Three-day Cantor Workshop in Pittsburgh

The Metropolitan Cantor Institute will hold a 3-day workshop for new cantors at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh from July 5-7. This intensive course will introduce beginning cantors to the fundamentals of church singing and chant leadership. The course is also open to bi-ritual clergy who wish to improve their knowledge of our plain chant.

A limited amount of lodging is available at the seminary for those coming from outside the Pittsburgh area. Cost for the course  will be $100, and an additional $125 for those staying overnight. Watch this website for more details, or contact MCI director Jeffrey Mierzejewski at (412) 735-1676 or mci@archpitt.org.

Cantor education update

The first two courses in our online cantor education program are up and running, with most of the kinks worked out. The next course will be Introduction to Liturgy sometime this month, followed by Introduction to Church Singing. I think even experienced cantors will find something of value in the latter course, which will cover a lot of ground.

I also hope to integrate the Moodle distance learning software with this website, so that the Courses page will show which courses you have completed.

Other material that should appear within the next week or two:

  • Guidelines for finding (or being) a mentor
  • Using  the Theta Music ear training software

We will be providing music for the Great Fast and Pascha through the home page and blog on this website, so please check in regularly.

First two courses available!

The first two MCI online courses are now available; both can be taken for free:

I hope to have the next course, Introduction to Liturgy, available by the end of the month.

If you look at the Courses page, you will see that most courses are greyed out, meaning they are not yet available. See the roadmap for an idea of what will be in them.

If you have questions, please post them here!

Why a new Cantor Education Program?

In the course of this month, you will be seeing several new articles on this website describing our  new cantor formation program. But first I’d like to take some time to explain why we are creating a new program in the first place.

In brief: we need new cantors (Metropolitan William estimates we could use fifty new cantors right now). We need cantors who are comfortable leading all our services. And we need cantors who don’t just sing the music in front of them, but who show the faithful how to turn it into real prayer.

Traditional Cantor Education

In Europe up until World War II, cantors typically served as village schoolteachers, and studied formally in cantor/teacher schools for several years before receiving certification. Many of these trained cantors came to the United States, and taught cantors to succeed them. Unfortunately, in the years that followed, our liturgical life became narrower, and volunteer cantors (some of whom could not read music) succeeded those with formal training. The singing of services like Vespers and Matins became a lost art.

On the other hand, attempts to start cantor schools in the New World were not always effective; the schools did not have a set curriculum, and were out of reach of many potential cantors due to the distances involved. Even when they had the support of our bishops, cantors might “finish the program” without a firm grasp of the liturgical, musical, and leadership tools required to lead the singing at all the services of the church year.

Enter the Cantor Institute

The Metropolitan Cantor Institute was founded in Pittsburgh in 1997. It taught quite a few new cantors, and equipped more experienced cantors for new challenges and greater responsibilities. But it still faced problems of geography (how many students can get to Pittsburgh every month?) and pedagogy (what do you when the material is too advanced for some students, and too easy for others?).

In 2013, we decided to write a formal set of cantor certification standards, describing the knowledge and skills a cantor must have in order to lead church singing throughout the year. We met with several groups of long-time cantors and made some additions based on their input – but there was general agreement that what was on the list was essential.  A cantor who cannot lead the funeral services, for example, or the hymns of Holy Week, needs to learn them. Put another way: the standards should be such that the material could be taught in 3-4 years, and any cantor who met the standards could practically be parachuted into a parish and land on his or her feet, needing only to learn the particular traditions of that parish.

A Metropolitan Cantor Institute

In January 2014, I was appointed director of the Metropolitan Cantor Institute and asked to orient it toward serving all four eparchies of the Byzantine Catholic Church (Pittsburgh, Passaic, Parma, and Phoenix).  It had become clear that much of what we were teaching in Pittsburgh could be taught online; in fact, for several years the MCI sessions were designed with that in mind.  But for the rest, how do you teach someone to sing? and how to do certify that a student can not only sing our chant, but lead the services?

The answer is to use both technology and our collective experience wisely. We will be holding vocal classes throughout all four eparchies, making these classes available in video format, and encouraging cantors to obtain some formal voice training in their own area. (We will provide voice teachers with information about exactly what it is that cantors need to do!) Internet-based tools will allow students to learn pitch matching and accurate singing of intervals. In many cases, we will match up students with more experienced cantors and clergy in their area, who can help them and assist the MCI with assessing their progress. When this is not possible, students will upload recordings of their own singing and receive feedback from MCI instructors.

But no cantor will be certified without an in-person assessment by at least two experienced cantors at an actual parish service, at which the cantor to be be certified shows that he or she knows the liturgy, can sing the chant, and can properly lead the sung prayer of their parish.