All serving cantors of the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh were invited to a meeting on Sunday May 22 at Saints Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Pittsburgh. The meeting was not recorded (to allow for frank discussions) but I did make the following notes to share with cantors who were not able to attend.
What is the singing like in your parish?
“We have two full-time cantors, each with a cantor in training, 2-3 assistant cantors and about 10 trained epistle readers. We have been singing the Our Father in the tone of the week, and the parishioners are now familiar with the samohlasen tones (tone 3 is still challenging).”
“In one of our priest’s parishes, only the A settings are used, and the people would like more variety. We do have some homeschooling families and would like to offer classes for them.”
“Our priest now covers three parishes, one of which has been without a cantor for some time. But one of the other parishes has had a strong singing tradition, and old old professor always prepared books with music, so our transition to the new book was not hard.”
Is there a time you attended the Liturgy and the singing was the best?
- Last liturgy by our previous pastor; very heartfelt
- Easter Sunday
What do YOU need to do a better job as cantor in your parish?
- We’re all awaiting release of new materials that match the green book (Holy Week, etc) – this year people were really happy with the new Holy Week / Annunciation books.
- Help with pitch matching – especially with priests or deacons are not regulars. (But if the priest or deacon are ALL over the place, it may be better for the cantor to just pick a pitch and stick with it.)
- Guidance setting a good tempo – sometimes our priest sings very fast.
- Better instructional recordings: sometimes the recording is too fast to master initially. We may need to have set s of recordings, one slower and one at normal speed. Recordings in several different pitch ranges would also be good.
- Books or instructions for when the bishop makes a visitation
Discussion of what the MCI offers and how the program has developed
Funeral books are not yet available; a class on the Parastas was recorded and put on the MCI website. Recent evening classes were held in Pittsburgh; we may also have regular weekend or evening classes in Youngstown or Johnstown if there is interest.
We need to assess this year’s Holy Week music, and review Christmas and Theophany books. Anyone who has specific suggestions based on this years’ Holy Week / Annunication books should send them to email@example.com.
The MCI online program, including ear training, will be free for the rest of the year.
Other observations from attendees:
- Music on website should be recorded by a single voice as well as by a choir.
- When a parish shrinks, the untrained voices are more noticeable. We need ways to counter this and help the people sing together.
- Cantors can use training in how to use a microphone when one is present.
- People really like the paraliturgical hymns at the opening incensation, especially the ones based on the day’s readings. The Marian Hymnal is still widely used; we need a new. comprehensive hymnal.
- Once music is learned, going to books with text only can help you focus on the words. But the settings need to be predictable; the cantor can’t keep changing how they are sung.
- We need cantors who are leaders, and the people generally follow – we don’t need soloists.
- We need cantors who are comfortable with what they are singing.
- We should start having regular spiritual reflections at classes – perhaps a regular retreat? Discussion: retreat should not be right after Pascha – perhaps September or October. One day is the right length – seminary is a good location.
- We need ways to get cantors together socially / professionally:including singing together, so we know who the other cantors in our area are. Perhaps hold an annual moleben and panachida for cantors.
- We should have a list of serving cantors (though privacy is an issue) and a group of cantors willing to lead singing at important events, priests’ funerals, etc – holding practices in advance.
- Volunteerism is great, but should we encourage stipends for cantors in parishes that can afford it. Cantors’ work should be acknowledged better as important to parishes.
- If the people have words in front of them, those are the words that should be sung
“Ask me anything” (challenge from MCI director Jeffrey Mierzejewski)
- Liturgy in our parish is always an hour and a quarter; friends tell me theirs is done in 30 minutes. How is that possible? (Explanation of “low liturgy” – fortunately this is rare in our church.)
- What is happening with parishes that are still not using the green book? (Answer: some parishes, especially those with elderly or long-serving pastors, take longer to adopt anything new.)
- Will there be official Vespers books? (Answer: most of Vespers has already been released, between the green book and the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. A proposed Vespers text from the Inter-Eparchial Liturgical Commission is with the bishops.
- Which way is the wind blowing on Slavonic these days? (Discussion of combining English and Slavonic. Some cantors commented that they could use help learning correct pronunciation and meaning of words for those occasional circumstances when their pastor or parish wanted something sung in Slavonic.)
- Has the MCI given any thought to working with the Office of Religions Education on materials for ECF classes? (Answer: Yes.) In further discussion, it was noted that children can learn sections of the Liturgy, and lead the singing of them. In one parish, children lead the antiphons and Communion hymns. We should consider teaching liturgy and singing at altar server camps.
As you can see from this summary, the discussion was wide-ranging, and many of the detailed suggestions will be incorporated into Cantor Institute initiatives in the remainder of the year.