Should choirs/musicians be situated only in choir lofts?


#1

Should choirs/musicians be situated only in choir lofts as opposed to near the sanctuary? (Or if there is no loft, situated somewhere in the rear of the church.)

Why or why not?


#2

Depends on the church design.

In a loft, musicians can do their job without fear of creating visual distraction. (Not suggesting musicians shouldn’t comport themselves reverently at all times, just recognising that sometimes you need to handle/adjust music or instruments or have a quick and quiet word to each other. You can lay books out on the floor without looking a mess. And I personally do not want to see the choral conductor unless I’m in the choir. :stuck_out_tongue: )

A loft removes distractions for the musicians, too. (A toddler who invariably sat next to us and “meowed” from one end of Mass to t’other was a bit hard on the concentration, some days. And as for the couple who tried to sit with us on a crowded Good Friday with three littlies they had no intention of controlling …)

Where amplification isn’t used, it helps congregational singing (in my experience) when sound comes from behind rather than in front. (I think it’s helpful even with amplification if some sound comes from behind.)

Lofts mitigate against perceptions that it’s a performance, by removing the “performers” from sight.

Lofts work best, though, with good acoustics. If you have bad acoustics and don’t amplify your singers … dunno, think I’d have to see/hear the church to make a judgement.

In the absence of a loft, (again in my experience) having the musicians at the back is not good. There should be clear line-of-sight between the sanctuary and music group/choir. It is good IMO to have musicians out of sight, but not good to the point where it should be done regardless of the impediment created for them.

When things run off the rails, the priest doesn’t know which parts of the Mass will be sung, the reader forgets the psalm will be sung, etc, it helps to be close to the sanctuary so you can all “read” each other easily. This problem can be solved by better preparation, however - it’s not a reason for moving the music group to the front.

We don’t have a loft in our semi-circular church, but we’re off to one side and only in the peripheral vision of a few, unless people turn their heads to look, and we’re still close to the sanctuary. I’d prefer a loft but in the absence of one and given our acoustics, this is a workable alternative.


#3

Choir stalls are positioned parallel to the nave and flanking the altar. They are on the same level as the congregation, unless they are tiered. The organ console is located at the back of the church in a loft above the congregation providing the organist an unimpeded view of the altar.

Matthew


#4

Yes.

I think they should be there usually, but there may be a reason to have them in the sanctuary of the church.

In my former parish, the choir felt too remote way back up there in the choir loft, so they positioned themselves behind the altar. So there they are, with all their fidgeting and water bottles and all, and despite all the general complaints about their being there.


#5

Ideally, yes, they would be in choir lofts. However, sometimes it is not practical. My church does have a small choir loft, and I love singing up there because the sound carries perfectly into the rest of the church with no amplification required, and as mentioned, one is free to fuss with music, sip from water cups, etc. without annoying the congregation. However, it is only accessible by a very steep and narrow staircase. I am young and able-bodied, and that staircase makes me nervous if I am wearing dress shoes. It is all but impossible for many of the senior citizens in the choir (especially those that use canes and walkers), not to mention that our adult choir comprises of at least 40 people. One could uncomfortably fit 40 people up there if they all stood for the entire Mass, but again, that is not possible for many. So we have a choir area behind the sanctuary. It’s not ideal for sure, but unless the interior of the church is completely redesigned, it’s about the only way we can have a choir on Sundays. :shrug:


#6

I have the horrors when I think of trying to get 40 or so older choir members down a narrow stairway in case of fire. Also, I wonder, here in California, how well these lofts were designed for earthquakes. :eek:


#7

I am a musician and have given this quite a bit of thought. I often sing in my Parish Church but regularly sing and attend a mission Church.

Your description describes the loft in our Parish Church. In my mission Church, the Choir is situated in a small corner near the altar. Both situations are not good but there is no easy solution as neither Church has the money to re-model.

I like the way the Chapel is set up on EWTN. The choir remains part of the congregation and yet the distractions are kept at a minimum.


#8

My fault. Fidgeting, water bottles, etc. etc. It is a problem with my choir and with me. It is something that I work on in myself and try to find ways to minimize it with the rest of my choir members.

It is extremely easy to fall into a comradarie mode that encourages a sense of “fun”. I certainly see both sides to this issue.


#9

I’m partial to the vested chancel choir myself. But, although I have seen a few Catholic (monastic) churches that have them, the only one I have evers seen one in use is at Ettal in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Maybe I don’t get around enough.

Of course, this arrangement does not generally allow for tambourines, guitars, and snare drums.


#10

I’m certain Mr Crumpy, aside from standing/sitting/kneeling, is stock-still from one end of Mass to the other himself. :wink: Choirs of course just do these things to annoy people. They don’t actually really need to sip water or find their next piece of music or anything like that, they are just engaging in the ancient and noble sport of congregation-baiting. :rolleyes:

I hadn’t considered the choir stalls option as in my travels there is only one Catholic church that has them - all the others I know of are are Anglican. The one Catholic church with them has purpose-built the place so that there is a specific, walled-in platform, position or pen for choir director, choir members and organist and they have made sure that it is not possible to find two square feet to stand even a violinist or trumpeter.


#11

Or even string quartets or small brass ensembles of competent professional players.

Tambourines can be waved over your head, you know - they don’t actually need that much swinging room. :wink:


#12

I definitely think musicians should be in the choir loft. Singers need to be there so they can project without using a microphone, and when they are not seen, it keeps their focus (and the congregation’s focus) on God, and not on the music. (I found it irritating at a parish I used to sing at when people would compliment me on my singing instead of staying in their pews to make their thanksgiving after Mass- or allowing me time to make mine).


#13

Agreed. In rounder churches, this is not as much of an issue, as the sound is usually distributed evenly throughout. However, even in semicircular churches it would be better to have the choir in the center back, rather than on one side as is usually seen.


#14

It’s hard to climb stairs once you reach a certain age, girth, or if you have debilitating physical injuries or other conditions (e.g., recovering from surgery) that make climbing stairs painful or impossible.

I think the choir should be wherever people can actually participate in it. We shouldn’t have to say no to people who are old, fat, or disabled in some way. There aren’t that many young, thin, and physically fit people in churches who are interested in singing in the choir!

Also, when people use the choir loft at the older church where I play, there are all kinds of complaints about the sound. Either it’s way too loud or way too soft. **Without a competent sound tech, it’s really difficult for musicians like myself who didn’t grow up singing and playing from a balconied choir loft. I honestly have no clue how loud or soft I or the cantors/choir sound down below when I am playing from the balcony. **

I started playing piano in church when I was in grade school, and I have learned over the years to monitor how loud or soft I sound. But I have always played from the front of the church (sanctuary is the term used in Protestant churches.) That’s what I’m used to.

Perhaps if there could be some training, I and other younger or ex-Protestant musicians would be able to master choir loft music! I played once for two college girls (cantoring) who sounded great to me, but afterwards, some of the older folks complained that the girls sang painfully loud. I honestly couldn’t tell. Same thing happened a few months ago when I played for a a young man with a beautiful voice–I thought he sounded wonderful, but many people told us that they could barely hear him or me (piano) So I am now very hesitant to do the music from the choir loft. I just can’t monitor how I (we) sound, and it’s too unnerving for me.


#15

it is certainly a lot better to have the choir up in the loft. The only one down below should be the cantor. At least, this is how it was done at the Cathedral when my friend served as rector. When we had special diocesan Masses, the choir was up in the loft (with the organ) while the cantor remained down below to lead the faithful.

Having them in the loft also helps in not making the choir the focal point of the Mass. Unfortunately, with the way some of the newer churches are looking there seem to be no allowances for a chor loft and folks are lumped into the sanctuary, in some cases, or, off to the side, which can be distracting.


#16

No kidding. The staircase is seriously only wide enough for single-file of average-sized folks, and there are two 90 degree turns in it. It’s bad enough when the dozen or so of us in the Chamber Choir sing the Christmas Eve prelude carols up there, then have to get down to the vestibule to process in for Mass. We’re all in our best dress clothes and shoes, and if one person tripped on a skirt or heel, there’d be a disaster.


#17

OK, all staircase issues aside…is it better from a liturgical (and acoustic) standpoint to have the choir/musicians in the choir loft?


#18

Acoustically, yes in most cases. Liturgically, I don’t think it matters as long as the musicians are not a distraction.


#19

… and something else I didn’t mention was the location of the organ pipes or speakers. You don’t have to have too big a building before it gets difficult to keep singers and organ together if they’re at opposite ends. Trying to follow a conductor’s beat with the organist doing the same from the rear view mirror while hearing delayed accompaniment is not a particularly prayerful experience.


#20

That depends entirely on the physical design of the building. A well designed building (therefore expensive) a choir loft would be wonderful. In the real world; stairs, acoustics, line of sight are very important issues to contend with. If you can’t hear or see the priest and the priest can’t see and hear the choir it can be a real problem liturgically.


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