Sing at Mass, Even if Off-Key

photo_1749_20060630While on vacation at Deep Creek Lake together, my family and I attended Mass that Sunday morning at the local church as our week together began. Arriving just in time, we found seats in the front row that placed us just in front of the singers. Three people made up the music ministry–and one of them sang slightly off-key. As I noted the dissonance I smiled, because, while blessed with a good voice myself, Grandma Elizabeth was not.

Many a time attending Mass with her at St Luke’s in Flushing, I would hear her sing loudly the hymns that she grew up with in Corona, Queens. Though slightly off key, she never missed a beat or word. One day her brother, Arthur, attended Mass with us and after the mass complimented me on my singing. I probably smiled and stated “’Tis a gift from God.” Singing gives me great pleasure, having grown up learning to sing at Roman Catholic masses. In the post-Vatican II era, the repertoire expanded beyond Grandma Elizabeth’s tried and true hymns. I sang “Day is Done” in Catholic churches long before I sang it at Girl Scout campfires. Only then did I realize that this Peter, Paul and Mary song was not a typical church song.

As a woman with a mood disorder, I find singing to be a splendid stress reducer. My whole body and mind participate; I cannot be worrying about something and sing at the same time. I am present, in the moment, when I sing. At Mass, being present is relevant.

While I continue to receive compliments on my singing and am often asked to join the choir, I have refrained from doing so. I counter with

a teen boy and girl singing hymns in church.
Singing hymns in church

we need people singing in the pews. I think all people attending service should be singing–even if off key. This is church; singing plays an important part in the service. Everyone should sing, not just those with a good voice. Singing is good for the spirit, mind and body. Life is stressful, sing more!

Parishes strive to have a good music ministry. However, if the singing intimidates the parishioners from singing, then I view this as a failure. Which is also why I smiled at the lead singer being slightly off-key. This parish understood that what was important was to have someone lead the singing–to encourage others to sing and be present.

Have a Productive Day,

Anne Meixner

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Pat says:

    In theory you’re right; all should participate in singing the hymns.Yet,it can be painful for those nearby to hear one bellow off key. Meryl Streep is currently in a movie which demonstrates the point.

    1. Anne says:

      I reference that movie in the Additional reading box on this page.
      I think bellowing could be an issue, perhaps singing softly is the compromise.

  2. Michelle Mitchell says:

    Greetings Anne,

    This post has me smiling. I believe we are all called to make a ‘Happy Sound’ — whether is is pleasing to other’s ears or not! I was always amazed that my deaf Father-in-law could sing very much in key! He always wore a bright Hawaiian Shirt to Mass, despite the more conservative LL Bean shirts I gave to him.

    Tho I was unwilling, like Jonah, I became a music minister. Due to the kind, amazing folks in the choir, I actually became a much better musician and I a better person because of it! But, please, we DO need folks making Happy Sounds in the pews too!

    Here is my expression of joy. Not great, but fun. It’s easier to count measures with singers!


    1. Anne says:


      Thanks so much for sharing your personal story as well as your piano playing. I like the hym “rain down” we sing it sometimes at Mass.

      For now I will continue to make happy sounds from the pews. In time I will be called to sing up front.

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