Carmudgeonly thoughts on visiting mass

What do catholics and pentacostals have in common?

Neither of them can sing.

You get a lot of funny looks when you grow up in a noninstrumental church. Not without reason; the apologia justifying noninstrumentalism is a little… strained. But not having instruments, they compensate in other ways. It never occurred to me until I started visiting other churches that the ability to sing perfect four-part harmony was not a prerequisite for being a Christian.

I never even liked most of those old hymns, but I have to admit that after hearing an auditorium full of people all plodding doggedly along on the same melody, with the organ in lockstep for good measure, part of me looks back more kindly on those old Church of Christ services.

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  1. Hey, my parish growing up sung just fine. We had an EXCELLENT music ministries program. (of which I was a very active part).

    I was shocked and surprised and saddened, going to lots of other churches since my youth, at how BAD most other parishes are. Their music ministries suck ass, and they can’t sing a lick.

    We didn’t do too much harmony, though. That’s the choir’s job. However, mom taught me how to sing harmony by ear by singing at church. (We’re both altos.) I still sing harmony when I go home to St. Pat’s (or whenever I can).

    Things that bother me? When they slow the tempo TOO FAR DOWN. It’s like “God damn it, you’re turning one of my favorite hymns into a funeral dirge! Knock it off! Pick up the tempo!”

    1. That’s the choir’s job.

      I don’t like it when only the choir harmonizes. That’s how it was at the mass I visited.

      In fact, I don’t think I like choirs in church at all, come to think of it. My experience has always been that when there is a choir, the rest of the congregation sings either half-heartedly or not at all. The resulting combination of overbearing choir layered on top of a low, off-key mumble sounds awful to my ears.

      1. Our church sings along with the choir. Perhaps it’s because the choir sings harmony and the congregation (except for those few deviants like mom and me) sing melody. Our hymnals in the pews don’t have harmony lines in them. Only the choir edition (and the accompanyist’s does).

        I think you’re being too picky. šŸ˜‰

    2. When they slow the tempo TOO FAR DOWN.

      They did that at my old church, it sucked. It drove me abosolutly up the wall. Everything was played at about half speed. One time we had a bishop visiting and he asked the organist to please play a little faster.

      1. Yay! Hooray for the bishop.

  2. Yes, Im still on your list. You write neat stuff.

    Posting as a musician. . .

    I love old hyms. I know a lot of them. I like the whiney old sing-songy turn on the century hyms. The ones that make the REAL old folks cry; and I dont know why. Maybe because nothing else sounds like that anymore.


    “I went to the garden ALONE….”

    And I like to sing corney, high sopran descants to them. It’s fun, in my tiny little church, ’cause I stick out like a peacock in a henhouse. (Terrible sin, isn’t it? But some people like em.)

    I have a neat book about the history of some of those old warhorses. My mother is an organist at a church with a 100 year old pipe organ.

    Im sad that if I want to meet young people, I have to go to one of those praise song churches! “Awesome God” a thousand times over doesnt do it for me!

    1. I confess I was partially responsible for pushing Awesome God and co. on my old church. At the time I felt they needed to get with the times.

      …although come to think of it, we even sang the harmonies to Awesome God.

      I still think some of those semi-old hymns are ghastly (“Sing and You’ll be Happy Today…”). But it was eye-opening to see people come in from other denominations and go on and on about the harmonizing.

    2. I love old hyms. I know a lot of them. I like the whiney old sing-songy turn on the century hyms. The ones that make the REAL old folks cry; and I dont know why. Maybe because nothing else sounds like that anymore.”

      It’s funny… I think I’ve found that some hymns are “protestant hymns” and some are “catholic hymns”, not becaues of the subject matter, but some protestants sing but not catholics and some catholics sing but not protestants. It’s weird.

      Alot of the old hymns that other people know, I don’t know because I was raised catholic.

      I, however, love the beautiful contemporary catholic hymns I grew up with. Stuff like “On Eagle’s Wings” and “One Bread, One Body” and “I Am For You” (which I wrote an arrangement to) and “Canticle of the Sun”.

      And what is this “praise song church” thing of which you speak?

      1. I know Eagles Wings. We sing it every Sunday. (Methodist.) And it was the theme song of the Oaklahoma City Bombing memorial. I dont know why they had to have a theme song.

        Praise music is the recorded music boom that has happened in the last 15 years or so. Churches replaced their organist with a stereo and an overhead projector. The same songs are sung most weeks, they are modern/ rock/ pop songs. Many churches have a half an hour of just praise music before the service starts, and then a long sermon and readings. But my church still does the “Stand for hym # __” at the regular times. The modern service is bringing a lot of young people to church. Many of the churches who do this are pentacostal or non-denominational. I may be gereralizing too much to say that many of the praise song churches are fairly conservative and often fundamentalist.

        What sucks for me, is that I have trouble letting go of my old hyms, but there aren’t ANY young people in my church. Not meeting any guys this way.

        1. Yeah, but do you really want a boy who wears a WWJD bracelet and listens to DC Talk?

          1. On the whole, what’s wrong with that? Are you suggesting that a person who wears a WWJD bracelet and listens to DC Talk might fit a stereotype and not be worth having?

          2. No. Merely a guess based on what little I’ve gathered about . I could be wrong.

          3. …But he could be a really cool guy, even with his WWJD? bracelet and his DC Talk albums. Who’s to judge?

  3. That’s why…

    Catholics used to have choirs–so that the singing would be done by the people who actually liked to sing and had some talent at it…

    While having everyone sing certainly is democratic… it usually means that you are certain to attain mediocrity…

    1. Re: That’s why…

      Yes and no… while my old church had a “worship team” composed of the people that actually wanted to practice the real doozies once a week, it’s also a fact that the rank-and-file in CofCs usually know their own part in most of the hymns… something that sometimes comes as a shock to visitors form other denominations.

      The finest group singing I have ever heard by non-professionals, bar none, was the group sings at high school camp retreats. A hundred or so gung-ho CofC-raised teenagers singing perfect four-part harmony can be breathtaking. They used to make tapes of it it was so good.

      1. Re: That’s why…

        It reminds me of when Concert Choir or Girls’ Ensemble from school used to take trips. We’d sing a capella in the bus on the way there. One time we were going to perform at some christmas thing. The roads were icy. When we were about to get off the bus, the bus driver thanked us. She said our beautiful singing soothed her nerves and helped her drive better.

        Besides, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard people sing “I Love My Dog” to the tune of the Hallelujah Chorus in 4 part harmony. šŸ˜€
        “I love my dog” for “Hallelujah” and “Fido is wonderful and good in bed” for “For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth”


      2. And speaking of harmony…

        gets angry at me when I sing harmony to Offspring or Green Day. It’s not MY fault their melody lines are so easy and fun and satisfying to harmonize to.

        (Also speaking of great harmony. The Mamas and The Papas. Oh, hellz yes.)

      3. I can only say…

        that it works in reverse also…

        I fucking hate singing… and making me sing is a punishment to all those around me anyway.. so I find the idea of expecting people to sing to be a special form of torture…

  4. Don’t forget the Mennonites! They like four-part a capella, too!

  5. Consider, too, that a lot of people do not go to Mass for the quality of the congregation in song. There’s more to it than how they sing en masse. (pun kinda intended)

    1. Never said otherwise…

      1. That comment of mine was based on our conversation last night. It sounds to me like you’re saying you’d base your choice of churches/synagogues on how well the congregation sings together. I confess, though, I may be misundertanding your point.

  6. I think I remember they actually had someone come in to help “tune up” the congregation at one point, way back in the day of the old church building. Do you remember? I think I was too young to be paying attention properly at the time.

    1. You’re probably thinking of Brian. His last name escapes me at the moment. Was the guy you’re thinking of a redhead? He used to lead singing at a lot of camp Manatawney events. A talented conductor and a great guy. I still get his yearly emails. He lives out in like, Colorado now.

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