HOSE WHO HAVE HEARD recordings of the Texas Boys Choir as directed by George Bragg in the 1970s (or the Vienna Boys Choir, or the London Oratory Schola, or similar groups) already know boys’ choirs can produce a splendid sound. At the same time, I’ve had the pleasure of conducting of choirs consisting of young women—and I would put those gorgeous voices up against any choir; period. In terms of whether women’s choirs are inferior to boys’ choirs: certainly not! That’s an old wives’ tale (pardon the pun). A boys’ choir has a particular sound, and so does a women’s choir. Competent conductors know the value of each. For serious musicians, “different” doesn’t necessarily mean “better.”
Confusing Controversy: A fascinating controversy raged for many decades after Pope Pius X issued Tra le sollecitudini in 1903. Confusion reigned regarding whether women were allowed to sing during High Mass…and hundreds of articles were published. One article was written by a bishop claiming to have spoken personally to Pope Pius X, who supposedly confirmed women could sing in choirs if insufficient boys were available. Others—such as Father Carlo Rossini—violently disagreed that women could sing in choirs. The controversy raged until Pope Pius XII officially permitted female singers in §74 of “Musicæ Sacræ” (25 December 1955), a decision confirmed again in 1958. The 1955 decision, which ended the controversy, was sometimes called “The Choirmaster Christmas Present,” since it was issued on 25 December.
Proof: In 1938, Bishop Henry J. Althoff of Belleville (Illinois) gave an excellent example of what I’m talking about. Was the most serious problem in those days nuns playing the organ? Here’s what Bishop Althoff declared:
Preposterous Proposal: In September 1906—that is to say, eight years before the outbreak of World War I—someone using the fake name of “Wigornia” published an article promoting ideas I consider cockamamie. Essentially, WIGORNIA was saying females could never sing in the choir, but it would be praiseworthy for them to spend a lifetime studying music so that they could teach boys how to sing in the choir. Again, I find such an idea bonkers:
Our Ladies Sing Vespers: What’s interesting is that the article by WIGORNIA explicitly allowed women to sing the “psalms and hymns” at Vespers—which is what we do here in Los Angeles. The women alternate with the men…and it’s the most glorious thing you’ll ever hear! This is very traditional; singing Vespers by lay Catholics existed right up until the Second Vatican Council.