Downloadable Chant settings of the new translation

I received an email in response to my article informing me that the chant versions of the new translation are available for free to download.  You can find them at this website.

If chant is your “bag” as jazzers would say, then knock yourself out.

Interestingly enough, I’ve received a couple of different emails from both sides of the fence who took issue with my pragmatic approach.  The conservative side saying that I wasn’t recognizing the movement of the Church to a higher form of Liturgy and that I was trying to impose faulty Vatican II ideals on our new higher calling;  and the progressive side saying that I didn’t take a good hardlined stance against this injustice to our Liturgy.  (both my paraphrasing, I don’t mean to put words in people’s mouths just trying to sum up many different people’s views)

To all of these views I say this:  Our congregations need us to be leaders.  I firmly believe our job is to recognize the positive ideals in the new translation and make the music work for our congregations’ individual identities as best we can.  To me personally, that means avoiding hardlined stances on the subject.  That’s for theologians and Church leaders who are way above my paygrade.

follow up to “Sing a New Song”

As a follow up to my article “Sing a New Song” which was published in this month’s Today’s Parish regarding the impact that the new text will have on the musical life of the liturgy, I wanted to share some things that could not make it into the article.

In my conversation with Steven Janco, he brought up an excellent point on the musical introductions to the new settings of the Mass.  He found himself rewriting the introductions to current works like Mass of Angels and Saints, just to avoid confusion for the congregation.  If you heard the old introduction, you might be tempted to sing the old words.  I think if other composers choose to not rewrite the introduction, you as the musician might want to consider improvising a new introduction to avoid any confusion for your congregation.

In my conversation with Tim McManus, he pointed out the importance of teaching children the new words through song.  He felt like “school Masses”, which have been the liturgical “thorn in the side” for some musicians and liturgists, might be an excellent venue for introducing the text.  Maybe after the children learn it, the new found knowledge will trickle up to the parents. 

When I wrote the article, the use of Memorial Acclamation A (Christ Has Died…) was still being decided.  Since it now seems as though that text is not approved, begin using current Acclamations C and D. (When we eat this bread… or Lord by your cross and resurrection…) While the texts have minor adjustments in the new translation, at least there will be some familiarity with the Memorial Acclamation texts when it comes time to teach the new settings of the Mass. 

Even though it seems like Advent of 2011 is a long a way away.  Do not wait until then to begin conversations about this transition.  Do not even wait until then to start having workshops at your Church.  The more preparation we give our congregations, the easier it will be to make the switch!

In the end, it will be very important for pastors, musicians, religious education professionals, and church leaders to work together in a positive manner.  Let no divisiveness prevail, and instead figure out as a community how best to follow the spirit that is leading the Church at this time in our history. 

A Hymnal Supplement

One of the summer projects that we are considering is a hymnal supplement.  We have been printing new hymns in our weekly worship aid, and it has received mix reviews.  Everything from the print is too small to these are not our hymns why are we singing them?  Not wanting to give up my dream of expanding the congregation’s repertoire, I figured a hymnal supplement was the way to go, and in fact thought some of the positives of the project were worth writing about.

First, assembling the supplement could get the congregation interested in hymn singing.  Form a committee that’s responsible for researching possible hymns, discuss the merits of text and music, and invite people to learn more about hymn writing, history, maybe other cultures’ sacred music, and other denominations repertoire that may work well in a Catholic Liturgy.  The ownership that the congregation will take in forming their supplement could translate into better participation and their new found knowledge could spread to other people in the Church.  If you don’t involve people and do it on your own, your congregation will feel like its taking medicine, and nobody likes to take medicine.

Second, the church will feel like they have accomplished something in completing the task and having a book to call their own.  Anyone who has read my blog posts know I have a huge pet peeve when the organist and the musicians are separated from the congregation.  Implementing a task like this will forge new bonds between the musician and his or her congregation, and will give each something tangible.  You are the only Church that will have your supplement, it will contain your Church’s identity, and will be a testament to future generations and how much you cared about the liturgy and full and active participation.

Third it might give you an opportunity to tap into your talent.  We have people at our Church who like to write hymn texts.  With a supplement we can print the texts, use them in liturgy, and create an even stronger sense of Church identity.

I’m sure there are more, but these are the most useful to our situation.  Has anyone else tried this?   Did you find it a successful venture; if so why and if not what would you do differently?

A Question

I wish to pose a question:  is there an inverse relationship between how long one sits in Church, and how much grace one can receive?

I don’t mean the question to be blasphemous, or to claim God doesn’t have the power to restore our souls no matter what the circumstances are, but if someone is sitting in Church longer than they want to be there, is it really doing them any good?  And how much of a responsibility do we have to be sensitive to this phenomenon?  Or do we as ministers have an obligation to push the importance of Church and fight the ever-decreasing attention span of our members?

One example:  when I worked for St. Aloysius before moving to the Reformed Church of Bronxville, we always planned the Easter Vigil so it would be complete in 90 minutes.  We generally were very close, but to accomplish it we sacrificed the Old Testament scriptures, only proclaiming the minimum.  I remember feeling sad that we were missing half the story, but happy that our church gradually increased attendance each year.  Along those same lines, when I attended Easter Vigil at St. Francis Xavier in NewYork this year, it was over 2 hours long with every piece of the liturgy in tact, and the most beautiful Liturgy I think I’ve ever participated in.


Why don’t we just wait? Well, I don’t know…

First of all, sorry for my lack of thought provoking ideas.  I call this tax season for musicians.  Beginning on December 25th, I hibernate.  Maybe in my next post, we can discuss the merits of not having a Christmas Day service.  Working for the Protestant Church, I will be hibernating as soon as Colleen and I are finished attending Mass.  (I can’t bring myself to attend one of those “Childrens’ Masses” that are in the afternoon on the 24th just so I can sleep in)

A friend of mine sent me this article regarding the new Roman Missal text called “Why Don’t We Just Wait?”  It is published by America magazine which is Jesuit, so know that going in.  I don’t post it as my opinion, I just post it for thought.

My opinion is admittedly convoluted.   As a practicing Catholic, I feel as though I should trust the Holy Spirit who guides the leadership of the Church.  I mean if I don’t, am I really Catholic?  On top of that there are liturgical scholars much smarter than me.  I’m an organ grinder, which is something you see monkeys doing in cartoons.  I consider myself only one small step above that.

As an American Catholic however, is there really wisdom to the new changes, and has it passed enough tests to really be implementable?  Plus I was always taught true faith questions.  Maybe I was taught wrong?

As a music minister, anything that does not foster congregational participation is just unfortunate.  We worked so hard in this religion to help our parishioners become active members in Liturgy, and I’m afraid this may undermine it.  Whether it will undermine it in the short term or the long term, I’m not wise enough to even venture a guess.  This is an important question in my mind.  If it is a short dose of medicine that will truly help prayerful participation then who am I to stand in its way?  However, if it will be a long term pain that is being implemented out of ideal, reaction, and with the participation of the congregation as one of the last priorities, then I cannot in good conscience say it is a good idea.  Otherwise, I compromise what I believe in as someone who has worked really hard to foster participation.

If it makes you feel any better, I have trouble picking between deomocrats and republicans also.  Your thoughts?

Are you stressed? Well you are not alone!

My wife forwarded me this link.  Evidently being a music minister is one of the most stressful low-paying jobs in America.
(copy and paste the link it should work)

I feel a little vindicated by this.   How many times have you had this conversation?

  • Very nice and well meaning older lady:  So, what is your full-time job?
  • Exasperated music minister whose choir decided to stop paying attention to him/her during the anthem:  This is my full-time job.
  • Lady:  This is your full-time job?  Really?  What do you do all day?

Now, I prefer not to focus on the low-paying part.  That’s a different article.  I’d like to focus on the stressful part.  Is your job stressful and if so why?

When you read the article, it mentions that the stress comes from dealing with the people in the Church, calling them demanding clients.  This also supports something that I have said for a long time, and that admittedly many of my organist colleagues hate to hear me say:  Music Ministry is a people-person job

Personally, I don’t find my job terribly stressful, but I am a people person.  It goes beyond people not bothering me, I love people.  People are why I do what I do; whether it is encouraging my choir to do something they think they can’t do, or leading people in hymns.  My mind is constantly on the people element of my job.

If your stress is caused by the people you interact with, what will it take to improve your job satisfaction?  Is there healing that needs to be done?  It’s easy to immediately blame the “irrational Church-attendees” who could never understand where we come from or why we do what we do; but what could you do to reach out to people and meet them half-way?  Are you reaching out to the congregation as much as possible, or are you hiding behind the organ console?

Music in Christian Worship

This afternoon I would like to lift up an excellent book.  If you are not familiar with Music in Christian Worship edited by Charlotte Kroeker then you need to be.  This is an excellent resource of compiled essays on music and the liturgy that could be useful to both music ministers and Church leaders of all denominations.  While I hate to mention a book that is not a 23rd publication, this is truly an extraordinary compilation.

Quoting the jacket:  “The thesis of Music in Christian Worship is that music is sung prayer requiring faithful theology, quality music, and accessibility for parishioners.  As an academic field it is interdisciplinary, requiring astute theologians, knowledgeable and competent musicians, and pastoral sensitivities for working with congregations.”

Charlotte Kroeker. Ph.D., directs the church music initiative at the Institute for Church Life, University of Notre Dame.  Again, it is a collections of essays; selected authors include Wilma Ann Bailey, Frank Burch Brown, Michael Driscoll, Michael Joncas, and Don Saliers just to name a few.  Check it out and let us know what you think.

Breaking the Wall

When not careful, a music ministry program can become an impenetrable fort.  Generally, the more advanced the program, the harder it becomes for people to see themselves being involved.  I often hear excuses like: “Oh, I’m not a professional like the rest of your choir” or “I would do more harm than good.” Sometimes it’s true, but often it’s not.

We have to encourage people to focus on their potential, NOT their past experience.  Yes it is proven that people pick up musical concepts easier at younger ages, but that should never stop one of our parishioners from giving it a try.  We as ministers have to make sure the environment we create always encourages people to think outside of their own little “box.”  If you encourage people to focus on potential, your choir will grow as long as they are committed.  I generally find, the less experience they have, the more commitment they have to make, and I make this very clear to people in this situation.  It might include voice lessons, meeting with me personally, or rehearsing with a practice tape that I make.  I have also found that the people who make that commitment get more out of their ministry than others.

With that said some people feel they cannot sing.  How else can they get involved?

We have a woman in our Church who doesn’t sing but writes poetry.  She has become our resident hymn writer and as a result is very active in the artistic side of our congregational life.

We have another woman who cannot sing but is an excellent hostess who loves to coordinate our receptions after concerts.

There is PR to be done, a library to keep up; you do not have to sing to be involved.

In your music ministry program, are you doing everything you can to help people “find their voice?” Are there people you could encourage to do jobs related to music ministry even if they cannot sing?  Are you making these people feel vital to your ministry program?

Reclaiming Time

I have to thank my friend Rev. Keith Dragt for this thought.  Today in our staff meeting he asked us, if you were given 86400 dollars every day how would you spend it?  The only catch is, you have to spend the whole 86400 dollars otherwise you lose it.  You can’t save it, you have to spend it.

You get 86400 seconds every day.  Have you ever thought about how you use them? Have you ever thought of those seconds in the same way you think of a dollar?  Is it possible that those seconds might be worth more than money, and if so, why don’t we value our time in the same way we value the money in our wallet?

In ministry this is a very interesting thought, especially when it seems everyone wants a piece of our time.  Where do we draw the line?  Our senior minister, Rev. Ken Ruge, often warns us against being overpaid administrative assistants.  How many tasks do we perform in our jobs that really have nothing to do with the big picture?

For that matter, how much time do we spend praying, which could have the greatest impact on our work in ministry; a much larger impact than some of the small things that often take an inordinate amount of our time.


I’d like to share with you the best compliment I can receive as a music minister.  I have received this compliment a number of times in my short career and when I do, I always lean back and smile with a sense of self-satisfaction washing over me. 

Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with how well I play, or how the choir sounds.  It has nothing to do with the dynamics on page 5, or the flawless playing of the trumpet player.  It doesn’t even have anything to do with the hymn selection that relates perfectly to the scripture of the day.

The greatest compliment I receive is when a choir member comes up to me after rehearsal and says, “All week I struggle, I work, I get yelled at, I yell at people.  Thursday evenings (our rehearsal night) is when I am free from the world, when I am fine with myself, when my life doesn’t seem so crazy”

Creating and sustaining this atmosphere is one of the most important things we can do as ministers.  With the pressures of being in ministry, and especially music ministry when performance standards are hanging over your head daily, creating and sustaining this atmosphere is one of the hardest things there is to do.  Church needs to be a place where regular people, who may feel they have little purpose, are suddenly filled with vocation.  Church needs to be a place where people who have nobody else, can feel safe, with a support structure they otherwise lack.  Church needs to be home.  For some people it is a second home but for others it is their first home. 

When I receive this compliment, or any other variation, it forces me to refocus.  In a Church with high expectations, it is necessary to remind myself that in the end, my job is to provide a place that people can call home, where they can feel safe, and where they can be themselves.  This is 10 times more important than any musical accomplishment we may achieve.

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