I used to attend Mass at parish in a suburb close to the centre of a particular city. I nearly called it "inner city" but that would suggest poverty when, in fact, the suburb was inhabited by a number of well-heeled young professionals. The land was valuable and the parish leased off part of it in return for a lucrative income. Some bright spark thought it would be a good idea for the parish to spend some of that income on a drop-in-centre for young Catholics working in the city centre. The idea was that they would come in and socialise after work. It was an unhappy decision. The parish was not far from "downtown", but it was scarcely convenient for anyone to come after a hard day's work and before making their weary way way home. The plasma TV and attached games console were barely used and I think the centre is now closed. It occurred to me that, in the old days (at least as far back as the later middle ages), the money would have been spent on paying for a choir. There would be stipends, and clerks, and funny titles, and the rest of it. By now it would be the name of a style to which learned musicians would allude. It might be a famous choir school. At the Chant Café Jeffrey Tucker has a post on How to Have a Good and Stable Choir in your parish.
You need four strong singers who are committed. If you do not have that, you will not have a consistent provision of liturgical music. That’s just the way it is … People with this skill set are not willing to sing consistently without any pay whatsoever. They might do so for a while but they burn out, feel used, and eventually give up. It is all the more annoying that the priest and others look down on them when they throw in the towel, completely forgetting about the countless hours they have spent in the past without pay.The whole post is interesting, but what really struck me were some of the comments. First some more of Tucker's post:
If you talk to any professional or just experienced music who knows the world of churches, you will find one consistent complaint about the Catholic Church: it does not pay its musicians. Parishes will sometimes pay an organist (not often a full-time salary) and sometimes pay a nominal fee to a director of music (many parishes even expect this to be done by volunteers). But very few pay singers … It is not necessary to pay ever singer. What every choir needs — and here I’m only reporting what every musician knows but very few priests understand — is four solid singers who can lead each sector. These solid singers are called "ringers" or just "section leaders."
These people also make good solo cantors. These can lead the other singers. This doesn’t mean getting rid of volunteers. The amateurs can be great. In fact, I’m constantly amazed at how good non-readers are at mimicking the sound of those they stand next to. They can’t sing a note alone but sound great as part of a section. They desperately need strong singers around them to give lift to their talents … The parish should employ four singers to play this role, chosen mostly by the director. Each singer can be paid $50 per Mass plus rehearsal once per week. This is terrible pay, to be sure. But it takes the sting out the time commitment. It makes people feel valued. It allows the parish to expect things from the singer. Everyone is happy. The music problem goes away — or perhaps the biggest problems in the music area go away.One commenter suggests that ringers might encourage laziness and that volunteers are probably the way to go.
But the best solution is also the hardest: a cheerful, welcoming, religious, and encouraging director with the Holy Spirit willing to invest several years to develop, and willing also to be patient with the journey to get there.
And you hope this Music Director you have been lucky enough to find, doesn't have to move away, get sick, die, lose the faith. Because if any of those things happen you have to try your luck again. Another suggests that Tucker (as the Germans say) sucked this one out of his fingernails.
Have you ever managed college kids at a McD's or KMart? Their work ethic, voice or music majors or not, isn't exemplary. Imagine you've planned and rehearsed all year for Allegri's MISERERE for G[ood] F[riday], and your section leader soprano has the C3 [i.e the top C which occurs several times in that piece, starting just before the two minute mark in the linked video], and you've got the rest of the quire all pumped up to do this high water mark. And Wednesday, she calls you and informs you her mom wants her in Reno on Thursday for Easter weekend. This kind of thing goes on with our volunteers, for sobbing out loud, not to mention kids getting a paltry 50 for Sunday AND a rehearsal? Oh, and they tend to move around a lot, whether in 2 or 4 year programs. Oh, and some of them never pass Theory 1A or sight singing because they've skated by in MS/HS being coached and coddled by teachers who don't teach and parents that know they'll be on and WIN American Idol, the Voice, or the X Factor.
And then there is this.
I have always found it ironic that the church expects musicians to spend thousands of dollars getting trained and then volunteer their services. The guy painting the sacristy is not volunteering ... the plumber? the person who shovels the snow? There is also no expectation on the numerous people the church regularly hires to prepare for two or more hours prior to coming to work today. Maybe if I had to haul my voice around in a truck with a sign painted on it, or bring it out of a special carrying case so that it looked as expensive as it really is.
Unless your parish has a large stable income through historic real estate acquisition or something (see Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars (1992), passim) the answer is probably monks and lots of them. Mind you that seems to be my answer to everything at the moment.