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,


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