At diocesan workshop, cantors learn to glorify God with their music



COLUMBIA—In response to requests from individuals and parishes, the diocesan Office of Prayer and Worship held a daylong workshop for church cantors on April 20. The choir rehearsal room at St. Joseph Church was full for the event. Many came to learn how to cantor, others to improve their techniques.

“Cantoring is a ministry, and for those of us who like to sing, this is a chance to contribute to a church ministry,” said Cindy Detorie of St. John Neumann in Columbia.

Detorie, who teaches music at her parish school, found the workshop “enriching.”

It could hardly have been otherwise. Leading the program were Carl Mayers, director of the cantoring program at St. Joseph; Teresa Riley, director of music ministries at the host parish; and Mark Thomas, director of music ministries at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Mayers said that the purpose of the workshop was to give church cantors and prospective cantors “a taste of everything about the role of cantor.”

Riley said that the rehearsal room has “fabulous” acoustics, so it wasn’t surprising that when Mayers led a psalm sing, the room full of accomplished singers sounded like a world-class choir at work. One of the works was by Charles Resnick, music director at Corpus Christi in Lexington, and was written for the 25th anniversary of the pastor of St. Joseph’s, Msgr. Charles Rowland.

Then Riley exercised the group and gave chunks of professional advice. She had them practicing diaphragmatic breathing and feeling for the bounce of their stomach muscles when they barked like dogs. They practiced vowels from low to high and even reached “E-flat above high C.” They did rhythm exercises, practiced proper singing posture, with “flared nostrils and round mouths.” And they sang.

Riley told the avid participants: “Stretch yourself.” “If we don’t use a little bit of Latin, we need to start. It’s our tradition.” “We all tend to sing too heavy.” “You need to sing the Word of God. The congregation needs to see it in your face and hear it in your voice.”

Then Thomas lectured about the history of the ministry and the relationship of psalms to liturgy. His voice class was about technique and what he called vocal health.

“We hope to hone their lector voice,” Thomas said. “We hope to unify their talent.”

Not all parishes have cantor ministries, according to the organizers, but all should. Every mission and parish should have a pool of cantors, trained and active. And size is not the main indicator of the breadth and quality of musical liturgies. At the small Marion parish of Infant Jesus, “we have a singing congregation,” choir director Lauren DeNitto said.

DeNitto, one of four Baptist converts in the workshop crowd of 43, said that she has noticed a tremendous change since she came to her parish in 1979. She thought that the cantoring workshop was exactly what her cantors needed.

“We love it, and we have exercises we can take back with us,” DeNitto said. “Just being around all this energy is worthwhile.”

Liz Peters of Our Lady of the Hills in Columbia is an experienced cantor. She brought some inexperienced cantors with her, since her parish is beginning a new cantoring program.

“Singers learn by doing,” she said.

The singers at the diocesan cantor workshop must have learned a lot in that case. The building was filled all day with their song. It concluded with a special final ceremony, the “Cantor Sending Forth,” adapted from The Book of Blessings. The closing hymn was called “When in our music God is glorified.”