Cantor vs. choir member - raising hand during psalm


Recently the choir I sing in at Mass aquired a new member who switched from an earlier Mass. I believe she switched choirs to help us because onsome Sundays we were down to three singers (including the director on piano).

For the past two Sundays the new member has been telling me to raise my hand during the response on the psalm, because I happen to be standing in the middle. I am not a cantor. The director never said anything to me or anyone in the choir about doing this.

Two weeks ago our cantor could not attend our Mass. The director took cantor duties for the Mass, but had trouble figuring out the candance of the chant on that Sunday’s psalm’s verses. So he asked me to read the verses and he would sing the response (I am not experienced with chant but am with reading). It was right that Sunday for me to raise my hand to signal the response, since the director was also playing piano.

This past Sunday our cantor returned and sang the psalm from the ambo. This new member asked me right before the cantor began if I was going to raise my hand. I wanted to explain that I should not do that, but felt it would be too distracting, so I just said no, not going to. So what happened was she started doing it.

So we had both the cantor and a choir member signaling the congregation to sing the response. I feel that is something only the cantor should do. Am I right or wrong? Either way, I am not going to correct this new member. But I am curious. The situation feels strange to me.


Choirs are to facilitate congregational singing. Only the cantor should lead the responses. It looks pretty unnatural for the choir not to be in unison, almost like it would be if some wanted to stand, while others sit. Since the Director should be “directing” the members of the choir, that might be your first place to start, so this choir member will not be upset with you for not cooperating with HER direction.


Normally, it should just be the cantor raising his or her hand to guide the assembly in the singing. That’s just what I have learned from all my years in the Church. I’m not understanding this choir member’s line of thinking; why should you raise your hand just because you’re in the middle? I can imagine that it looks a little goofy whenever you and the cantor both do it. I would ask the director what you should do.


I love a good choir, but choirs should be heard, not seen. Moving them from the loft to the “stage” was a terrible idea and ought to be reversed post haste. I’ve been to Masses in both the EF (aka the Latin Mass) and the OF (aka the vernacular Mass) in parishes that restored choirs to their rightful place (the loft) and it was a surprising upgrade in experience. Nothing worse than a cluttered sanctuary.

As far as one choir member randomly raising their hand with the cantor while the rest don’t, that is odd, and distracting and that member ought to stop. The choir (if they must be seen) should at least be uniform in their movements.




Yeah, it sounds like you folks need to have a rehearsal or two where these things are discussed and decided. It seems like no one is willing to take the lead, including the director.


Personally, I think the whole raising hand thing is silly to begin with. People are smart enough to know when to sing the refrain if you pause long enough. So, to me, it doesn’t matter who raises their hand.


Thank you all for your replies. Yes, I agree that I should mention it to the director. I didn’t want to talk behind someon’s back, but this sounds right from the standpoint of the congregation. The new member is a little bit pushy - the Sunday I read the psalm she actually nudged me and attempted to put up my arm for me and it was not even at the time when the people should sing the response! I don’t want to be a complainer.

As far as being “on stage” goes, the church does not have a loft. Many Catholic churches in Southern California don’t have lofts. To assume all churches do and that the placement of the choir is the choice of the choir director or priest is unrealistic. Our church only has a small area for the choir, off to the right of the sanctuary in front of some pews, with no other choices. We have been awaiting final approval for renovation and updating. I assume the area for the choir will be better upon renovation, but a loft cannot be installed. During renovation Mass will be held in our beautiful large parish hall. So we will have few options for placement there as well.

I find that having some performance background and keeping in mind that we are in view helps to not be a distraction. I mentioned this to someone in my family, since we both have a little performance background and have sung in the church choir. When a performer is on stage they avoid making movements that distract and they are mindful of the material and message. I thought that if this new member had performance background she would be aware she was distracting and behave accordingly.


I have some problems with other pushy choir members at times, too. My obedience is due to the director, not to other members of the choir - although Christian charity is due to all. In the interest of the integrity of your ministry you should probably mention this peculiar behavior - raising of hand by this choir member - once to the director and let him or her deal with it.

I generally ignore the directives of a particular choir member when she starts trying to boss people around. In one recent incident she was telling everyone in the choir what the song choices would be for a particular funeral because she was a friend of the family and had apparently discussed the music with them beforehand. As usual I ignored her, as politely as possible, and when she asked me why I wasn’t preparing my book I responded that I was going to wait for the schedule Sister would give us when she arrived. When Sister did finally arrive and this choir member saw the music list she very upset about the psalm choice made by the director and was trying to engage me in a discussion about it shortly before the service was to begin. I told her that if it was important to her she needed to talk with Sister about it, not me. Off she went to talk to the director. As she went I did tell her, “Don’t argue with her.” All we needed at that point was a heated discussion about the psalm. Sister is used to this choir member’s ways and stuck to her choices but the choir member was pretty miffed.

We don’t have many people who sing regularly at funerals so Sister doesn’t want to alienate this person, who is often the cantor when I’m not there. But there are limits to what Sister will put up with and changing the psalm was not an option on that day. She’d received the song requests from the family through the appropriate channels and the psalm was not on the list she’d seen. Sister had been ‘burned’ once before by this choir member’s over-involvement with the song requests from family members and it wasn’t going to happen again.

I hope your director is as strong as ours in sticking to proper deportment of choir members and their role in music ministry. Choir members should act in unison (not to be confused with singing in unison), under the direction of the director, and shouldn’t be off doing their own things unless specifically directed to do otherwise.


There is no rule on this. When we switched Mass settings for Lent, opting for Jubilate Dei, is so threw people there was confusion on when to stand and sit. Therefore, though it seemed weird to do so, I had to start signaling with my hand just to keep Father from having to stop and say something (like “Please kneel.”)

The only thing that matters is what works.


I am a cantor and in choir and I only do this while cantoring.


I wonder how strong he will be. He can be pretty firm. But I didn’t get anywhere when I mentioned to him prior to these incidents that I would like my placement changed because her voice throws me off and if I stand next to the cantor I blend better. His response was, “Well, good luck with that,” and a look that told me she was going to push back if any change was made.

Last week I just remained in my same spot and concentrated more on my voice and singing a bit louder. (Although I have had voice lessons, I tend to hold back.) That really seemed to help.

She is a okay, but sharp or too high sometimes. I am between her and someone else who sometimes is off pitch. Not that I am perfect, I just tend to get thrown off. I do listen to the best singer in the choir (the cantor) and attempt to keep in tune with her. In the past, we had a core group of four to five voices, female and male, that blended so well we ended up harmonizing on the fly at times. Now we have four females (including the cantor) and one male, the director on piano and singing and we don’t blend at times.

Anyway, the point I want to make is I got the message the director did not feel able to control her behavior.


I have never understood why the cantor raises their arm. :shrug:

We aren’t stupid out here in the pews. And we would have to be, to not notice the pause and the fact that the music changes.

Keep your arm down. We don’t need the signal.


Reminds me of this: “Why Ain’t Nobody Singin’ Back the Responsory?” Lector Wondering. “My Arms Is Raised Up High Like They Supposed To Be”

I think it looks silly. Today, the cantor looked like she just completed a figure skating routine with both arms fully extended. At one parish I was visiting, the cantor was acting as conductor, conducting the congregation in the responses.

If you’re gonna do it, at least be as minimal as possible. So I’d prefer cantor-alone over cantor plus choir.

If someone insists on doing it, let her look silly on her own. It would bother me if I were next to her but it would also bother me if she were picking her nose. It’s really no more “proper” for the cantor to be doing it. Offer it up.


Our cantors barely raise one arm. The elbow is kept pretty close to the torso. The person in the photo in that link is “over extended”. LOL

Many of our parishioners are still absent mindedly saying, “It is right to give Him thanks and praise,” and how long ago was that change? Not too sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to responses, musical or otherwise. :slight_smile:


I do not think it proper to describe someone as looking silly. To some, all of Mass may look silly. If someone wants to step up to the plate and do the job their way, then let them do so. Otherwise, be slow to criticize those that do serve, especially for reasons that are more about you than them.




Well, I think it looks silly.

What’s the difference between a cantor and a song leader, anyway?:shrug:


Amen. I was raised in the Southern a capella churches of Christ and they always had someone behind the pulpit ‘leading singin’. I never understood why and it was always a man. This cantor raising his or her hands reminds me exactly of this practice.

This cantor raising hands is a recent practice, and we sang very well before it was adopted. It is still not done in a lot of places.


No one needs to raise their hands. The congregation will be cued by the mora vocis, that is the the repose that the cantor creates at the end of the verse. The cues are in the canotoing technique, Hand raising looks foolish.

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