People who sing in the choir: Why does the music change so frequently?

I don’t know where to post this or what I’m even asking for in responses. Maybe sympathy? Or a rationale so I can realize I’m just being an unreasonable grouch and need to adjust my attitude?

But… I attend a Novus Ordo Mass (latin rite) and I’m not a very good singer. And recently my parish switched up all the tunes (e.g. for the Gloria). And I literally cannot hit most of the notes, and the tune seems counter-intuitive to me (changing constantly throughout, no discernible pattern (from my musically-uneducated perspective)), and it leaves me feeling glum… I guess because I miss the feeling of unity that comes from singing in unison with other people? And my ability to do that is so dependent on music being familiar and within a certain range. (But especially familiar, so I can at least figure out harmonies in my range, if I can’t hit the real notes.) Anyway, I dislike having to effectively stand there mostly in silence. And I’m very (very) slow at picking up the new stuff. Like, it can take weeks.

It feels like whenever I finally learn a previous tune, and have found the notes I can sing along to, the choir changes it up. Maybe they get bored? Or maybe this is a normal seasonal thing, and I’m just not used to it yet as an adult convert?

But I thought that a big part of the changes involved in creating the Novus Ordo, were about increasing participation from the laity. And for me, having virtually no regular/traditional hymns I can just know (it seems the hymns are different literally every day, and I’m bad at sight-reading from the hymnal), and even things like the Gloria continually changing… just leaves me feeling left out. And I feel like other laity might feel similarly (because there are a whole lot of other people staying silent almost all the time, unless an actually traditional hymn comes up that people all know, which is rare, but people do sing much more then).

For anyone who’s part of music ministry (or just really good at sight-reading music and singing a good range of notes) – can you give me an insight about what might be going on from a different perspective? If you’re in the choir, do you folks rehearse before Mass – and realize that most laypeople don’t get to rehearse first, so we spend the whole Mass just listening and not knowing how to join in? Do you feel as awkward about it as I (maybe we) do? Or do you find the variety a positive part of your worship of God, since this is an area you have a gift for?

Am I just a huge whiner, and in the musically-challenged minority? Or can anyone else relate?

PS honestly, much love to those engaged in music ministry. At least if I can’t sing along, SOMEONE is making beautiful music to God, haha. I just wish I could join in better, too. :musical_note:


If you are musically uneducated how are you supposed to improvise a harmonic component?

Anyway it might help if the song is in the hymnal since you can just look at the composer who wrote the song and maybe look it up on YouTube. That way you can practice at home. You might be able to ask the choir members to figure out who made the setting if it is not in the missals.


I’m not tone deaf – I just have a narrow range and am shy with my voice. I can figure out a harmony (note by note) if I have lots of time to practice and experiment. Which means hearing the same regular tune repeatedly as I slo-o-o-o-owly work things out.

The thing about looking up songs in the hymnal is that the hymns are different every day (and only announced during the Mass). So looking them up on YouTube in advance doesn’t seem feasible. Though actually, maybe that’s a really good idea about the Gloria… maybe this coming Sunday I’ll see if I can find out that ‘setting’ so as to look it up from home and try to practice!

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Most parishes have a few different settings they use. We have one for ordinary time, one for Lent, one for Easter, etc. They usually stay in use for at least six weeks though. They change in order to provide a different tone for the different liturgical seasons, and because the parishioners all have their favorites and if you play the same one long enough, you’ll get, “Why don’t you ever play the other one anymore?” The Psalms are chosen based on the liturgy, as are the hymns, so they are supposed to change regularly. However, most music ministers send our a list of the upcoming hymns to their accompanists and cantors. Maybe if you ask, your music minister can add you to the email list?


I’m the lay cantor in my Ukrainian Greek Catholic parish. I usually put a sheet out with the propers for the Divine Liturgy which I get from Royal Doors (and of course, I credit them). That way people know what is being sung. And since we go through the same Tones every 8 weeks (that’s why they’re called Octoechos :wink:), one gradually learns the Eight Tones. So if you heard Tone 8 (which was 1/26), as seen here:

then in 8 week’s time you’ll hear it again here:

Try talking to the choir director or someone in the choir. They would be more than happy to help you.


I can’t read the mind of your music ministry director, but do you attend a large parish? My large parish has different music groups that switch off with each other, so I never really know what to expect at Saturday vigil.

Sunday morning Masses are more consistent. The earlier Sunday Mass has more traditional music consistently, and the later morning Mass has more contemporary music. With that in mind, would you find more consistency by attending a different Mass at your parish?

Ohhh – so the same ones will probably cycle back? And there’s only a fixed number I’ll probably get used to over the years?

That would be reassuring, haha.

Oh, I really like the idea of getting on an email list for upcoming hymns that accompanists see!!! That’s a fantastic idea – because you’re right, someone must know them in advance! And maybe I can practice the Sunday ones during the week as a hymn during Liturgy of the Hours that I say privately.

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Yup, it’s a large parish. So maybe that is indeed part of it? More than one music group?

It’s a good idea to consider whether a different Mass time might have a different musical pattern :slight_smile: I can look into that. Thanks for the thought!

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Ohhhh I would love to learn that there’s a fixed number of tones I can learn! I don’t know if it works the same in my Latin Novus Ordo (as in your Ukrainian Greek Catholic) parish, but maybe I should get over my shyness and ask the actual music people here, if we have something like that.

How I wish that were the case in my parish! We’ve been singing the same setting since Advent 2011.

Some hymnal publishers also produce sets of CD recordings of the titles in their hymnals. It may be the case that your parish music director has such a set for the hymnal your parish uses and is willing to loan it to you. It may also be the case that your parish has an extra hymnal that you could borrow to practice with at home. Or, if money is no object, you could purchase your own hymnal and CD set. For instance, the OPC hymnal, Glory & Praise, Third Edition, costs $17 and the hymnal’s accompanying 28-CD set costs $250.

When I moved to a parish that used a hymnal full of songs I was unfamiliar with, I bought a copy of the hymnal for my own personal use at home and, using the free, sheet-music-creation-and-playback computer program called MuseScore, I created recordings of the music of the songs I was unfamiliar with for my personal use. It was a long and tedious process, first learning how to use the computer program and then entering the music for the songs one note at a time but it helped me become more familiar with the songs. That happened before I learned that performances of many of the songs in hymnals are available online, such as YouTube. And, wouldn’t you know it, no long after doing all that work to learn the songs in the hymnal we got a new priest and my parish started using a different hymnal …

TBQF, I don’t think the NO has anything like the Eight Tones. Contact your pastor or choir director. They could help you.

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Find out which Mass Setting you are using; if you have access to Youtube, it should be there. You can listen and learn. That’s what I’m doing.

In all of my experience, the Mass settings change because the Pastor wants a change

The Gloria is never set properly anymore. Once they changed the words, it was damaged permanently. I’d give up on that one.

If you can work out harmonies, you may have real talent that needs to be nurtured. If I were you, I’d take singing lessons and ear training lessons. You’d really enjoy it. You should eventually be able to sight-sing. That’s the real joy, knowing what key you are in and being able to find “do” and “sol.” Singing lessons also extend your range. The sight-singing takes a long time, but extending your range can be accomplished in about two months with proper lessons.


My wife is the defacto music coordinator for our parish of about 1000 families and she leads the choir for the Saturday vigil Mass. Our parish has 4 different choirs. Ours does more traditional music and we sing parts (SATB) most of the time. There is a choir that does the 8 AM Sunday Mass that does more contemporary music, a Teen Choir that does their thing at the 11:30 Mass and the KofC choir that sings once a month.

Our Pastor has asked that we change the Mass settings for each liturgical season. We are trying to get all the choirs using the same Mass setting but first the choirs have to learn them, then the congregation. It is a slow process.

My wife generally introduces only one new piece at a time, spending several weeks for the choir to learn it, and then playing it the last bit of practice before Mass starts so the early arrivals of the congregation get used to hearing it. She will also use some pieces as the meditation hymn at the end of Communion so people can hear it before using it as the first Communion hymn.

Our choir at least has a fairly large repitouir, over 250 hymns, but it is stuff that this choir has been using and adding to for decades so the people know all except the newest ones.

I hope this helps.



I’ve been thinking for years that music needs to be constant at mass. People never sing because they don’t know the words! The best way for them to know the words is repetition! Which songs get the most participation? Christmas Carols! and sometimes very well known modern songs. Lord of the Dance, Amazing Grace, things like that, because people know them!

Anyway, I think I agree with you. Mass music should be more consistent, like 10 songs over and over again, and simple, no crazy time signatures.


I have to agree with this. The only songs I hear people actually sing at church are the ones that have been around for at least 20 years and often a lot longer. Everybody can sing at least the first couple verses of “Immaculate Mary”, “Tantum Ergo”, various other old chestnuts. It doesn’t help that the publishers tweak minor words to “Immaculate Mary” and similar every few years, but nobody really cares if you sing the “old” words, as I continue to do.

Even some of the 1970s stuff like “Be Not Afraid” will get people singing along because they’ve simply heard it so many times.

Nobody’s really interested in singing brand new hymns, which are often some old hymn tune with an unnecessary (in my mind) new set of words. Many churches have a cantor with voice training leading them, which is just an invitation to let the cantor do a solo.

I actually hear the most singing when it’s the weekday Mass with the elderly lady cantor trying to sing the hymn a capella. People don’t feel intimidated about joining in with that, and some of us are motivated to do it just to help her out especially if she’s accidentally off pitch or something.


I started cantoring at a very young age and have done so in many parishes across numerous states. Everyone is different, of course, and as has been mentioned, different mass times may offer different forms of music. At most of the churches in which I sang, the Mass songs changed with the liturgical season. A couple of the churches would have me lead the congregation in practicing the songs 10 minutes before mass for the first few weeks to help them get used to the change. Other times, we just dive in, no warning.

I’ve always been a fan of traditional hymns, especially since most people would be familiar with them. This has likely changed in the last decade since I was a regular cantor. When given the option to choose the hymns, I would try to use traditional songs, and if there was one I was unsure about, I’d put it as a communion hymn, since that is usually the time less people will sing. They could at least begin to familiarize them self with the melody and it’s not as awkward as standing there unsure of what to sing. There may even be resources for song suggestions each week. I just went based on the readings.

I always felt bad singing new songs because I knew no one would sing along. Then again, it can never become a familiar song if it’s never sung. YouTube is definitely a tool that can be used to at least familiarize yourself with most music. The hymns may change each week, but they’ll likely be repeated over time. Maybe see if you can bring a hymnal home as reference.


Two months?!?

My voice lesson teacher says you work up gradually. One can learn faster but also hurt the voice box in the process.

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