Saturday, October 30, 2004

Notes from the Music Guy III

Last week, I mentioned my Presbyterian upbringing. The most positive aspect of worshiping there was the joyful energetic song from the pews. Those folks knew how to sing hymns, and their love for worship in song was unmistakable.

The Catholic Church, on the other hand, has, in recent history anyhow, only looked to the pews for musical participation for the past 40 years or so. As faith traditions survive by being handed down among families, more than any other way, there’s really no way to graft the Protestant hymn-singing tradition on to the collective Catholic experience. Nor is it necessarily desirable.

What Catholic worship offers us is the opportunity to fully open the Word of Christ, and to tie it to His true Body and Blood, which we experience so profoundly in the Eucharist. By lifting our voices in unison in the Gloria, Eucharistic chants, and hymns, we act as the voice of the Body of Christ. In the dialog of the Psalms, the Alleluia, and the Kyrie, we engage in dialog with The Word itself, and draw not only on our Catholic heritage, but the heritage of our forebears in Faith, the Hebrew people, who first instituted the role of cantor in Temple and Synagogue rites thousands of years ago.

Next week – “What we share with every singing Christian community”

May Christ be the song in your heart,


Saturday, October 23, 2004

Notes from the Music Guy II

As promised, here’s part two of my introduction:

I grew up Presbyterian, and hymn singing was a large part of my family life. Every Sunday night, before we went to bed, the whole family would sing hymns together: Dad had a gorgeous baritone voice, and Mom sang and played piano.

In the Presbyterian Church, there was a tradition of singing whatever the organist threw at us – in four-part harmony. Of course, the old favorites got more participation, but the joy of lifting our voices to the Lord got us all on board. On the other hand, we always read the Psalm – singing it was out of the question.

From time to time, I tried to find a way to use my musical talent as a Presbyterian – in general, it didn’t work out. My pop music background didn’t really lend itself to a foursquare hymn singing tradition. I was thrilled when my wife’s Catholic West Virginia parish invited me to play with their choir: they had just bought the same blue Gather hymnals that we have here now at St. Clement’s – THIS was some music that fit my skill set! And singing the Psalm was just so much better. After all, the Psalms were songs in the first place. They were meant to be sung.

Since West Virginia, I’ve had a number of opportunities to participate in different Catholic music programs. What I’ve found, consistently, is that where the voice of the assembly is cherished, it will thrive. The talent of the music ministers is really pretty far down the list of needs for engaged worship. What is most important? First, “love God” – use songs that connect to and honor the Word of God. Second (and like unto it), “love thy neighbor” – use songs that the assembly knows and appreciates, or that they will WANT to learn, and are within their grasp.

Diversity within the assembly makes the second point a challenge, but it’s a noble one, and worth pursuing. Nobody ever said ministry was easy…

May Christ be the song in your heart,


Saturday, October 16, 2004

Notes from the Music Guy I
(my first parish bulletin article)

Since this is my first article, I should tell you something about myself:

My name is Jay Ricketts, I live in Emmett with my wife Kim. We're both long-time Michiganders - I went to Eisenhower High School - but we've moved around a bit. We have two kids, both grown, and three grandkids, ranging in age from 1 to 4. I've been a musician all my adult life, but except for a few years in the late 70's, it's been a sideline rather than a career. I played in rock, pop, and country bands in and around Detroit, Washington DC, and Winchester VA, as well as a little bit of regional touring. One of my bands even played at the Blue Banjo a few times. I've also done some solo piano - jazz isn't my strong suit, but I can do it in a pinch.

Music became a ministry for me in about 1992, in West Virginia, when I "accompanied" the singer at the blessing of our wedding by recording some MIDI tracks of piano and organ parts. Fr. Brian watched the little MIDI box and flashing lights, and then approached me afterwards about joining the music ministry. I did, and got more and more involved in the church, eventually taking a directorship at St. Cornelius in Dryden in 1997. I learned a lot over the next five years from the great folks there.

I stayed in Dryden until 2002, when I returned to school to work toward a Church Music degree at Madonna University in Livonia. After about a year of that, I had to return to church work for financial reasons, working as the organist for the gospel choirs at St. Elizabeth's in Detroit, and as an accompanist at St. Blase in Sterling Heights and Ss. John & Paul in Washington Twp. I'm continuing my studies at Madonna, but am not taking courses this semester. The degree should come in about two years, if I stick to it.

Fr. Doc called me a few months ago when the parish found itself without a music director, and I accompanied the Saturday masses until he and Fr. Steve offered me the directorship. This looks to be an excellent parish, how could I say no? Thanks to everyone who's been so kind and welcoming to me in my first weeks here. It means more than you can imagine. I'd also like to thank Mary Love, Sarah Schultz, Anne Roszczewski, and Caroline Muylaert, who are all from St. Cornelius, for pitching in and canting at Saturday masses, and especially Chris Swoish, who has agreed to continue accompanying and canting here on a regular basis.

Watch this space! This will be a more or less weekly column, with information and musings about ministry, music, and worship. Next week: part two of the introduction, where I'll talk a bit about worship and ministry. Meanwhile, anyone who's interested in being part of the cantor ministry, please call the parish office and leave me a message. With any luck, I'll have the phone system figured out by then...

May Christ be the song in your heart,


Friday, October 08, 2004

No, He's Not
An open letter to

Some background: Sojourners, an organization trying to serve as a voice for (politically) liberal Christianity, has been running a "God is Not a Republican... or a Democrat" campaign, with some success. I signed on, and have been getting their newsletters. Their latest letter quotes a retort from a Mrs. Brough, who insists that she is sure that God is a Republican, because he's pro-life. End of story. Hence my response below:

I'd agree with Ms. Brough that God must be appalled at Mr. Kerry's stance on abortion. I certainly am, and it's enough to cause me to withhold my vote.

But surely God must be equally appalled at the constant lies and deceit from our Republican leaders as they struggle to justify an unjustifiable war in Iraq. And at Mr. Bush's gleeful run as the "hangin' governor" of Texas. And at the Republican party's awful treatment of the poor, especially with regard to world hunger, and access to medical care.

Bush had the gall to announce a "National Sanctity of Life" day last year, as if the question of "life" begins and ends with abortion. It most certainly does not. To believe in its "sanctity", one must believe that it is God's alone to take away, except in the lawful defense of life (Bush's creative attempts to redefine defense a la Vince Lombardi do nothing to change the true offensive nature of his actions in Iraq). Bush and the Republican party have proven time and time again that they believe that it's good to kill "bad people", or send our kids to their deaths in a war with little or no connection to our national security, or accept death and mistreatment of Iraqi non-combatants as necessary collateral damage, or withhold needed medical services from poor people. And the Democrats, long the voice of the vulnerable and voiceless, has completely dropped the ball with regard to these most vulnerable and voiceless humans, the unborn.

Jesus told us there are two great laws: Love God, and love your neighbor. Both parties have fallen far short of the Glory of God, in both respects.

I don't pretend to know the mind of God well enough to say how or if He would vote, but THIS Christian will be waiting for a candidate who believes in the TRUE sanctity of life in all its forms before he casts another vote for president.
In Christ,

Jay Ricketts
Emmett, Michigan, USA