Architecture/choir question


#1

I have been in quite a few parishes where there is a choir loft but the choir is right up next to the altar, I have also been in parishes that have no choir loft and the choir is next to the altar. Why is this?

This is one thing that annoys me about parishes that do this, you can’t help but be distracted by the music that is going on. To me it distracts from the Eucharist and what the priest is doing.

Is this allowed by the Church, or is it another “spirit of VII blah blah blah” thing? Just wonderin.


#2

Part of it has to do with the cost of building a second floor. And providing handicap access to that second floor.

Our new(ish) building doesn’t have a second floor. So there is no where to put a “choir loft.” My mother’s past parish had a loft, but it didn’t have handicap access so it was seldom used.


#3

Before our church’s restoration, there was room downstairs by one of the side altars for a choir to stand. When we had a youth choir, they would usually sing from there (mostly because the piano was down there).

Since the restoration, the piano has been moved (well, replaced with a new one) up into the choir loft and we (the adult choir) sing from there.

Depending on a church’s architecture and if it was designed for a choir loft or if a choir was added after the design would probably determine where the choir is. That being said, I was recently to a church where the choir sang behind the altar (not a divided space like in some chapels I’ve been to), but almost directly behind the altar. I was pretty put off by it because it was very distracting. I’m not sure if this is allowed as I have not researched it.


#4

Hi NorthTexan88,

Haha, “spirit of VII blah blah blah” is the technical term. =P To answer your question, yes, before Vatican II choirs were more commonly found up in the choir loft. Although, not always. More recently, churches have been built without choir lofts and choirs have been placed around the church in various locations.

The advantage of having a choir in a loft is that you focus more on the mass and liturgy, and the choir is “heard but not seen”. This way people aren’t lead to believe that the choirs are performers. The music is supposed to draw attention to the mass, not distract.

However, choir lofts aren’t in every church, and sometimes the only convenient place is nearby the altar. I have no idea why there would be a choir next to the altar if there is a choir loft. That doesn’t sound right to me.


#5

I didn’t think about that! Handicap access may not have been thought of for older churches, and if there’s a disabled person in the choir, it would make it hard to have the choir in the loft.


#6

Choirs should be heard and not seen.


#7

My old parish didn’t use the loft because the director said the sound went into the barrel ceiling when the choir sang up there. I defer to her knowledge.


#8

I would as well. It just always saddens me when people participate in the song. :frowning:


#9

It bothers you when people sing?


#10

The trend toward putting choirs in front began with the vernacular liturgy after V2, as it was felt that having the choirs in front would encourage the congregation to join in the hymns and various parts of the Mass. This gave birth to the “leader of song,” whose job was to sing solos and generally lead the responses. This position has given way to a variety of styles, some of which are rather theatrical.

Handicapped access was not a consideration at the time; that awareness came much later. It is a valid concern, of course, but really played no role in the shift to the front, which happened even in churches that already had loftsSomeone mentioned “building a second floor.” First of all, a loft is just that–a loft. It is not a floor; it is a small area built over the very back of the church. Secondly, churches that do not have them were mostly those built after V2, so the question was not so much could a loft be added to such buildings, but why churches began to be constructed without them. Smaller churches had often been built without them in the pre-V2 era, but most churches of any size generally had them. But the styles of architecture changed after V2 (a trend that had actually begun just after WWII, but exploded in the US with the growth of the suburbs in the sixties–which coincided with the V2 era), and there was a greater emphasis on the assembly gathered for worship. So the idea of the choir and organ being out of sight quickly gave way to what was thought to be a dynamic mode of increasing participation.


#11

It’s not just the handicapped who have a difficult time with a balcony choir loft. I’m 56, and I have a lot of trouble managing stairs, especially going down. Many older folks aren’t officially “handicapped,” but can’t do stairs.

IMO, any parish that has the option of re-building needs to put an elevator in that will bring parishioners to all the levels in the building (except the bell tower–I have no wish to make like Quasimodo and be up that high!). Also, if a choir loft is built up high, there needs to be a bathroom on the same level so that choir members don’t have to traipse downstairs.

It’s funny how people are different. Those of you who were raised Catholic or Lutheran are distracted when the choir and musicians are in front of you. Well, those of us who were raised in Evangelical Protestant churches are distracted when the choir and musicians are BEHIND us! We keep turning around to look, and wondering who’s singing what and who’s playing and who’s directing! I’m not joking!

So we probably both need to work on learning better concentration skills, don’t we? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to focus on Jesus in the Mass no matter what kind of building we are in?


#12

Haha, whoops! :doh2:

When people DO NOT participate.


#13

I found myself in an Episcopalian cathedral and I noticed how it was patterned after ancient European Catholic cathedrals, with the altar, then the choir, a gorgeous rood screen, a pulpet, then the transept and finally, the nave. In fact, the seating in the nave had a modern, impertinent feel to it. It would have felt correct to just stand in that space.

I felt that if I lived in an era where I was so far from the actual Mass being celebrated, my heart would hurt. I could hardly see our hear what was happening at the altar.

Compared to these roots, the choir in the loft was an innovation. Moving them back actually got Joe and Jill a little closer to the altar.


#14

=NorthTexan88;11860816]I have been in quite a few parishes where there is a choir loft but the choir is right up next to the altar, I have also been in parishes that have no choir loft and the choir is next to the altar. Why is this?

This is one thing that annoys me about parishes that do this, you can’t help but be distracted by the music that is going on. To me it distracts from the Eucharist and what the priest is doing.

Is this allowed by the Church, or is it another “spirit of VII blah blah blah” thing? Just wonderin.

GOING FROM MEMORY HERE :dts:

I thing is was stated as a mandate in Environemt & Art in Catholic Worship; which carried through to ***Built of Living Stones.***… the Bishops Directive manual for America.

The thought process was that when in the Choir Loft; they were too seperated from the Congregation and the Sacred Liturgy itself.


#15

Those were the documents that I couldn’t remember! Thanks for posting that! :thumbsup:


#16

No, there was no mandate. That document has no authority. It was a set of guidelines from the bishops’ committee on the liturgy. It was never even passed by the entire bishops’ conference, though its proponents would like to have everyone believe that it is binding liturgical law. Besides, even the bishops’ conference would have to have been given authority by the Holy See to legislate such matters, and that is not the case.


#17

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