Managing A Cantor III: Location, Location


One cantor long ago told me she would never do the psalm from the ambo. As she crossed the center line of the church she didn’t want to be emphasizing the lower part of her trunk as she bowed to the altar. She used words that were a bit more crude, but you get the idea. I told her the bow could be done at the start of her “procession” from the music podium. Nope. I suggested sneaking in from the back. Likewise, no. Sometimes you can’t win.

I think it’s a given the psalm is intoned from the ambo. I’m happy my parish has finally begun this in our temporary worship space. Like the heart and stomach, we now share the left side of the body. No bowing issues to speak of.

Now we find there are new obstacles: the “big book” is left on the ambo after the first reading. In one parish I served, I placed the sheet music in the Lectionary. I think that’s optimal. For the time being, I’m just trying to get the psalmists accustomed to the significant distance between the piano and the sanctuary. It won’t be quite as far in the new church. But it will require some careful attention on the part of all musicians involved.

In another parish, one cantor lamented that at the “choir Mass,” he had to spend the whole liturgy “up front.”

“Why not announce all the songs from the loft?” I asked. Creatures of habit that we are, it didn’t occur. But it’s a good question. The importance of announcing hymnal location isn’t visual. That’s what numbers on a board suffice to do. Is a disembodied voice telling people good morning and to turn to such-and-such a number impersonal? That’s what a loft choir does, and except for the iconoclasts, nobody seems to mind when the singers make their musical offering high up and behind us.

Another fine cantor asked me if he could bring his guitar into the ambo with him. I couldn’t think of a reason why not. It fit.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Managing A Cantor III: Location, Location

  1. Tom McClusky says:

    I recall you allowing me to take my guitar to the Ambo at St. Ed’s in Iowa, do do Bobby Fischer’s “This is the Day” for a Psalm. It felt awkward but it was a key part of my confidence as well. (The more items I could hide behind, the better.) We utilize a Cantor Binder in our parish and the Cantor typically holds it with one arm rather than laying it on the “big book”.
    Our parish also has an area behind the altar from where we approach. We appear in the center of the altar area, bow and it’s three steps to the Ambo. I, would love for more of a gameshow host jog in, but that would only be me.
    Our Pastor prefers little movement as to not distract, so he likes the back way in for us.

  2. Catherine Silvia says:

    As a psalmist and a communication specialist, it is against my nature to be a disembodied voice especially when greeting people. A huge part of communication is eye contact and it feels extremely weird to be talking to the backs of people’s heads while greeting them. As to announcing the songs, that is different and I have announced from a choir loft before.

    • Todd says:

      In our current set-up, I would be in favor of a songleader moving to a visible location in front with a hand-held mic, but I’m not sure most of our people could pull that off with confidence. But something to think about.

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