Congregational singing of hymns

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John Ainslie
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Re: Congregational singing of hymns

Post by John Ainslie »

docmattc wrote:The standard of singing is difficult to judge because it cannot be accurately quantified. Judgement of how well a congregation sings differs from person to person. The baseline is in a different place for all of us, depending on our experience and expectations.

As I posted here some years ago. I would have said that the congregation in my former place sang well. In comparison to other Catholic Churches I would still stand by that. However, one evening we hosted a well attended ecumenical service, and the standard of the congregational singing was in a totally different league. I could actually accompany the singing. I suspect that if I had gently closed the swell box and faded out, they congregation would have just carried on. If I did that on a Sunday morning, the congregation would fade out first.

I would totally support that judgement from my own experience in my own church. It's due to the different cultural and religious traditions, as I mentioned before. For Free Churches especially, the expected participation is the hymn-singing, whereas for many people who attend Mass in Catholic churches vocal participation of any kind does not enjoy the same priority (says I carefully :roll: ).

londonchurchman
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Re: Congregational singing of hymns

Post by londonchurchman »

Southern Comfort wrote:Quite apart from the international composition of the congregation, which has already been mentioned, it's worth remembering that Westminster Cathedral for many years was notorious for having a policy of discouraging congregational singing.* That legacy still lives on to a certain extent. In any case, it's a very difficult building to sing in because of the absence of reflective surfaces anywhere near at hand. (The widest nave in Christendom, we are told.) When you're singing, all the sound goes straight up into nothing.

Another problem is accompaniment. If you're sitting near the back of the cathedral, the west end organ is simply too loud the way it is often played. You feel you can't compete, so you don't even try. The reason it's often played too loudly is because the player is often at the apse end and, while coping with the huge timelag (it''s like playing through a snowdrift) cannot easily judge how loud the instrument is in the rear half of the nave. In the days when I was doing this I used to adopt the principle of using less organ than you would normally think; and it seemed to work well. Supporting rather than dominating.

*A true story: the very first time they attempted to have congregational hymn singing at Westminster during a normal Mass (on the insistence of the precentor, who wanted to involve the people), the then Master of Music instructed the organist to play the hymns so slowly that you almost had to take a breath between each note. I was there. Of course, no one sang, and the MM was then able to turn round to the precentor and say "See? We tried it and it didn't work." This continued for several weeks until the idea was abandoned. It was not subsequently revived for a number of years.

That historical context is interesting. I was sitting near the front so didn't find the organ dominating. I actually felt very sorry for the cantor who was a very nice young man who arrived a few minutes before mass to explain the music points to the congregation, and in particular to remind them to sing the processional hymn when mass was about to start in a few minutes - but his explanation, and hand waving were sadly all in vain! I have seen this short address of encouragement done elsewhere at the beginning of mass - even by a PP - but it seemed to make no difference.

But I don't want to dwell on the negatives: So far one person has been kind enough to PM me with a church on the London borders where good congregational singing can be found. There must surely be others in Central or North London's parishes that are known by reputation if not through personal experience?
[fixed your quote syntax - musicus, moderator]

Hare
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Re: Congregational singing of hymns

Post by Hare »

Gwyn wrote:I note that St. Andrew's has a link (withing its Music page) to the 2005 GIRM. Is that the current GIRM?



Ouch! Probably not! :evil:

Hare
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Re: Congregational singing of hymns

Post by Hare »

Nick Baty wrote:
Hare wrote:I am currently looking into the practicality of publishing weekly music lists.

There are several on here who so do, using Blogger:
http://stmarysmus.blogspot.co.uk
http://immaculatemusic.blogspot.co.uk
http://salfordcathedralmusic.blogspot.co.uk


thanks Nick - to above list, can now be added http://www.standrewstenterden.blogspot.co.uk/

I am sure i will learn how to tabulate correctly - the first list is all over the place even though it was all lined up correctly when I compiled it! I also need to edit the blog heading as I have missed a capital, but can't see how to. any help via PM welcomed!

justMary
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Re: Congregational singing of hymns

Post by justMary »

londonchurchman wrote:If anyone has any specific suggestions about a good church to attend which has good congregational singing I would be very grateful to hear.


I know nothing about London, but can sympathise with your explorations: when I realised that I would be staying in a certain west-of-Ireland city for longer than the planned six months, I drew up a list of parishes and Mass times and started visiting. (Yes, I put it in a spreadsheet and made notes to help me remember what/where.)

Someone else here said that "congregational singing is also an expression of a sense of community in the parish" - personally I'v found that as well as an expression, it's often a good indicator: if they don't sing together, they probably won't talk / socialise / welcome strangers etc either.

One information source that you might find useful is the mystery-worshiper reports at Ship of Fools yes, they really do it like mystery shopping. Of course you need to take things with a pinch of salt, and remember that someone may have just visited on the one day in the year when everything fell apart. But a glowing report may be helpful.

And a hint given to me by a career-diplomat from my home parish (this woman has spent her adult life moving to a new city every 3-ish years): "Forget the city centre. Look for parishes on the of the city edge, new parishes, parishes with lots of immigrants." I don't know if it always works, but it was her expereince, and it certain holds where I am now.


Best of luck.

londonchurchman
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Re: Congregational singing of hymns

Post by londonchurchman »

justMary wrote:
londonchurchman wrote:If anyone has any specific suggestions about a good church to attend which has good congregational singing I would be very grateful to hear.


I know nothing about London, but can sympathise with your explorations: when I realised that I would be staying in a certain west-of-Ireland city for longer than the planned six months, I drew up a list of parishes and Mass times and started visiting. (Yes, I put it in a spreadsheet and made notes to help me remember what/where.)

Someone else here said that "congregational singing is also an expression of a sense of community in the parish" - personally I'v found that as well as an expression, it's often a good indicator: if they don't sing together, they probably won't talk / socialise / welcome strangers etc either.

One information source that you might find useful is the mystery-worshiper reports at Ship of Fools yes, they really do it like mystery shopping. Of course you need to take things with a pinch of salt, and remember that someone may have just visited on the one day in the year when everything fell apart. But a glowing report may be helpful.

And a hint given to me by a career-diplomat from my home parish (this woman has spent her adult life moving to a new city every 3-ish years): "Forget the city centre. Look for parishes on the of the city edge, new parishes, parishes with lots of immigrants." I don't know if it always works, but it was her expereince, and it certain holds where I am now.


Best of luck.


Thanks for your good wishes Mary. I am vaguely familiar with the Ship of Fools website and used to read it a lot before I went to Germany. It makes interesting and fun reading. Sadly almost all the reports from Catholic Churches mention a lack of congregational singing, though there is the odd exception. I am glad you have found somewhere good where you are. Best wishes.

Southern Comfort
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Re: Congregational singing of hymns

Post by Southern Comfort »

londonchurchman wrote:But I don't want to dwell on the negatives: So far one person has been kind enough to PM me with a church on the London borders where good congregational singing can be found. There must surely be others in Central or North London's parishes that are known by reputation if not through personal experience?


Some London parishes where they have had good congregational singing [bearing in mind docmattc's notice about subjectivity] in the past and are reputed to still do so:

St William of York, Forest Hill
St Thomas More, Manor House
Christ the King, Cockfosters
St Ignatius, Stamford Hill
St Margaret of Scotland, Twickenham
Holy Cross, Catford
Our Lady, St John's Wood (Lisson Grove)

Further out:
St Dunstan, Woking
St Bartholomew, St Alban's

londonchurchman
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Re: Congregational singing of hymns

Post by londonchurchman »

Southern Comfort wrote:
londonchurchman wrote:But I don't want to dwell on the negatives: So far one person has been kind enough to PM me with a church on the London borders where good congregational singing can be found. There must surely be others in Central or North London's parishes that are known by reputation if not through personal experience?


Some London parishes where they have had good congregational singing [bearing in mind docmattc's notice about subjectivity] in the past and are reputed to still do so:

St William of York, Forest Hill
St Thomas More, Manor House
Christ the King, Cockfosters
St Ignatius, Stamford Hill
St Margaret of Scotland, Twickenham
Holy Cross, Catford
Our Lady, St John's Wood (Lisson Grove)

Further out:
St Dunstan, Woking
St Bartholomew, St Alban's


Thank you so much for these suggestions Southern Comfort. I am in North West London so Stamford Hill and Manor House are not too far away and I sometimes visit St Albans.

St John's Wood is one of the places that I have visited (twice) - it has a very good PP and a sympathetic refurbishment, but sadly it is now a silent parish. I understand though that the PP is employing someone to help encourage singing at the 9am and 12noon masses (the 10.30pm is fully choral with no hymns)

John Ainslie
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Re: Congregational singing of hymns

Post by John Ainslie »

I think we need to be a bit careful about being tempted to equate hymn-singing with liturgical participation. I don’t think this is the intention of this thread: londonchurchman clearly enjoys singing hymns, and so do I. But hymns are at best secondary to the texts of the liturgy itself, especially the acclamations. In the classic four-hymn sandwich they accompany liturgical processions (and in the case of Communion, are of a form ill-suited to the task). In any case I wonder whether there is a more subtle way of getting people to sing the liturgy itself.

In an increasing number of churches, the Gospel and Eucharistic Acclamations are sung as a matter of course at many if not all Masses on weekdays as well as Sundays. If that is all that is sung – and these are, after all, the priorities for liturgical singing – one may not think of these as ‘Sung Masses’ or even ‘Masses with singing’. The story is documented of one American cathedral music director who dared to introduce music at the early Sunday morning ‘silent’ Mass. He started gradually with the simple plainsong ‘Easter’ alleluia. The people joined in without protest. Then he introduced a chant setting of the ‘Our Father’, then a ‘Holy, holy’. And then the priest began chanting the collect prayer. After all this, he solicited the opinions of the congregation. Almost all replied (so he reports) “What music? We don’t have music at the 7.30 am Mass!”

Yes, there are people who won’t bother to pick up a hymn book. Yes, some of them don’t open their mouths at all – but I’m sure some do, and I would be surprised if many don’t find themselves singing ‘And with your Spirit’ if the priest sings ‘The Lord be with you’ at them, even if they claim not to sing.

I also recall finding myself sitting next to a West Indian family who clearly had never used a hymnal and who didn’t know the significance of numbers on a hymn board. But when we sang a repeated Alleluia, there was no doubt whatever of their vocal involvement. And I have noticed some people who don’t pick up hymn books responding quite happily with the refrain at the Responsorial Psalm. In cosmopolitan congregations, there may be little if any common song repertoire, but everyone can join in a refrain – and that refrain may well be the liturgical text of the day. And it doesn’t require the responder to have any piece of paper in his/her hand or be able to read it. One dyslexic man in my parish really enjoys joining in the ‘Glory be’, short responsory and Magnificat (which he knows by heart) at sung Evening Prayer every Sunday for that very reason.

I am not suggesting that we limit our music repertoire to repetition of refrains. But I do wonder whether we could usefully reconsider the role of hymns and hymn books in our liturgy, if only to break the tyranny of the still-prevalent all-sufficient four-hymn sandwich.

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VML
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Re: Congregational singing of hymns

Post by VML »

I would add Sacred Heart's, Leighton Buzzard to the list. I haven't been there for Sunday Mass since before September, but they sing well despite the organ being in the loft behind. The very good organist is an excellent accompanist. The two do not always follow. And most vitally, PP sings: He even broke into song, 'Love changes everything!' during the homily at our son's wedding. :D
One thing that impressed me was that the people sang the Mass parts quite naturally, with no obvious immediate persuasion.
Not sure how it is since the changes.

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Nick Baty
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Re: Congregational singing of hymns

Post by Nick Baty »

John Ainslie wrote:And it doesn’t require the responder to have any piece of paper in his/her hand or be able to read it.
Yes, I think we forget about those people who can't read - we still have appalling literacy levels in the UK.

londonchurchman
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Re: Congregational singing of hymns

Post by londonchurchman »

John Ainslie wrote:I think we need to be a bit careful about being tempted to equate hymn-singing with liturgical participation. I don’t think this is the intention of this thread: londonchurchman clearly enjoys singing hymns, and so do I. But hymns are at best secondary to the texts of the liturgy itself, especially the acclamations. In the classic four-hymn sandwich they accompany liturgical processions (and in the case of Communion, are of a form ill-suited to the task). In any case I wonder whether there is a more subtle way of getting people to sing the liturgy itself.

I am not suggesting that we limit our music repertoire to repetition of refrains. But I do wonder whether we could usefully reconsider the role of hymns and hymn books in our liturgy, if only to break the tyranny of the still-prevalent all-sufficient four-hymn sandwich.


I must say I have been surprised at how many masses there are which include hymns, yet where the Ordinary is simply spoken and no attempt is made to sing the acclamations. In this scenario it definately feels like the hymns have been tacked on thoughtlessly and so perhaps it's not surprising that so few participate in singing them. Whilst I love singing hymns, I would much rather they appeared as part of a full sung liturgy at the main mass: perhaps then, those who enjoy singing would gravitate to those particular masses.

As for the Communion hymn it can be problematic: At the Anglican church I visited recently, there was a Taize chant during the distribution; a silence once all had received and then everyone stood to sing the Post-Communion hymn. This seems much more sensible as it doesn't interrupt those praying after reception of the sacrament.

organist
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Re: Congregational singing of hymns

Post by organist »

Sadly I am not sure that St John's Wood has found anyone yet!? :( And there's another point here - surely a combination of cantor, organist and priest is needed to achieve good results. It is true that some congregations sing better unaccompanied because they feel they HAVE to sing!

londonchurchman
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Re: Congregational singing of hymns

Post by londonchurchman »

organist wrote:Sadly I am not sure that St John's Wood has found anyone yet!? :( And there's another point here - surely a combination of cantor, organist and priest is needed to achieve good results. It is true that some congregations sing better unaccompanied because they feel they HAVE to sing!


Yes, I think they have found somebody. I think they already have an organist who sometimes plays at the 9am mass as well as the 10.30.

At my local church the hymn singing is poor, but I have noticed it is better when there is actually no cantor present. I have seen this elsewhere too.

Hare
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Re: Congregational singing of hymns

Post by Hare »

londonchurchman wrote:[

As for the Communion hymn it can be problematic: At the Anglican church I visited recently, there was a Taize chant during the distribution; a silence once all had received and then everyone stood to sing the Post-Communion hymn. This seems much more sensible as it doesn't interrupt those praying after reception of the sacrament.


It is important to remember that the Communion hymn (or whatever) is supposed to BE the community's prayer after receiving communion - to see it as an interruption is rather missing the point.

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