A reader writes in:
From the esteemed Bob Batastini in a recent edition of the GIA Quarterly: “Musically, we commonly hear the amplified voice of the cantor more than any other voice in the room, including the combined voice of the assembly. If there is an expanded music ministry present—choir, ensemble—and if this music ministry is equipped with sound amplification, it often comes closer to performance than at any time since the days when the choir did all the singing by design. Some of this performance unabashedly seeks to entertain. This has been going on for so long in some places that the response ‘we’ve always done it that way’ is beginning to be applied.”
Remember the days of GIA’s button campaigns, “Carpet bedrooms, not churches!” and “Let the people sing!”? Or the architectural acoustics reviews in the GIA Quarterly? Is the notion of choral singing (everyone finding AND losing their voices in consensus of the corporate voice) as the principal and sacramental modality of liturgical prayer alive and well? Or is it a lost cause? Is electronic mediation so pervasive that only a few dinosaurs care about it anymore?
When I was at Saint John’s and chair of the School of Theology’s liturgy committee, it would never fail that at the start of each semester we would receive requests asking us to install a sound system in the chapel. I would put the request on the committee agenda, and the standard arguments for and against electronic amplification would be made in the committee meeting. Due in part to the cost of such a system, but also the fervent outcry of the majority of the committee, we decided each time to forgo electronic amplification. However, in many places it is not feasible to forgo a sound system.
The reader who wrote in provided several important questions in regards to electronic amplification and choral singing. In addition to those I would like to add the following questions: Does your community use a sound system? And if so, has your community wrestled with the concerns of our reader? And what norms govern the use of your community’s sound system?
Please comment below.