Men and Liturgical Music


#1

As a priest, I’ve seen that men often don’t sing during Mass. Further, I’ve noticed a lot of the hymns being sung are sort of emotional and quite expressive in a way that men might not be comfortable with. I’m thinking of hymns such as “Here in this place” and “Sing Out, Earth and Sky”. I wonder of we were using a chanted antiphons instead, or more traditional hymns, would more men sing?


Getting men back to Mass
#2

That is a frequent criticism of “contemporary” hymns. Many of them are simply effeminate. Most men are a bit embarrassed to sing touchy-feely lines like “we are sons of the morning, we are daughters of day” or “come dance in the forest, come play in the field.” When we return to singing solid, Catholic hymns like “For All Thy Saints in Warfare” or “Firmly I Believe and Truly,” where God is called Father and the praise is directed to God rather than to the people, I believe that men will start singing again. Of course, our primary sacred music - Gregorian chant - always sounds best with men singing it.


#3

[quote="Cavaille-Coll, post:2, topic:330055"]
That is a frequent criticism of "contemporary" hymns. Many of them are simply effeminate. Most men are a bit embarrassed to sing touchy-feely lines like "we are sons of the morning, we are daughters of day" or "come dance in the forest, come play in the field." When we return to singing solid, Catholic hymns like "For All Thy Saints in Warfare" or "Firmly I Believe and Truly," where God is called Father and the praise is directed to God rather than to the people, I believe that men will start singing again. Of course, our primary sacred music - Gregorian chant - always sounds best with men singing it.

[/quote]

I agree, as a Parochial Vicar, I do not have the opportunity to give direction on liturgical music. That's the pastor's call. I'm looking forward to being a pastor!


#4

Oh dear Lord, let me vent...

Yes, there is a major problem with effeminate hymns (I am hesitant to call these songs hymns) in that men simply won't sing them. I can't tell you how many Offertories I've sat through in which the only people singing were our four person choir and a few of the women in the pews. Never mind the fact that I think that the Offertory is a bad time to expect people to sing anyway...

Occasionally we have a man who is a trained singer and he sings everything, and very loudly, even when he is not in the choir. Other than him, however, no, most men at my parish don't sing anything unless one of the more classic selections is chosen.

I've always thought the ordinary parts of the Mass should usually be the purview of everyone: the Kyrie, Gloria, etc. So I say use the simple chant settings in the Missal, or pick a Mass like de Angelis from the Gradual. That Mass is so easy to learn! Then pick one for Lent, another for Advent, perhaps a fourth to mix in to give some variety, and you have a whole parish repertoire for the entire year. Four simple chant settings should be eminently doable for any parish.

Now to continue about the variable parts of the Mass. Frankly it doesn't bother me if the choir is the only part of the church singing the Offertory or the Communion. At the entrance and perhaps at the recessional, have a hymn if you like, but please make sure it is a classic, or something that is as good as a classic.

My ideal world for the variable parts of Mass for the OF excluding the music surrounding the readings would be this:

Procession: a well-known hymn or perhaps an organ piece
Entrance to the altar: the Introit of the day
...
Offertory: the Offertory for the day, and if necessary, a motet or another short piece
Communion: the Communion for the day, and if necessary, another piece
Recessional: a well-known hymn or perhaps an organ piece

If you are wondering why I have a processional hymn and the Introit, my reasoning is simple. I think the Propers are all around superior in every single way to hymns. This is self-evident from legislation and tradition. However, I recognize that people like hymns, and I see value in them. I think the best times for hymns are the procession and the recession. So while the procession is making its way to the altar, sing a few verses of Holy God, We Praise Thy Name. Slow down the procession if you have to. Then, while the procession enters the sanctuary, while the priest(s) and deacon(s) are kissing the altar, and during the incensing if there is incense, and while ministers go to their places for the Sign of the Cross, have the Introit sung. If it takes only 20 seconds for this to happen in toto, then sing only a single verse of the Introit. If the procession is large and it takes several minutes, sing the whole thing. It can be repeated over and over again.

Basically what I have done is I have taken what is done at average EF High Masses and I've applied it, with a few very minor tweaks, to the OF.

In such a situation I think we find an excellent balance of hymns to Propers, and I think men will be very receptive of such an arrangement. Oh, and please sing your priest's parts!


#5

I like your solution, YoungTradCath!

I do know that the musicians in the parish are often resisting any move towards a more traditional approach.That part is not something I’m looking forward to!


#6

[quote="FrStevenJones, post:5, topic:330055"]
I like your solution, YoungTradCath!

I do know that the musicians in the parish are often resisting any more towards a more traditional approach.That part is not something I'm looking forward to!

[/quote]

I think what most people think when you propose a middle way is, "He is taking away my hymns! I love hymns!" I think that is at least a partially legitimate concern, and I think if you address that consistently and often, and show real life examples of Masses on YouTube perhaps that do this, they will be mollified.

I mean really, rationally, give this a thought: what is it going to hurt people to have a hymn at the entrance followed by this youtube.com/watch?v=6md3mmIfpuI ? It is an addition, not a take-away. If it only takes you 30 seconds to genuflect, approach the altar, reverence it and make it to your seat, then simply sing the first verse, which is like 23 seconds. It hurts nothing.


#7

One notable thing I have seen about Knights of Columbus events is that there is powerful singing with gusto during the Masses. Our State Convention closing Mass had our diocesan bishop presiding, and he brought in his Music Director from the cathedral, where they are implementing his vision for singing the Mass. The music included some chant and some vernacular hymns. At the familiar stuff, the men sang with gusto. (Our family and friends were also present). Proper antiphons are not too familiar to many people assisting at the OF these days, so I would say that the singing participation will not be very good until they are widespread and popular (just give it time.)


#8

[quote="Elizium23, post:7, topic:330055"]
One notable thing I have seen about Knights of Columbus events is that there is powerful singing with gusto during the Masses. Our State Convention closing Mass had our diocesan bishop presiding, and he brought in his Music Director from the cathedral, where they are implementing his vision for singing the Mass. The music included some chant and some vernacular hymns. At the familiar stuff, the men sang with gusto. (Our family and friends were also present). Proper antiphons are not too familiar to many people assisting at the OF these days, so I would say that the singing participation will not be very good until they are widespread and popular (just give it time.)

[/quote]

What are some real examples of what you used and where?


#9

I'll just give my two cents worth.

Just as background, I sang in various choirs from age 13 to about 20. This included choirs in high school and college as well as the Presbyterian church I was raised in so my rasons might not be in line with the average man in the pew. I still sing around the house and in the car, but only sing things like the Gloria, great amen, psalm, etc. I rarely sing any of the hymns during the entrance, offertory, communion, or recessional.

The main reasons I believe men tend not to sing:

[LIST=1]
*]Most modern hymns are all fluff. Its not about if they are effeminate, but rather lacking in substance. In other words they have no weight to them. This is both the lyrics and the musical structure. I tend to believe men prefer to sing heavier, darker selections then the bright happy stuff in most contemporary hymnals.
*]Most choirs in Catholic churches I've been in have almost no male voices and those few tend to be higher male voices (i.e. tenors or baritones). Most men (especially untrained voices) will want to sing in their chest voice. When you don't hear voices in you range most people won't try to sing it thinking it's too high.
[/LIST]
Personally I think reason 1 is partially responsible for reason 2. I won't sing in the choir specifically because I don't like a stable diet of bright airy tunes. My vocal quality is suited to Russian liturgical music or more traditional hymns. Most contemporary hymns just aren't structured to support the heavier bass voices.


#10

Usige, I’ve noticed a LOT of men who speak in an average male voice but who, when pressured to sing, do so in a voice that is way too high for their abilities. I’ve noticed this with priests as well who sing the prayers. I’ve had a priest tell me he felt awkward when he sings the collect, and I said he should lower his voice to a more natural speaking level, and it worked wonders.


#11

[quote="FrStevenJones, post:1, topic:330055"]
As a priest, I've seen that men often don't sing during Mass. Further, I've noticed a lot of the hymns being sung are sort of emotional and quite expressive in a way that men might not be comfortable with. I'm thinking of hymns such as "Here in this place" and "Sing Out, Earth and Sky". I wonder of we were using a chanted antiphons instead, or more traditional hymns, would more men sing?

[/quote]

In my parish, made up primarily of African American ex-Baptist converts, we SING!!! Men and women alike! Although I can't carry a tune in a bucket, I raise my voice (luckily, always drowned out by others) in song whenever and whatever we sing.

To be honest, I'm more uncomfortable with our chanted Gloria than I am with the more 'melodious' tunes!

Just my 2¢...

Clinton


#12

[quote="YoungTradCath, post:10, topic:330055"]
Usige, I've noticed a LOT of men who speak in an average male voice but who, when pressured to sing, do so in a voice that is way too high for their abilities. I've noticed this with priests as well who sing the prayers. I've had a priest tell me he felt awkward when he sings the collect, and I said he should lower his voice to a more natural speaking level, and it worked wonders.

[/quote]

Alot of that has to do with the voice register of men. We tend to speak in the lower part of our vocal registers. For instance my speaking voice tends to be on the lower end of the spectrum in the 80 - 85 Hz range or roughly around E below Low C. My usable singing range is B below Deep/Double Low C and G above middle C, so my normal speaking range is in the lower fifth of my register. I switch from chest to head voice around E below middle C. It is only another 5 or 6 notes and I have to move into a falsetto range.

Okay, now what does that have to do with the price of eggs in china? Most men are not taught to sing in a head voice so they don't have good breath support. They also don't know how to make a smooth transition from chest to head voice. So if you have a bass or low baritone voice then any part written for tenor or high baritone will likely have significant parts in the upper chest voice or head voice. For instance I have to sing in a head voice for all but the lowest couple notes of a tenor part. Having to sing through the break will lead many men to try singing above the break in a falsetto that can put a strain on their voices.

Now if you look at many contemporary pieces they are not well suited to bass voices, so you have many men trying to sing in their upper range (that they have no experience in) and they either feel strained or silly if it sounds poor. End result is that most men stop trying.


#13

I am a 26 year old man who goes to the Mass of Paul VI. I sing most of the hymns that are chosen. Some of them are really good and some do "lack substance." For some reason the last two are so bad that I close the book after barely singing half of the first line.


#14

Real men sing. Contemporary or Traditional.


#15

I'm a man and I sing. I belong to an all-male schola, and we sing Gregorian chant at different parishes in our diocese every month.

I also regularly attend Mass at a Benedictine monastery and sing with the monks. Also Gregorian chant. I have a soft spot for a Mass for which the music is entirely taken from the Graduale Romanum. But that's just me :p

And these are all Ordinary Form Masses.

As most familiar with the propers know, most antiphons come from scripture, either psalms or other scripture verses. Many very beautiful and poetic, and not necessarily always "manly". Actually IMHO, they transcend "manliness" or "feminine".


#16

I do think that part of it is what was described above. Another reason I'd like to suggest is something I noticed especially with people of a certain generation... (age 60s-80s). I know a wonderful gentleman in his 70s who attended Catholic school from primary school to college. When he was in school, boys were not allowed to sing in the choirs. Only the girls were permitted. The boys could only be altarboys. His experience was not singular, as I've found that other Catholic grade schools did the same thing for a time. These boys (now older men) basically grew up thinking that singing at mass was only for girls. I imagine that this had some kind of impact with the amount of grown men singing at mass when in their primes and then later in life. It also impacted their own sons when they saw that their fathers did not sing at mass.

I have noticed that in choirs where the men aren't significantly outnumbered by women, the music is less "gushy". The last church choir I sang in, I remember how the men got all excited to do some of the chants alone without the women, like the Victimae Paschales. (I personally think that particular chant sounds better without female voices.) My husband, who isn't vocally trained, but has a good baritone voice, loved chanting and singing the Russian repertoire that we did at mass. He also loved singing Bruckner and Brahms.... definitely emotionally charged composers (including the Russian composers), yet probably what I can describe as more "masculine" in nature, if one can place a gender to it. (I don't particularly like making something feminine or masculine.)


#17

First of all, men in general are less drawn to choir and singing as a desirable or acceptable activity. Look at the male/female ratio in high school choirs. In other words, by adulthood many men have been socialized to feel that singing is unmanly or just uncool, so you're unlikely ever to get equal participation of men and women in singing.

I also believe that the high pitched melody of many pieces is more important than the content in discouraging men. One reason this occurs is that many pieces are written for four-part harmony. When these are used at mass, the congregation only sings the melody - which is invariably the soprano or tenor part. Sometimes I'll hear men singing an octave below the melody because it's within their normal range, but it just doesn't sound right and most people realize that.

[quote="Usige, post:12, topic:330055"]
Now if you look at many contemporary pieces they are not well suited to bass voices, so you have many men trying to sing in their upper range (that they have no experience in) and they either feel strained or silly if it sounds poor. End result is that most men stop trying.

[/quote]

The same could be said about many more traditional pieces, e.g. much of At the Lamb's High Feast.


#18

I'm a 56-year-old woman who is a professional pianist. I have accompanied many soloists, choirs, and other groups, and worked with many excellent directors and conductors.

For several years, I have played for a male choir that is part of the Norwegian Singers Association of America. These men have sung for decades, and sponsor a Sangerfest every two years in which 250 men come together to sing under the direction of a professor of music and with a full orchestra.

So I know about male singing, and I have participated in discussions with knowledgeable people about the subject of men and singing.

With all due respect, Father, no, men would NOT sing if you replaced the hymns with chant.

There are several reasons why men in the United States do not sing.

Yes, one of the reasons is songs and hymns that are somewhat effeminate in their melody and words. But it would be a bad mistake to conclude that this is the primary reason why men do not sing in the Mass. If you look at many of the traditional hymns, the language is so flowery that you can smell it, and many of these hymns have a mincing melody that is hardly masculine.

There are two reasons why men in the U.S. do not sing, in Mass, or anywhere else.

  1. They don't know how. Over the last several decades, musical education in the public and private schools has been decreased to only a small bit of time each week, and in some schools, eliminated entirely. In many urban schools, music education must be "culturally relevant." In our city, this means that the half-hour weekly choral music time in the elementary schools is used to learn "hip hop" and "rap." When music teachers attempt to teach traditional music reading skills, singing techniques, and music literature, they are accused of racism and told that their class is "white Eurocentric." Sad, but true.

  2. Our U.S. musical culture is "spectator" not "participatory." We attend concerts and watch, but we don't join choirs and sing.

There is a third reason why men don't sing, and all the men and boys know it, but they don't voice it around priests. I'll come right out and say it--many boys and men consider singing "gay." It's amazing that with all the push for gay marriage and gay rights and gay acceptance, that men in the U.S. actually think that singing is "gay" (and why is that "bad?" if gay marriage is OK?) , but they do, just like they consider the difficult sport of figure skating "gay."

Chant would be utter disaster. In order to sing chant, people have to be able to (1) listen and hear the note pattern OR read the neumes or notes, and (2) sing correctly.

Most people, male and female, in the U.S., listen mainly to popular music, either rock/pop, or country. This kind of music does not train the ear well, and this means that it's hard for most people to listen to a musical phrase and then sing it back again. Chant is especially difficult, as it is "random," with no "pattern" that the average person can hear, and so the non-musician will not be able to learn the chant unless it is extremely simple. And singing "simple" pieces is NOT conducive to adult worship.

Also, most people in the U.S. do not read music at all, so if the chant notation is given to them, they won't know what to do with it. From what I've seen in Catholic parishes, very seldom is the notation for a chant given to the congregation, so we have no choice but to attempt to learn it "by ear."

Finally, most people in the U.S. do NOT know how to sing correctly, and so they sing through their noses, deep in their chests (including the women), and they use "pop" techniques like "scooping." All of these singing techniques make chant especially sound just awful.

Do you understand what I'm saying? People who can't sing can't sing chant! Those people who say, "Chant is easier," are saying that because they like chant and are able to sing. But they're wrong when it comes to most other people!

Father, if you want men to sing, you're going to have to (1) teach them to sing and (2) somehow reverse the cultural trend from spectating to participation. I think this is possible and that it is necessary in the Catholic Church in the U.S., But at this time, for some reason, discussion of music in the U.S. Catholic Church is verboten. It just doesn't happen. It's a subject that everyone with any authority veers away from, perhaps because they don't want to start an all-out fight. But the fight is already there.

The "music wars" that plagued the Protestant churches in the 1970s and 1980s have moved to the Catholic parishes, and we now have a decided "us vs. them" mentality, in which those who love chant and other ancient forms insist that this is the only music worthy of the Mass, while those who love hymns and contemporary music insist that this kind of music is particularly well-suited to the OF Mass.

I appreciate that you want things to get better in the Mass and you want men to sing. But I think that chant is not The Answer. :(


#19

[quote="Digitonomy, post:17, topic:330055"]
First of all, men in general are less drawn to choir and singing as a desirable or acceptable activity. Look at the male/female ratio in high school choirs. In other words, by adulthood many men have been socialized to feel that singing is unmanly or just uncool, so you're unlikely ever to get equal participation of men and women in singing.

[/quote]

That's the thing. As described in my previous post, it is already socially and culturally viewed as something that a "real man" doesn't do (and that is a pity.


#20

[quote="FrStevenJones, post:1, topic:330055"]
As a priest, I've seen that men often don't sing during Mass. Further, I've noticed a lot of the hymns being sung are sort of emotional and quite expressive in a way that men might not be comfortable with. I'm thinking of hymns such as "Here in this place" and "Sing Out, Earth and Sky". I wonder of we were using a chanted antiphons instead, or more traditional hymns, would more men sing?

[/quote]

I checked with my hubby (who only sings about 50% of the time). His reasons to sing - "I know the song. It's very familiar (aka been around since his childhood). It's easy to sing." His reasons not to sing - "It's too hard (beyond simple melody) or too high. I don't know it."

He's definitely not a "word" guy, so the lyrics themselves seem to matter little as long as he's comfortable (familiar and capable) of singing it. He does hold a bit of a grudge against our music director who regularly asks us (congregation) to learn new versions of the responses. Hubby thinks that they should pick one and use it always - advent, lent, Easter, or ordinary time :)


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.