Strike A Chord, Strike a Balance

As I mentioned in the last bulletin, there are some simple philosophies that I try to stick to in guiding our music ministry. This time, I’ll share some of those, and some of my motivations. To begin with, I’ll acknowledge the “elephant in the room” in liturgical music—there is no pleasing everyone, all the time. The fact is that music, like all art, is only subjectively appreciated. That is to say, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” This has manifested itself in very distinct ways since the Second Vatican Council sought to enable worshippers to enter fully, actively, and consciously into the Mass. Boiled down, there are two extremes to which people gravitate: music should cling to the old, and conversely music should forsake the old in favor of forms that reflect the Church community of today. Neither of these camps were too pleased with the most recent document guiding music in the dioceses of the United States. “Sing to the Lord—Music in Divine Worship” (STTL), published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2007, did little to resolve the tensions that exist within the church music community and among churchgoers. For clarification, the document does not carry the weight of Church authority, but draws extensively from the most important documents that do. Therefore, I would argue guidance was the intent of the document, not directive. Of course, this is where the discussion gets spicy. The crux of the conflict is this: Gregorian Chant is very important, but its use is subject also to the ritual, spiritual, and pastoral needs of the community. Whereas contemporary tunes and settings were developed specifically for congregational participation, chant existed before the Vatican Council’s call for full, conscious and active participation was made explicit in Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC), the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. In the words of that same Constitution, paragraph 116, “Other things being equal, [chant] should be given pride of place in liturgical services.” The problem is that in the wake of the Council (Vatican II), very few of the “other things” were equal. For example, other places in that document and in “Sing to the Lord,” the Church affirms her support of new expressions and their necessity. The Church had already begun to put into use new, easily sung songs in English, and the Latin chants were quickly out of vogue. I once heard a pastor say, “Virtus in medio stat”, which means “virtue stands in the middle.” I take pains to make this a hallmark of my spiritual life, my theological understanding and my philosophy of ministry. Therefore, rather than siding with one musical camp or the other, I attempt to include selections from many styles, eras, and instruments each week. I attempt, on balance, to include the organ, piano, and guitar every week because they represent the widest cross-section of the Church’s strongest instrumental accompaniment. As an aside, the human voice is the principal instrument of liturgical worship. This means that the most important musical element is the singing of the faithful, no matter the accompaniment or lack thereof. (STTL, para. 86) On the other hand, I also attempt to include a traditional hymn or two, something from what I would refer to as the “contemporary” repertoire, as well as what I would call a “modern” song. These are not accurately named categories, but generally, when people speak of “contemporary” music, they’re making a stylistic distinction, not a temporal one. I, as a music director, and we, as a community, have room to grow in terms of keeping chant a part of our sung vocabulary. This is something I believe is important and I enjoy it as a form of sacred music. Still, while the treasure of chant is on my mind, finding the best way to incorporate it in a way that is authentic, effective, and relevant in our culture is elusive. At any rate, I feel greatly blessed to be able to serve you each week, and look forward to amplifying the ways we already sing together in ways that speak to who we are and what we are celebrating. As we continue to grow and deepen spiritually, the Holy Spirit will open in our midst willing hearts to serve in the choir, as cantors, as instrumentalists, as well as avenues of song and sung prayer that lead us together, as a family, closer to the heart of our God and Father with Jesus our Savior, Brother, Finally, I want to share the happy news of the birth of our son, Alexander Joseph, on July 22. Many thanks to all those who were praying for us in the days surrounding his birth.    

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