Last night was another rehearsal of the church choir I’ll be singing with come October. And it was not a pretty listen, to hear the notes of the easiest possible motets being beaten into them. I haven’t sung with a choir of non-music-students or dedicated amateurs since high school, and I had forgotten how bad it could be. Lack of literacy I expected. I don’t know why; I really need to check out all those community theater troupes who give parts to illiterates and then teach them their lines by rote. What I did not expect was a soprano section that could not match pitches. There was somebody seriously wandering in the wilderness there, and it did not seem to get better. There’s an ear at work, I think; at one cadence, having landed a whole step lower than the rest of the section, she corrected herself down to a minor third, which sounded better. I’m not in charge there, so I can’t do anything about it; perhaps neither can the director, given the gnarly world of church politics. He kept on mentioning “intonation”, but once you’re more than 50 cents off, it’s no longer an intonation issue,but a note issue. I’v got a guy in my section who is a bit behind too, but he’s making noticeable progress. He tends to get off when there’s more than one part going, and big leaps are scary, but he’s getting there. Of course, blend and vowel issues aren’t addressed, or dynamics. We do observe a few cutoffs, just to stay out of the “snake pit” of endless S.
I have to wonder whether modern Catholicism is subliterate. There’s seldom a worship aid that will give you the jingles of the Mass…which are never what’s in the missalette. So if you won’t go there every week, you’re not going to do the “active participation” thing. If choirs and congregations aren’t expected to “say the black/do the red” is it any wonder that priests don’t either? If you can’t read notes, you’re like the priest who says “This is THE Body” at the consecration. If you can’t hold a pitch, worse, you’re like a priest with such a bad case of the shakes that he spills the Precious Blood.
So I’m there, listening, trying to get a convert’s handle on this “Offer it up” (euphemism for “Suck it up!”?) thing that Catholics do. Realistically, Jesus suffered for me, so I can hear bad singing for Him. As martyrdoms go, it’s penny-ante, pissant stuff. I’m not locked in a room with 9 other smelly Polacks to starve to death, or wrapped in reed mats and burned, or flayed alive. If it’s too much, God could take away my voice or hearing, and that would be far worse. Objectively, I’ve got it pretty good. I’m humbling myself on purpose, because I need to observe how these thing work, because the dioceses who are having trouble keeping the lights on are not going to be springing for professional musicians any time soon. And I realize that my horror of the experience is a good marker of how much I need to do it.