Music: Natural Talent/Prayer vs Practice/Prayer

Here’s a question for those involved in Music Ministries, and hopefully one that can shy away from the usual fireworks that happen during these discussions.

I got to Mass twice during the weekend. Once with my wife, and I also head over to my old Church where I’m involved with the Music team still. Lately we’ve been going to a Mass Saturday evening where they have more “traditional” music, with them throwing down the Organ and what not. My wife and I talked to the choir leader after, and she said “we don’t practice. Some of the people have natural talent, but most of them carry the attitude that they’re praying during this time, so there’s no need to practice”. There’s one woman who has a wonderful voice, but she doesn’t do much with it practice wise because “she feels she doesn’t need to practice her singing because it’s a gift from God”.

And to be frank…as one may expect they sound terrible most of the time. Sometimes “my ears are bleeding” terrible. The timing is off, people coming in at the wrong time, notes are off key, the voices aren’t blending, etc etc. The girl mentioned above (who, in the interest of full disclosure, I dated before I met my wife) has a KILLER natural voice with much potential…she just doesn’t put any effort into it. To them, it’s 100% prayer, 100% gifts, so no extensive practice is needed.

This caught be by surprise. As some of you know, I play percussion at Mass, I have natural musical intuition, specifically with with that percussion (and also with blending my singing voice with others). In fact the whole music team I’m a part of has this kind of natural musical talent. But we still get together at 4pm (Mass is at 6pm) and practice. Even if we’ve done all the songs before, we practice. Make no mistake, we pray before, during, and after. Lots of prayer, reverence. But we still practice because we want to make that we make full use of the gifts the Lord has given us. Plus…we want to sound good, as in good enough to not make people cringe.

I’m asking this because this is only two parishes, which is a very small sample size. I wanted to get a feel for how many choirs practice to improve themselves (and thus making music done at Mass better) or solely rely on the Grace of God and the gifts He has provided.

Once again, check your arguing hats at the door and please try to be objective :slight_smile:

I can speak for myself. I play piano, and I’m good.

But I practice even the hymns. Many of the hymns have “surprises”–e.g., a coda, or sometimes the order of the verses is different (e.g. The Servant Song–you’re supposed to go back to Vs. 1 at the end). I don’t want to be “surprised” and mess up the cantor or choir.

I run through any preludes or postludes that I play. Most of them are fairly simple arrangements, hymns that I played when I was growing up, and yes, many of them are “Protestant,” although I avoid playing anything that is opposed to Catholic theology or might offend Catholics (e.g. A Mighty Fortress is Our God).

I honestly haven’t seen any Catholic hymn arrangements for piano. If I did, I would buy them and learn them.

I prefer to run through the Psalm and other responses and hymns with the cantor before the Mass. Sometimes this doesn’t work out, as cantors rush in at the last minute. Generally, I arrive at least 45 min or an hour in advance to get everything organized and be there for the cantor.

When you think about it, God “practiced” before sending His Only Begotten Son into the world. He “practiced” on Abraham and Isaac, demonstrating what it would feel like for a father to sacrifice His only Son. He practiced with the ark, saving “in the wood of the ark” those who were righteous. The entire Old Testament is full of “pre-figuring” of the sacrifice of Jesus. Isn’t that kind of like “practicing” before the “real thing” happened?

I used to be in a choir at my current parish. Emphasis on used to so that you can weigh what I say with a grain of salt. (And I’ll try not to be too bitter. Has nothing to do with the thread, just the experiences I had).

When I started in choir, we practiced. Maybe not every week but at least the Thursday before Sunday and in the period before Mass. We even reviewed stuff we knew. I can carry a tune (I think, I question what I’m capable of all the time) but everyone knew the importance of rehearsing and practicing. This choir had a couple of people that felt showing up to practice was not required for them and would show up and expect to sing Sunday without learning or practicing any of the music. And we had one gentleman who, well, was bit of a diva, had to be the center of attention.

Things were bad, at least for me, almost from the get go (largely dealing with issues with the music director at the time). I got asked to join a few other choirs Then some choirs disbanded and were reformed with members of other choirs. It just got worse. Eventually I left. Now I don’t even sing.

Now the current ‘choirs’ are worse. One Sunday it’s the woman who wants to look a hip teenage whining into the microphone at full blast. Most Sundays, it’s a group of people very out of tune with one specific male voice dominating. They practice before Mass but that’s it. I won’t talk about the kids choir which is just (blank).

The attitude is that as long as they show up they can sing.

Which I think is a really bad attitude/mentality to have. But the mentality/attitude is if they volunteer they have to be allowed to join and sing.

Could some of them have natural talent? I don’t know, they don’t seem to put much effort into what they do. Or care about what they do as it relates to the Mass. It seems a mentality of being “on stage” and “performing.”

Sorry, I don’t think I answered your question very well.

I think that particular choir is unusual. I’ve participated in a few volunteer, non-professional church choirs and I know many other music directors who run church choirs. All of them always practice, and it doesn’t matter what kind of music is played. The ones I was involved in always had a two-hour rehearsal during the week and a run-through rehearsal an hour before mass. That’s about standard. Even with the children’s choirs I ran, we had a half hour to 45-minute practice during the school day and then a run-through before mass.

As a cantor - from the time I was 15/16 as a volunteer with very little vocal training (what the director would probably would have called natural talent) to my current professional cantor position as a now classically-trained professional singer, we always run through the music before mass. And although the music is usually very easy to learn…pieces which i could just sight read… I take the prayer in the music seriously and will reserve about 10 minutes during my daily practice just to go through the hymns, psalm, etc.

Although I think I understand what that director is saying, to me, if you have a “natural talent”, or a well-trained, polished talent we should not take that gift from God for granted. This means doing everything in your ability to give your best for God whether that’s seeking lessons and training** OR** just making sure you practice the music chosen for mass if you are unable or do not feel the need to hone the natural talent for whatever reason. For me, even when I practice, it’s a prayer to God. Basically, whenever or wherever I sing, I’m praying. You can’t help it. And I have a feeling that many, if not all the musicians on CAF, at least, probably feel the same way.

Why would anyone want to offer public “prayer” that out-of-tune and out-of-sync? :confused: The readers are expected to be prepared and to enunciate clearly, and if not, they will be relieved of their duties. Why should things be any different for the singers?

Our choir is very small and not the most talented in the world, but we practice every week and have extra rehearsals before Holy Week and Christmas, for “damage control” if nothing else! :stuck_out_tongue:

I am a “natural” singer with university-level training. When I work with other professional musicans, we don’t always need much practice-time, esp. when we have worked together in the past and know what to expect from one another. But if I were to sing someplace new with someone unfamiliar, I would insist upon a run-through of the music. I don’t want my musical offering to God to be sloppy and unpolished…and if someone is paying for my services, they deserve my best efforts.

Now, OTOH, I am not a “natural” organist. Two years ago I returned to playing, after years away from the console, when my parish was in need of an organist for the Latin Mass. I was pretty “rusty,” and I started practicing at least 2 hrs./day until I got my skills back. I know how much a mediocre organist can detract from the worship they are supposed to be assisting. And since it seems to be God’s will that I play the organ, I owe it to Him to try to do my best…and that means practicing every day. (And some days it is more of a penance than a pleasure…).

People wouldn’t dream of showing up to Mass in their pajamas, unshowered, with “bed-head” and unbrushed teeth. Is not a lack of musical preparation tantamount to the same thing?

Certainly is weird. I sing in a Gregorian schola and we most certainly do practice! The whole point of Gregorian chant is unity of voices, and that doesn’t occur without considerable rehearsal. You don’t have to have a naturally-gifted voice, but you do have to practice.

Sometimes a naturally-gifted voice in fact can ruin chant. I’ve heard an opera signer with a magnificent voice totally ruin chant by drowning out the others and killing all the subtlety of chant.

Indeed, musicianship is not just about the instrument/voice. A good musical education includes training in appropriate interpretation of various styles of music, above and beyond the basics of getting the right notes in the right places with a good sound. Of course, some people want to be the soloist all the time, even when it isn’t appropriate, but that is more a matter of pride and poor judgment than of poor training. :rolleyes: Save the “Wagner voice” for the recital hall, please, and let chant be chant!

I practice all through the week for playing at Mass. To me it is very important. As one poster put it, even traditional hymns have a few surprises. I even practice the Mass settings, the pieces I play every week like the Agnus Dei that I know backwards and forwards.
The whole point is that we as musicians are supposed to facilitating the worship of a congregation of people. How can these people worship when there are out-of-tune, unprepared musicians? How can a person lift his or her mind towards God during the holiest time we spend on this earth, when the music being offered is offensive to the senses? It is an obstacle to these people, to this congregation, to have to get over the horrible music and try to ignore the cacophony in the choir loft. It is unfair. It is an abuse of the natural talent God has given us as musicians.
Prayer is still a very important key. I pray every Sunday that God use my hands and voice to produce a good worshipful musical experience for the congregation. They deserve no less.
Also, what we offer is to the Holy Trinity, to heaven itself. Why would I want to give less than my very best?:shrug:

So true. Our parish choir does chant often, alongside polyphony and it’s the talent and effort of the music director who can mold a group of mostly untrained singers to sing chant beautifully and with one voice AS WELL as the hard work and dedication of those volunteer choristers. All of the musical efforts made for mass at our parish takes a lot of practice especially since they are mostly not musicians nor trained singers.

Also true. Some singers are not meant to sing in choirs and that’s fine. But if you are to sing in a choir, quartet, octet, etc. you have to learn how to work together and not allow the ego to take control. Ego has no place in singing - and even an opera singer can sing chant if she/he knows how. Private training, university training as well as just singing in choirs will teach a singer how to use his/her voice in various ways depending on the music. And that all requires… PRACTICE. :stuck_out_tongue:

Natural Talent does neither make one a good musician nor gives one the ability to not practice to realize their craft for any purpose.

To receive a Divine gift is one thing, to not cultivate it for the Glory of God is another. The Mass is a public action, it is not a private prayer. Musicians take their place to utilize these talents for the public worship. To not practice (and we are talking many different forms of practice, individually and collectively) is to squander a divine gift. Both of these should be something any musician’s soul screams and needs to be a part of. And they cannot be separated within a properly developed conscience. At least, I can’t fathom how they could be separated.

It is therefore important for musicians to work at improving their craft and never be satisfied. How does one discover the limits of the blessings of a divine gift??? Contentment with oneself certainly does not advance oneself in the ways of the Lord in whatever manner He has seen fit to bestow and advance blessings. They are after all His to give, take away or increase.

I just cannot comprehend this mentality you have described; it is antithetical to my very core.
If I use music for my private prayer, then it is just that…my private prayer. The Mass is public prayer, the official public worship of His whole Church. We, as musicians, cannot and should not supplant our individual private prayer for the public worship of His Church.

I find myself very sad to read of such details.

As a choir director, it is more important to have my choir appreciate and understand the nature of beauty and the choir’s duty towards it as leaders of music for public worship. This take more effort than just teaching them to sing individually and collectively. But the closer they come to understanding this through my guidance, the more they want to practice and realize how they can cultivate their blessings.

And as they improve, I have every confidence that our Lord will increase their talent since they have turned it over to Him.

I just wish more choirs would see their talents as a higher vocation that can receive infinite blessings and not just as something we do at Mass.

Joe B

This is without question one of the BEST things I’ve seen on these forums. You’ve distilled my thoughts on the matter exactly.

I still can’t figure out for the life of me how they could not practice beforehand even for just a little bit. It boggles my mind. I’m glad so far those people are in the minority it seems.

You describe this so perfectly.

Well thank you. Pardon the pun, but your post really “struck a chord” that “resonated” with me. I really needed to express my thoughts well… Guess it worked…!

Joe B

There is no such thing as talent. There is a such thing as a predisposition to a particular skillset, but unless that skillset is nourished with 1000’s of hours of practice, it is worthless.

I have been a member of our parish choir for over 30 years and I have been cantoring for the last 5 years. We are all volunteers and we used to practice every Tuesday night for about 1-1/2 hours. I say we used to because now many of our members have passed on and there are only 5 of us left. Despite our loss in members and organist over the years we still practice perhaps not with the regularity we once did but still we practice.

We don’t necessarily practice hymns from the missalette, most of those hymns we already know and those that we don’t we simply don’t sing. Some aren’t worth singing anyway, but that’s a different subject. We are practicing for Easter now and even though we are familiar with the Easter anthems we have done over the years, you can get “rusty” between seasons. We are hoping to sing The Palms by Jean Baptiste Faure and arranged by Ira B. Wilson. This is a very old piece from the Lorenz Publishing Co., from 1913. The choir members know it quite well but our organist does not, so we have to practice. If you’re going to have a good choir you have to practice there’s no other way to say it. :slight_smile:

That’s one way of looking at things, but there are indeed some individuals who can accomplish in a few days what would take most of us weeks and weeks of practice. This is true not only of musicians, but also of athletes, scholars, etc. One of my fellow organ students comes to mind – he truly had talent and could just sit down and play whatever you put in front of him (he also mastered difficult concert-pieces very quickly), whereas I had only a “predisposition” and have always had to practice for hours just to play things well enough for Mass each week. :o

Exactly my thoughts!!! I also have university level training but my specialty is percussion (as if you can’t tell by my screenname). Singing is more of a challenge to me but I think my voice is decent and I can sightread…

We have a small choir at my parish with mostly untrained members. There are a few of us who could come in each Sunday and “wing it” but we understand that we wouldn’t be giving our best effort nor is it fair to the rest of the group. It’s not about individual talent but about the ensemble. A choir needs to blend and not have one voice dominating the others, espicially when singing in parts. Also, the stronger members help those who have more difficulty learning the parts.

I have always been a stickler for rehearsal attendence and its importance. I’d rather ahve someone trying their best and showing up each week than the “ringer” showing up for concerts and the like. Actually my biggest peeve is the person who needs to be at rehearsal but thinks they are optional and that they can just show up on Sunday.

I agree that its like showing up to mass in pj’s (although I’ve seen it). The music ministry is there to enhance the worship experience of the entire congregation. You neve know how that particular piece of music can affect someone. To the OP, remember that we’re also singing/praying in front of Our Lord and the entire Heavenly Hosts of Angel and Saints. I think I’d want to present my best. Maybe you can mention that to the music director.

Remember the Parable Fig Tree a few weeks ago. God created that fig tree with the ability to produce fruit, but for 3 years it hadn’t. Its only when that ability is worked on that the tree would be able to produce “good fruit.” Its not about having the talent- it’s what you do with it and how you develop it.

To all the musicians out there, I pray that your holy week liturgies go well and enhance this beautiful season.

We are chanting Lauds to be presided by the archbishop, on Holy Saturday. You can imagine we’re practicing our butts off!!!

We will be chanting the gradual “Christus factus est”, in place of the responsory, as the rubrics call for on Holy Saturday. We rehearsed it last night. It was one of the most challenging pieces we’ve done so far in our little schola, but with practice we were able to finally do a credible job of it. One more rehearsal and we should have it in the bag!

I can’t imagine anyone attempting a piece like that without rehearsal!

It’s like the parable of the Ten Talents –

You either use your talents and “trade till I return”, or you go bury it in the ground.

We all know how that worked out!

I agree that those with talent, who find themselves qualified/chosen to be in the choir, should make sure they can sing competently. If it’s not something you can sing in the shower, you need to practice it beforehand.

And with singing, you can always get better.


That’s an ignorant statement.

A perfect example of this is artistic talent.
Some have it and nourish this ability to improve it.
Some, love to paint and draw, yet have no talent for it and never improve either.

Some have the talent and squander it. What you refer to as a “predisposition” for something is talent - you just won’t accept it.

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