SOME GUIDELINES FOR HEALTHY MUSIC MINISTRY
Most of this material is from The Ministry of Music by William A. Bauman,
The Liturgical Conference, Washington, D.C. 20005 (1975) and from With Lyre,
Harp, and a Flatpick by Ed Gutfreund, North American Liturgy Resources,
Phoenix, Arizona. (1973)
More important than the what of music ministry are the elements behind the
how and why of music ministry. These guidelines are intended to address
some common misconceptions with regard to the how and why problems in music
ministry. The way we play and sing, what we sing, our basic attitude and
our example all affect the dynamic of the members of the congregation
gathered at worship. There are some basic notions of paramount importance:
1. Ministry First – Then Music
The ministry of music is a service rendered to the community within the
worship service. In the ministry of music, then, we have to "be" minister
as well as play the notes. To just play the notes is a tremendous
service, but it is not enough. The performer seeking attention,
the insensitive artist deaf to the growth-needs of the community, the
head-strong guitarist or singer with tunnel vision, the egotistical or
jealous person serving one's own convenience, can easily be a counter-
sign to the people, a visible and audible proof that the community is
not a people of ministry.
2. The Fundamental Concept
The fundamental concept for the church musician is that music is the
servant of prayer. There is another reason for the musical utterance
than to serve the prayer of the community. If music becomes master
rather than servant, it loses its reason for being. It becomes no more
than entertaining communication.
To pray during a musical experience can be a joy, but it is only when
music serves the prayer experience that it rises above the other arts
to a dignity surpassing all arts.
There are practical questions which will help us to recognize whether
our music is the servant or the master of prayer. Are your musical
choices made because of the demands of the rhythm of the prayer or
because you know and like these songs? Do you plan the music with under-
standing of the scriptures to be heard and the theme of the particular
Sunday? Do you add special selections that are not yet perfected, simply
because you want to perform them? Very simply, planning the music may
be more important than performing it. Whatever you do, pray together
with those choosing the music prior to making the choices, not afterwards.
Music as servant to prayer has a threefold role in our worship:
To enrich the actual prayer texts – not drown them.
To better communicate the texts the people listen to.
To accompany and embellish nonverbal prayers as silent meditation.
Notice, in each and every case music is to be the servant of prayer. We
are not praying at a musical performance. We are enriching the prayer of
Little space needs to be devoted to observing that the best in church
music is often sung with careless rhythm, no conviction, no vitality,
no expressiveness, poor accompaniment, and thus becomes a somewhat ugly
and rather poor servant of anyone's prayer.
3. The Purpose Of Song In Worship
The purpose of song in worship is communication among people in a faith-
filled gathering. An awkward melody lacks the power of a good melody
to unite a congregation. A song that goes nowhere will communicate
little. Dull music, music sung without good expression or variation,
sing-songy melody, endless series of overused cadences are all poor
4. The Pastoral Judgment
The pastoral judgment can never be overlooked. Before planning ask,
"Will this music serve the prayer of these people?" After you plan,
review the music selected and ask the question again. It is possible
that an intrinsically excellent selection of music can be inept,
ineffective, and downright bad celebration.
5. Function Of The Folk Group
The first and absolute value for any choral group is a good sound:
accurate pitch, a blended tone, good breath support, a crisp and accurate
attack on the first note, and consistent flow of the printed music,
A folk group of several guitars, a few rhythm instruments and a few
good singers can become an exceptionally effective leading force for
serving the people in prayerfulness. Strumming can be done well or
badly. The more guitars there are, the greater the danger of sounding
like mush. Remember, we have the opportunity for worship even when we
seem to be very busy with the technical aspects of music.
Naturally, we have the responsibility of knowing what is to come and of
thinking ahead. But if we continue to learn and to reflect on worshiping,
our special involvement can give us the opportunity for greater partici-
pation rather than less. Some ways which might help clarify our situation
would include: Are we conscious of places where we are asked to respond
in other ways than musically? Are we giving the same attention to
prayers and readings as we continually request of the congregation? Do
we attempt to be aware of the liturgical significance of the songs we
use and the places we sing? Are we able to occasionally be part of the
congregation without being distracted by not playing?
6, The Cantor Of The Psalms
Communication of words is the primary responsibility for the cantor,
The text needs to be understood by people who hear it only once. Diction
is important, especially d's, t's, w's, and k's at the ends of words.
The difference between a dead Alleluia and a live joyful one is in the
l's. Remember, in delivery the verbs are action words which should
receive the main accent. Slow way down with your individual syllables
in a large room because the words should not be garbled or swallowed.
Also, the musicians should not drown the cantor with heavy strumming,
Often, one guitar is sufficient.
The principles are simple:
a) Be confident and friendly even when you're scared.
b) Announce each hymn clearly and loudly, repeating the numbers twice,
for instance, "The entrance hymn is No. 17 in Glory and Praise
Vol. 1, No. 17." Do not announce both the number of the hymn and the
page of the book. This causes confusion for the listener.
It is best to have coordinated planning among all those responsible for
leading the liturgy – the priest, lay-reader, and musicians. We are
able to move smoothly when we know what each other is doing. Common
uncertainties can be eliminated by advance notice, either verbal or
written. A combination of both methods is most effective. The important
thing is to try to function as a team without setting each other up
with "surprises", particularly if there are going to be major changes
in the flow of the liturgy or in the music itself (either the use of
different music or the same music played in a different manner). There
is no reason why the lay-reader, the musicians, or the celebrant should
have to second guess what each other is doing. This simply causes
functional doubts, anxieties, and embarrassment for everyone involved.
9. Consideration For Other Music Ministers And The People
Considerate music ministers will not make it difficult for other folk-
group-units, the organist, the parish-community, or the janitor by
either dismantling the song books or leaving things in a state of
confusion and disorder after practice sessions or after the liturgical
St. Albert the Great
September 13, 1983