Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Question about Cantors

Over at Rich's site, there is an ongoing discussion about the role of the Cantor at Mass.

A commentor mentioned this: "For me a good cantor is a man with a powerful, low voice, and chants the prayers instead of 'performing' a song."

Which leads me to ask the following question:

Is it easy for women to pick up the tune when the cantoring is done by a male voice?

I ask seriously, because for me, I have a terrible time trying to match the singing of a predominantly female choir or soprano cantor. So much so, during the recent discernment weekend for women, I could not sing along with the young women and sisters that were present. I couldn't find the key.

Now, I realize I am not a finalist for American Idol, and my vocal abilities will never get me on stage at Radio City Music Hall; but my range and ability greatly increased during my time in the seminary and continues to improve; but I still struggle mightily in such a situation. Is it the same the other way around?


Adoro te Devote said...

Interesting question, one I've never considered. I think it depends on the cantor.

I used to cantor in High School, and I was told that I had a voice that was easy to sing with. Maybe because I DIDN'T have any formal know...the opera-style vibrato and big open-lung notes.

I just most people do. And I have found, now that I'm no longer cantoring (and hoping to never do so again), that those who don't have formal training but simply good natural talent, either male or female, are the best cantors.

Sure, it's nice during maybe a communion mediation to have an incredible cantor who knows how to sing properly and thus brings a particular hymn to life...but the problem is that everyone thinks they need to be singing in order to have "active participation". So...if a parish's goal is to define "active participation" as "the people in the pews must be singing along with EVERY song!", well...then they shouldn't hire an opera-trained cantor.

Those people do have a place in the liturgy and not every well-trained singer is performing and doesn't WANT to perform. But I think sometimes to those who don't understand how vocal training like that works gets the impression of performance because that's the only way that cantor knows how to sing. Hours and hours of serious practice and knuckle-rapping (kidding) instruction will do that to a person. (Don't ask me about the people who really ARE performing....)

There are some male cantors that I've had a hard time following, although admittedly it's not as difficult with them as it is with women who can't stop the vibrato blast.

Anonymous said...

We have a few male cantors at our parish but most are female. I am female and sing in the choir as an alto. I have a very hard time singing, when I am in the congregation and not the choir, if there is a female cantor who is a soprano. I can not hit high notes. I have a much easier time singing if there is a male cantor.


Kasia said...

By and large, I have a more difficult time matching a soprano female cantor than I have matching any of the men I've heard. That said, I've yet to hear a bass cantor at my parish - the few men we have who cantor are baritone or tenor.

For background, I have some musical training, but very little vocal training. I'm a very limited alto (can't hit either the top or the bottom of the formal alto range).

Also, for what it's worth, for me a soprano has very little margin for error when it comes to pitch. I wince if she's even a little off (much like I tend to wince if a violin is just a teensy bit out of tune). Anyone else: an alto, a contralto, a tenor, a baritone, a bass, whatever, can be further off without it being painful. (If they're way off, there's no helping it; but a slight error is much easier on the ears with the lower voices IMHO.)

Father Ed said...

Having a musical background I would say that it doesn't matter whether the cantor be female or male because I think finding the pitch comes down to each individual's musical talent.

Having said that, whoever intones a particular piece of music, a Psalm, or other acclamation it should be intoned at a reasonable pitch that is middle of the road - meaning not too high or too low - so that all the people, with reason, can participate.

In regards to a performance of music or the cantor becoming a 'show' - I think the bottom line comes down to the lens through which the cantor sees his or her role. If the cantor acts or perceives his or her role through the lens of a show or concert then yes, you will get a show or concert. By the same token, if the cantor see his or her role through the lens of prayer and his or her attitude or demeanor is prayerful then you will get prayer!

Anonymous said...

Amen Fr. Ed!


uncle jim said...

i admit to being able to go with the male cantors more easily ... but boy, they sure aren't as much fun to look at as are some of those women.

my point: ladies, look nice but not to the point of attraction and distraction - puh-leezse

i can't say that i've ever been as similarly distracted by a male cantor.

Sara said...

I have a much easier time matching pitch with a male cantor. I come to Catholicism from a non-institutional Church of Christ where all singing was a capella and was led by a man. I'm used to pitching myself based on what a tenor sings. I have a really hard time finding my pitch in relation to a soprano.

Adrienne said...

I'm a contralto and it is way easier for me to sing with a male contor. Buy what Father Ed is saying is true. You just find a complimentary key and let 'er rip.

Our female cantor at the 8:30 Mass is singing soprano out of her range so she is always sharp. It makes your ears bleed.