A Master of Ceremonies (MC or compere) is the host of a staged event or similar performance. An MC usually presents performers, speaks to the audience, and generally keeps the event moving. An MC may also tell jokes or anecdotes. The MC sometimes also acts as the protocol officer during an official state function. In hip hop music, rock music and electronic dance music, an MC is a music artist and/or performer who usually creates and performs vocals for his own original material (not to be confused with a DJ who plays party music and creates music mixes).
The term originates from the Catholic Church. The Master of Ceremonies is an official of the Papal Court responsible for the proper and smooth conduct of the elegant and elaborate rituals involving the Pope and the sacred liturgy. He may also be an official involved in the proper conduct of protocols and ceremonials involving the Roman Pontiff, the Papal Court, and other dignitaries and potentates. Examples of official liturgical books prescribing the rules and regulations of liturgical celebrations are Cæremoniale Romanum and Cæremoniale Episcoporum.
The office of the Master of Ceremonies itself is very old. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the most ancient ceremonials and rituals of the Catholic Church are the so-called Ordines Romani. Names of Masters of Ceremonies are known since the late Middle Ages (15th century) and the Renaissance (16th century). However, copies of books prescribing the forms of rituals, rites and customs of pontifical ceremonies are known to have been given to Charles Martel in the 8th century. The rules and rituals themselves are known to have been compiled or written by the pontifical masters of ceremonies whose contents date back to the time of Pope Gelasius I (492–496) with modifications and additions made by Pope Gregory the Great (590–604). It is reasonable to assume that the ceremonials themselves pre-date Gelasius I and the origins of the Master of Ceremonies may have developed from the time Emperor Constantine the Great gave the Lateran Palace to the popes (324) or from the time Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire (380), and was influenced no doubt by imperial practices, customs and norms. However, documentary evidence from the late Roman period are scarce or lost. The ceremonies and practices of the Byzantine emperors are also known to have influenced the papal court. The accumulation of elaboration and complication since the Renaissance and Baroque eras were carried well into the 20th century until some of the ceremonies (i.e. the court, the rituals and norms) were simplified or completely eliminated by Pope Paul VI in the 1970s after Vatican II; much of the Renaissance pomp and ceremony has been completely abandoned by the popes of the modern era.
At a large Catholic church or cathedral, the Master of Ceremonies organises and rehearses the proceedings and ritual of each Mass. He may also have responsibility for the physical security of the place of worship during the liturgy. At major festivities such as Christmas and Easter, when the liturgies are long and complex, the Master of Ceremonies plays a vital role in ensuring that everything runs smoothly.
The current papal Master of Ceremonies is Monsignor Guido Marini who succeeded Archbishop Piero Marini to whom he is not related.
Masters of ceremonies at weddings and private affairs have also been in charge of the coordination of events. Wedding MCs will often work directly with catering staff to ensure the event runs smoothly.
Historically certain European royal courts maintained senior offices known as Masters of Ceremonies (or some variants thereof), responsible for conducting stately ceremonies such as coronations and receptions of foreign ambassadors. Examples included:
- British Empire: Master of the Ceremonies
- France: Grand Master of Ceremonies
- Japan: Master of Ceremonies
- Russian Empire: see Table of Ranks
In the late 1970s, the term MC (or M.C. in some uses), stood for Master of Ceremonies. It became another alternative for a rapper, for the position's role within hip hop music and culture. An MC uses rhyming verses, pre-written or ad lib ('freestyled'), to introduce the DJ with whom they work, to keep the crowd entertained or to glorify themselves. As hip hop progressed, the title MC became a backronym for a number of phrases such as 'microphone controller', 'microphone checker', 'music commentator', and one who 'moves the crowd'. A recent neologistic acronym, gaining use, is 'mentor to child'. Some use this word interchangeably with the term rapper or emcee, while for others the term denotes a conception and demonstration of the role indicative of skill and of connection to the wider culture, while the latter term does not.
MC can often be used as a term of distinction; referring to an artist with good performance skills. As Kool G Rap notes, "masters of ceremony, where the word 'M.C.' comes from, means just keeping the party alive"[sic].
As with some rappers, there was a distinction, such as for MC Hammer who acquired the nickname "MC" for being a "Master of Ceremonies" which he used when he began performing at various clubs while on the road with the Oakland A's, and eventually in the military (United States Navy). It was within the lyrics of a rap song called "This Wall" that Hammer first identified himself as M.C. Hammer and later marketed it on his debut album Feel My Power.
Uncertainty over the acronym's expansion may be considered evidence for the ubiquity of the acronym: the full master of ceremonies is very rarely used in the hip hop scene. This confusion prompted the hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest to include this statement in the liner notes to their 1993 album Midnight Marauders:
The use of the term MC when referring to a rhyming wordsmith originates from the dance halls of Jamaica. At each event, there would be a master of ceremonies who would introduce the different musical acts and would say a toast in style of a rhyme, directed at the audience and to the performers. He would also make announcements such as the schedule of other events or advertisements from local sponsors. The term MC continued to be used by the children of women who moved to New York City to work as maids in the 1970s. These MCs eventually created a new style of music called hip-hop based on the rhyming they used to do in Jamaica and the breakbeats used in records. MC has also recently been accepted to refer to all who engineer music.
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