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May 27, 2004

Turn off the Mic

I was pleased to find this article via other bloggers. Thanks to Rex Olandi, and Aris.

It has some interesting suggestions. One that resonated well with me was the very first suggestion to turn down the volume.

The Microphone has done more damage than good to parish worship. This is a realization that came to me slowly over the years, but I am firmly convinced now. It the parish where I was pastor for seven years we eliminated the cantor for everything but the psalm and the communion. Everything else was led by the organ. Of course that all changed after I left.

At St. Edward I had an experience that confirmed this. Last Christmas I presided at two masses there. The music and the liturgy were beautiful. After communion there was a meditation sung in the choir loft by the choir and two vocalists. It was too loud and even distorted coming through the microphones. It was jarring. It destroyed everthing they had done so far. Why did they even need microphones in the loft?

This is what makes it so difficult in choosing a music director. How do I find someone who is competant in organ and voice who also has a care for the volunteers in the choir, and also has a care and concern for the community at worship and has no need to entertain them?

Posted by Fr. Jeffrey Keyes, C.PP.S. at May 27, 2004 9:35 AM

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» What Defines a Progressive? from Rex Olandi Rex Cledendi
Not counting myself as a progressive, I'm probably one of the least qualified to attempt such a thing. However, after reading a recent discussion about microphones at Father Keyes' blog, I felt that some confusion over this issues warrants further... [Read More]

Tracked on May 31, 2004 1:30 PM


Father Keyes, God bless your efforts on the front line. Many of us, I am certain, feel your yearning to see that the Liturgy is accorded the dignity it deserves, although from a different angle. I'll keep your intentions in my prayers, as your success vindicates that form of sacred music that we, and many larger figures before us, have been patiently and diligently trying to recover, for the good of the Church.

Posted by: Paul Rex at May 27, 2004 9:58 AM

Peace, Fr Jeff.

GIA's buttons "Back off the mic ... let the people sing" is at least ten years old. My sense has always been that the anti-mic crowd have always been the progressives.

"How do I find someone who is competent ... and also has a care and concern for the community at worship and has no need to entertain them?"

The $64,000 Question, my friend. Many of us ask it of our clergy. How many of us cultivate such values in our students or those who look up to us? Do bishops and clergy cultivate such values in young adults with as much vigor as they encourage vocations to the ordained priesthood? Last time I looked every diocese has a seminary to send people to and a vocations director working the nets locally. Since music is not a competitive ministry in this area, I'm left to the conclusion that forming pastoral music directors is not a priority for the institutional Church. Would I be far off target?

Posted by: Todd at May 28, 2004 12:27 AM

Thanks for the article. AMEN. AMEN. AMEN.
Uh, er: amen, amen, amen.

Posted by: Maria Elena at May 29, 2004 12:22 AM

The problem with the mic issue is that most modern churches were built with a sound system in mind. Not to say that they sound good anyway. For example, St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco. It always sounds like you're in a stadium when they use the sound system. But otherwise, all the sound goes up into the vaulted ceiling and can never be heard ... except by God, I suppose!

Posted by: Martin Ford at May 29, 2004 3:33 AM

"My sense has always been that the anti-mic crowd have always been the progressives."

Is this meant to be a joke, Todd? Or are you suggesting that it was traditionalists who saddled us with the soloist-driven, mike-requiring style of pop crooning that one hears in 95% of the Catholic parishes in America?
I can't, offhand, recall ever hearing any chant schola, or any choir that specializes in "classical" hymnody and anthems that used mikes; or any guitar-playing cleric, or Minnesota Trinity warbling ensemble who didn't.

Fr. Keyes, you will be amused (or disgusted?) to know that the amplification at St John's continues to bedevil us. (Not me -- I railed agianst overdependance on them in my previous life, and hate them in this.)

The loft is now in service again, and two weeks ago I was short a cantor, so I announced and chanted from the keyboard, no mike.
Response from the 7:00 mass-goers seemed equally divided into three camps.
1. Your volume and diction were fine, thanks for talking slowly.
2. We couldn't hear a thing, and why do you talk so slowly?

And my personal favorite --

3. Why is your mike so much better than the ones the priest and lectors used downstairs?

Can't win....

Posted by: Geri at May 29, 2004 7:44 PM

Geri, you are a gem. 8-)

Posted by: Paul Rex at May 29, 2004 10:47 PM

Well put, Father. You stand with me, Thomas Day and the legitimate liturgical movement before Vatican II, which wanted to teach people chant. Of course it was the American liberals who derailed that movement and, being of Irish heritage and thus not having a liturgical tradition (being persecuted in the mother country), junked up the Mass with miked-up, crooning songs. The 1890s novena hit parade given a pseudo-hip makeover with guitars. Thomas Day explains all this in his books. Again, well done, Father.

Posted by: The young fogey at May 30, 2004 7:06 AM

Peace, Geri.

"Is this meant to be a joke, Todd?"

Not at all. I think it's a given that GIA promoted less mic use with their cute buttons several years back. I attended a workshop given by Marty Haugen in 1988 in which he described that less mic use is often better than more. His 1990 book on Instrumental Ensembles discusses a judicious use of amplification, sometimes a necessity in carpeted churches. The Form/Reform conferences, not exactly a bastion of traditionalism, have harped on good acoustics for years.

The Church is not divided into two exclusive groups of non-mic'ed traditionalists and mic-hogging liberals. It might be that there is another group of less competent musicians, clergy, and architects who just don't know any better. From sheer ignorance they carpet naves, pad the pews, set up parallel wall sound traps, buy into a concert-style sound system, and then decide they need to mic the living bejesus out of everyone just to get heard.

I'm not saying anything about conservative Catholics as a group buying into this nonsense. (Though I've worked with a few conservative pastors who advocated much of what you criticize -- they weren't closet liberals by any means, just ignorant.) But I've been going to "progressive" workshops and reading "progressive" liturgical journals for two decades.

You can't pin the indulgence for over-amplification on the progressives. Try the incompetents instead.

Posted by: Todd at May 30, 2004 11:20 AM

"it's a given that GIA promoted less mic use with their cute buttons several years back."

It's a given that GIA "promotes" (I think I'd use the word "hypes") a lot of stuff they sell.

"I attended a workshop given by Marty Haugen in 1988 in which he described that less mic use is often better than more."

If that means making his "Send Down the Fire" inaudible, I'm with him!
One of the things I hate about Pentecost!

"The Church is not divided into two exclusive groups of non-mic'ed traditionalists and mic-hogging liberals."
True enough! It isn't even divided into "traditionalists" and "liberals." All thinking people fall into either camp on an issue by issue basis.
But it is inarguable that the pseudo-folk and sacro-pop "Glory and Praise" music, whose jumpy or syncopated rhythms, and rangey melodies that seldom move stepwise or triadicly ('zat a word?) scream of a performing sensibilty, and a solo performing sensibility at that, ushered in the era of the mike in the Catholic Church; and it is inarguable that that music was promoted by the liturgically "liberal," the "power to the people" crowd.
The try to accomplish a good and true and beautiful thing (participation,) with bad and false and ugly means.
And it's not just the "performers" who are to blame, it's the audience.
And getting ears that have grown used to miking, and to lazy to really listen, weaned off them is damn near impossible, just ask anyone in theater. (Can't remember whether it was Kander or Ebb who decried this dependance, but one of them waxed eloquent on this problem on a Met opera broadcast intermission feature last year -- interesting juxtaposition of the "pop" and the "classical" right there.)
Anyone, just because the progressives have finally wised up and now know they were wrong, is no reason not to blame them for the problem in the first place.
You might as well say OCP's current offering of chant books shows that they are not responsible for "Hi, God," or "Rise Up and Sing."

Posted by: Mel at May 30, 2004 1:56 PM

p.s. Young Fogey, are you the former poster on the RPI liturgy messageboard? I recognize your name from somewhere.

Posted by: Mel at May 30, 2004 1:58 PM

Peace, Mel.

"It's a given that GIA "promotes" a lot of stuff they sell."

Actually they gave away the buttons for free at a number of conventions.

The performing sensibility in Catholicism may also have its roots in the pre-conciliar priest-does-it-all mentality. And a lot of what passes for "performance music" in churches simply wouldn't fly as a pay ticket item.

Your issue by issue comment is quite true. Applies to people, too. When I was in college, our ensembles and choirs at the Newman Center did without microphones -- and that was in a carpeted chapel.

I stick to my suggestion that incompetent people of either liberal or conservative approach overuse microphones, and that the entertainment approach was not a novelty of Vatican II, but rather a by-product of simple human frailties: ego, low self-esteem, ignorance, etc..

Posted by: Todd at May 30, 2004 8:38 PM