Why you should rethink the choir’s summer break

Why you should rethink the choir’s summer break

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Some parishes give the choir a “break” during the summer. Rest is important. Even God rested! But we might rethink this practice of giving music ministers a formal break from the Sunday Mass.

One reason is that we don’t give any other ministries breaks simply because we need them! Might our practice of giving the entire choir a break from Mass actually communicate that choir is nonessential? Second, it might teach music ministers that if they aren’t playing their instrument, adding harmonies, or singing anthems, they aren’t “doing anything” at Mass since they aren’t performing their role.

Might our practice of giving the entire choir a break from Mass for the summer actually communicate that choir is nonessential? Click To Tweet

But Sing to the Lord, the United States bishops’ document on music in divine worship, says: “When the choir is not exercising its particular role, it joins the congregation in song. The choir’s role in this case is not to lead congregational singing, but to sing with the congregation . . .” (31). This ministerial accompaniment is as important as the more complex musical elements the choir provides during the year.

If they are present during summer, music ministers can still exercise their ministry in a simpler but visible way, without much or any rehearsal, by singing the “primary song of the Liturgy,” that is, “unrehearsed community singing” (STL 28).

 
This post was first published in “GIA Quarterly: A Liturgical Music Journal.”

Image credit: David Beale, Unsplash, CC0.

8 Responses

  1. TreeMarie
    | Reply

    I had a practice of having my choir take a break from rehearsals, but sing in the choir area at whatever Mass they were attending. To facilitate that method I would schedule nothing during the period between Corpus Christi and Assumption that we had not done in the previous rehearsal year. No new music. This facilitated greater congregational participation as well.

    I would recommend this path and encourage directors to research new material, plan with the pastor the direction for the year and start planning how to plug in your Triduum music throughout the rest of the year leading up to Lent so your assembly can participate fully in those celebrations. If you use Triduum as the apex of the arc of your planning and everything points in that direction, you may be surprised at how cohesively your liturgies come together!

    • Diana Macalintal
      | Reply

      Hi, Tree! That’s a great and simple strategy that not only gives the choir a much-needed break from rehearsals but also helps the assembly sing even better! Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. Sylvia Chapa
    | Reply

    Having begun at a parish soon after Easter 2014, the choir wasn’t ready to quit in June, so I took that opportunity to start a “Summer Schola” to practice one hour before the mass they sang, also in hopes of attracting more choir members for the fall. It worked. General bulletin weekly announcements start in early May. “No weeknight rehearsals” attract parishioners who had not sung with the regular choir. MId-June, my choir librarians and I figure out numbers for them all, assign hymnals as needed, and assemble the first weekend’s music. A weekend before the Schola begins, the singers pick up the first weekend’s choral music, a hymnal, & a July-August calendar. They arrive at the first rehearsal prepared on their own, have a relaxed rehearsal, and sing well from the start. It’s all volunteers. Specific expectations, advance materials, and a long range calendar seem key to this response. After each mass, the music list and any choir octavos for the following week are distributed. Any octavos no longer needed are collected. My regular choir librarians assist with this if they’re in town. They assign someone if they’re not. They all like the organization. Expecting 8-12 singers the first year, I had 12-20 minimum. Each summer, it has grown. Last year it was 28-38 weekly in July and August. Sometimes they sounded better than the regular choir, since this tended to be popular with people who read music and will practice on their own. It helps that many regular choir members enjoy Schola, and they know the music already. Repertoire was from the previous twelve months, with at least one “new” song to be used at the Triduum ( I like Treemarie’s idea a lot, too!) We celebrate after our last mass at the end of August. The date, time, and restaurant are on the calendar they picked up in June. We had about 40 at lunch last summer. I do schedule their mass dates around my vacation and continuing ed. If I’m away, they do not sing. Over the summer, they can sing one mass or all 7-8 masses on the schedule. I often do a Women’s Schola at one Assumption mass, and we usually add one rehearsal specifically for that music, scheduling in advance at their convenience. It’s listed on their calendar, too. They love singing this mass. So that I know what to expect weekly from the Schola, I ask them to email me as far in advance as possible so that I can choose music to make the voices attending sound their best. They like that a lot because everyone remembers a mass with 4 sopranos and 10 altos and 2 tenors and 0 bass from somewhere in their past. I take a clipboard with me and leave it out for them to write down on the spot any away dates they may have. Results? Some stayed in the fall to sing with the regular choir, and some return each summer, including 1 singer from a neighborhing parish whose director doesn’t have a summer choir. The organization is all front loaded in May & June so the singers know what to expect. Prep for me is fairly light – not much more than rehearsing with a cantor for the same mass. It seems the more I give them upfront, the better the participation. We use the Gather 3 choir hymnal, so that lightens the amount of choral music to be distributed. Difficulty is easy – medium. This guarantees success on their part, and that encourages them to keep singing. Uh, oh, I see I need to have the webpage updated to read “July-August.” There’s always something, isn’t there?

    • Diana Macalintal
      | Reply

      Wow! That’s a great system, Sylvia. Congratulations on getting so many people involved in the choir over the summer.

  3. Rick Reed
    | Reply

    At every parish I’ve worked in the past quarter century plus, the music ministry has been year-round, just like the other ministries. One parish looked at going to the “9 on/3 off” format, but to earn a 3 month break, they would have to be at EVERY Sunday during the “season”. (Otherwise, why would they need the long break?) Frankly, parishioners take vacations all throughout the year. If they are going to be missing, they’ll be missing. When new members join and ask when we take time off, I simply answer, “the same weekends as the other ministries”. We aren’t the rich of New York escaping the heat by going to the Hamptons.

    It’s up to the director to instill the dedication to ministry in the choir. Performers take breaks; ministries serve the liturgy whenever it is. We can compare our liturgical ministries to the parable of the vineyard owner. He hired workers in the morning, then more later, then more later, etc. At the end of the day, all the workers were paid the same. To relate, perhaps the music ministry is the group hired in the morning. We put in the most time. Other liturgical ministries can relate to those hired later in the day. Yet our payoff is the same as other ministries.

    I would suggest that if a choir needs a break, why not during Lent?

    • Diana Macalintal
      | Reply

      You’re spot on, Rick, that it’s up to the director to help the music ministers understand their ministry and instill a dedication to it.

  4. Robert Barden
    | Reply

    Here in Australia (and likely other countries in the southern hemisphere), the idea of a summer break for music ministers is additionally problematic because it happens in January. It results in musicians stopping immediately after Christmas for about a month. The result is that great feasts like the Holy Family and Epiphany fall silent, and we reinforce the misconception that Christmas is just one day, rather than a whole season.

    • Diana Macalintal
      | Reply

      Though it’s a different season, it sounds like a very similar problem. Thanks for giving us another interesting perspective, Robert!

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