EADERS WILL RECALL when I mentioned the sad case of a Catholic hymnal editor who was asked an extremely basic question about his publications, but was unable to provide an answer. Curiosity piqued, I did some research. It turns out his career has spanned many decades, yet he’s never 1 stood in front of a choir. This kind of stuff drives me crazy! Indeed, I would say 97% of online choir loudmouths have never directed a choir in real life. When I say “online choir loudmouths,” I’m talking about folks on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and internet forums who constantly lecture, pontificate, and ‘give their two cents’ about choral editions, hymnals, choirs, plainsong, and church music. Such people should not be producing choral materials. They do such harm.
How We Can Tell? • Want to know whether somebody is a competent director? Follow the advice of Monsignor Robert Skeris, who constantly asked: “How does his choir sound?” That’s all you really need to know. Don’t listen to excuses! Some people say: “Nobody wants to join my choir because they’re all bad musicians.” But if the congregation truly contains nothing but “bad musicians,” why not teach them? In my experience, there’s often a good reason nobody wants to sing under certain people… I will not insult your intelligence by telling you what that reason is.
How We Can Improve? • The good news is, there are “tricks of the trade” which can allow a conscientious choirmaster to recruit singers. This coming June, during the Sacred Music Symposium, my colleagues and I will explore many of these techniques. I can share with you one today. At every rehearsal, give your people musical diversity (which I have talked about so often, I probably sound like a broken record). I love Renaissance polyphony more than anyone on this earth, but that’s not all we rehearse! We do modern music, Baroque music, medieval music, plainsong, ‘common practice era’ compositions, and so forth. And this is crucial: at every rehearsal, take a few minutes to go over a hymn from the Brébeuf Catholic Hymnal, which is chock-full of bright, happy, ancient, orthodox, inspiring, beautiful Catholic songs.
Here’s my (100% volunteer) choir singing #296 at Mass yesterday:
M To access this hymn’s media in the Brébeuf Portal, click here.
So Many Items! • Choristers can learn so many things from singing hymns together! For example, in that recording, you will notice the choir emphasizes the wrong syllable on the word “cities”—we need to work on that. They do the same thing on the word “compare”—we need to work on that. The word “beneath” should be pronounced “bih–neath” not “bee-neath.” These are just some examples. Singing a hymn really well is no easy task!
Here’s a clip of the men rehearsing their lines:
Turning A Frown Upside-Down • If you want to make Jeff Ostrowski really happy, email him with effusive praise about the individual voice recordings for hymn #296. They came out dazzlingly sensational, don’t you agree?
1 Technically, this person was briefly hired as a choirmaster once. But was fired after a few months. So when I say he’s “never” stood in front of a choir, I’m not including those few months he attempted to direct a choir before being terminated.