F WE WERE all angels, we would sing endless hosannas for eternity in Heaven, praising the Lamb with the most exquisite and breathtaking music in all of Creation. We would know how to do this without ever having learned it, and yet it would be absolutely perfect. Our hymns of praise would exalt the Most High in ways that no earthly composer, and no human masterpiece could ever attain.
But alas, we are not beautiful angelic beings. We are greatly limited in knowledge, understanding and ability to praise the Lord with song. And yet, being His creatures, we still deeply desire to exalt him with music. Unlike the angels, our music must be taught, learned and mastered. This takes an incredible amount of labor and sacrifice!
When you are further challenged by being in a parish that does not have a natural pool of “talent” to draw from, you must create that talent by teaching willing volunteers. It is no exaggeration to say that the process of training volunteer singers and teaching them a basic repertoire can take years. For this reason, it is my belief that every choir should have a set of hymns that they have mastered, which a choir director can confidently pull out of their back pocket without advance rehearsal. Especially with smaller choirs, where it is difficult to ‘hide” the mistakes of weaker singers, it only makes sense that once you have spent the time to master a song you should make full use of it.
Additionally, when you consider the sheer quantity 1 of music a choir may sing on any given Sunday, it becomes clear that doing new music all the time is truly out of the question. Consider what you must cover with your choir when you learn a new song. It isn’t just about teaching the right notes. You must also perfect vowels, tone, Latin pronunciation (if it isn’t in English), rhythm, phrasing, and you must spend time ironing out challenging sections. Practicality demands a certain amount of repetition. Case in point, my choir has this lovely hymn during Lent for the last couple of years. By now I know that we can sing it at the drop of the hat. Being able to do that is an incredible advantage.
Not only does my choir love singing something familiar, knowing that we will be singing a familiar piece on a given Sunday frees up valuable rehearsal time to dedicate to other (new!) pieces.
Therefore, while we can and should repeat some of our repertoire, once you have a core set of songs to fall back on it is important to regularly introduce fresh pieces. Not only does this prevent you and your singers from becoming burned out, but it can also be a good way to expand their knowledge of different composers and musical eras. New things are exciting to us humans. Being constrained by our earthly limitations, we do indeed tire of singing the same things over and over. If we were more like the angels, we would never tire of singing endless songs of praise, just as our Blessed Lord never tires of hearing them!
“And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings,
are full of eyes all round and within,
and day and night they never cease to sing,
Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 For example, in the Extraordinary Form, there are 5 propers that are chanted at every Mass, and their melodies are not repeated very frequently. In fact, many are never repeated at all.