Preparing for Services

When a liturgical service is to be celebrated, it is the cantor who has the principle responsibility for ensuring that the singing of the service is done properly and well. This article explains how to prepare in advance for services. To learn what the cantor ought to be doing during the service, see Chant Leadership for Cantors.

Deciding who's in charge

The celebrating priest and the pastor of a particular church (under the authority of the local bishop) have the final say in all matters, liturgical and musical. It is never appropriate for the cantor to try to ignore or undermine their authority. At the same time, the cantor should always be willing to make suggestions and recommendations based on his or her experience with the services, the plain chant, and the congregation. (For this reason, cantors should become very familiar with the custom of the parish(es) where they serve.)

The cantor is responsible for starting the singing, choosing a melody where there are several choices, selecting a starting pitch when necessary, and choosing or adjusting the tempo. The cantor should also do everything in his power to enable and encourage the people to sing the services. This also means that the cantor should prepare for services, and be able to teach the faithful about liturgy and chant where necessary.

A parish may have several cantors, but one cantor should have overall responsibility for any particular celebration. (It is also useful but not necesary that one cantor coordinate all services in the parish.) Avoid the temptation to "hand the microphone around" among several cantors; instead, junior or trainee cantors should lead the singing for a complete hymn or section of the service.

Knowing what service will be celebrated, when, and where

For each service, know what is being celebrated, and the time and location. If you have questions, be sure to ask the celebrant or pastor as soon as possible. Review the service (materials can be found for most services on this website) to make sure you understand the plain chant or other music for the service. If you may need help leading the singing, coordinate with other cantors to help out.

Identifying music and readings to use

Always consult the Typikon and know what changeable parts will be sung. Learn any new melodies thoroughly, and practice any that you are unsure of.

If you have a choice of music (for example, different Cherubic Hymns for the Divine Liturgy), make your choices well in advance and write them down. Coordinate with the clergy or other cantors to make sure there is a healthy variety in the music you use: avoid both boring sameness and constant change, along with music that is simply too difficult for the available singers.

If there will be Scripture readings, determine who the reader(s) will be, and make sure they know what they will be reading, and have time to practice.

Assembling your books and other materials

Now it is time to assemble the books and any other music you will need to use. Make sure they are up to date, and match what is in the hands of the congregation. If you have a cantor stand, it should be equipped with the materials you use frequently.

Walk through the service mentally. Imagine what the priest and congregation will be doing at each point in the service, and rehearse the music you will be leading. Identify any difficult spots in the music, or places where you might become confused (for example, by a page flip or the need to sing music from two different books in succession). Mark your own books with reminders you may need, or use sticky notes or paper clips to help you with any awkward transitions in the service.

When you rehearse for a service, always use the same text or book you will use in church; don't assume that you can make adjustments at the last minute. When texts are provided without music, "point" them to indicate accents, how psalm verses are grouped together, and so on.

Warm up your voice

As a singer, you should always take proper care of your voice, and this is especially true on days when you will be leading the singing in church.

An hour or so before the service, or on your way to church, make sure to warm up your voice. (Some cantors do this while walking or driving to church.) Singing before services, according to the custom of your parish, can also help you be well-prepared for the services themselves.

Be there early

Always arrive in church 30 minutes early to allow you time to see the celebrant, pray, and make last minute preparations. Walk through the service mentally one more time, and then recollect yourself and wait for the time to begin the singing.