Tuesday, September 04, 2012

What "Cantors" Should Know? Don't be a cantor.

End of story.
There is a fairly new poster (I base that soley upon the appearance of a new moniker, for all I know the person could be God, or his loyal servant Professor Mahrt) who posted the question, IIRC, asks what solo vocal repertoire should an auditioning, aspiring "Cantor" should have mastered for a gig interview?
Based upon the divertimento demography of the MSF forum, the ever obtuse and loveable Noel Jones of Knoxville TENNESSEE!) responded much more directly than I, there is no such animal as "solo vocal repertoire" for a Roman Catholic "cantor" as the poster conceived, namely a bel canto voice that can negotiate Schubert and Franck warhorses that enthrall all but the jaded or informed voices in attendance, none of whom would likely sport a Roman collar.
Heck, I'm even aware there's a fairly substantial body of Jewish singers floating about the countryside, even with membership cards in their version of NPM, who self-ascribe themselves as "Cantors" who couldn't sing a conservative or orthodox sacred service off the page to save their lives. So, what are we to make of the legions of RCC "cantors" who are the proxy for both "choirs" and "congregations" in tens of thousands of parishes world-wide?

It was inevitable. One responder had to add, beyond the obviously ridiculous answers of the Schubert/Bach/Gounod "AM" or the Franck "Panis Angelicus" the moldiest oldiest of all time "Our Father" of Mssr. Malotte. You know what happens when we trot out these chestnuts, either at papal Masses or in forum postings? We become the religious cultural equivilent of "Beetle Bailey." We become not only a cartoon, which in Da Vinci's time was just a necessary, viable step in the frescoe process, but in our era always visually emphasized the "butt" of the comedic incompetence, or the political idiocy, or all of the above (which I mannerly decided not to illucidate.)
I allow as how the ever-inquisitive newbie poster at MSF seems aware of some distinct differences between a real "cantor" and a "song leader." (Don't bother looking in the GIRM or any other document for that role, it is merely a convenient description for the minions who would erroneously self-assign themselves the "Cantor" designation for public programs and such.) But, OTOH, the ability to bel canto one's way through the Malotte comprises the least attractive asset by which I'd assess a true cantor's ability.
To make a long story short, Bach was a Kantor. Bach was in charge. IN CHARGE!  Of the whole freaking universe under his soles, above his head, beyond his hands, away from his sight, and within reach of his paddle if a boy soprano exhibited "attitude," delay, recalcitrance, or basically anything that P'd Bach off at the moment. That's a Kantor!
A "Cantor" should be able, minimally to sight read anything that requires a solo voice put in his or her hands, whether enscribed on four or five lines, square or oval notes, by calligraphic hand, chicken scratches like an M.D. or by an obscure font that is visible. A "cantor" needs be familiar with every nuance of Gregorian Latin (forget the nationalistic twists, that's exorbitant), the vernaculars of the parish that are used regularly, and the modicum of Greek and other languages that occur periodically in normative usage.
I don't give a rip if a so-called "cantor" can sound like Kathleen Battle or Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau when they saunter to the podium to render "Bist du bei mir" or "Where e're you walk" to the captive audience (err, congregation.) That's an indulgence, and not the kind that gets the performer less time in purgatory, tho' maybe a few of the congregation!
Can a cantor chant the melismatic verses of a gradual, alleluia, tract or sequence with a basic surety of exposition? Can s/he place by sheer brilliance of will and concentrated effort the notion that the sound of the voice is merely the wings upon which the Word of God soars through the mind to the heart? Can the cantor, at a moment's notice, take a verse of a sacropop song that a singing ensemble would muddle or mangle, but which has a seed of powerful truth in its allusionary message?
Other than that, the western catholic liturgy doesn't call for the seriously studied and ever-so-earnest-'ministry' of "The Cantor."
And if Jim Hansen ever corners you at an NPM and asks you- "Who is this smart-*ss from California who denounces our rightful place at the microphone?"- you never met me, got it?

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