That's Not How You Sing It!

I’m no musician by any means but I can sight read. I’ve noticed something in many parishes. It happens without fail whenever there’s singing without a choir or organ. Instead of hymns ending with “quarter note, quarter note, half note” as the notes indicate people sing it like it’s “dotted quarter note, eighth note, half note.”

For example:
“Close to Je-sus to the last____” becomes “Close to Je-sus to__ the last____.”

Why? I try to sing it correctly louder hoping that people will catch on but then people look at me like I’m the crazy one. It’s so widespread that I think I may be the one in the wrong. How did this get started and how did it infect every parish? Anybody else notice this?

Not every one can sing on key let alone sing on time. At least they’re singing! I’d give more leeway for my fellow Catholics singing in the pews.

I think people should focus more on their own spiritual needs at mass and less on whether or not others are singing properly.

Off key, I don’t mind as much. It may not sound pleasant but it doesn’t hinder anyone else’s singing. Off tempo makes it impossible to sing together.

Our spiritual needs are aided by our environment.

Sorry, but I really don’t have much sympathy for your plight. I’d rather have the quirks with those that sing than to make anyone else feel bad for not doing it correctly. I’m not there to critique everyone’s “performance”, only there to be part of the community and to focus on the Lord. I’m not there to participate in a music lesson.

In every choir class I’ve been in, we are taught to listen to the others singing so that we can better adapt our voices to the group, and then everyone sounds better. Perhaps you simply need to listen and adapt to the group. Remember, the notes are written in ink, not stone. :wink:

If you really want to lead others to sing it “correctly,” why not volunteer to help with the music ministry (choir, choir director, etc.)? Then you can point out any inconsistencies to the director, and/or lead the congregation in singing it as written. (Although if it’s a song that’s sung often, they might still sing it the other way, out of habit.)

FWIW, I can read music somewhat, but our organist, choir director and cantors rarely use the music exactly as written unless it’s a very familiar song, so we just follow their lead. And I think it sounds beautiful. :thumbsup:

FWIW: Yes, I also notice this, and yes, I also find it annoying. Not necessarily the example you mention, but the general use of incorrect rhythms.

:stuck_out_tongue: Well this is the problem! :slight_smile:

The music director and cantor and/or choir lead the music for the congregation, not the other way around. If the congregation is accustomed to holding a note long, or the music director is indicating to hold the note long, just go along with it. :thumbsup:

Also, it’s very common for the organist to give a prolonged pause at the end of a verse and before the start of the next verse, to give the congregation a chance to make the transition. :slight_smile:

This is my take on the matter as someone who learned many of the hymns by ear long before ever seeing the musical notation as a choir member.

Many of us Catholics learned to sing hymns without accompaniment. We may have had the words but many of the old missals and prayer books did not have the notes. When you don’t have notes then hymns are more likely to take on a more chant-like style which is driven by “feel”.

“Feel” in terms of singing is usually driven by the way the community “has always done things”. Some communities are filled with trained singers. Others are filled with those who listened to recordings of hymns that might have been “stylized” by the singer. I would also note that people from different ethnic backgrounds and different regions have varied speech styles which can impact singing. In other words, not only do people speak with different accents but they also sing with different “accents”.

Have you ever noticed how the meter of a poem seemed off to you because it had too few or to many syllables? It was probably because the author of the poem ran some syllables together or added extra extra emphasis to syllables in a way that is different from your style of speaking. This frequently occurs in songs and hymns. --or at least in the way they are sung at Mass.

People have a natural sense that you should slow down at the end of a line, a verse, or a hymn. It’s a breathing based matter that chant incorporates. But without a leader most people have difficulty agreeing on how much to slow down. And they run out of breath because unless they are practiced singers they don’t have any sense of how much air they will need. A slowing tempo and lack of air often has problematic results when it comes to final notes.

In the case where I learn a new hymn in conjunction with an instrumental arrangement, I often find that when I later have to sing that hymn without accompaniment, I am mentally listening to the instrumental flourishes between the lines and/or verses. I think others do this too but they may not be be hearing the same arrangement I am. And then there is the added matter that when singing unaccompanied the interlude between lines or verses should be eliminated.

In my opinion the majority of Catholics do NOT read music. Even if the notes are provided most people are simply looking at the words. If it’s a hymn tune people have memorized they will sing using the memorized melody (which may have been a localized variation.)

All of these variables (and no doubt many more) go into the odd way people sing hymns.

I know how you feel :o. I have been singing the “O Salutaris Hostia” the same way for decades. For the past couple of years, the young choir has been singing 2 or 3 notes differently. Now that the parish has purchased new hymnals WITH THE NOTES TO THE MUSIC in them (and same as the old way we used to sing it) the people still sings it the way that our present director taught the choir to sing it.

:thumbsup: :thumbsup: :thumbsup:

The problem is that you missed the part where he wrote “wherever there is singing without a choir or organ…”:stuck_out_tongue:



I can identify with this, too. For example, the hymn “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name”. We have sung this hymn the same way for as long as I can remember. However, I noticed that some of the notes in the music from the old Oregon Press hynnals that our parish used to get were different (infinite thy vast domain) yet we continued to sing it the traditional way. Now that we have new hymnals, the notes to the muscic are exactly as we have always sung it. I think it is more difficult for some of us to accept the messing with the way that some of our most beloved traditional hymns have always been sung.

I’ve always found the Methodist reformer John Wesley’s “Rules for Singing” helpful even in Catholic parishes:

  1. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.

  2. Sing lustily, and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of it being heard, then when you sung the songs of Satan.

  3. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, as to be heard above, or distinct from, the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.

  4. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before, not stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.

  5. Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

People can’t read music, or if the can, they aren’t. Music education has been eliminated or limited in most school disctricts around the country.

Despite all the acapella singing shows on TV, most people can’t carry the tune well without an accompaniment.

I’m with PatriciaA, Mass is not a music lesson. I think you’re going to have to offer this one up - or volunteer to cantor for those Masses where there isn’t a cantor (and still offer up your reaction to how the congregation sings. ;))

No, my point still stands actually! :slight_smile: I said, If the congregation is accustomed to holding a note long, or the music director is indicating to hold the note long, just go along with it. :thumbsup:


I think I spotted the problem. The “t” is harder to hold than the “o.”

Blame it on English endings.

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