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Qualifications of Church Singers.

The church-choir has long been an alluring bait to the young singer, and in all probability it will continue indefinitely to stir the moderately ambitious amateur to semiprofessional aspirations. It seems so easy to earn a few dollars by just merely singing in church. The money will pay for more lessons, or it will provide otherwise unattainable luxuries, or in some cases it will help to eke out a not too easy living. One might almost say that the best advice for those who desire to sing in church-choirs is identical with that given by the sage of London (Punch) to those about to marry, viz.: “Don’t.” But this advice would doubtless have no more effect upon the prospective church-choir singer than it has had upon those about to marry.

The trials and disappointments of aspirants for the operatic stage are proverbial, and they are reflected in a somewhat smaller degree upon the candidates for church-choir engagements. What are the essential qualifications for those who wish to secure church-choir positions?

First of all, it may be stated that those who sing in their own church and give their services do not enter into the scope of this paper. If they intend to seek a paid position, they do well to gain experience, and they may as well support their church by contributing their services as by giving cash. They are not engaged on account of their professional merits.

The first requisite for a church singer is a voice considerably better than the average. This voice must be trained sufficiently to place its possessor in advance of the ranks of amateurs. Four years of good training are little enough for a position paying a moderate salary. Of course there are some who secure positions with perhaps half of that amount of study, but they are the few natural musicians who have absolute pitch, or something very near to it, and who can read at sight without any difficulty. They are scarce.

The next requisite is the ability to read at sight, and I feel almost constrained to place this accomplishment before the voice, for a poor reader with a good voice is absolutely useless in a choir, while a good reader with a moderate voice is quite desirable.

There are other requisites which may be put into plain, blunt English in the form of “don’ts”:

Don’t expect a church-choir position if you have any physical deformity.

Don’t expect a church position if you are not neat and careful as to your dress.

Don’t expect a church position if you have not a good complexion.

These “don’ts” apply equally to both sexes.

There seems to be something cruel and un-Christian in these “don’ts,” but they are based upon existing conditions. As long as it is the custom to place the choir right in front of the congregation these “don’ts” will hold good. The congregation do not like to look upon that which is not comely, and it matters not how beautiful a voice a singer may be blessed with, the congregation must not be shocked by the sight of anything unpleasant.

No church seems to have solved the problem by placing the choir behind a high screen, nor does it appear to have ever occurred to anyone that the custom of placing the choir behind a screen at all is ridiculous. If a screen is essential, let it be high. There is nothing more comical than to watch the waving of feathers (on hats) over the edge of a low screen during a fervent prayer or soul-stirring sermon. If the congregation are so sorely afflicted by the sight of a blind, or deformed, or homely singer, it is strange that they are not disturbed over the hat-and-feather show.

Do not go to a vocal teacher and say that you can study with him only if he will promise you a church position. In the first place, he does not own the churches and cannot place any singer who is not qualified; therefore the matter of securing a position depends as much on yourself as on him. It is a mean question to ask a vocal teacher. If he refuses to give the promise, he loses a pupil; if he makes the promise, he loses his self-respect. He will probably feel that if you are going to study you had better study with him, and that he can do as much for you as anyone else. The best vocal teachers will do for you willingly, when you are competent, that which you cannot make them promise to do as an inducement to secure a pupil. There is too much dependence upon “influence.” Qualify yourself, and the people who have influence will use it in your behalf just as soon as you prove your fitness. They are always on the lookout for good new talent, but there must be a combination of merits. A voice without musicianship, and unsupported by a well-balanced disposition, is of little use.—Henry C. Lahee.

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