Of Pews, Chairs, and Choirs

We are now well into our experiment with the use of chairs at the front the church. 
Throughout this time, we have heard many comments, and for the most part – unless there was a quick and obvious “fix” – we have been collecting input, rather than responding to single suggestions and critiques.  At some point in the new year, we will formally solicit and review ideas, observations and suggestions. 
This said, one frequent observation is discomfort (particularly at 11.00 a.m.) with the choir’s placement so close to the congregation.  Although our choir blends beautifully, this is hard to tell when the sound doesn’t have a chance to sail into the space and settle. Some have also said that even though the choir isn’t aiming to “perform” for the congregation (they would be horrified to think this!), the congregation’s attention is inevitably drawn to the choir, rather than the altar, where the real action of the liturgy is taking place. This is akin to those big screens in churches where people are glued to the screen rather than the action. 
Because this feedback has been fairly consistent, we have decided to try positioning the choir in the chancel area behind the altar.  We will begin this experiment next Sunday, December 8.
This will require us to move the altar forward, and to clear the space behind the altar for the choir.  This means the dean and presider will come down from “the mountain” (as we cheekily call it).   
We do have some concern in such a large building, where it actually takes time for a sound from the organ to reach the chancel, whether it will be possible to marry the organ and the choir successfully at such a distance.  Our musicians will be listening for this.
Meanwhile, like the hodge-podge of chairs we have borrowed from local parishes, this isn’t meant to be a permanent solution, but it will give us new information, and an opportunity to see if we can address the concerns which have been raised about having the choir so close to the congregation. 

-Ansley Tucker, dean of Christ Church Cathedral