About this blogger:
A theorist, organist, and conductor, Jeff Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), and did graduate work in Musicology. He serves as choirmaster for the new FSSP parish in Los Angeles, where he resides with his wife and children.
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Pope Gelasius in his 9th Letter to the Bishops of Lucania condemned the evil practice which had been introduced of women serving the priest at the celebration of Mass. Since this abuse had spread to the Greeks, Innocent IV strictly forbade it in his letter to the Bishop of Tusculum: “Women should not dare to serve at the altar; they should be altogether refused this ministry.” We too have forbidden this practice in the same words in Our oft-repeated constitution “Etsi Pastoralis” (§6, #21)
— Pope Benedict XIV • Encyclical “Allatae Sunt” (26 July 1755)

Beware Of Microphones!
published 8 July 2015 by Jeff Ostrowski

531 microphone image N THE PAST, I mentioned how choir directors must have the integrity to record their choirs “live” and carefully listen to the results. On the CCW Facebook page, someone made a very intelligent comment. He said the microphone will never give an accurate representation. Nevertheless, a few weeks ago, we placed a cheap microphone at the very front of the Church, behind a pillar. I wanted to see how our choir sounded to the congregation so we could make improvements.

The recording came out decent, but not stupendous … let me explain why.

The balance and tone as presented by the cheap microphone struck me as incorrect—and I was confused. Was I not present during this Mass? Did I not hear our choir with my own ears?

Somebody might respond, “Jeff, that just proves your ears aren’t very good; the microphone doesn’t lie.” However, my mother was present during that Mass and recorded brief snippets on her iPhone. Her recordings proved that my memory was correct—for instance, about the balance of voices. 1

HERE’S THE BOTTOM LINE: the guy on Facebook was correct. Microphones sometimes provide an inaccurate record. 2

I don’t have the clips from my mother’s cell phone, but I do have several clips captured by the cheap microphone (the one hidden behind a pillar). Feel free to listen to these clips, but please remember our choir sounds much nicer in real life!

    * *  Excerpt • ALLELUIA

    * *  Excerpt • COMMUNION

    * *  Excerpt • HOSANNA

    * *  Excerpt • GLORIA

    * *  Excerpt • CREDO

The final clip (“Credo”) really told me something was wrong with the recording because—as you can hear—the organ is almost too loud for the soloist. I can assure that was NOT the case!  But I would undoubtedly still be second-guessing myself if I hadn’t listened to my mother’s cell phone recording, which was located at the center of the nave.


1   I am sensitive to the balance between organ and voice. During the recording session for an audio CD back in 2003, the microphone was placed too close to the organ, so I had to reassemble the entire schola—including the organist—to redo the whole session. During my college years, I attended a local parish and the organist played so loudly throughout Mass my head hurt for a week.

2   Please note: I’m not here concerned with poor quality recordings per se. After all, I’m someone who grew up listening to scratchy, awful, distorted records of the Golden Age Pianists, and no one has a greater love for such things or spent more time enjoying them than I. One eventually learns to focus on the music beneath all the surface noise.