This, for me, is right up there with “Don’t shoot the piano player!”
Often when people get together for a church service, they are seeing each other for the first time in at least a week. It’s only natural that they want to greet each other and catch up.
At the church where I work, the pastor has a theory about the way layout of the building contributes to the volume of the talking before services. The outer door is near the entrance to the sanctuary, with no large area in between. He thinks that people continue to talk as if they are outdoors because of that.
In other churches I have attended, and some in which I have worked, congregants enter the sanctuary quietly. If there is conversation, it is muted and brief, as participants are already preparing to worship.
On my first Sunday at my present church, the talking was so loud during the Prelude that I couldn’t hear what I was playing! So I’m thinking that no one else could hear it, either.
The acoustics in the sanctuary are quite live. There is a carpet (flat fibers, no nap), but no curtains, wall hangings, or pew cushions to absorb sound.
On Easter Sunday, of course, there were visitors from out of town, including family members who had a lot to catch up on with their relatives. The Prelude was not completely drowned out, but the congregants were far from quiet. The last 8 measures, however, were heard because of the sforzando stop!
Another scenario with similarities
Following a pre-Easter concert at St. Thomas Church in New York, the audience did not applaud at first. When they turned around and saw the choir in the back of the church, applause broke out… drowning out a portion of the organist’s Postlude.
The issue of applause in church, then, is not a settled question, although I had thought it was. And in this case, applause had the same effect on the organ music as talking does where I work.
The critic in the review (click on link above) also includes his insights about reviewing service music, something I had not realized.
What can be done?
When someone has spent time preparing for the service, s/he would like the music to be heard. For me, it’s a matter of feeling that I have contributed to worship. If the music is not heard, then why include it? Why not just sight-read? Why show up?
The pastor and I are trying a variety of things on Sundays. During Lent we dispensed with the Prelude. The services began with a Greeting by the pastor, followed by a Voluntary. People were seated, and were invited to prepare for worship.
Easter was a special service, so I’m taking that off the radar.
Next Sunday, the service will begin with a Prelude, then the Greeting, and then a Voluntary. The plan is to include either a Voluntary or an Introit. So we’ll see how that goes. Are both a Prelude and a Voluntary necessary? Useful? How are they different from each other?
Something we may institute is having the choir in place at the front of the sanctuary 10 minutes before the service, alerting the congregation to enter the sanctuary quietly.
Drowning out the Prelude is something that I hope can be changed. There are so many variables, who knows? There may be future blog posts on this topic!