Should elderly cantor be asked to "retire?"

We have a sticky situation in our choir. Ours is a small parish with a choir of maybe 8 on a good day. Most of us take turns serving as cantor. We have a new director of music who has a graduate degree in vocal performance and pedagogy, and he is really struggling with our oldest choir-member. “Betty” (not her real name) is a dear lady who has been a loyal choir member for years and years, and she is also very active in other parish activities. But Betty is pushing 80 and has some medical issues that affect her singing, and also dentures which do not fit very well. It is very difficult to understand the text when she sings the responsorial psalm. When the old choir director was there, he let her have her turn with the other cantors, but this new guy would really like to get Betty to retire. He avoids scheduling her for major feast days and has tried to coach her one-on-one, but it hasn’t really helped. I have overheard parishioners commenting on how awful poor Betty sounds. We all wish that she would somehow realize that her voice is long past its prime, but so far she doesn’t get it. So we have a dilemma: on one hand, Betty is very attached to serving as cantor, and if we ask her to step down, she will be very hurt (she noticed that she was not scheduled during the Christmas season, and I saw her crying over this). OTOH, if we continue to let her sing as cantor, the quality of that day’s music ministry will suffer, and some days it’s pretty bad. As assistant organist, I am kind of stuck in the middle here. Has anyone here dealt with a similar situation? How did you handle it?

My suggestion is to spend some time in prayer … contemplate on the purpose of the Cantor … is it to be perfection in ability or service to Jesus? …

Does God call us to lift our voices in perfect tune and clarity of diction … or …does he call us to lift our voices in joy?

What would you want the Director to do if you were in this woman’s place?

What should he say to her? What should or would you say?

Does being feeble of voice or wearing dentures make your voice valuable/desirable less in God’s eyes?

If this woman is suffering health issues of any significance then the issue may resolve itself … as she may become unable to get to choir practice and then later even to church * …

Pray … I find that difficult challenges are made easier through prayer …*

Yeah, it would be kinda mean to let her go, especially since she cried for not being scheduled during Christmas. If your parish is just a small one where people don’t expect their cantors to be professional classical singers, then maybe it’s not that big of a deal. I mean, most parishes have ‘alright’ sounding cantors/choirs and she sounds like the type I see at many parishes :D.

Uh, I suppose you can subtly turn off/lower the volume of her microphone on the mixer and have the choir overpower her if many really do have a problem with her voice.

If the music director wants to be more selective and have a better music program, then he can annouce plans to have only paid auditioned cantors and allow the current cantors to remain in the choir.

I agree with “YADA”. The choir director needs to remember, that Liturgical Music isn’t about delivering flawless, perfect, concert-worthy “performances”… it’s about praising God. I have a feeling, that to God… “Betty’s” voice is beautiful.

I also wonder about the parishioners… who are making the “poor Betty” comments. Do every single one of them have awesome, melodic singing voices? I bet if ANY one of them took Betty’s place as Cantor… you’d hear some major clinkers and froggies. :wink: That would be true in my parish, anyway. During Mass, I am surrounded by “sour notes”… <of which I’m usually ONE :smiley: >. But they are notes… sent to Heaven with love!

I would hope that your choir director will tuck his college credentials away… and forget about them. And do his best to include “Betty”. This is a golden opportunity for him, to show Christian Charity.

My :twocents:

God bless.

Let the poor old lady sing. Jesus hears the heart, not the voice.

From the 2002 General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) approved for the USA, which can be accessed from romanrite.com/girm.html :

“102. The psalmist’s role is to sing the Psalm or other biblical canticle that comes between the readings. To fulfill this function correctly, it is necessary that the psalmist have the ability for singing and a facility in correct pronunciation and diction.”

“107. The liturgical duties that are not proper to the priest or the deacon and are listed above
(cf. nos. 100-106) may also be entrusted by a liturgical blessing or a temporary deputation to suitable lay persons chosen by the pastor or rector of the church.”

Don’t touch the situation. You wouldn’t want to do anything to hurt her feelings.

If she’s so horrible that the people can’t stand her, then let them tell an 80-year old woman she can’t sing!

In the meantime, Betty doesn’t have to be scheduled to cantor for major feast days. :rolleyes:

I just wanted to add… that our usual male Cantor… is about middle age. And he is always “off key” just a bit.

The role of the cantor is to lead people in song and to sing the responsorial psalm. If she is not doing that well then it needs to be addressed. Do we keep a lector who speaks poorly or keeps missing words because they are just doing their best? Do we keep altar servers who keep forgetting what they are to do, despite much training, just because we want to keep them involved? The ministers of the liturgy serve the assembly in their functions in the liturgy. The same hold true for people involved in other ministries. One of the hardest things I had to do was ask our EMHC coordinator to step down because she was not being effective in her job. It ended up that she eventually was grateful that we let her go because she saw how well the new person did the job and realized that she was not doing the job well. It also ended up that she was getting ill (she was 87) and her daughter wanted her to move in with her but she “couldn’t” because of her parish work. Now 4 years later, she is happily living with her daughter but is unable to get out anymore.

Cantors do not have to be the best singers in the world, but they do need to have good diction so that people can understand the words she is singing, and be also to lead the assembly. If the people in the assembly are complaining then she is not doing her job. It is not curel to “fire” her and it sounds as if the music director was doing all possible to help her. Perhaps the director can find some other job for her to do, perhaps have her help with younger members of the choir.

I hope that dear woman is NOT fired. If people can’t understand her, surely they can open the hymnal and follow along? Poor Betty, bless her heart. I’d love to hear her sing, even on the Feast days.

Remember what it was like when our beloved Pope John Paul II was so very difficult to understand? Nobody suggested he “retire.”

Of course not! If indeed the woman has health problems, it is just a matter of time before she will no longer be able to cantor. I’m assuming that when she began to cantor, she fulfilled the necessary criteria and indeed I cannot imagine that she would have been allowed to cantor otherwise. She has been faithful and so it is far more important that the choir director, the choir and the congregation take the opportunity to be faithful to her and exercise some patience. This could certainly qualify as an example of honoring the Spirit of the Law rather than insisting on the letter of the law.

It’s shows a lack of charity to force retirement on this lady who has served the parish faithfully for so many years. Being age 80, she won’t be around much longer and the problem will resolve itself. In the meantime, at this point in her life, 1) she should be shown the appreciation she is due; and 2) if her singing leaves something to be desired, why not accomodate her: for example, instead of one person cantoring solo, can you have two or three sing in unison. I’m sure your highly qualified director can think of other creative solutions as well.

If it was just a hymn that lacked clarity, I would agree. But the Psalm is different. It is part of the Liturgy of the Word and, as such, needs to be articulated so that the Scriptual message is clear.

If that is not being done, then the role of Cantor is not being fulfilled.

The active participation of the faithful during the Liturgy of the Word is that of contemplating the Living Word being presented and takign it to heart. If the message is inarticulate, then the faithful cannot do the participation assigned to them at this cricial point in the Mass.

Out of tune, fine, inarticulate, no.

My voice is terrible for singing, totally incapable of singing. Thats why I leave it to professionals.

What would Jesus do? Somehow, I seriously doubt that He would put the poor woman out to pasture, do you???

I think you should let Betty sing. Remember, “Singing is praying twice” and I wouldn’t want to interfere with anyone’s prayer life. Also, the choirs at Mass are there to add to the Mass, they are not the main event or a performance, so no professionals are required.

BTW, we have a Betty at our parish too, except our Betty is only about 70. She cannot sing well, loses her place, misses words, hums a bit and finds her place. She does make cantoring interesting since one never knows what to expect. When she is singing, I’ve seen smiles, glances exchanged, eye rolls. But, I think it would be terribly uncharitable and hurtful to ask her to stop singing. As my mother used to say, “Offer it up.” I would have to ask would it be worth hurting an old lady to ask her to retire? I don’t think so. Maybe she could have help and sing along with someone else who has a stronger voice, greater ability?

One more offering from me:

"Trouble in the Amen Corner
by Archie Campbell

It was a stylish congregation: you could see they’d been around,
And they had the biggest pipe organ of any church in town.
But over in the amen-corner of that church sat Brother Eyer,
and he insisted every Sunday on singing in the choir.
His voice was cracked and broken; age had touched his vocal chords,
And nearly every Sunday he’d get behind and miss the words.
Well, the choir got so flustered the church was told in fine
that Brother Eyer must stop singing or the choir was gonna resign.

So the pastor appointed a committee, I think it was three or four,
and they got in their big fine car and drove up to Eyer’s door.
They found the choir’s great trouble sitting there in an old arm-chair,
The summer’s golden sunbeams lay upon his snow-white hair.

Said one, “We’re here dear Brother, with the vestry’s approbation
to discuss a little matter that affects the congregation.
Now, it seems that your voice is interfering with the choir,
So, if you’ll just lay out, or…Are you listening, Brother Eyer…?”

The old man raised his head, a sign that he did hear;
and on his furrowed cheek they caught the glitter of a tear.
His feeble hands pushed back the locks as white as silky snow,
and he answered the committee in a voice both soft and low:

“I wonder if beyond the tide that’s breaking at my feet,
in that far-off heavenly temple where my Master and I shall meet:
Yes, I wonder if, when I try to sing the songs of God up higher
I wonder if they’ll kick me out of singing in Heaven’s choir?”

A silence filled the little room, the old man bowed his head;
The committee went on back to town, but Brother Eyer was dead.
A few church-goers watched the door, but the old man entered not.
The choir missed him for a while, but he was soon forgot.

Far away his voice is sweet, and he sings his heart’s desires
Where there are no church committees and no fashionable choirs."

:twocents: Here’s mine:

Psalm 66 says “Make a joyful NOISE” Although the Psalm itself is part of the Liturgy of the Word…

Being in a church full of volunteer cantors myself… there are some I’d rather not hear or sing with. I too am a Cantor, and therefore more critical. It’s the nature of the beast I think. There are two in our church in particular that sing only together when cantoring. The soprano is always sharp and the alto is always flat. It actually hurts to hear them.

Good thing that I am always perfectly in tone and always readily prepared and just so great that I am demanded at every Mass. :thankyou:

Seriously though, let the poor woman sing. If there’s 8 of you, then that means she only sings maybe once a month? Or once every two months? What’s the harm? If the Psalm truly can’t be understood, then the choir director can sing the verses and let her sing the response.

in Christ
Steph

I just found another version of “Trouble in the Amen Corner” which is the version I remember hearing years ago, though the other one I posted before (post #16) is very similar. Maybe I’ve heard both, I don’t know. I just know I can “hear” it as I read the lyrics.

vh1.com/artists/az/wagoner_porter/9073211/lyric.jhtml

See, that’s our dilemma: nobody wants to hurt “Betty’s” feelings or to be uncharitable. We certainly don’t want to kick her out of the choir; it’s just the solo stuff that is problematic. But if she were a reader and mumbled the readings in a manner that no one could understand, and failed to improve despite individual coaching, she would be relieved of her duties. Serving as cantor is the same thing only set to music.

Maybe we could start having small groups lead the psalm rather than soloists; ladies sing one verse, men the next, etc. I have seen that done at a neighboring parish, and it seems to work for them. I’ll suggest that to the choir director. There is safety in numbers! :slight_smile:

Yup. The only thing that is problematic IMHO is the Psalm.
Also, there are plenty of lectors in my parish who have not been relieved of their duties although they should have been… again, my opinion. One is a beautiful speaker but tends to do different voices for the characters in the reading. Oy!

in Christ
Steph

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