I was giving a talk to a class of seminarians a few months ago, and their most-asked question was “what can I do to promote good music at my future parish.” The answer to this question is multi-faceted, no doubt, but I feel that there are three necessary components of a good music program which are frequently overlooked:
- Junior choirs and music education: The choir is the foundation of any good music program; the really good singers are the leaven which help the rest of the congregation to active musical participation in the Mass (singing and listening). Good choirs do not just appear from nowhere; it takes careful and sustained music education, from an early age, to have a truly excellent music program. Start with a junior choir, for children in 3-8 grades; continue with a youth choir (if there is enough interest) for high-school youth; finally, graduate singers to the senior choir. For those who are tone-deaf but have good rhythm, there should be a bell choir.
- Singing the basic responses of the Mass: it is amazing to me how many parishes sing an opening hymn and have good choirs, but the priest will not sing the basic responses of the Mass (“The Lord be with you”). It is explicitly required that the basic responses of the Mass be sung, if any of the more-complex parts of the Mass are sung.
- Consistency is a virtue, variety is not: most parishes sing a different tune for the Memorial Acclamation (“Christ has died, Christ is risen…”) each week. There is no need for this “variety for variety’s sake”. This is one of the most basic responses of the Mass, why not sing the same tune at every Mass? I can guarantee that a good, simple tune for the basic acclamations will not become boring, no matter how many times you sing it.
There are, of course, many additional ways to foster singing in the parish. Hiring a good organist is one of the basic necessities for most parishes. And, at some other time, I will begin posting on my thoughts about the need for a unified repertoire of chant for the entire U.S. (a national hymnal).