a well-intentioned effort to help out? I know; it sounds crazy after all this flogging of the issue; but is it just possible that she herself has such a serious concern about the direction of the worshiping community’s journey, that she’s latching on to the music as the most obvious way to help settle things down? Look, we have a weak-kneed leader, who may/may not be providing adequate direction; we have a Senior Warden who seems to think that she has some sort of responsibility towards leader and community; and we have the most obvious focal point in the liturgy, the music (and consequently, the YCM). I’m going to do a 180, here, and suggest that the conversation take place FIRST between the YCM and the Warden, as someone suggested earlier. I would, however, suggest that the YCM phrase it not in purely musical terms, but in terms of striking straight to the possible heart of the matter: “You know, I’m confused. You tell me about the music and the choices and you suggest musical directions that are wildly opposite each other, but I wonder: what are you really worried about?” A real answer may not be given; but a surprised look can speak volumes. If she DOES share, the YCM may understand the REAL reason for all this “perfectionism” – it’s a cover for a far deeper concern. That may actually open up a dialogue between them and can help the YCM limn out the limits of what he can/can’t do musically to address those concerns – and whether, properly speaking, he ought to. If she DOESN’T share after a momentary pause of surprise, then he has an answer as well – she has other issues in mind, and she’s only using him as a means of (starting) to address them. If that happens, his situation isn’t necessarily better, but he can then say when a musical “suggestion” comes up – “Is this really about the music, or something else?” – and it may just give him the needed room to do his job in something approaching peace. I just wonder…Dunno if I’m really helping here, but you’re far too kind to say what you did – but I did have a momentary “aw, shucks!” when I read it. Thank you – I just hope we can help the YCM. The first experience really ought not be so stressful!Ron
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