Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Making the choir loft a priority

How does one argue the case for good acoustics and a traditional choir loft in a Novus Ordo parish seeking to build a new church?

a recent suggestion:

Acoustics should be of primary importance. To begin with, no carpet! This just deadens the sound. There is nothing wrong with a live space – a footstep or the sound of someone opening a book or shuffling his feet is not a bad thing, and reminds us that we are not alone. And a church is the one place where we are, in fact, not alone. We shouldn't desire a silence so extreme that the only interruption is the artificial hum of the amplification or cooling systems.

The advantage of a live space is that it allows for sound to rise up and bounce around the walls. During the liturgy, the whole idea of music is that our voices (those of choir and congregation) are joined with the voices in heaven.

Placement of the choir is also extremely important. The choir should be singing from the back of the church, preferably from a loft. The first thing this does is allow for the dispelling of the myth that the musicians are there to perform. On the contrary - voices of the choir should come from behind, out of sight, dance around the space and extend all the way to the front of the church, mingling with the voices of heaven along the way. Voices of the congregation can join in and thus be carried forward in one glorious strain in praise of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Some postconciliar writings suggest that the choir should be positioned in a way that makes clear its participation in the liturgy. This has often been incorrectly interpreted as putting the choir near front and center of a church. We shouldn’t forget that the primary function of the choir is an audible, not a visual or physical one. The choir has a specific, assigned role in the drama – it is this audible assistance that best describes the choir’s active participation in the life of the community within the context of the liturgy.

Positioning the choir front and center poses a danger to the congregation and the choir itself, and could be damaging to the integrity of the liturgy. The risk of the choir’s being perceived as an ego-centered performing group is a real consideration according to this model. Even for the soul of the choir itself, it is better to know that primary task at hand is assistance at liturgy, and not “performance,” as such.

Naturally, there are practical considerations, like how and when to choir members go forward to receive communion and get back to the loft in time – things like this can be worked out easily in each particular case. The group can sing in shifts, music can be postponed for a minute or two, one person can stay behind and sing a simple line of chant, etc. And there is nothing wrong with a moment or two or three of contemplative silence during this most sacred of times.

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