Saturday, October 11, 2008

one thing I hate.

There is exactly one thing that I hate about my job.

teaching songs/hymns/chants to the congregation.
I just feel so disruptive, and it's like no one even cares.
I think that the congregation would pick stuff up after a couple weeks, but my boss makes me teach everything; and even review it the second week we do it!
"Good morning everyone. I would like to take just a minute and teach you this song. It's number blah blah." (wait while 1/4 the congregation shuffles around. The others just stare blankly in front. "Please turn to number blah blah. Ok, I'll sing the first line and then you try it. (la la lah) ok, now everyone (la la lah) ok, good, now here's the second line (la la lah.) actually, that line is kind of tricky, how about you listen to it again. (la la lah.) ok, now let's all try it. (la la lah.) " blah blah blah. there has got to be a better way to teach songs!
there has got to be some sort of osmosis process that would work...
oh wait, that's what I've already stated! I should suggest to my boss that we just try not teaching a song, but give them 4 weeks before we make any judgements about whether they're singing or not. Maybe I'll try that with a new Alleluia.


Gavin said...

YES YES YES!!!!! I despise this also! This is why you DO ALL THE VERSES! My last congregation learned "O God Our Help in Ages Past" because, rather than doing a "teaching", we did all the verses, so each time it came up (which was biweekly until it was learned) they heard the melody 7 times! If they can't get it by the last verse, they're not going to.

That said, if it helps one may as well do it. IF it helps. As far as methodology, I just say "The X part of Mass will be different, please look on at your music while the piano/organ plays the melody, listen to the cantor/choir sing a verse, and then repeat after them." I think with your method it makes it too much of a chore for people - instead of one easy hymn (and hymns ARE easy) they have 4 chunks of music that they have to quiz for the MD. Not fair! Give them the whole melody once or twice and let them internalize it. Then let them sing through it and accept what happens. It will develop in time.

And I'll add that I only do this with unfamiliar major ordinaries (so excluding the Alleluia). The Alleluia is call and response, why the heck would anyone need to practice that??? But the participation in the Gloria or Sanctus is very important, so one must take care to make participation simple.

After a Music History, one of my fellow students (an old guy) said to me "I've learned that you get out of people what you expect from them." If we treat our congregation like illiterate babies who need to be spoon-fed their way into participation, why is it a surprise that they won't participate when we give them the implicit message (through over-rehearsing) that it's something too hard for them to do without our hand-holding?? I have a friend who converted to Greek Orthodoxy and said to me "the liturgy means WORK of the people, so you darn well better be ready to work hard at it!" This is exactly my attitude towards congregational song - do it and make it something for the congregation to RISE UP TO rather than a lowest common denominator.

BONIFACE said...


You're exactly right. Don't "teach" them. Just let Father say, "Open up your hymnals to blah blah blah" and do it.

You should start doing the Latin originals of some of the English hymns you "Humbly we adore thee." Not only does the majority of the congregation want to do Latin hymns, they already know them, or at least the melodies.

Jeanne said...

As a member of the congregation I have to agree with both of the comments - if we have a chance to hear the melody simply played through as an introduction, then we can sing through. It's not productive to hear the music line by line, it just doesn't help with the flow. And many many people love to sing the hymns in Latin along with the Sanctus and the Angus Dei. :)

Mara Joy said...

yes, yes; I know about the Latin thing. however, it's not exactly my decision...