The Glasgow Archdiocesan Music Committee’s Autumn Workshop was held in St. Leo’s church hall on 26th October and, according to the feedback, was one of the best in recent years – and that wasn’t just down to the great lunch provided!
Around 50 church musicians were present for the event which began with sung Morning Prayer in honour of St. Andrew, led by Sr. Pat Graham SND, which provided everyone with a practical experience of how a simple Morning Prayer can be crafted for a parish. Then Elspeth Glasgow welcomed everyone to the day and also conveyed greetings from Archbishop Tartaglia who wished the participants a successful workshop.
In the first of the presentations, Patricia McGlinchey spoke on the role of the parish choir, based on her many years of experience in St. Maria Goretti’s parish and, latterly, the new East End Deanery Choir. She invited people to think why they had come out on a Saturday to attend a workshop on church music and why were we having it in the first place. Her own thoughts were that we cannot separate the liturgy from music, and our ministry is to provide inspiration and support for the community at prayer.
She thanked those present for that ministry and invited them in turn to give thanks for their gift of music. Ruefully, she reflected that often they might feel (and be) taken for granted, with no recognition given to the time and effort they put in. However, in fulfilling their function of helping the community to pray through music, they in fact allow an emotional relationship to develop with God. Music touches the heart. It is not the same if, for example, the psalm is read rather than sung. The quotation attributed to St.Augustine “he who sings well, prays twice” is well known but he also said that when he heard singing in church, it moved him to tears -“tears that did me good”.
Choirs should prepare what they do and be ready to guide the community in the liturgy, but not give a performance. The music sung by the choir should meet the needs of the church and the congregation, not that of the choir. We all know the danger of doing the things we like! When introducing new music, she suggested playing it over as an instrumental for a few weeks, so that people think they know it when they first sing it. Let people know when you are introducing something new and rehearse it if you can. The choir’s own enthusiasm and enjoyment should be infectious, getting the congregation to join in.
Finally, Patricia reflected that there are times when old favourites are appropriate. Advent and Christmas are times when people who are not regular attendees come to church, drawn by the season, and the music can welcome them back.
Patricia finished her presentation on a light note by getting participants to try humming the opening hymn while pinching their noses – you can’t really do it, so we had all learned at least one new thing this weekend!
The next session, on psalm repertoire, was taken by Fr. Michael Hutson. Referring to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and using Paul Inwood’s setting of Psalm 127 as an example, he reminded participants that the psalm is an integral part of the Liturgy of the Word at Mass and it should be sung. It is a prayer of great liturgical and pastoral importance.
The power of a psalm is in its words and the words of a psalm can stay with people long after they have left church on a Sunday. Fr. Hutson illustrated this idea with Psalm 62 (using the beautiful setting by Marty Haughen) In preparing for the workshop, Fr. Michael had asked friends and colleagues to send him lines of psalms that had particularly affected them. Two of them had chosen lines from Psalm 62 which had given them comfort in different personal situations.
Fr. Michael was followed by Fr. Jim Lawlor who hurriedly made the point that he wasn’t a musician, although he was being supported for this session by others who were. Using instead a visual presentation, he spoke on the place of the Sanctus in the Liturgy. He began by reflecting on his recent experience on holiday in a monastery in Germany when he had listened with pleasure to the chanting of the monks and felt a sense of longing for somewhere he had not been.
He talked of his own experience on a Sunday where he may come to the first of his four parish Masses feeling tired, but the encounter with the Liturgy and people leaves him feeling energised. The Liturgy lifts us up to the light and out of ourselves.
The Sanctus is evocative. The word that we translate as “Sanctus” or “Holy” means “set apart” in the original Hebrew. In the Sanctus, we are faced with this sense of “God the other” but also “God who is very close”. Using images from Duccio’s “Maesta”, in particular the depiction of the Entry into Jerusalem which appears on the reverse of the painting, Fr. Jim drew attention to the fact that this image forms in a sense a bridge between the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. In a similar way, the Sanctus forms a bridge in the Liturgy, leading us into the Eucharist, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.
The Sanctus also reminds us that in celebrating the Eucharist we are singing together with all who have gone before us, with the saints and the angels. Perhaps we too will experience this homesickness for somewhere we have not been, and the Sanctus points us towards something that is still to come.
In summary, this short prayer reminds us of:-
The God who is mystery
The God who breaks bread for us, saving us and rising again for us
The God who is still to come
Fr. Lawlor’s presentation was accompanied and punctuated by examples of settings of the Sanctus, the first being the Missal chant, the second Mgr.Fitzpatrick’s new St. Mungo setting for schools and finally a joyful and lively setting by Michael Ferguson, of St. Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh.
The break for lunch which followed gave an opportunity for those present to celebrate the 50th birthday of John Allan of Aisling Gheal, fittingly marked by the presentation of a birthday cake with aeroplanes, as John is a pilot.
After lunch, John Pitcathley, organist (among other qualifications!) of Motherwell Cathedral joined the workshop to speak on the role of the parish organist, but first he gave the participants a further example of the Sanctus in his own setting (Mass of a Celtic Saint). Echoing some of the points by earlier speakers, John set out the role of a church musician (organist or other) is to help people to pray – to raise their hearts and minds to God. The church musician offers his or her services and gifts to the church.
The organist has to give the lead in the music of the Liturgy and, to be effective, needs to be confident and secure. This means in turn to take time to practise and prepare. It doesn’t mean that the organist is never allowed to make a mistake, rather that the organist does his or her best. The role of the organist is two-fold, John suggested – to accompany singing, and to provide solo instrumental music. Both roles should be an offering to God and a suitable contribution to the Liturgy.
The type of music chosen should be suited to the age and the range of the congregation. The impact of the music chosen on the listener is the most important thing – not what the organist thinks is good. John also suggested that perhaps what people sing is less important than the fact that they do sing, that they participate. He then gave some guidance on technique for playing the organ for best effect for the congregation, and answered questions from the participants.
The final session of a very full day was taken by Mgr. Gerry, on the use of Introits, hymns and Communion Songs. He emphasised a point made previously, that the words matter in the music chosen for the Liturgy, and it is important that people should understand the meaning of what they are singing.
The use of hymns in Catholic Liturgy after Vatican II resulted from the desire to get the congregation participating. As a result, the Introit rather lost its place, but it is an ideal vehicle for the beginning of Mass, pointing to the theme for the Mass or Season and fulfilling its function of getting the priest and ministers from the Sacristy to the Sanctuary, thus completing the gathering of the community.
Whatever form of Introit is used, the important point is to do it prayerfully and well. If chant is used, the punctuation matters, and sensitivity to what the words mean matters, otherwise the meaning can be lost. He reminded participants that the Introits tend to use significant Scriptural texts. It is possible also to create practical Introits, using a suitable Gospel Verse with a doxology. The added bonus of the latter is that people will already be familiar with it. Gerry Devlin then gave some examples of Introits for Advent where he had set the Introit texts for each Sunday with the same antiphon for each one (Come, let us worship the Lord).
Turning to Communion Songs, Mgr. Gerry stressed that these matter as they focus attention on what Communion is about. However the congregation often find it difficult to sing as they go to Communion, so one suggested way of encouraging participation is to give them a simple refrain to sing, while the verses are sung by cantor/choir. Examples were provided in the handouts.
Finally Mgr. Gerry gave people some information on the new pilot internet radio station Radio Alba (www.radioalba.org) which would launch on 1 November and run throughout the month, culminating with a special celebration for St. Andrew’s Day.