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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

September 20, 2019

Are you a cantrix?

evelyn @ 2:09 pm
  • … At least nine times out of ten, the cantor (more properly cantrix) in a Catholic church is female … I have no personal objection to a modestly dressed cantrix, if that’s the decent voice that’s available, but using men affirms tradition and also works against the notion that religion is “a women’s thing.” If a man hears men singing at Mass, he understands that it’s a man’s job and is more likely to take it on, to the benefit of volunteer choirs who are short of men.
    Jeffrey Quick, The Wedding: How to Be a Catholic Music Patron, at Least Once

If I had been asked ‘what is a cantrix?’ I think I would have expected it to be some sort of insect. But no. A cantrix is a female cantor, according to the American writer Jeffrey Quick. Quick doesn’t seem to like cantrixes (if that is the plural). In fact, he is probably one of those people who think the sanctuary should be barred to women altogether (‘except to clean’, as an old priest friend once said to me with a twinkle).

However, his remark that if all else fails, a ‘modestly-dressed cantrix’ would be acceptable rather took my breath away. Surely everyone at Mass, male or female, in the sanctuary or not, should be modestly dressed. I’ve never seen an immodestly-dressed cantor of either sex, although the occasional gent wearing shorts in hot weather can sometimes look a little too informal. And I’m sure things aren’t any different in America.

Another reason Quick gives for preferring male to female cantors is that being a cantor will encourage a man to join the church choir. From my many years of personal experience, I know that this is completely wrong. It is of course the other way round.

Singing alone at the lectern is daunting, much more so than reading, and appeals for new cantors tend not to produce much in the way of results. However, people who already sing in church are far more likely to be persuaded, especially when supported by their friends in the choir, who lead the response. All our male cantors, and most of our lady cantors (no, I just can’t be doing with this ‘cantrix’ thing), started off as choir members.

So the best way of keeping cantor numbers up, male and female, is first to ensure that the choir flourishes. In my own parish, we have found that interesting music, good-humoured practice sessions and a few pizza evenings have produced a cheerful crowd of singers, and ultimately eight or nine cantors.

All modestly dressed.


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