Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Simple Music Guidelines

Mass confusion.  That's what music for Mass seems to be these days.  Catholic liturgical music has gone from chant, to folksy, to rock 'n' roll, to chaos.  Well, maybe chaos is too extreme a word.  Whatever happened to good old-fashioned guidelines?  Is it just assumed that we know what we're doing?  If music is the least of the priorities of those who issue guidelines for the Mass, then something is seriously wrong, because there is an awful lot of music in the liturgy.  There are at least four hymns and half a dozen sung responses.

Much is left to the discretion of the music director, which is as it should be, ideally.  My question is, where does the music director turn for direction?  As organist and music director for two small town rural parishes, which share one priest with a third small town parish, I have been searching for over a decade for guidelines in choosing hymns and settings for our services.  I do the usual:  read the readings, psalm and gospel, choose applicable hymns from the missalette and hymnal, try and be consistent with the music for the responses.  With all the choices available, it can get overwhelming.  In my youth, we had a teen group that would play for the teen Mass.  I do believe we occasionally made some inappropriate choices in the music we played for Mass in the name of keeping it "upbeat and lively".  I now have a totally different perspective of what kind of music is in order for our most sacred of services.

This is where I get lots of feedback.  Even though most of our congregation does not sing no matter what type of music is played, some will not hesitate to inform me that the songs were:  "wonderful as usual" (thank God you didn't notice all my goofs), "boring old hymns" (if the words to "Immaculate Mary" bore you, maybe you need a little focus and meditation), "songs we don't know" (really?  This is the 100th time we've done "Be Not Afraid" out of the missalette and you don't know it?), "too much Spanish" (1/2 and 1/2, alternating, for a bilingual Mass), the Our Father is supposed to be said, not sung (still waiting for the final word on this).  Yet the Diocese, for all its' concern with Safe Environment, annulments, fundraising appeals and the New Translation (overly hyped I think), does not seem to think liturgical music worthy of being addressed.  Ah, so I guess this is just part of my personal spiritual journey.

So as I continue to search for answers to the all-pervading question of what to play for Mass this Sunday, I will read the blogs of other church musicians, occasionally check the diocesan website for information, and network wherever I can, to see what other music directors are doing.  And in the end, I'll make sure and clear it with my pastor.  Meanwhile, Holy Spirit guide me, and help me to choose music that will soften the peoples' hearts and lift their spirits.

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