Why did they disband the Cathedral Choir at La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris?

Update (octubre 2017/October 2017): They have a Choir School at Notre-Dame and several choral ensembles. Unlike other Choir Schools I’m familiar with, the choral ensembles don’t perform that often for the Messe, or at least the Messe that is recorded by KTOTV. The Messe they record most often features a quartet of various choristers from the Choir School. Sometimes I enjoy them and their lovely singing, but other times I don’t because of their use of vibrato (and it can be just one or two choristers oddly singing with vibrato and the other two choristers are not) which to me is misplaced in a medieval cathedral such as Notre-Dame. Vibrato is best left to an Opera House and operatic music, which they’re not singing at Notre-Dame. Vibrato also prevents perfect intonation (the perfect blending of voices). So I just wanted to update this article and make it clear that no choral ensembles have been disband at Notre-Dame — although one could easily get that impression initially, as I did — but after watching their Liturgies every week for almost a year now, I’m quite aware of what they do there at Notre-Dame. They have the finest High Church Messe I’ve seen anywhere. When a Choir is there it’s most often a small Adult Choir. The excellent Children’s Choir (I prefer them; they should sing every week) sing occasionally. But as I said, it’s most often a quartet. The problem with only four voices is that they can’t do more elaborate choral music the most effectively, including the descants for some of the service music that one hears when a Choir is there. And I have heard the various quartets (they’re not always the same choristers) use vibrato in Renaissance music. Unheard of! But other times, the choristers will use what’s known as “a straight tone,” as should be the case in Renaissance music. Chau.—el barrio rosa

My original article:

Hola a todos. I suppose the disbanding of their Cathedral Choir had to do with dinero/money. That’s usually the case with budget priorities/cuts, although I don’t know why they’re tight on dinero (if that’s the case) since the Nave at Notre-Dame is full every Domingo/Sunday for their High Church Messe/Mass. One expense they have is the heating of La Cathédrale since according to Titulaire Organist Olivier Latry, Notre-Dame is the only church in France that’s heated, although it must not be that heated since most people wear their jackets, coats and scarves during the Messe.

So why do they no longer have a Cathedral Choir at Notre-Dame or a Choir each Domingo? One would think that an internationally-known cathedral such a Notre-Dame would have a renowned Cathedral Choir, no? They did have a larger Choir for the first Sunday after Epiphany 2017, but that was the first time I’ve seen that in some time.

Back in 2013 they had a Chorus of approximately 32-voices. But most of the time their huge Choir area rarely gets used for a Choir. It usually remains empty or priests sit there for special Liturgies where large groups of priests are in attendance. For their Sunday Messe, they usually have a small group of choristers: It can be one person (a cantor) providing and leading the service music. Or it’s a quartet (4 voices). Or an 8-voice Choir, something like that.

From my research and assuming this information is still current, they have a Choir School at Notre-Dame — Maîtrise/a pre-college music school in Paris– yet most of the time a Choir does not sing for the Messe/Mass on Domingo/Sunday morning, which is unusual. I find that odd considering the Anglican cathedrals I know of with Choir Schools as well as St Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, the Choir of Men and Boys sing regularly throughout the Liturgical Year, excluding the Summer months when the Choir School is closed. Sometimes the boys/trebles will be out and just the Men of the Choir sing. Or if they also have girl choristers, they will alternate with the boys so the boys sing approximately twice a month, or both the boys and girls sing together on some occasions. But why would they disband their Cathedral Choir at Notre-Dame when they supposedly have a Choir School? The Choir School — assuming it still exists — is composed of Le Chœur d’Enfants/The Children’s Choir (they perform the most and they’re quite good; I enjoy them), the Young Ensemble, the Adult Choir of choristers receiving professional training, and the Gregorian Ensemble). I have heard a small Women’s Chorus on one occasion (it was maybe 12-14 voices, I forget how many choristers I counted at the time) and a small Men’s Chorus (about the same size as the Women’s Chorus as I recall) performing for the Messe on a couple of occasions. But mostly it’s The Children’s Choir that sings when a Choir is there, as in this Liturgy below from enero/January 2017. And what an invaluable experience for these boys and girls to have the opportunity to perform in one of the greatest cathedrals of el mundo/the world. Mi amigo/My friend remarked on how young some of the boys look to be able to read music of the difficulty used in these Liturgies. For example:

The organ improvisation (is that Olivier Latry playing?) at the beginning of this Liturgy is glorious with the High Church procession/incense.

In one of the videos below, they had an excellent Chorus Director, Lionel Sow, who is currently the Chorus Director for the Paris Philharmonic Symphony Chorus. I don’t think he’s at Notre-Dame any longer, or does he still serve as the assistant director of the Children’s Chorus?

They have six superb and highly-regarded organists: 3 Titulaire Organists who alternate through the year playing the Grande Orgue high up in the back of the Nave and then they have 3 Choeur Organists who play the smaller orgue in the Choeur area for accompanying the choristers. Does the salary of the 6 organists take up most of the budget/dinero of the Music Department?

What they do at Notre-Dame they do well with the small group of mic’d choristers they have. And someone might say that they don’t need/require a larger Chorus, which is true if one is being objective about it. But that’s not the point. With a larger Chorus they are able to do more elaborate and beautiful repertoire. Also, the descants and added harmonies for the service music — such as the “Al-lé-luia” that they sing before the reading of The Gospel — can’t be done well with a few choristers where it sounds the way it’s supposed to sound. I’ve heard a couple of sopranos sing the descant for the “Al-lé-luia” and even though I appreciated that they sang it, it didn’t sound the way it’s supposed to sound — because it sounded too thin since it was only two voices — and not full and more lush as it does when they have a larger soprano section of a Chorus singing the same parts. A larger Chorus makes the Liturgy richer, gives the Liturgy a richer sound and it’s more interesting musically speaking. When making budget cuts in parish and cathedral churches, it’s the Music Department that is the first place thought of to make cuts because of the lack of respect for the music, arts and culture. Although at Notre-Dame, they seem to respect the music. Their Liturgy is full of music. As mi amigo/my friend often says when watching the Liturgies with me, “they put on a good show at Notre-Dame!” Yes, Notre-Dame has the best High Church Liturgy I’ve ever seen. They make the Anglican Liturgy — of the ones I’ve seen and previously written about — look like a cheap imitation, frankly. Other than the Homily and the readings, their Messe is pretty much all music and it’s all about the music. Their organists are constantly busy with the service music/responses — their organists really have to pay attention during the Liturgy because they’re always “on” as it’s called — they play improvisations, psalm settings and music/improvisations accompanying the procession for The Gospel reading. And they have to play at the correct time.

At Notre-Dame, they sing all the parts of the Messe setting in Latin (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo and so forth) rather than the boring way of speaking/mumbling them. The settings they use (meaning the music used for the Kyrie, Gloria and so forth) are not like the ones used by some churches which I would describe as “little ditties.” The only lack of respect for the music is with the television network (KTO-TV) which video records their Liturgies. They don’t allow the viewers to hear all of the organist’s Prelude or improvisation. For some mysterious reason, KTO-TV always cut off the Organ Sortie/Organ Voluntary/improvisation at the end of the Messe which many viewers have complained about but nothing has changed in that regard. As far as expense, they do have many priests to pay.

For Noël 2016/Navidad/The Twelve Days of Christmas beginning on el 25 diciembre/December – el 5 enero/January/Epiphany, I had expected to see a large Chorus in the Choir area. But that was not the case. They had three Masses (that I know of and each different in style) and only one of them had a larger Chorus and that was again the Children’s Chorus for what was called the “Family Mass.” The other two Masses had a smaller group of choristers. Fortunately, none of their Masses for Noël were the typical Mass that one is accustomed to seeing in los Estados Unidos/the US for Navidad and fortunately their music was not the typical “Christmas music” that is played every holiday season in the US that I’m sick of hearing, frankly. They did use a couple of Sir David Willcocks’ descants for two of the well-known carols. Descants are not difficult to write so I don’t understand why someone hasn’t written some new descants for these carols to add some variety? It would have to be someone well-known — such as a John Rutter, for example — otherwise they would likely not sell or be used because they wouldn’t have the composer’s “celebrity status” attached to them in the same way that the Sir David Willcocks’ descants did when they were first released back in the 1970s and still have today. But at Notre-Dame, I was pleased that their Liturgies for Noël were not what one has come to expect to hear in Anglican parishes or cathedral churches for the Twelve Days of Christmas. They sang Adeste, Fideles for Epiphany which I’ve not heard sung before for that season of the church year, but I thought it was interesting and it made sense liturgically speaking.

They used to have a large Cathedral Choir which from older videos looks like about 32-voices. So what happened? It would be interesting to know.

On another matter, although related to Notre-Dame: Is KTO-TV going to ruin the experience for online viewers of watching the Liturgies from Notre-Dame? As it is now, they already rudely cut off the organ improvisation at the end of the Messe. They also don’t begin recording the Messe when the organist begins his improvisation. Why is that? They had a special Liturgy at Notre-Dame recently that I wanted to see, but the KTO-TV announcer talked over the entire organ improvisation at the beginning and continued talking over the entire procession. He didn’t shut up until most of the priests had reached the Sanctuary area. With this announcer talking, it was the same as standing beside some inconsiderate person in the Nave who felt the need to tell the person beside him what was taking place when we could all see what’s taking place. We’re not stupid. So CÁLLATE/SHUT UP, POR FAVOR. He was extremely annoying. It was difficult to hear the organ and to get the authentic feel of being in the Nave with the congregation. Experiencing what the congregation experiences, isn’t that the intent? I should think so. I still haven’t gone back to watch that Liturgy and am hesitant to do so because what else did he talk over in the Liturgy? I just clicked off I was so annoyed by the whole thing. That announcer’s inconsiderate behaviour is the same type of inconsiderate nonsense that the BBC does with state ceremonies where the Queen and Royal Family are in attendance. The BBC feel the need to talk over it and talk throughout it as if we’re all stupid and don’t have a clue what’s going on. They even talk over the Choir’s anthems (TAIS-TOI/SHUT UP!). Chau.—el barrio rosa:

Related videos:

The excellent Chorus Director: Lionel Sow

One comment on “Why did they disband the Cathedral Choir at La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris?

  1. San Francisco Resident

    They have beautiful liturgies at Notre Dame. They’re the best. I agree a full choir of the quality of the rest of their music would make it even better.

Fin. The End.