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Music Education: A Key Element in Participation

More than we might realize, what musicians do at Mass touches us all. Liturgical music has the power to shape the prayer we offer to God, assembled as the body of Christ. If what we do at Mass is primarily heartfelt community prayer which is "inherently musical," then those planning the liturgy must take great care in selecting hymns and music. Pastoral musicians are entrusted with an "awesome responsibility," says Dankler. How they present music to the assembly "affects the entire scope of the Mass," she says.

The Rev. Lucien Deiss, C.S.Sp., a member of the Vatican II Consilium for the Proper Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and composer of such hymns as "All the Earth" and "Into Your Hands," told those attending the NAPM Convention, "Our congregations want first not to hear music but to see Jesus. The song is a prayer.... Happy the community that knows how to discover in each song the face of the risen Christ."

Learning music takes time, and patience is required for people to grow confident in their ability to sing at different tempos and pitches. There is a difference in the way musicians and the rest of the congregation interact with the music. Usually after using a new hymn for about six weeks, the congregation becomes confident and comfortable singing it. Church musicians, however, work with the same pieces of music repeatedly in rehearsals. Because of this, they may be eager to go on to different music long before the rest of the parish is.

Paul Inwood, the director of music for the Diocese of Portsmouth, England, and a composer published by OCP, explains, "Often we tend to pull the rug out from under the parish because we get bored [with a hymn]."

Dr. Gordon Truitt, editor of Pastoral Music magazine, agrees with Inwood. "The point at which music ministers think a hymn is overused is way short of the point the congregation thinks a hymn is overused," he says.

A great source of hope in the campaign to encourage congregational singing is the base of traditional hymns from which we draw year after year. Sister Lorna Zemke, O.S.F., D.M.A., who teaches at Silver Lake College in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, discussed music education at the NAPM Convention. She says traditional music is an important part of music education for the parish: "Yes, there is quality contemporary music, but why can't we also use music that has endured throughout the centuries?"

She also suggests pastoral musicians should become more active in their role as teachers of music at their parishes. Zemke encourages pastoral musicians to offer parish workshops on hymn singing and reading music. "I think you'll be surprised how many adults will come forward," she predicts.

Some basic music education is fundamental to congregational singing. When an assembly is asked to sing a hymn, all members should have the pages of music in front of them. Until hymns are learned by heart, it is helpful if most can follow the notes and respond to the guidance of the song leader or instrumental accompaniment.

It often takes years for a congregation to sing its own selection of music with confidence and proficiency. But the result of this lengthy process is like the birth of a new people. The great fruit of the dedicated labor of parishioners and musicians is an assembly resounding in song with confidence, singing music they know by heart.

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