(Here’s an older blog that still applies today, at least for me. I was reminded of this one yesterday during Mass, so I thought I’d share it again.)
Among all of the various pieces of music we use in our parish there are a lot of different ways publishers try to tell you who is supposed to be singing or leading. For example:
There could be a few other terms used. There’s not much consistency in the music, but I think we all get the general idea or intent of the composer, arranger, or publisher.
I’ve often struggled with this when we are working on some of my music for publication. When editors ask me, “Who is singing here?” my initial gut response is usually, “Well, I don’t know…I guess it depends!” (That’s not a popular answer, by the way.) Here’s what I mean by that…
When I look at a piece of music and it says “Assembly” or “All” it depends on how well the assembly knows the song as to whether or not I will follow that directive. If it’s a new song, I might initially just ignore the All or Assembly directive on the Verses and let a soloist sing those. I’d focus on the Refrain with the assembly, inviting them to sing and bringing in the choir at the same time to give them even more support. I may add a few more refrains…or even begin with one…to get them engaged sooner.
If it says “Soloist” or “Cantor” it depends on the song. If the assembly knows it well, I may just invite them to sing the whole thing, ignoring a ‘Soloist’ or ‘Cantor’ directive. Or, perhaps we would use a soloist or cantor on the first verse, then invite the assembly to sing on subsequent verses.
You’ll notice I said that I “might” do these things, or I “may” do these things. That’s just the point! Don’t feel like you have to abide by those directives every time! Sometimes the printed music is written in a way that reflects the recording exactly. Remember, that is just one version of the song. Be creative. You are the music director…direct the music!
Keep in mind, of course, that ‘mixing it up’ or having a good combination of group and solo voices is simply good music. Look for those opportunities to let a soloist take a verse and really make it special…even if it says “Choir” or “All.” Change it up from verse to verse. It’s okay to listen and enjoy sometimes, just not all the time. (not even most of the time!)
All in all, the printed page is, in many ways, a ‘suggestion’ of how the music should or can be performed. As long as we stay true to the melodies, lyrics, and chords (for the most part!) we can take certain liberties with the performance of these songs, and be creative in our own, unique music programs. We all have different abilities and different strengths. We should lean on those strengths and use them to engage the assembly as best we can.