Author Topic: How important is singing in church?  (Read 3493 times)

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Offline wynd

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How important is singing in church?
« on: December 06, 2008, 08:21:55 PM »
How important do you believe it is to sing in church?

Offline PeterTheAleut

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #1 on: December 06, 2008, 08:44:03 PM »
How important do you believe it is to sing in church?
I'm having trouble understanding how to answer your question since it's so general and vague.  Do you mean singing as a member of the congregation, or just having church music in general, even if that be only from a choir?  (Maybe your question strikes me as vague simply because I cannot envision a church service where NO ONE is singing and no music of any sort is heard.)
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Offline Heorhij

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #2 on: December 06, 2008, 08:46:54 PM »
Well... my initial discovery of God, Christ in my childhood was through singing of the choirs - the choir at St. Volodymyr Cathedral in my home city (Kyiv, Ukraine), singing Orthodox liturgy, and the Boys' Choir at the Kyiv Palace of Young Pioneers, where I was a singer, singing Bach and Pergolesi... so, I would say (purely subjectively, from MY personal vantage point) it is of the ULTIMATE importance...

It's been a while since then... now, I am attending a Greek parish where singing is... how to put it better... strange to me, I am not used to it... and it's a drawback. If there were Ukrainians Orthodox parishes close to where I live, I would immediately go there - and that is, in all truthfulness, exactly because of the singing. But there aren't any; and this drawback - that the singing in the Greek parish is strange to my ear - is not THAT big a drawback that because of it I would go to a Catholic or a Protestant church.
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Offline SolEX01

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #3 on: December 06, 2008, 08:47:32 PM »
How important do you believe it is to sing in church?

For starters, what kind of music is available at your Church?

Offline wynd

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #4 on: December 07, 2008, 02:20:45 PM »
I'm having trouble understanding how to answer your question since it's so general and vague.  Do you mean singing as a member of the congregation, or just having church music in general, even if that be only from a choir?  (Maybe your question strikes me as vague simply because I cannot envision a church service where NO ONE is singing and no music of any sort is heard.)

Sorry for not clarifying. My parish doesn't really have an official "choir" so most people sing, but in my experience there are parishes where only the priest and choir sing and everyone else is totally silent. Is this ideal? I'm not about to start a campaign against such practices but I wonder what other people think of it.

Offline Justin Kissel

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #5 on: December 07, 2008, 02:37:13 PM »
I don't have much to add, other than to say that I'm in favor of congregational singing.

Offline ialmisry

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #6 on: December 07, 2008, 04:25:16 PM »
As St. Augustine says, "he who sings, prays twice."

I once was in a Ukrainian church under the Vatican.  The service was "said."  Ugh.

Many of the converts I know started in the choir.
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Offline zoarthegleaner

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #7 on: December 07, 2008, 05:20:12 PM »
St John Chrysostom said something likt the Congregation's replies should shake the rafters and pillars of the Church.
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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #8 on: December 07, 2008, 07:45:42 PM »
I'm having trouble understanding how to answer your question since it's so general and vague.  Do you mean singing as a member of the congregation, or just having church music in general, even if that be only from a choir?  (Maybe your question strikes me as vague simply because I cannot envision a church service where NO ONE is singing and no music of any sort is heard.)

Sorry for not clarifying. My parish doesn't really have an official "choir" so most people sing, but in my experience there are parishes where only the priest and choir sing and everyone else is totally silent. Is this ideal? I'm not about to start a campaign against such practices but I wonder what other people think of it.
Even in my parish, where we have a very well trained choir--many thanks to my godfather, the choir director--our director still works to encourage members of the congregation to join us in singing many of the ordinary hymns (to borrow a Western term).
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Offline Heorhij

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #9 on: December 08, 2008, 09:18:20 AM »
I'm having trouble understanding how to answer your question since it's so general and vague.  Do you mean singing as a member of the congregation, or just having church music in general, even if that be only from a choir?  (Maybe your question strikes me as vague simply because I cannot envision a church service where NO ONE is singing and no music of any sort is heard.)

Sorry for not clarifying. My parish doesn't really have an official "choir" so most people sing, but in my experience there are parishes where only the priest and choir sing and everyone else is totally silent. Is this ideal? I'm not about to start a campaign against such practices but I wonder what other people think of it.

Perhaps it depends on the size of the congregation and its financial status. In Ukraine, big churches in cities like Kyiv and Luts'k (the "oblast" centers) are able to pay to professional choirs, and the singing there is amazingly beautiful, so that the "laos" in the nave would not even think to "join" - it's kind of wanting to "help" Enrico Caruso or Luciano Pavarotti. :)
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Offline Nyssa The Hobbit

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #10 on: December 12, 2008, 08:02:08 PM »
I wish more people would sing in my church.  I'm already nervous about singing, and with nobody else but the choir singing, my voice is basically nonexistent, even if I'm trying to sing along.  It's very strange to me, coming out of Protestant churches, to usually hear either the chanter or the choir or both, but not the congregation.  Joining in the songs makes the service go quickly, too.
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Offline Elisha

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #11 on: December 12, 2008, 08:45:40 PM »
I'm having trouble understanding how to answer your question since it's so general and vague.  Do you mean singing as a member of the congregation, or just having church music in general, even if that be only from a choir?  (Maybe your question strikes me as vague simply because I cannot envision a church service where NO ONE is singing and no music of any sort is heard.)

Sorry for not clarifying. My parish doesn't really have an official "choir" so most people sing, but in my experience there are parishes where only the priest and choir sing and everyone else is totally silent. Is this ideal? I'm not about to start a campaign against such practices but I wonder what other people think of it.

Perhaps it depends on the size of the congregation and its financial status. In Ukraine, big churches in cities like Kyiv and Luts'k (the "oblast" centers) are able to pay to professional choirs, and the singing there is amazingly beautiful, so that the "laos" in the nave would not even think to "join" - it's kind of wanting to "help" Enrico Caruso or Luciano Pavarotti. :)

Yes, while paid choirs are rare in America (heck, paid directors aren't that common, which is a shame, because many parishes that can afford to, don't), people should not be discouraged to sing just because the choir is good.  People should try to sing the "ordinary" hymns.

Offline Fr. George

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #12 on: December 13, 2008, 01:33:57 AM »
Sorry for not clarifying. My parish doesn't really have an official "choir" so most people sing, but in my experience there are parishes where only the priest and choir sing and everyone else is totally silent. Is this ideal? I'm not about to start a campaign against such practices but I wonder what other people think of it.

My take: choir is to lead singing, just as Priest is to lead praying.  The Choir should be well-trained, and taking the visible (and audible, in this case) lead in the chanting of hymns of praise to God; and the people in the congregation should follow that lead if they are so inclined.  Never discourage people from singing, but (a) never pressure them, either, and (b) encourage them to not drown out their neighbors - the Choir is supposed to be loud, but the congregation should only be loud by numbers, not by effort.
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Offline scamandrius

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #13 on: December 13, 2008, 02:52:38 AM »
If people are not endowed with the gift to sing or chant, they should not.  Just as those who are not gifted with teaching should not teach Sunday School and those who are not gifted with cooking should probably not make the Holy Bread.  Praying in silence is still praying and does not diminish the common work, simply because another person cannot hear them. 
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Offline PeterTheAleut

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #14 on: December 13, 2008, 03:28:07 AM »
If people are not endowed with the gift to sing or chant, they should not.  Just as those who are not gifted with teaching should not teach Sunday School and those who are not gifted with cooking should probably not make the Holy Bread.  Praying in silence is still praying and does not diminish the common work, simply because another person cannot hear them. 
Interesting... :)  You just echoed, in slightly different words, something Fr. Thomas Hopko said in his keynote address to the 2006 PSALM liturgical music conference in Cicero, Illinois--a lecture titled The Asceticism of Creativity.  (I just saw the video of this lecture earlier tonight.)
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Offline LBK

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #15 on: December 13, 2008, 05:13:29 AM »
Some food for thought from the Russian Typikon:

Chapter 28: On disorderly cries

Disorderly cries by the church singers ought not to be allowed in church singing. And those who make them are not allowed either. Let them be removed from their ministry and sing in the church no more. For it is proper to sing according to the order, and with one accord to glorify the Master and Lord of all, as if coming from our hearts through one mouth. Those who disobey are condemned to eternal torture since they do not follow the tradition and rules of the holy Fathers.


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Offline Fr. George

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #16 on: December 13, 2008, 10:40:26 AM »
Some food for thought from the Russian Typikon:

Chapter 28: On disorderly cries

Disorderly cries by the church singers ought not to be allowed in church singing. And those who make them are not allowed either. Let them be removed from their ministry and sing in the church no more. For it is proper to sing according to the order, and with one accord to glorify the Master and Lord of all, as if coming from our hearts through one mouth. Those who disobey are condemned to eternal torture since they do not follow the tradition and rules of the holy Fathers.

There are similar warnings in the canons - basically discouraging both showboating and disorder.
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Met. Meletios of Nikopolis & Preveza, from his ordination.

Offline GreekChef

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #17 on: December 13, 2008, 11:40:20 AM »
I would say that the important thing is not whether we sing, but whether we pray.  There are many ways to pray during the Liturgy, and if we are not gifted with a talent (or desire) for singing, then we must use one of the other ways in order that we may participate.  The key is to participate.  When the priest says, "Let us pray to the Lord," we should pray... whether it is by chanting the prayer "Lord have mercy" in response, or saying it silently to ourselves, or saying our own small prayer to ourselves, or doing our cross... the point is to pray.  Singing is a means, not the end. 

Personally, I'm at the chant stand (for Orthros) and in the choir (after the Gospel) most Sundays, because it is one of the ways that I participate.  But on the days when I'm in the congregation, I still sing along.  I think there is nothing wrong with congregational singing and that it should be encouraged.  It saddens me when people object to congregational singing, because they are objecting to the people participating in the Liturgy in the way that they feel most comfortable.  My home parish has a distinct LACK of choir, so the priest encourages congregational singing (and there is no organ or piano).  There are a few people who lead (they would be the "choir"), but everyone participates if they so desire.  Funny thing is, it sounds beautiful...

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Offline Fr. George

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #18 on: December 13, 2008, 12:07:20 PM »
Pr. Mari - right on!

Personally, I'm at the chant stand (for Orthros) and in the choir (after the Gospel) most Sundays, because it is one of the ways that I participate. 

Of course, you have a great voice and have top-notch Byzantine Music training.
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Offline scamandrius

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #19 on: December 13, 2008, 12:23:46 PM »
Some food for thought from the Russian Typikon:

Chapter 28: On disorderly cries

Disorderly cries by the church singers ought not to be allowed in church singing. And those who make them are not allowed either. Let them be removed from their ministry and sing in the church no more. For it is proper to sing according to the order, and with one accord to glorify the Master and Lord of all, as if coming from our hearts through one mouth. Those who disobey are condemned to eternal torture since they do not follow the tradition and rules of the holy Fathers.




I probably should bring this passage up at our next choir rehearsal.  We have a few showboat chanters who when they chant the verses take forever to display their "talents" and which are not even in any correct tone, then have the audacity to complain that the Liturgy is too long!
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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #20 on: December 13, 2008, 12:26:48 PM »
It saddens me when people object to congregational singing, because they are objecting to the people participating in the Liturgy in the way that they feel most comfortable. 

No, I object to congregational singing because a great many of them do not know how to sing and drown out the others who do resulting in a cacophany of calamitous competition.  People should be encouraged to pray but according to how they are gifted. 
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Offline Lily

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #21 on: December 13, 2008, 01:03:16 PM »
Our church subtly discourages congregational singing by constantly switching what music is to be sung, to the point where even the choir doesn't know what they are singing.  It's an unfortunate situation.  We also get a large amount of untrained chanters clustered around the podium who also don't know what they are doing, but refuse to learn to do it correctly. 

Offline Fr. George

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #22 on: December 13, 2008, 01:12:32 PM »
Our church subtly discourages congregational singing by constantly switching what music is to be sung, to the point where even the choir doesn't know what they are singing.  It's an unfortunate situation.  We also get a large amount of untrained chanters clustered around the podium who also don't know what they are doing, but refuse to learn to do it correctly. 

What is truly disappointing is that a parish can use many different "musical settings," modes, or whatever for their Liturgical music on different Sundays, and still have people sing along; if one doesn't feel the need to lead, then many people do actually have the ability to follow music they can't see as long as they know the words; and if people are truly interested, then in the course of a few years they can be familiarized with 3-5 different "liturgies", which the choir can then switch up week-to-week.  I've seen it, with different Modes for different weeks, doing the Mode of the week each Sunday.

Of course, what drives me bananas is when choirs switch up modes/styles/settings multiple times in the middle of the service - Cherubic hymn sounds different than following pieces; music after the Creed or Lord's Prayer is different; "It is truly right" doesn't match any of the preceding hymns; etc.  Stick to one or two styles, please!
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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #23 on: December 13, 2008, 01:43:04 PM »
It saddens me when people object to congregational singing, because they are objecting to the people participating in the Liturgy in the way that they feel most comfortable. 

No, I object to congregational singing because a great many of them do not know how to sing and drown out the others who do resulting in a cacophany of calamitous competition.  People should be encouraged to pray but according to how they are gifted. 

Perhaps it is because I'm most familiar with a tradition that encourages congregational singing (Carpatho-Rusyn), but I have yet to hear a congregation singing the familiar hymns (aka "the ordinary") create a "cacophony of calamitous competition" (nice alliterative phrase, btw!).  I have always been able to hear the cantor and/or the choir over any congregation in all of the parishes I have ever visited, Catholic and Orthodox, that have a tradition of congregational singing.

It has also been my experience that people who do not know the melodies or how to sing at all generally keep quiet, or at most try to sing along in a very soft voice.

Even the Russian typikon points out that problems arise out of pride in one's voice, melodious or not, than out of any musical training/ability or lack thereof.

If you couldn't tell, I'm all for congregational singing, especially the ordinary (but would never hold any against anyone who did not sing).  :)
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Offline Lily

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #24 on: December 13, 2008, 01:47:53 PM »

What is truly disappointing is that a parish can use many different "musical settings," modes, or whatever for their Liturgical music on different Sundays, and still have people sing along; if one doesn't feel the need to lead, then many people do actually have the ability to follow music they can't see as long as they know the words; and if people are truly interested, then in the course of a few years they can be familiarized with 3-5 different "liturgies", which the choir can then switch up week-to-week.  I've seen it, with different Modes for different weeks, doing the Mode of the week each Sunday.

Of course, what drives me bananas is when choirs switch up modes/styles/settings multiple times in the middle of the service - Cherubic hymn sounds different than following pieces; music after the Creed or Lord's Prayer is different; "It is truly right" doesn't match any of the preceding hymns; etc.  Stick to one or two styles, please!

Even the "Lord have mercy"s get switched up multiple times during a Liturgy.  I can't follow it and I have a vocal music degree!

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #25 on: December 13, 2008, 01:50:34 PM »
Our church subtly discourages congregational singing by constantly switching what music is to be sung, to the point where even the choir doesn't know what they are singing.  It's an unfortunate situation.  We also get a large amount of untrained chanters clustered around the podium who also don't know what they are doing, but refuse to learn to do it correctly. 

What is truly disappointing is that a parish can use many different "musical settings," modes, or whatever for their Liturgical music on different Sundays, and still have people sing along; if one doesn't feel the need to lead, then many people do actually have the ability to follow music they can't see as long as they know the words; and if people are truly interested, then in the course of a few years they can be familiarized with 3-5 different "liturgies", which the choir can then switch up week-to-week.  I've seen it, with different Modes for different weeks, doing the Mode of the week each Sunday.

Of course, what drives me bananas is when choirs switch up modes/styles/settings multiple times in the middle of the service - Cherubic hymn sounds different than following pieces; music after the Creed or Lord's Prayer is different; "It is truly right" doesn't match any of the preceding hymns; etc.  Stick to one or two styles, please!

Cleveland, I agree.  Our church choir has a number of different settings for each portion of the Liturgy.  Most of it is based in the Russian tradition.  Some of them are written by the same composer and so go together well.  We have used a lot of the Liturgy of Tchaikovsky.  But you are absolutely correct that it makes no sense to do a very somber cherubimic hymn in minor key and then an anaphora in a joyous major key.  I personally like the variety afforded to us, though the problem is that there are not enough pieces written by the same composer that our choir can learn.  Most of them are very comfortable with the settings that they have sung for 30+ years!
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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #26 on: December 13, 2008, 01:54:38 PM »
.  We also get a large amount of untrained chanters clustered around the podium who also don't know what they are doing, but refuse to learn to do it correctly. 

We don't have a lot of untrained chanters, though some in our parish are better than others, clearly.  However, there is a lot of "doing your own thing" and so it seems like a one man (or one woman) show at times.  I'm sure it is things like that the warning in the Russian typicon was addressing.  The problem is that most of the chanters cannot read music or can only read one notation (Byzantine vs. western; I can read both though I'm still a novice with the byzantine).  So we cannot do a lot of unison singing with a strong ison.  that can be just as bad as not having trained chanters who know the modes and the style.
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Offline Fr. George

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #27 on: December 14, 2008, 08:09:03 AM »
Most of them are very comfortable with the settings that they have sung for 30+ years!

And that gets to the crux of the problem:

Yes, while paid choirs are rare in America 

Most of our Choirs are volunteer; not that this is awful or anything like that, it's just that it's hard to get people to learn new music, develop their talent further, etc. if they aren't getting paid; you get a few dedicated individuals, but they're not enough to get the Choir to be more dynamic, more open to learning new music, more open to frequent practices, etc.

And to think that in the ancient Church all positions from Bishop to doorkeeper were paid from the Church, either in money or food or both.  The advantage is then the ability (since they're paid) to focus on music more, which allows for diversification, vocal training, etc.  The key limitation to volunteer anything is that you're (kind of) stuck with whatever comes your way - whether they're good singers or not.  Often, with volunteer efforts in the Church (beyond just singing) you get people attempting things in which they have no talent or inclination; such mis-use of God's gifts is a shame.
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Met. Meletios of Nikopolis & Preveza, from his ordination.

Offline ytterbiumanalyst

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #28 on: December 14, 2008, 09:38:40 AM »
Most of them are very comfortable with the settings that they have sung for 30+ years!

And that gets to the crux of the problem:

Yes, while paid choirs are rare in America 

Most of our Choirs are volunteer; not that this is awful or anything like that, it's just that it's hard to get people to learn new music, develop their talent further, etc. if they aren't getting paid; you get a few dedicated individuals, but they're not enough to get the Choir to be more dynamic, more open to learning new music, more open to frequent practices, etc
Yes. Our choir director is the only paid member of the choir. More than half the members cannot even read music, and getting people just to come for Liturgy is difficult. We've really done well with what we have, and the choir sounds pretty good generally, but it's frustrating when most members wouldn't know a G from a hole in the ground. Currently, the director and I are holding weekly practices for members who want to learn music theory, but we only have one taker so far. It's a start.
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Offline Heorhij

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #29 on: December 14, 2008, 09:53:35 AM »
I, for one, do not, actually, object against congregational singing. But I would rather, in all honesty, hear a good, well-rehearsed singing in my parish or elsewhere, like I hear it when I visit Ukraine.

There is an alternative to paid choirs: simply encourage people to invest their time in meetings for the purpose of rehearsal. It is an extremely difficlut task, of course, because everyone is always busy. Yet, I believe it can be done. To encourage people, priests, deacons and lay activists should perhaps collect good samples of Orthodox liturgical singing (computer audio files, or CDs), and make them available for everyone in the parish to listen to and to appreciate.

I used to have a great singing voice when I was little, but then, when my voice mutated in puberty, I lost its nice tembre and strength. Still, I like to sing (sorry to say that - more when I had a dose to drink than before), and I would not object against singing in my parish. But unfortunately, the Greek chants that are recorded in our parish prayerbook sound extremely difficlult and alien to me who was brought up on the European Baroque tradition.
« Last Edit: December 14, 2008, 09:54:30 AM by Heorhij »
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Offline Fr. George

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #30 on: December 14, 2008, 11:46:14 AM »
Yes. Our choir director is the only paid member of the choir. More than half the members cannot even read music, and getting people just to come for Liturgy is difficult. We've really done well with what we have, and the choir sounds pretty good generally, but it's frustrating when most members wouldn't know a G from a hole in the ground. 

Eh.  We need a way to develop more people with the right skill-sets: good singers, patient ushers, money managers who aren't consumed by their trade or material, leaders who serve, etc.

Currently, the director and I are holding weekly practices for members who want to learn music theory, but we only have one taker so far. It's a start.

Better than no one.  Many choirs I've seen only needed 3-4 good, well-trained voices (one in each section) to keep the melody going smoothly.
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Met. Meletios of Nikopolis & Preveza, from his ordination.

Offline VirSpeluncaeOrthodoxae

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #31 on: December 14, 2008, 12:44:04 PM »
I'm having trouble understanding how to answer your question since it's so general and vague.  Do you mean singing as a member of the congregation, or just having church music in general, even if that be only from a choir?  (Maybe your question strikes me as vague simply because I cannot envision a church service where NO ONE is singing and no music of any sort is heard.)

Sorry for not clarifying. My parish doesn't really have an official "choir" so most people sing, but in my experience there are parishes where only the priest and choir sing and everyone else is totally silent. Is this ideal? I'm not about to start a campaign against such practices but I wonder what other people think of it.

Perhaps it depends on the size of the congregation and its financial status. In Ukraine, big churches in cities like Kyiv and Luts'k (the "oblast" centers) are able to pay to professional choirs, and the singing there is amazingly beautiful, so that the "laos" in the nave would not even think to "join" - it's kind of wanting to "help" Enrico Caruso or Luciano Pavarotti. :)

I thought I was the only Orthodox person who knew about Caruso! He was my singing model.

I think there should always be good music because God is worth the effort. I don't expect every choir to sound like Chanticlear, but I can't deal with bad choirs: in which case there should be congregational singing. It depends on the parish. I think everyone should also have the option not to sing.

I wont mention names, but there's a certain parish that has had a bad choir forever and has done everything wrong forever because they all had bad attitudes and their previous pastor was not a musician. Everyone would look back at them often wondering what they were doing. Then he retired and the bishop brought in a priest who was not only a well-trained musician but a disciplinarian. He heard them once and hired a choir director from another church (to be honest doesn't really know anything about singing, just alot of songs and he's has a famous name in the Church). There was much resistance from the hard liners and their bad attitudes for a few years. Then one day the priest read them the riot act saying if they didn't shape up they'd be disbanded and the church would go to congregational singing, which got through to them. A few months later he was asked to by the bishops to go back and "save" his old parish which was ran into the ground when he left (the priest who replaced him there was defrocked). So the pastor made a recommendation for his replacement, and pastor #3 made more changes, albeit gradually...and pastor #3 unlike pastor#2 is married and his wife joined the choir, so they kept their attitude to themselves.

The point is that it's all for God and that it's not the end all and be all but if want to keep the numbers up you'd better have something pleasing to hear. If you can't sing it's like you passing gas: it smells to everyone but you.
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Offline PeterTheAleut

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Re: How important is singing in church?
« Reply #32 on: December 14, 2008, 05:14:03 PM »
The point is that it's all for God and that it's not the end all and be all but if want to keep the numbers up you'd better have something pleasing to hear. If you can't sing it's like you passing gas: it smells to everyone but you.
Good analogy. :P
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