Tuesday, January 15, 2008

How Bad is the Sistine Chapel Choir?

While much attention is being devoted to the orientation of the Holy Father's Mass in the Sistine Chapel (last post), my attention was distracted by a subject that has bothered me for years - the awful wailing that comes from what is purported to be a choir. Readers of this blog (all three of them) will know that I would rather have my tongue removed with pliars by Michael Bin Mooren than criticize anything to do with the Pope. But I suspect he may agree with me. Years ago, when I was a mere schoolboy, studying in an Anglican boarding school, our school chaplain used to take great pleasure in trying to irritate me (the only Catholic in our Divinity 'A Level' class) by saying that an average Anglican small Cathedral Choir was better than the Sistine Chapel Choir. As I recall he used to describe them as "a couple of fat Italian squawking boys." In my youthful desire to defend Holy Mother the Church, I used to try and valiantly defend the little chubby fellows. I suspect even then I knew he had the winning argument. Pope Benedict should recruit a good Anglican Choirmaster from one of the Cathedrals and get the music sorted out - we know the Italians can sing - why is it so bad in St. Peter's?


tibotmorfenoo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Londiniensis said...

I strongly suspect - and I fervently hope that someone can correct me - that entrance to the Choir is not decided by ruthless competition and audition, as for the English cathedral and collegiate choir schools, but on the basis of recommendations from people that the choirmaster cannot offend. The result is that the Choir is full of so and so's nephews, cousins or whatever.

Either that, or the powers that be are adopting an "I don't care" attitude as they're still sulking over having to stop using castrati.

gemoftheocean said...

"Either that, or the powers that be are adopting an "I don't care" attitude as they're still sulking over having to stop using castrati."

Father, I do hope you told the A-level instructor "Yeah, but we've got the real Eucharist in the tabernacle." [checkMATE] I suspect what Londiniensis says is true regards the choir being full of people's nephews who shouldn't be there.

As regards congregational singing, I once saw it written somewhere that a priest wasn't happy with the congregation not joining in, so he said "Those of you blessed with a good voice, should sing to thank Almighty God for the gift. For those of you with a bad singing voice, now's your chance to get even."


gemoftheocean said...

(Londiniensis, meant to say that was the best laugh I had all week!)

Ave Maria said...

I guess i'm not alone in my own observation of the choir at St. Peter's a couple weeks ago. I don't know if it's the same choir that sang at the sistine chapel, but even if it isn't, i would then say there is a trend of bad papal choirs! I had hoped it was just the acoustics of the place that caused them to sound out of tune, but my better judgment told me otherwise. I actually eventually stopped watching the papal mass because i couldn't stand to hear the choir consistently singing slightly flat from the organ! I ask the same thing: how is it that the papal choir sounds so awful!?

Fr Jay Scott Newman said...

Although this is hard for those of us in the Anglosphere to believe, the sound made by the Sistine Screamers is exactly the sound they want to make. They work hard to make this sound, and there are many extraordinary voices in the choir.

Here's the problem: 19th century opera has turned the Sistine Choir into the Sistine Screamers and has destroyed both their desire and their ability to sing Palestrina as the English now sing him. Whether they sing plainchant or polyphony, the Sistine Screamers are always singing Pucini.

Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

And the funny thing is that when I was younger, I could never understand highly educated musical englishmen telling me that the rather liked the sound of the Sistine choir, as it made them think nostalgically of Rome. Now I find I understand what they meant – it reminds me happily of my time in Rome 25 years ago (when I hated the sound!) Sad old men!

That said, Bavarians are not a very sentimental bunch, as I suspect Benedict has them in his sights!