To Sing or Not to Sing

Well this is courageous if nothing else –  “in defense of non-singing congregations.” (Scroll down below all the headlines.)  And since it’s from my friend Jeffrey Tucker over at New Liturgical Movement, I really want to cut some slack. (I have not forgotten Jeffrey’s supportive words to me the day Pray Tell went online.) I kind of like Jeffrey’s puckish spirit and his willingness to just put it out there, whatever it is. I rather enjoy novel proposals and original ideas myself, and I suppose if somebody put me up to it and I were feeling impish, I could write a liberal defense of the cappa magna.

But really, Jeffrey. “The job of singing belongs primarily to the schola and the cantor, not the people”? “We are free to participate externally or internally based on our own desires”? “The hymn…has no traditional place in Catholic liturgy, particularly not in Mass”? On that last point, I know a guy who wrote a little book about such things, and I see around page 567  that Catholics having been singing vernacular hymns at Mass since the Middle Ages, in some cases more than Protestants.

Sorry Jeffrey, I’m not with you on this one. I don’t think Pope Pius X or Pope Pius XII or the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani are either. But I look forward to your next novel idea!



  1. Jeffrey Tucker says “But neither am I naïve. Even at the loudest, Catholic singing will always be at a fraction of the volume of the local Protestants.”

    This is simply untrue, and shows what a sheltered life he must have led. There are plenty of churches around that will demonstrate otherwise. Come to my own diocese for the Chrism Mass and hear the great wall of sound that the assembly produces as they sing the Gathering Mass Sanctus.

    Two other points might be made:

    (a) It depends on the kind of music that you ask assemblies to sing. I admit a certain sympathy with Tucker when he feels that hymns are not the ideal. In a consumerist society when people are used to having things served up for them on a plate, I have detected a move away from hymn-singing during the past 30 years. People are quite happy to sing refrains, responses, antiphons, call-response music; but I have the impression that they are no longer as happy to sing through all the verses of (ctd)

  2. (ctd) a lengthy hymn such as “Lord, you give the great commission” as they once were.

    “You do your bit, and we’ll do ours”, they seem to be saying.

    (b) It depends on how the music is presented. Here, the USA is not typical of the rest of the world. It has formed a whole generation of cantors who do not know how to elicit a response from their assemblies. They have received a great deal of input on liturgy, repertoire, vocal projection, biblical studies, etc, but (until very recently) virtually nothing on the art of getting congregations to sing.

    In Europe, cantors are trained differently and minister differently. The contrast can be very marked. Watch a good French or English cantor/animateur in action.

    In my workshops in the US, I am frequently asked “How do you get your assemblies to sing?” and I end up doing ‘remedial’ basic cantor techniques.

    My guess is that Tucker has not seen a good cantor at work who knows what s/he is doing.

    1. Paul, I am intrigued by cantor training outside the US. That might be a new post. As someone who tries to train cantors, I am always looking for a new method (one that works). Can you recommend any resources?

  3. The mass should be sung by the priest and people. For this to happen there needs to be a chant system with a limited number of options that is uniform across parishes. The role of the cantor then becomes to sing the people’s music in a way that facilitates participation by everyone. The cantor may have to sing the propers solo but even here it is possible for the people to learn the propers with decades of experience with the same musical settings. Hymns have a limited role in Catholic liturgy. They must never interfere with or interrupt the singing of the mass.

    “Getting the people to sing” should never involve facing the people and waving your arms around like a choir director. The cantor should face liturgical east and sing with the minimum amount of amplification that makes it possible for people to hear clearly. If the people know the music from memory, eventually they will sing the ordinary of the mass following the pitch and tempo set by the cantor.

  4. I’ve already weighed in on my own blog on Jeffrey’s essay. As for the points here, the ideal is a choir or schola to supplement the singing of the primary music minister, the assembly. The cantor is a fallback position. My parish does not need them.

    Jeffrey’s thesis leads to a rather disturbing development, namely the notion that chant and polyphony singers become something of a priestly class in the liturgy. In other words, trained singers worship God on behalf of the congregation.

    As for repertoire outside of hymnody, it developed in the post-conciliar Church in vernacular song. But the interesting trend, most notably in the music of the St Louis Jesuits, is that people easily took to the psalm verses recorded by solo voices on the SLJ recordings.

    I appreciate Jeffrey’s passion for his music. But this essay is wrongheaded and too clouded by a very limited experience of Catholic worship.

    1. Todd

      The thesis parallels the old notion that the servers act for proxies for the congregation in the giving of responses and the making of gestures.

      The theory justifying this is really a post-hoc rationalization of developments in practice the early Middle Ages in the western Church, and is rife with confirmation bias. The Church, however, in her own words has sought for a century to change that practice. Unfortunately, Jeffrey’s essay is going to serve for a long time as Exhibit A in the prosecutor’s case that proponents of propers care more that the propers are done properly than that the people sing or not. Now, I say this as someone who has promoted, and continues to promote, the refamiliarization of Catholic with the practice of the propers; Jeffrey’s essay is not helpful to that cause, though he of course intends to be.

    2. While I don’t buy the argument that “the ideal is a choir or schola to supplement the singing of the primary music minister, the assembly” — this pre-emptively dismisses the value of a choir during liturgy — we have had to build a tradition of congregational singing here out of nothing except the three Benediction hymns (O Salutaris, Tantum Ergo, Holy God We Praise Thy Name), otherwise formed by the tradition of silence that Thomas Day wrote about in Why Catholics Can’t Sing.

      So in the 1960s and 1970s we grabbed around for anything that might fit, including hymns from our now non-heretical, non-schismatic separated brothers and sisters and popular music forms. Jeffrey, like Procrustes, has his one-size-fits-all solution, and he is convinced he can’t make liturgy more, well, worshipful as he sees it without banishing even the good things of the last 50 years.

    3. The congregation does not have a ministerial character or perform a ministerial role in Catholic teaching. In SC ministers are always differentiated from the laity (e.g. 28, 113), members of whom may perform certain ministries (29) including choir members. Apostolicam Actuositatem continues the same distinction.

  5. Our parish can probably drown out any other assembly of the same size…we may be aging, but we sing with gusto & always have (I’ve been in the parish since 1983)…we’ve always had wonderful parish musicians, cantors, choirs & a participative assembly. At the present time we’re without a head music minister…and the choir goes on, the cantors lead, the parishioners sing…it’s so ingrained.

    We would do even better if so many hymns were written with so many high D’s & high E’s…more good hymns need to be written in the mid-range!

  6. ““The hymn…has no traditional place in Catholic liturgy, particularly not in Mass”?”

    Yes, I think Jeffrey is aware that Catholics have been singing hymns at mass for a long time – but that’s the operative word: “at.” Since hymns are not an integral part of the mass, singing them does not constitute participation in the mass.

    So by itself, hymn singing, whether timid or thunderous, is not a measure of people’s participation.

    Singing texts which are part of the mass is something else again.

  7. Todd reiterates from his blogpost: “Jeffrey’s thesis leads to a rather disturbing development, namely the notion that chant and polyphony singers become something of a priestly class in the liturgy.”

    Todd, can’t you see that this sentence is just as incendiary to mannered discourse as you find Jeffrey’s initial essay? You and X number of people may deduce his opinion as inevitably leading to a real (and disturbing?) result, namely a quasi-imitation of the role of the clerical schola in history. Me and Y number of people did not regard his thesis having any such intended or wishful outcome in the slightest. So, I don’t think it appropriate to speculate such a dour assessment that I also don’t think you really believe yourself.
    And I’m sure no one needs to remind anyone else that “trained singers (offer sung) worship God on behalf of the congregation” is licit practice for particular portions of the liturgy endorsed in many references in the GIRM. But omitting “sung”…

  8. …portions from “worship” imparts a rather sinister connotation that Jeffrey, to my knowledge, did not put forward in his article.
    Your post here seems more a defense of your own post at CS, than an argument about the merits of Jeffrey’s.
    Fair enough, if you play fair rhetorically.

  9. Charles, statements do have consequences, especially if the writer is persuasive.

    Jeffrey has told me his piece is being taken in a wrong light. Fair enough. Let him address the discrepancy between his statements and what the Roman Rite calls for in its liturgical documents.

    And yes, my friend, a choir alone singing a Gloria is licit. So is hymn-singing at Mass. I might submit that if the entrance antiphon is from Psalm 98, my congregation is still singing the Mass when they utilize Dudley-Smith/Wilson’s “Sing A New Song To The Lord.”

    So, I’m all for a fair look at the issue at hand. And if it helps, I’m more than willing to withdraw my protest against neo-clericalism.

    Jeffrey, what do you have to say?

  10. During the 1980s, the parish where I was a member had a good organist who took five to ten minutes before each Mass to practice the songs with the congregation, giving more attention to the less familiar. She was outgoing and made this exercise fun. The parish didn’t have much of a choir, but the people sang far better than subsequent parishes with bigger and better choirs. The ND liturgy study back in the 1980s also found “Such rehearsals appear to be worth the effort: the use of a rehearsal in the pre-service period relates very positively in our data to the involvement of the congregation in singing and to the quality of both the music and singing”

  11. Father, I hadn’t forgotten your very interesting and really quite revelatory passages in your masterful book. they were even on my mind — maybe in the back of my mind — as I wrote this little essay. But here is how I remembered them. You ably demonstrated the existence of popular Catholic hymnody dating to the middle ages, music even in the vernacular, and cited many specific instances. However, I did not get the impression that you made the argument that this music was normative or even expected or integral to the culture. I think you went so far as to suggest that these approaches were radical and even looked down upon by competent liturgists and musicians. For my part, it can be difficult to tell just how pervasive this practice was, and I think I’m correct that a major part of your demonstration here concerned German-language hymnody following the Reformation. I didn’t think you really prove the existence of a pervasive vernacular singing practice as a normative standard.

  12. This debate has taken place before. Where to fit friend Tucker’s suggestions on the time line of liturgical singing? Perhaps the Sunday after the mass conversions under Clovis the Frank in late 5th century Gaul?

    Our parish sings with full heart and voice when the people are familiar with the piece, whether it be from the unchanging parts of the mass or an attached hymn. We answer the responsorial psalm decently enough even when it has not been rehearsed. As a lector I sing with the people, and can tell that we want very much to take an active part. We will not respond when we feel imposed upon by sudden impromptu moves, whether from the restorationist presider or the music director.

  13. I would even go further than Mr Tucker and suggest that hymns as poetic compositions were generally not sung during Mass in the Middle Ages, but outside it. (The Sequence may resemble a hymn but is quite different). The Mass had its own chant, taken mainly from the Holy Scriptures. Hymns within the Mass, (apart from the Gloria if one considers the Gloria a hymn) have had a rocky history in the Western Church until recently, because they are a convenient way of spreading heresy.

    1. Ted – you might be interested in the last chapter of my big book which shows that vernacular hymns were sung at Mass in the Middle Ages in some places, and that vernacular hymns have been sung ever since Trent at both High Mass and Low Mass in some places, and that approved Catholic hymnals since Trent have containted Protestant hymns in every era without exception.

      1. Father–Would you care to respond to Jeffrey’s request on this topic above? I would love to know your response:

        “I did not get the impression that you made the argument that this music was normative or even expected or integral to the culture. I think you went so far as to suggest that these approaches were radical and even looked down upon by competent liturgists and musicians.”

      2. Adam and Jeffrey – sure, I’m happy to try to respond. In the dustup between Janota and Lipphardt on whether medieval vernacular hymns were liturgical, I agree with Lipphardt. They were. You can’t use a post-Trent definition of liturgy coming from the Sacred Congregation for Rites (which didn’t exist in Middle Ages) to judge pre-Trent practices. I wrote similarly of post-Trent hymnals – bishops saw them as official liturgical books. I think the PRACTICE is that hymns were pretty integral to local liturgies, but the legislation from Rome wasn’t able to account for it.

      3. Father Ruff–I’m not questioning the amount of research that you have put into this question. It is certainly more than I have done. Your chapter on the subject is very interesting.

        I have to say, though, that I’m not sure of how much stock we should put on historical PRACTICES as a means of defining how things OUGHT TO BE. Or to say that just because they were done, that they were done as they ought to have been done.

        For example, will liturgists in the year 2563 unearth 2010 liturgical practices like this Eucharistic prayer and rite, written and executed by Fr. Pfleger and deem them a praiseworthy traditional practice, or worse yet, a normative practice, just because it has happened somewhere and some time in the course of history? I don’t think so. The same, I believe, goes for our perspective on the Church’s liturgical music practices.

  14. Though I cannot but disagree with some of Mr. Tucker’s less nuanced statements, his description of congregational singing in Catholic churches matches my experience almost exactly. I have traveled a great deal in the U.S. and have lived on both coasts. With the exception of St. Monica’s in Santa Monica, California, congregational singing is uniformly anemic in my observation, regardless of whether the musical choice is traditional or contemporary. I’d love to hear more from Paul Inwood about cantors in England. I cantor occasionally and never received any training.

  15. I’m just ignoring all the personal attacks on me above (such as the notion that I lack experience in Catholic liturgy, ha ha). but I would like to address Todd’s specific question to me concerning something — the trouble is that I can’t tell precisely what the question is. Let me just suggest that he or anyone write me at and I defend, recant, elaborate, or whatever. Thanks.

    1. Jeffrey,

      I don’t think I misunderstood what you wrote at all, especially given your remarks over at the Musica Sacra discussion that you started over the so-called “hysteria” in reaction to your essay. I think you are digging in your heels deeper, again unnecessarily. If you want to engage in extemporized theorizing in a provocative way, but then protest that people are attacking you personally and misunderstanding you, you’re setting yourself up for a feedback loop. You might first try to think: what about the critiques might be right or at least have a point? Especially since even people inclined to agree with you expressed the point that you engaged in overargument.

      First, I believe you set up a straw man (or, for our UK readers, an Aunt Sally) yourself in your article. Why on earth do “non-singing Catholic congregations” need a “defense”? Who asked? Why is a theory needed to explain facts on the ground (the description of which facts also begs the question, but we need not go into that here).

      Second, I believe your detail involved considerable rationalizing, which read a lot like a forced marriage of the-wisdom-of-Catholic-crowds with what-has-been-is-providentially-so types of arguments, both of which are rife with confirmation bias.

      If you want to make the case that Catholic congregations should give up any expectation of singing the introit (and, I assume offertory and communion), to embrace their role during such processions as listening in prayerful attention, et cet., you have a lot more work to do, and your essay was a diversion from that work.

      My own goal with regard to the issue of the propers is much more modest: to familiarize Catholics with them, so they are no longer strangers to them. That is consistent with the arc of developments of the past century, and requires neither a theory to justify it nor a wholesale abandonment of what people have become familiar with. I don’t view a big-theory ideological approach regarding the propers (whether to ignore them entirely or to try what you propose in the MS thread) as useful to Catholic congregations. And I think such an approach will end up marginalizing those who are trying to recover the use of the propers.

  16. By the way, I’ve re-read my whole article – written quickly just as a review – and I don’t find a thing wrong with it except for the characterizations being made of my argument. I added plenty of provisos and conditions to make my point precise. As I said, I love a singing people as much as the next guy, but people not should be browbeat, intimidated, and manipulated to play some appointed role in a musical scheme cooked up by a cantor who imagines himself/herself to be the vanguard of the proletariat getting the masses on the move, and neither should music be selected based solely on its capacity to generate walls-of-sound sing alongs. In the end, people are there to pray. Why do so many people who imagine themselves to be liturgists have a problem with that?

  17. To respond to Tim and Ioannes re cantor training, there are no published resource-books currently in print in England. We tend to use one or two of the US ones, adapted and supplemented as necessary. Michael Connolly’s is one example. My own sessions use worksheets whose content is culled from a large number of different sources.

    The principle differences between the two cantoring styles involve the way the cantor relates to the people, in the use of the voice, and in the use of gesture — which sounds like most of the cantor’s ministry, in fact! We spend time on the language a cantor may or may not use, and on the techniques of teaching new material. The use of gesture is completely different from the US model. In all of this, we took as our model the best French animateurs and adapted from there.

    It’s not possible to describe any of this easily in print. You would have to come to a workshop (or invite me to do one!).

  18. When my parish hired a full time music director, many of us who were average singers were overwhelmed by part singing and migrated to the pews. The director, however, has done a very good job of developing the great amount of musical talent in parish, especially among the youth, and we now have a wide variety of ensembles for the many Masses. Often when he sees me he tries to get me back into the choir; I have also tried to persuade the parish to have practice before each Mass for all us musically average people who love to sing. Neither of us has been successful. Parishes need to develop the talents of the gifted, the skills of the average, and also to be sensitive to those who can’t or do not want to sing, regardless of what was done in other times and places.

  19. I have to say, I found very little that was either provocative or untrue in Jeffrey’s article. His descriptions of Catholic singing are on the mark …I would put up a congregation of 100 Methodists against any 1200 Catholics or so in terms of sheer singing volume. But I think his overall point was grossly misunderstood. The question (I think…) was whether it is, or should be, some kind of “requirement” for the people out in the pews to sing. If it is, then the project has been an utter failure. If it isn’t, then the methodology and musical priorities that have developed over the past 45 years or so are misplaced since they seem to be directed at this very objective.

    But more to the point, the unreachable objective of “total assembly participation” has been the justification for jettisoning the concept of a treasury of Sacred Music, both past, present and future, on the grounds that the music is not intended for assembly singing. That is the message I got from Jeffrey’s…

  20. Jeffrey’s essay included other, more contestable, points, as even he conceded over at MS*, so it’s not a question of gross misunderstanding.

    * He said his essay did say all of these things that a reader asked him about as follows:

    “I wasn’t sure what the point of the article was – was it:

    (1) Let’s face it – we’ve tried to make Catholics sing for 40 years and it hasn’t worked. Time to let the choir and cantors do it all.

    (2) related to (1): as Charles put it: “If they want to do it [congregational singing], fine. If not, don’t obsess over it.” Trying to force people into singing simply doesn’t work.

    (3) Protestants are much better / more interested than Catholics in singing because that is worship for them, whereas Catholics know that the real focus of the liturgy is the sacrifice of Christ

    (4) related to (3): Congregational singing isn’t really part of the Catholic ethos, and deep down Catholics know this – hence their weak singing

    (5) Perhaps all of the above – which seems to argue something like “congregational singing at mass is really not that important.”

    I’m a little surprised, Jeffrey, that you are so surprised at some of the reaction to these points. For those who consider the congregation to be the “primary music minister,” any one of them in isolation is like a red flag in front of a bull.

    I think (2) is closest to what you are really trying to say, but the other arguments also make their appearance which muddies the waters a bit.”

  21. (2) is also what I would say in the parishes I’ve served that had the *worst* singing. I don’t need to obsess about it. I lead by example, I’m content with small and incremental gains, and I think the spiritual result is achieved in the end: a more engaged laity. It’s the long view, and I believe it’s in keeping with Christ’s fundamental call to evangelization.

    I’ve begun a private correspondence with Jeffrey about my concerns with his article. He is free to publish here or on his site whatever he wishes with regard to the specific points I make and his response to them.

  22. Fr. Ruff:
    I cannot agree with the position that you espouse. Chant was even considered divinely inspired during the Middle Ages, and accordingly the liturgical books contain only chant for the Mass. Anything else would not have been welcome as a substitute during the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries at the risk of profanity, at least at the cathedrals (and monasteries) which were the models for the other churches.
    I cannot speak for the very late Middle Ages, however, because that is when corruption was taking hold such as through doctrinally suspect sequences that were being multiplied everywhere.
    Today, we live in an age of similar corruption, where heretical hymns are easily found in “Catholic” hymnals. No one thinks anymore that music is divinely inspired. How much music found at Mass today is worthy of the Greatest King? Surely the King of the cosmos deserves the best we can offer Him during the Sacrifice; otherwise maybe we should just keep quiet.

    1. Ted – I’m so sorry, but you’re factually wrong. The medieval liturgical books do contain vernacular congregational pieces in some cases. In cathedrals and monasteries. I once gave a whole talk on the topic here and showed one slide after another from our manuscript microfilm library documenting it. Facts are facts.

  23. Thanks FR. Ruff. I always stand to be corrected, but I have questions on this. First, how widespread are these vernacular congregational pieces in the mediaeval liturgical books, that is, can it be certain that one is not making rules out of the exceptions? Second, is it clear that these hymns were sung during the Mass, not before as in processions or after? Third, do these examples occur throughout the middle ages, or are they mostly in the later middle ages?

    1. In addition to “rule” and “exception” there is also “precedent.” I don’t thing awr is claiming that vernacular singing was the “rule” in the middle ages, but simply that there is a medieval precedent, and thus vernacular hymnody cannot be associated exclusively with either the Enlightenment (in Germany) or decadent late-modernity (everywhere else).

      Many reform of the reform advocates like to speak of “organic development.” The fact that many reject the development of the liturgical use of vernacular hymnody as an organic development (after all, as many point out, it is something that liturgical law allows, but in no way mandates, yet it has spread even in the absence of a mandate) makes me once again suspicious that “organic development” is simply a code word for “a development I like.”

  24. I would also like to hear answers to Ted’s questions. This is a pretty big issue, and is worth taking the time to make sure it is properly understood. I think it may be worth contacting some more medieval liturgy scholars, if nothing else, in order to satisfy my own curiosity and conscience.

  25. re: #34
    Just because something is a precedent does not mean it is organic. How does one distinguish between “precedence” and abuse? There are a lot of Gnostic writings that set precedents in the different ways of thinking about God, but they were condemned as heretical, despite having persisted through the ages. There were practices in the liturgy that set precedents which were eventually banned. One need only think of all the “missals” fabricated and allowed during the 200 years before Trent. Like the development of Christian doctrine there are criteria for what can be considered organic development.

    1. As to the criteria, I would like to know what those criteria are, and whether those who routinely invoke “organic development” apply those criteria and why vernacular hymnody does not fit the bill.I think I can tell you why Gnostic ideas about God are not a good idea. I don’t think I can do so with vernacular hymnody.

  26. You can’t judge the assembly’s participation simply by volume. Take a look around the church when they’re singing a Taizé chant: the sound might be down but the faces speak volumes. And those barely-moving lips are articulating prayer.

    Charles R. Williams is quite right when he says that a cantor should not wave arms around “like a choir director” but, of course, a good cantor would never do this: a choir director’s gestures are of direction; the cantor’s are gestures of invitation.

  27. Just as an aside, a Catholic musician with long experience today told me that “everyone knows” that Catholics in the pews only really sing (in the sense of Protestant-style sing) three hymns: Immaculate Mary, Hail Holy Queen, and Holy God We Praise. Before you guffaw and hiss at me, think about it for a while. I fear that there is truth here. Are we brave enough to face it?

    1. There may be some truth, there, but it is a very small truth…I have been in very few Catholic congregations who don’t sing & sing with volume & interest & prayer…my parish is aging rapidly, and yes, we know those old hymns…but you should hear us sing some of the new (& swinging) Masses…and new hymns (once we’ve rehearsed). We consider our singing as prayer…and we pray with gusto!

      Maybe you’ve gone to the wrong parishes??

  28. I am sorry, but Jeffrey is just wrong on this point. As one who has been involved with many Catholic parishes over the years, and who travels a good amount of time to parishes in the US, Canada, and other countries… this is just not the case. I am not here to “guffaw” or “hiss,” but I need no time to think about it – it is just wrong. People in many, MANY parishes, are singing robustly in various musical styles: traditional hymnody, chant, and more contemporary and even bi-lingual songs, acclamations, psalms, hymns and canticles. There is no truth in Jeffrey’s claim – maybe it is so in the parishes where he worships and visits – but this is not the mainstream. This is sour grapes in my opinion, for those who are just screaming NO to anything that has to do with the renewal of sung prayer in the reformed liturgy.

  29. I’m sure singing varies a lot from place to place. It’d be great to have another Notre Dame study of parish life! FWIW, at the abbey I have seen the singing get better and better, quite markedly, since I came to St. John’s as a freshman in 1981. Since we have visitors from all over, especially during the summer and on occasions like parents’ weekend or graduation, I suspect this reflects what’s going on in the wider church. I recall in the 80s that sung responsorial psalms were new and people didn’t know what to do with them. Now you hear the whole church respond, right away, even if it’s an unfamiliar refrain.

    1. Hear hear! Indeed, back in 2000 I wrote in Pastoral Music Notebook that we desperately needed a scientific study of music in worship, not unlike the great Notre Dame Parish Study. I’m trying to see if I can get my diocese to take some small steps toward such a study.

  30. I suppose I have not been to as many parishes as David Haas, though I have been to mass at parishes in a dozen states from Michigan to Florida to Oregon in the past few years. The last time I heard vigorous singing in a Catholic church was at the OF Latin mass in Crypt Church of the National Shrine in Washington a number of years ago.

    May I suggest that the parishes Mr. Haas has visited were self-selected – those that invited him have singing congregations. My experience (and that, it seems, of Jeffrey) suggests that such parishes are the exception rather than the rule.

    Also, perhaps Mr. Haas is not familiar with Mr. Tucker’s extensive work in church music over many years – for example, his work getting the “Parish Book of Chant” published – a book whose main purpose is to get congregations singing. Surely it is unfair to number him among those “just screaming NO to anything that has to do with the renewal of sung prayer in the reformed liturgy.”

  31. Sam said May I suggest that the parishes Mr. Haas has visited were self-selected – those that invited him have singing congregations. My experience (and that, it seems, of Jeffrey) suggests that such parishes are the exception rather than the rule.

    I have visited many more parishes as a visitor than as a clinician, and I would suggest that many do sing as robustly as David says, while many others do not (though their musicians are enthusiastic).

    I refer you to my comments at the beginning of this thread. It’s much more about how the material is presented than any merits in the material itself. The Parish Book of Chant may be a very worthy enterprise (I have not seen it), but of itself it is no more likely to get assemblies singing than David’s or my latest collection. We need better parish cantors. (ctd)

  32. (ctd) Some have decried this, but the fact remains that you don’t need a brilliant organist, or choir, or contemporary ensemble. It’s great if you have some or all of these, but you don’t actually need them. All you need is a competent cantor and an assembly. Then the world is your oyster, from Gregorian chant to music of today; and the other things — organists, choirs, ensembles — will follow naturally.

  33. Just to clarify… the many parishes that I said that I have visited are not all parishes where I have been “invited.” Many of them, like Paul stated, are liturgies where I was attending to go and be in the pew, and pray with the rest of the folks.

    Perhaps my statement was too strong and judgmental, and I apologize for that. But it just seems that much of the rhetoric seems to be consumed with musical style – which styles are to be favored above others and more “appropriate” or worthy of the sacred liturgy. The concern, as Paul is pointing to so well, is that the main concern is not how gorgeous the choir sounds or how beautiful the playing of the organist or any other instrumentalists – but the voice of the community coming to pray. And there is not one style that necessarily does this better than others – the issue is not repertoire or style – but the role and function of music in the liturgy. All our efforts should be pointed toward the celebrating assembly.

  34. And AMEN to what Paul said – like Paul, I have not read Jeffrey’s book, and I would love to read it. But books, workshops, and particular compositions that we may or may not like or prefer – are not at the center. Some of the best assembly singing has been done in liturgies where there is very mediocre instrumental and choral performance. Not that I applaud mediocrity – far from it. But musical aesthetics alone do not guarantee participation (which should be at the center of our concerns) – but strong cantor leadership is critical.

  35. If I may,you all may want to read GIRM “The importance of singing.” P. 39-41 and STL, “The Church At Prayer, Letter D, ‘The Gathered Assembly”, particularly paragraph 27.

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