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It seems to be common, if not compulsory, that Choir Masters and Directors of Music retain the title of Organist, while their organists have to make do with being Assistant Organists.

 

Why is that?

 

When a brilliant Production Director is promoted to Managing Director they don't cling to their former title and oblige the new Production Director to be called Assistant Production Director. I assume, therefore, that there is some profoundly important reason why Conductors are called Organists and Organists are called Assistant (or, worse, Sub) Organists, of which I am ignorant.

 

I expect enlightenment will be swift (and hope it will not be too painful).

 

Best wishes

 

J

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Tradition and general 'randomness'! Also - on a similar tack and purely from a personal POV I never used the DOM title when working in schools with the view that I would rather be encouraging, enabling etc. 'Directing' in that context always felt a bit too 'one way' ie me telling and them doing.

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That always struck me as an anomaly, though at St St Paul's Cathedral the present choir master is titled Director of Music on their website:

 

http://www.stpauls.co.uk/Worship-Music/Choir-Musicians/Cathedral-Musicians

 

and can hardly be called Organist since he isn't actually an organist!

 

The organist is therefore called Organist.

 

This recognition doesn't extend to the Wikipedia article on St Paul's musicians however, since Andrew Carr is listed as Organist/director of music and SImon Johnson is "relegated" to suborganist!

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It seems to be common, if not compulsory, that Choir Masters and Directors of Music retain the title of Organist, while their organists have to make do with being Assistant Organists.

 

Why is that?

 

I wonder if this is quite correct. The gradual change of [cathedral] job titles was initiated by the 1992 report of the Archbishops' Commission on Church Music In Tune with Heaven which recommended that "Cathedral Chapters give careful thought to what they require of their organist, and consider whether, in any new appointment, a change of nomenclature is desirable in order to indicate the importance of that person's role in the cathedral's life, as well as expertise in choir training, vocal technique and organ-playing." [Recommendation 39]

 

A glance at the websites of a few cathedrals will reveal that the person in charge of its music will often have either the title 'Organist & Director of Music' or simply 'Director of Music'; the recent vacancy at St George's Chapel, Windsor, for example, was advertised as the latter, and this is now the default title used in cathedral circles (e.g. Canterbury, York, Gloucester, Winchester, Salisbury, etc.)

 

The second person in a cathedral's music department is often titled 'Assistant Organist & Assistant Director of Music', 'Assistant Director of Music', or even 'Organist'.

 

Variety in job titles exists, but the matter of them more accurately reflecting the role of twenty-first century cathedral musicians has already been taken in hand.

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I love some of the old Latin titles which still persist - ie Informator Choristarum and Rector Chori.

 

They are rather quaint. I do like Informator Choristarum, but am less sure about the other. I know I'm being pedantic, but I can't help feeling that calling an organist Rector Chori is stretching the term a bit far. In the Use of Sarum, which is where the term originates, the rectores chori ("rulers of the choir") were just singers - priests from the chorus that sang the daily plainsong. There could be four, two, or none of them, depending on the importance of the day. They sat on short benches in mid-choir, in front of the boys, holding staves of office and their job was to begin certain chants and to "pre-intone" other chants sotto voce to those who had been deputed to begin them. For example, at mass on double feasts the principal ruler had to ascertain the correct Gloria intonation from the precentor (presumably before the service) and then, during the service, pre-intone it to the officiating priest. This was because the Gloria chant varied with the rank of the day. The rulers had nothing at all to do with either organs or choir training (except for a role in the boys' discipline in choir).

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Who trained the choir and what was their title in the places where the Rectores Chori were strutting their stuff on the short bench, Vox?

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Originally in the secular cathedrals responsibility for the music was vested ultimately in the precentor and his deputy, the succentor, but in practice it was generally delegated to one of the vicars in the choir. The usual titles are Informator, Instructor, or Magister Choristarum. There might or might not be a separate grammar master. In addition to learning the chants by heart and learning to read plainsong notation, the boys needed instruction in ceremonial, reading those lessons at Matins allocated to a boy and Latin grammar, so the job involved more than simply teaching music. Dr Roger Bowers has compiled a list of the instructors at St George’s, Windsor between 1360 and 1410. He found that the job did the round of the vicars choral. No one did it for more than two and a half years and often it changed hands after a year, six months or less. The post gives the impression of having been a chore to be offloaded onto someone else as soon as possible. A similar situation obtained in college and aristocratic chapels. The job had little status.

 

With the advent of the polyphonic choir around or shortly after 1450 the nature of the instructor’s job changed radically. The boys now had to be taught to read mensural notation and often to supply two voice-parts in very intricate music. They needed a proper musical education and so fully trained professional musicians began to be sought and engaged. Overwhelmingly these new-breed instructors were professional lay clerks; very few were in priest’s orders.

 

Dr Bower’s thesis, from which I have cribbed all of the above, is available online here http://www.diamm.ac....tations/bowers/. As the blurb says, it is now quite old and supplemented or amended by a variety of more recent (but less accessible) research. Nevertheless it is still excellent reading for anyone seriously interested in the medieval history of our church choirs.

 

One question strikes me. Although the Informator Choristarum trained the boys and was responsible for supplying music for his church (often composing it too), I can’t recall ever having read any reference to the training of a whole choir as a unit. Lay clerks were expected to be fully competent musically, but did they ever rehearse? Did the instructor ever seek to get his choir to balance and blend?

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That's really informative, Vox, thank you. I remember, but can't find now, a mediaeval poem called something like The Choirboy's Lament, where the choirboy, I imagine in a monastic foundation, bemoans his life having to deal with all the different kinds of notes (ligatures or neums?) and the unending nature of his duties and punishments. The implication I remember is that the choirmaster or chorister's instructor is a bit of a tartar.

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I am also reminded of an occasion in 1518 when King Henry VIII suspected that Wolsey's private chapel choir was better than his own. A competitive test was arranged between the two choirs which proved that Wolsey's choir could handle "ony maner off newe songe" better and more surely than Henry's. The upshot of this was that Wolsey's choirmaster, Richard Pygott, had to give up one of his boy choristers, a lad named Robyn, to Henry's choirmaster, William Cornysh. During the brief flurry of letters that relate this affair, Henry's secretary wrote to Wolsey, "I have spokyn to Cornysche for to intrete your chylde honestly, i otherwyse than he doith hys owne."

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It seems to be common, if not compulsory, that Choir Masters and Directors of Music retain the title of Organist, while their organists have to make do with being Assistant Organists.

 

Why is that?

 

When a brilliant Production Director is promoted to Managing Director they don't cling to their former title and oblige the new Production Director to be called Assistant Production Director. I assume, therefore, that there is some profoundly important reason why Conductors are called Organists and Organists are called Assistant (or, worse, Sub) Organists, of which I am ignorant.

 

I expect enlightenment will be swift (and hope it will not be too painful).

 

Best wishes

 

J

 

About two years ago, my colleague - formerly 'Organist and Master of the Choristers' - re-styled himself (and subsequently has his contract amended) 'Director of Music'. The next logical step was that I also had my title changed from 'Sub Organist' to 'Organist'. These descriptions are more accurate in terms of our roles.

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About two years ago, my colleague - formerly 'Organist and Master of the Choristers' - re-styled himself (and subsequently has his contract amended) 'Director of Music'. The next logical step was that I also had my title changed from 'Sub Organist' to 'Organist'. These descriptions are more accurate in terms of our roles.

 

I thought this sort of restyling was fairly normal these days, though with some flexibility in terminology. As you will know, Exeter adopted the same distinction as your church until Paul Morgan retired, but the job description for his successor was widened and the post retitled Assistant Director of Music.

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Post deleted - duplicate.

 

(Initially, the reply was inseparable from the quote = teething troubles after the re-boot?)

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I thought this sort of restyling was fairly normal these days, though with some flexibility in terminology. As you will know, Exeter adopted the same distinction as your church until Paul Morgan retired, but the job description for his successor was widened and the post retitled Assistant Director of Music.

Indeed.

 

I had actually requested the title of 'Organiste Titulaire' ( a precedent was set many years ago, in an English cathedral), but my colleague is not a Francophile and so I had to make do with 'Organist'.

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