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Music Binds Us Together

Now that we've heard from the pews, let us hear from another group that feels just as strongly about the state of Church music today: Church musicians. Pastoral musicians are committed to the development of strong liturgical music programs in parishes throughout the world. At the 1995 convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NAPM), held in Cincinnati, Ohio, July 25-28, a wealth of information on Church music was shared by composers, choir directors, cantors and many others who serve in music ministry. The association has 8,500 members worldwide and its national office is in Washington, D.C. (225 Sheridan Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20011, phone 202-723-5800).

Many pastoral musicians find themselves confronted with congregations that have yet to be convinced that music really matters. After attending Mass weekly for decades, parishioners may still have the impression that Catholic Church music is just a few dull soft tunes randomly inserted into the liturgy.

Peter Dwyer, marketing director for The Liturgical Press, discusses the tendency of many people at worship to sing hymns by rote, with little energy: "Merely singing is not a commitment to worship any more than walking down the street is a commitment to exercise." He says there are plenty of people who only make a weak attempt by mumbling the words of hymns. "It's as though they happen to be singing while they're breathing," Dwyer notes.

Music is actually central to the role of the congregation, says Michael Cymbala, executive producer and marketing director of GIA Publications, Inc. (publishers of the Gather and Worship hymnals). "Singing is the people doing the liturgy! What they are asked the most to do is sing!" Cymbala asserts.

The ministry of pastoral musicians reveals that "the Church's liturgy...is inherently musical" (Liturgical Music Today, 1982) and that, in fact, the Mass is wedded to music. Parish musicians, more than anyone else, teach the congregation that our singing is one of the greatest gifts we can bring to the Mass. It is through our parishes that we first taste and then fully enter into prayer in shared song. It is there that we become committed to singing because we continually experience Mass in terms of community prayer poured out in song.

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