Saturday, July 21, 2007

Rough week

In the same week:

* My dad came to visit and stayed with me all week. Not bad in and of itself, but it just brings up tensions and things that give me some trouble.

* I’ve been “putting out flames” about some discussions with my choir members on choral harmonies for congregational music. (More on that in another post.)

* Two choir members apparently set up a meeting with my supervisor concerning the congregational harmonies thing. (On which, as I will post later, you will see that I basically capitulated.) This is fine, except one of them is one with whom I work a fair amount. “Normally”, choir members should come to me directly with concerns unless they are uncomfortable coming to me; it was bothersome to see that this person is, in fact, uncomfortable with me. It made me feel untrusted and brought back the defensive feelings from another choir member telling me that some with whom she is in contact think I don’t really listen to people - and this after many instances, even in the 5 months I have been at the parish, of accommodating people’s feedback.

* The other choir member is one who, with her husband, left the choir in anger after the Easter Vigil. (Apparently they are planning to give me another chance, which makes me breathe a sigh of relief.) I don’t often take it very well when people become so upset with me, particularly when I feel (as, justified or no, I did) that so little has provoked it. Suffice it to say it was the worst I hope I ever feel after an Easter Vigil - which usually for me is an almost euphoric high. (WHY a Catholic, esp. without kids, would ever miss the Vigil is beyond me.) Anyway, that whole thing still makes me uneasy. She did, though, email the choir in support of the idea that “let’s all just reset and give this thing another try, since (Cantor) came in at such a strange time of the year”. (I started a week and a half before Ash Wednesday - yikes!)

* Another choir member in particular set up a meeting with me to discuss her issues. This is a choir member who compulsively gives you 30 minutes of background information. She is such a sweet lady that you just can’t (or, at least, I can’t) bring yourself to say, “get to your point, please”, but UGH.

* This same choir member related how she was very surprised when I told her what Vatican II really said about Latin. The choir was a little uneasy around Easter with an amount of Latin that, relative to what they had been given previously, was pretty abundant; this choir member thought it would interest many to know some of the rationale behind the retention of liturgical Latin. So, I shot off an email to the choir that gave CSL 36, CSL 54, MS 47, GIRM 41, and SacCar 62, then the following commentary:
The reasons why Vatican II’s expressed desire for congregations to sing and/or to speak in Latin was not heeded are mysterious and complex, and they certainly are WAY beyond the appropriate scope of an email. But a significant fact to bear in mind is that the term “Latin Mass” can accurately describe the *modern* Mass just as it describes the Mass as it was before Vatican II.

I have planned a good deal of the choir’s choral repertoire for the coming year; at this point, not much Latin is “on the plate”. (I do have in mind to sing the “O antiphons” in Latin at the Advent Lessons and Carols.) What Latin we do sing will be introduced early, with translations made available to the choir and, whenever possible, to the congregation.

As an aside, you may have heard of Pope Benedict’s liberalization of the pre-Conciliar Mass (i.e. “the old Latin Mass”) on July 7th. What this means is that any priest who so desires *may* (not “must”, or even “should”) now celebrate the Mass as it was before Vatican II. As you may expect, the number of priests who want to do so, *and* who know how, is very small, especially in the United States.

* This apparently didn’t sit well, for whatever reason, with the choir member who is/was upset with me, who had another meeting with my supervisor.

* Also, the day before, the supervisor, having been apprised of my email, ordered me to place her on the choir email list. She’s not in the choir, so I felt this was a bit inappropriate. The strange thing was, she told me she thought what I had written was ok, but at the same time was pretty clearly upset about it.

* At the same time as all this fun and goodness, I have been engaged in a defense of liturgical Latin (i.e. diversity with vernaculars, not to the exclusion of either) on an email list populated largely with people who are glad not to be praying in Latin except the occasional “Ubi caritas”. I think I’ve got a very good case, but I did not persuade many except “legalistically”. Finally I was informed that I was becoming “a bore”. Too many posts in too little time. Again, not something I take very easily - esp. given the conviction that I have concerning liturgical Latin.

ANYWAY. Reset. I just hope I won’t regret taking this job; I moved cross-country to come here, and it seemed such a nice prospect to work for a large parish. The strange thing is that I hear, and hear of, very few complaints from the congregation itself. I mostly deal with complaints from a few of the choir members. I think what bugs me the most is not being seen as trustworthy.....I guess that just will come with time.


At Saturday, July 21, 2007 8:09:00 AM, Blogger Matt and Jon said...

Uff da.

I hate those weeks...when it rains, it pours. I was suprised to read that your supervisor is a she. In my position (dir of music), I report directly to the Pastor.

Good luck!

At Saturday, July 21, 2007 8:50:00 AM, Blogger Cantor said...


It is at times a peculiar arrangement, but one for which I often am grateful, actually. I would rather report to her than to the pastor.

At Saturday, July 21, 2007 9:07:00 AM, Anonymous Michael O'Connor said...

Hey cantor,

As long as you have folks 50+ in your choir(s), you'll have the hatred of Latin. They can't help it. They were trained that it was just plain wrong and things were going to be better. Some younger folks feel the same. I know. I have to deal with the same thing. For some, if you even do Ave verum during Lent, you've "driven them away" from the ministry. It's too bad, but it happens. If I could offer a recommendation, I'd say that Latin has to be introduced slowly and that you have to "sell" it, not just back yourself legally. Show how much better it sings than English. Sit down with the choir and talk about continuity and the communion of the saints. Do everything you can to make it "not scary." So many of the older folks make the instant connection between Latin and their Catholic school nuns telling them that Chinese babies were going to hell. That's a tough connection to break. Be sure to let them know that your goal is not "all Latin" (even if that's what you would like). It's a way of amplifying the seriousness of a moment and the solemnity. It's a tool, in other words.

Regarding your choir members who went to the supervisor, that's a tough one. They certainly have the right, but gosh, what a trivial matter to take to higher authorities! Might be better to do without these people. Time will help you build a group of folks who see your vision. Work in that direction and let the disaffected go on their way. It's really the only way. Stand by your decisions and let them know you mean business. It's the only way they will respect your authority. Sounds like you might have been giving in a little too much in order to keep the waters calm. That can backfire.

Also, know that your blog readers are with you. You have our support. Keep up the good work!


At Saturday, July 21, 2007 9:38:00 AM, Blogger Mary Jane said...

Well, it could be worse. I had a colleague who had to ask someone to leave the choir because he would start playing along on the harmonica at the Sunday evening Mass (ah, bring back those good old Folk Mass days). BTW, he was also terrible.

When she asked him to leave after he ignored her prior cautions, he went straight to the pastor. It was close (this pastor has a deep-seated fear of conflict), but she won. He stayed out.

At Saturday, July 21, 2007 9:40:00 AM, Blogger Cantor said...


The usual wisdom is not to change things when starting a new position. I tried that, but my predecessor was not considered “a good fit” in the parish, so I couldn’t take the most recent thing they had done and tweak/recycle it.

They also didn’t let me know how much was too much. Really, this group learns quickly, and I was excited after the first rehearsal to see how readily they learned new things. If you go back to February blog posts, you’ll find posts from me about how great the new choir was to work with - and they are. This whole complaining thing is something of a recent surprise.

At Saturday, July 21, 2007 2:18:00 PM, Blogger Mary Jane said...

There is absolutely nothing worse than being blind-sided by criticism that's been delivered to a third party. I've been there.

There's also the question of how much these individuals think Sunday morning is all about them and what they sing. And of course, once everyone's worked themselves into a state, it seems hard to do any meaningful "what the role of the choir is" catechesis.

In some churches, the choir members believe that they will last while the directors come and go.

At Saturday, July 21, 2007 2:26:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...


(Hah! Are you from Spiderman? :))

In this particular church, that indeed has been the case. They have had multiple music directors in the past several years, all of whom have had different “takes” on how things should run. All of them have left for various reasons.

My predecessor apparently felt that all texts from the offertory to communion should be exclusively Christ-centered - or something to that effect which proscribed an “Ave Maria” at the offertory. (And if we check the propers for Immaculate Conception....well hey! It’s Ave Maria at the offertory!) He also felt justified in inserting congregational responses throughout the Passion narrative and the Exsultet - both of which (correct me if I’m wrong, folks?) are additions and, thus, forbidden.

At Saturday, July 21, 2007 8:05:00 PM, Anonymous Michael O'Connor said...


Sounds like your predecessor was an NPM acolyte. Those types of things sound just like the "neat" things they like to suggest for spicing things up. Yuck.. and yes, against the rules.

Hey, I do remember your earlier posts and how excited you were. Too bad there are some disgruntled folks who have too much time on their hands. I trust that you will stick to your guns without entrenching beyond reason. This too shall pass. Best wishes.

At Saturday, July 21, 2007 8:39:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...


Actually, my predecessor is a good deal older than I am, so “acolyte” may not be the best term. And I’m not sure how active an NPM member he is - he didn’t go to Indy, at least.

I still have that stuff to deal with; my supervisor would prefer, I think, to have us do some Haugen/Haas songs as responsorial psalms. The Ash Wednesday text for imposition of ashes was “Remember that you...” rather than “Remember, man, that you are dust...” (If only “Remember, human” didn’t sound like cheesy sci-fi!)

Otherwise, though, my parish is remarkably astute as far as following liturgical norms.

At Tuesday, July 24, 2007 6:23:00 PM, Anonymous brandon field said...

If you'll allow me to make a suggestion, I would suggest undertaking some sort of penance (some call it "wheat") for the sake of your choir. It sounds like you've inherited some interesting baggage, and really it's only God that can change their hearts (and yours) to make it all work out. Especially if some of the baggage you're contending with is left over from the previous directors, there's not too much that you can do, except for prayer and fasting.

At least that's my two cents. I'll say some prayers for you too.

At Tuesday, July 31, 2007 11:34:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It takes time and patience. The music director is often on the front lines in the battles of the culture of complaint.

There is a lot of wisdom in waiting a year before making any significant changes. That's less a concession to parochialism than a demonstration of the newcomer's willingness to embrace the culture of the place.

Bottom line: if you can't stomach their culture for a single year, what makes you think they will be ready to embrace yours?



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