Lamentations of a Covid-Era Cantor



Co-Assistant Editor in Chief and current hero Elyza Tuan ’23 explains her weekly struggle to sing alone at Mass due to COVID-19 constraints.

In anticipation of the school year, I was excited for there to be singing at Mass again. But it was like in those reality TV shows where they have to complete a task but with a twist. This year, we showed up, and Montrose heard: “Cantoring is back… but with a twist. You sing ALONE.” 

“Alone, alone? Like no one else at all?”—”That’s correct!”

“Not even–”—”Nope!”

“Oh ok. I can do that, I think–” (Oh NO…)

So we assembled a little ragtag group of cantors, and that was that. But now that we’ve done it three or four times, we realize how hard it actually is. 

Cantoring is a full-body experience. I may not be exercising, but I sure do sweat. And I haven’t been doing squats, but my legs sure are shaking. I get so out of breath in the middle of every song that I might as well have been running. I have so much respect for my fellow cantors that I sweat with empathy when they’re out in front too.

It is an absolutely terrifying experience that we put ourselves through — voluntarily, I may add. 

When I cantor, I acquire a full-on tremor in my hands and legs— you know when you’re sitting and your knees just bob up and down uncontrollably? That’s what happens. And that little shake in my voice isn’t vibrato — it’s just nerves. We cantors wonder if you can tell.

We also pass around this one hymnal, which all the cantors share. Every week there are just more and more sticky notes. So if we ever take a while to find a page, that’s why! There is nothing more anxiety-inducing than standing at the lectern, flipping through the pages with my clammy hands, and trying to find the right page. Nope, I flipped too far— no, too far back, one more try—  yes, got it! Ok, now form comprehensive words, and sing on pitch. It’s scary.

And we have this schedule, right? We used to have only five cantors, one for each day of the week. I’m Monday. And I know I said I had no preference for any day in particular, but I’ve discovered a few wonderful things about Monday mornings: singing with morning-voice is bad, but singing with morning-voice on a Monday is worse. I’ve been telling Elizabeth how we should switch days though because Mondays are so great. She has Wednesdays. I love Wednesdays.

I cannot express how much I love Wednesdays. Wednesdays are just *chef’s kiss*. If you haven’t been to a Wednesday Mass yet, I highly encourage it. We haven’t been able to sing at a Montrose Mass for over a year, and now not only do we get to sing, but we get to sing together. I don’t know why, but I’ve always associated Montrose— you know, the atmosphere that just feels like Montrose— with the singing at Mass. I have very fond memories of attempting the high part in Non Nobis and messing up the round in the King of Love, singing Soon and Very Soon slow and very slow, making up harmonies quietly to myself, and getting weird looks when I made up harmonies quietly to myself. There’s so much I could unpack.

Those days are far in the past though, and I don’t know if we will ever get there again. But for now, I’m content with singing processional and recessional hymns with Fr. John and harmonizing on Wednesdays.


by Elyza Tuan ’23, Co-Assistant Editor in Chief