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A Reflection on Liturgical Decorum

This is the kind of entry that could go wrong and get me in trouble. Right now this blog's just launched, but eventually other people will hopefully be reading it, so lemme just say...this really is a general reflection, and not aimed at anyone in particular. We good? Good.

I've been thinking about this topic for a while, inspired partly by some logistical changes made due to the pandemic. Pre-COVID, our choir stood against the western wall (so, in the back). However, when the world exploded, we moved the kliros up front (where it really should be, anyway). All of a sudden, we're visible to everyone — literally everyone, as our temple is so tiny. Consequently, everything we do is now on display: not just while we're singing, but (perhaps even more importantly) while we're not.

Of course, as anyone who's sung in a choir knows, sometimes a quick whispered exchange is unavoidable; I might need to convey a last-minute change in some part of the service, or answer a question from another singer. That's totally legitimate. HOWEVER, I'd encourage directors and singers to limit this kind of stuff as much as possible, because even when one has a valid reason, it may appear to the congregation that we're chatting about what we're going to have for lunch. I'm particularly concerned about setting a proper example for the children in attendance. Why should they stand quietly when the choir gets to chat? Hey, when you're five years old, that's a reasonable question.

Another area that concerns me is the very end of the Divine Liturgy, during the veneration of the Cross and the post-Communion prayers. Unfortunately, in many places the congregation begins to chat while they're lining up to venerate. I can't do anything about that. However, I would exhort directors to make sure that the choir — the entire choir — stays focused while singing "O Lord, save Thy people". Two reasons for this: first, it can help the rest of the congregation remember that they're still in the temple, and should wait until they get to the narthex before they catch up with their friends. The choir should set this example.

The second reason is perhaps even more important: listen to what we're singing! We are praying to God for the salvation of our souls! If you had an audience with the queen of England, would you be texting a friend in the middle of it? No? Then maybe wait two minutes to complement someone's outfit.

Of course, this can be a tricky issue to address. When I have to deal with this type of situation, I've found it best to keep it as general and impersonal as possible. If you have a choir email list or Slack group (more on why Slack is great for choirs in a future post), it's the perfect place to do it. If you have to talk this over in person, I'd recommend doing it in rehearsal, and emphasizing that you're not aiming this at specific people (even if you are), and that this is a general reminder for everyone, including yourself (which it is).

If you want a super-sneaky alternative, you might try this: introduce a new arrangement of that troparion! Do you always do it in Obikhod tone 1? Throw in the Byzantine melody instead. Sometimes that's all you need to refocus people's attention (and they don't even need to know why you're doing it).

Just my thoughts...

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