How do you like your church music?

I am a church musician and I have a couple of questions for all of you out there.
I play organ/piano and also sing, sometimes all at the same time.
Do you tend to join in singing louder or more vigorously if the organ is on a richer, fuller setting with a good bit of volume? Or rather, if the organ is being played on a louder setting, does that make it easier to sing?
If I am leading the singing, and my voice (which carries well) sounds really good, does that tend to make you sing more or less?
Do you like hymns (traditional or contemporary, either) to proceed at basically a fast clip instead of dragging? Does that get you singing?
How many new songs should a congregation learn in a month?
Finally, what are a few pet peeves about organists/pianists in general? I am really trying to meet the needs of a new parish as the resident musician and would appreciate feedback?

Do you tend to join in singing louder or more vigorously if the organ is on a richer, fuller setting with a good bit of volume? Or rather, if the organ is being played on a louder setting, does that make it easier to sing?

I tend to. I noticed that a lot of the congregation also does too when I attended the Easter Sunday Masses today. They tend to sing louder when the organ is louder.

If I am leading the singing, and my voice (which carries well) sounds really good, does that tend to make you sing more or less?

More. I don’t know why, but if someone can sing well, I tend to want to sing louder too. I guess it just adds more feeling into the song.

Do you like hymns (traditional or contemporary, either) to proceed at basically a fast clip instead of dragging? Does that get you singing?

I think it’s good to keep a moderate speed, but definately not fast because it makes the hymn lose it’s meaning. It’s like were singing really fast to win a race or something.

How many new songs should a congregation learn in a month?

Not too many. Every once and a while my music director will teach us a new hymn, but not too often. Also, make sure the hymn is in good taste before deciding if you want to introduce it or not.

Finally, what are a few pet peeves about organists/pianists in general? I am really trying to meet the needs of a new parish as the resident musician and would appreciate feedback?

I hate it when they pick songs that are kind of bland. For instance “Gather Us In”. I mean, there has to be something better out there than that. I hate it when I go to Mass and a lot of the songs are written by Dan Schutte, Marty Haugen, Bernadette Farrell, etc. and we never sing hymns that have some sort of meaning or feeling. Older hymns tend to have a richer meaning and have some depth to them.

Do you like hymns (traditional or contemporary, either) to proceed at basically a fast clip instead of dragging? Does that get you singing?

Yes, yes, yes! Please save dirge tempos for funerals. There’s nothing worse than “Jee … sus … Christ … is ris’n … to … da - aaayyyyyyyy …” There are a few exceptions like Were You There When They Crucified My Lord, and there are a very limited number of cases like O Come O Come Emmanuel which take on different shades of meaning at faster or slower pacing, and can be done in successive weeks at different tempos to unify a season without stagnating.

How many new songs should a congregation learn in a month?

I don’t have a good answer to that exactly, but I just wanted to remind you that you can use certain hymntunes, like Erhalt Uns Herr, Thaxted, the Old Hundredth, and so on, to a variety of hymns, so for every tune people learn they can sing a number of hymns. For example, the tune Lasst Uns Erfreuen sets Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones just as well as I Know That My Redeemer Lives, and if you sang the first one during Advent you can easily pick up the second one during Easter.

Yes! Granted, not every hymn has to read like a passage out of the Summa Theologica. But on the rare occasion when I sing a hymn that treads full-force on non-bland topics like death or martyrdom it really hits home. I laughed out loud (quite inadvertenty) at the beauty, this past Lent, of singing Again We Keep This Solemn Fast (to Erhalt Uns Herr, by the way, which is in a hard-hitting minor key), when we came across this stanza: “Let us avoid each harmful way / that lures the careless mind astray; / by watchful prayer our spirits free / from scheming of the Enemy.” To mention Satan in a hymn? Unheard of at probably 95% of parishes, I guarantee you; and when I laughed, it was because of the sudden joy I felt at getting to express that aspect of my faith.

Our parish music is horrible. My pastor, sadly, has bought into the whole OCP marketing trap. It is really disheartening, but, it’s symptomatic of the entire diocese.

If the music is horrible, I refuse to sing. A lot of what we use is an insult to the beauty, dignity, solemnity and majesty of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. If the parish uses parts of the Mass that are ilicit paraphrases (which, sadly, we do), I will not sing them. I will simply and quietly pray the prayers in Latin.

I tend to like more traditional hymns… or just ones with good words and a meaning behind them… I agree with the others about “Gather us in” :frowning: there are some contemporary hymns that are good too, like “Be not afraid”, but they are rare.

I do tend to sing more when the organ is louder, I suppose…
and if the singer sings well, that helps too.

great to hear that you play the organ, btw :slight_smile: so many parishes have guitars nowadays, and Im not saying that’s altogether wrong but it doesn’t have the same effect at Mass…

also, I find it helps when the beginning/end hymns are moderate speed, but the one for Communion is slower… and it bothers me when the Agnus Dei or the psalms are sang quickly

hope that helps

I attend a Lutheran Church (LCMS) which has the same type of music selections taken from the 15th century, mostly. :slight_smile: A few selections are very nice when you concentrate on the text. Once in awhile they will sing ‘Amazing Grace’ which is everyone’s favorite, I’m sure.
We do follow the Church calendar year with music to go along with the sermon.

Happy Easter to all,


O Lord, deliver me from Haagen-Daas and slow, droning organs.
Today, that should have brought out some festive, upbeat music, only the cantor’s solo during Communion sounded this way. Not only was the organ slow and droning, but at times fell behind the cantor-led dirges. How can one sound happy singing, “All…le……lu…yah!”? Should it take 30 seconds to sing these four sylables? Thank God we recited the Lord’s Prayer, or we might still be in the church this evening.

Do you want to hear a joyous, minute-forty alleluia? Not repeated, just those four syllables? Try the first 1:40 of this on for size!

Like yourself, I tend to be at the organ more than as a member of the congregation, but in my experience, people tend to be uncomfortable with hearing their own voices. I notice in the cathedral where I play regularly, people don’t sing very much if there are few people around them, which is often the case. On the other hand, when the cathedral is packed, they are more inclined to sing. I know that’s rather paradoxical, but when one is isolated, they feel exposed and are often discouraged from singing. So, when I have a cantor who is trying to encourage congregational singing, I don’t have any problem playing the organ quite loud - not with trumpets and the Great mixtures etc. - the people will still hear the cantor via the speaker system, so you have more leeway than you would if you were accompanying a choir.

A cantor can’t be too good! People need someone, as you say, to lead the singer, but if the congregation feel that they have a performer in front of them, they will probably not sing for fear of ruining the performer’s beautiful singing! It may be a good idea to let people know before Mass starts that you want them to sing - go through the psalm response and a verse of a hymn beforehand to get them into singing mode.

Obviously, a hymn should never drag. Singing a hymn with prayerful reverence is not the same as dragging. Choose good strong hymns with a definite beat - most of the 19th century English hymn-tunes are very strong. The hymn which comes to mind is “Soul of my Saviour” (I think in the U.S. it is sung to a different tune than in Ireland) - there are definitely four beats to a bar. There is very little room to pull it this way and that - a strong beat encourages singing because the people know they won’t go wrong!

I don’t know the answer to this one, but I would imagine that you wouldn’t realistically get more than one done per month, unless they are responsorial in nature. Perhaps if the words are sung to a familiar hymn-tune, you might get more done - for example, the hymns “The King of Love my Shepherd is”, “Lord Who throughout these Forty Days” and “O Cross of Christ, Immortal Tree”, can all be sung to the same tune (e.g. St Columba) because they share the same metre.

Surely everyone loves the organist, don’t they?! I suppose things like poor phrasing, especially in a generous acoustic can be annoying. Sloppy pedal-playing - if one can’t play a pedal-line of a hymn-tune as smoothly as they play the other parts, then it’s better for the pedals to be left out (and NOT replaced by a 16’ on the manuals!). It’s very distracting to have pedal notes sounding only on the first beat of the bar - it sounds “jumpy” & it must be remembered that the singers will, to a large extent, sing in the manner that the organ is played.

May I add a pet peeve about cantors too? Apart from the cantor being too much of a performer as I said earlier, I really, really, really, dislike SLIDERS.

The same in my parish. We have OCP also. I agree with what you have said. :harp:

Same here.

My organist buys OCP missals, and has for many years. I think though that he really isn’t into some of the songs they put out, so he never uses them. As requested, he’s been using some more traditional hymns over contemporary hymns. If the songs we sing at Mass are kind of bad, then I just bear it and sing. I feel like I’m doing something wrong if I don’t sing at all.

I like OCP…at least many of the more traditional hymns are in it and it makes it very easy to plan music for Mass.
Okay, here is another question. I play the organ for the majority of the music. But I like playing the piano for Communion, and also for preludes at times. Good/bad/doesn’t matter?

Well, I think it is important to understand what is appropriate for each song. On the wider scale, people love it when the organ is loud and beautiful, because they can hear everything in the accompaniment. The use of an organ adds to the reverence of the setting. When a child hears a loud organ they are more likely going to pay attention than when they hear a soft one or even synthesizer/electric piano that can do everything, but nothing really well.(Which is what they have at my church, irritating as all get out) The organ is the most appropriate instrument to use, and should be used for most of the hymns.It sounds the best and sets the setting for mass.

Does your voice really sound that great? :rotfl: Just joking, you probably sound good. My point here is this: My organ player/ cantor is not a good singer, but he thinks he is. Now I do sing in choruses where we perform and I have performed solos before, so I would like to think I know what I am talking about. He sounds like he taught himself to sing, which all singers know is a bad thing. You can’t hear yourself like others can. He puts all of the vowels at the back of the throat and has this awful, way over the top vibrato. It makes him sound like the Lion from Wizard of Oz. He is also infatuated with his voice, so we the audience are stuck listening to him all to often. Ooh, ooh, he doesn’t like staying in the same key that the priest starts out in during the chants at the beginning and end of mass.

Now remember, a cantor is here to help the people, not for performance time. We want to hear just enough of you to be able to sing the song, but not so much we are forced to listen even if you are a good singer. Singing at those points in the mass is praying, and one person doesn’t stand at the front of the church while we are saying the responses and scream “AND ALSO WITH YOU” “WE LIFT THEM UP TO THE LORD” now do they. It is for the whole church not just one person.

Also, sometimes we do these songs where the people sing the normal response and the cantor sings the verses, like the responsorial psalm. People get enough of that at the responsorial psalm, they want to sing the rest of the time. When the cantor does that it just makes him seem arrogant and out of touch.

I think that that depends on the song, although faster is better for ordinary time and a tad slower is better for lent and slower for the Good Friday and Palm Sunday after the beginning.

We should look at the quality of music not the quantity. Traditional chant is the best. These chants go all the way back to Pope Saint Gregory the Great in the 500s, and are the best and the most wonderful. These chants have been used throughout all of time as a teaching tool for the parish. If someone couldn’t read how could hey learn about the church? They were taught it by singing these chants which all have great theological truths in them that no other has. The chants are the best because they are all theologically true (Unlike some hymns in OCP and others) and can teach the people their faith. Also with a good organist, they sound amazing. For real, you can’t beat a good Gregorian Chant or any good old music.
If a parish uses all of these songs what need is there for new music? None of it will stand up to the beauty of the teaching ability of these chants.

I think I have already said some of them.:smiley: I think if you remember that you are a tool for helping the people sing and not a performer to be watched you will do fine. Also, don’t pick music that is too hard for people. Chants are easy to learn. Our organist picks music that is way to difficult for his cantors let alone the people to sing. (Normal people without training can’t jump from a low d to a high e) There are a few songs that everyone know that do that and it is okay, but most new songs that do that are not okay. Keep it simple and beautiful. I hope this helps!:blessyou:

I know that the USCCB was (uniquely, I think) granted an adaptation in the GIRM for the use of pianos in church. In Ireland, digital pianos are becoming more and more popular (especially in small rural churches), though I think that Pope Saint Pius X’s ruling in Tra le Sollecitudini that pianos are forbidden still stands, over a century later. I must say that on occasions where I have played weddings and funerals where the instrument is a piano, I have felt uncomfortable playing preludes, interludes and improvisations. I would be of the opinion that if there is an organ it should be used (provided, of course, that it is in reasonable condition) - the organ is, after all, supposed to have pride of place. I suppose it depends on what you play (as it would with the organ) - if the music is of a secular nature then it really doesn’t have a place in the liturgy at all, whether it’s a piece of choral music, a piece for organ, piano, orchestra…

Well our abbey church does Gregorian chant, a cappella. Can’t beat that! The organ is played 10 minutes before Mass and then the introit is chanted as the monks process into the church. Then the organ is again played at the Offertory after the Offertory hymn, and at the exit procession, and then for about 5 or so minutes after.

We have two organists, one is the choirmaster, and the other, is the abbot. The former is very good but the abbot is stunning and has won many prizes for his organ work (as well as the harpsichord, he is an accomplished musician). Being the abbot we don’t hear him as often as we like but he takes the odd Sunday off from presiding (leaving it to another priest-monk) in order to play. When he was elected abbot I had very mixed feelings, because I knew he would make a fine abbot but at the same time I knew I (and others) would miss his playing of the organ.

Yup. Same here.
I sing Gregorian Chant and traditional Catholic hymns loud and clear, whenever I am in a church that uses them.
I shut up and say my rosary when most OCP type stuff is used.
When the music is sacrilegious (such as Lord of the Dance) or is accompanied by hula dancers, I go right back down the aisle and out the door-and take my contribution with me…
If I wanted hoot-nanny, I would go to a country-western bar. I expect Catholic music when I attend Mass.
The older I get, the less tolerant I am toward the tripe they are shoving down our throats.

Hula dancers? Oh my. It seems that more secular things are making their way into the church. Who in their right mind would think of using them during Mass? :confused:

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