Sing: It’s Your Responsibility

From New Liturgical Movement:

Choirs in parishes around the country are busy recruiting for their choirs. This year is a crucial year for this, since many choirs around the country are upgrading their skills, introducing chant propers, and learning new music to keep up with the times. And the times are all about change away from the mire of the postconciliar period into a program that integrates current Roman Rite usage with historical and traditional standards. This is a big challenge and one that cannot happen in absence of the people to make it happen.

But there is a serious problem. Choirs have been depreciated in Catholic Culture for decades. There has been a long-running war on the choir on grounds that the choir has usurped the glorious role of the people. The slogans of the past have been all but revolutionary, as if the first priority is to expropriate the expropriators of the people’s music. It is no wonder at all that 1) good musicians have fled the Catholic Church, and 2) the musical education of Catholics have suffered a terrible setback, one that will take decades to reverse.

There’s also been a terrible price to pay in terms of people’s level of dedication to the task. Catholics are under the impression that the music at Mass just happens. Pastors are unwilling to pay for it, and the people themselves are unwilling to make anything like a serious commitment to making it happen. As a result, most parishes have a hard-core group of a few people, perhaps 2 to 4 people, who make it all happen, while everyone else involved comes and goes depending.

In fact, as a person with a childhood spent in the Baptist Church, I’m astonished at the lack of service ethic in the Catholic Church regarding music. In the Baptist Church of old (I don’t know if this is still true), if you could sing, you sang. Period. There was no choice about it. If you were a member with some musical talent, it was a tithe to sing in the choir. It was something you did simply because you were a member. If a true singer were sitting in the pews instead of the loft, he or she was considered a shirker and a bum.

So it was and so it should be, in my view. The contrast with the Catholic Church today is striking. In Catholic parishes, people will sing only under certain conditions: 1) if they have some talent and are not embarrassed to sing, 2) if there is nothing else going on the evening of rehearsal, 3) if the singers are praised to the skies by the director and the pastor, 4) if they are willing to come to Mass every week, 5) if they are willing to sit apart from their family, 6) if the music is something they like to sing, 7) if they like the other choir members and have unrelenting fun during every minute of participation, 8) if the singer in question is given a big solo, and so on.

In other words, many people are sitting on the fence waiting to find out what the choir will do for them rather than what their participation will do for the parish. This is an egregious attitude, one that stands completely contrary to a service ethic. It is like saying to God: “I know you gave me a certain ability but I will only use it under the conditions that I name, and otherwise I will not use my talent to serve people and serve you, simply because my own personal pleasure and well being comes before any obligation I owe to anyone, including God.” I would go so far as to say that it is a sin for those who can sing not to sing.

And yet this ethic is nowhere to be found in the Catholic Church today. People assume the posture of consumers of liturgy. They show up and take it all in, and complain about it as they see fit, without a moment’s thought put into what he or she can personally do to make a difference.

How can this change? One person at a time. A pastor can make a difference by instructing people of their obligations. But ultimately the change must come from soul searching. People must realize that participation in parish life is not all about themselves. It is about the big picture of assisting in the fostering of sacred space. To take part in the grand project is the great privilege of our lives and we dare not dismiss that opportunity on selfish grounds.

Another point to consider is that music directors dedicate massive amounts of their time and talent to parishes. They get low salaries and very little praise. If you are not helping them by singing in the choir even when you have the ability to do so, you are insulting their contribution to the parish too, making their lives more difficult and introducing an element of demoralization into their lives.

Sing the choir. Never miss a rehearsal. Be a good sport about it. Don’t complain. Never miss Mass. Ask what you can do for others, not what they can do for you. Be a positive influence and help in whatever way you can. Someday there will be an accounting for what you did and did not do during these times of transition. Every time that you have said no, I won’t participate, it will be noted. Every time you have said yes will be noted as well.

All that being said, here is a nice invitation to participate that came to my email. There are 10,000 just like it out there. Answer this one. Answer anyone that pertains to you. Only you can make a difference in the pathetic state of Catholic music. Today is the day to start the change.

The Latin Mass Choir and Schola of Jersey City, New Jersey will add to its repertoire this fall a Requiem of Cristobal de Morales which will be sung on All Soul’s Day and Schubert’s Mass in G which will be sung at Midnight Mass on Christmas. We are a friendly and collaborative group and have continuing auditions on Wednesday evenings at 6:45 immediately preceding the regular rehearsal which begins at 7:00 PM. The auditions are held in the choir loft of Holy Rosary Church (www.holyrosarychurch.com), 344 6th Street . Located in historic downtown Jersey City , the Church is easily accessible by PATH train, car and light rail. This group sings for the traditional liturgy which is offered each Sunday at 10:00 AM and on Holy Days at 5:30 PM. The mixed choir sings polyphonic masses and motets and leads the congregation in chants and hymns. The men’s schola sings the Propers from the Liber Usualis. The acting director and organist is Harold Bott. Sight reading ability is not a prerequisite, but the ability to blend is. We especially need altos and sopranos! Call or e-mail Dan Sexton for more information: 201-406- 9960, DanielSextonEsq@gmail.com.

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