View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Franciscan Musician

Although he was not a musician, St. Francis of Assisi was a "musical" saint. There was a joy, a passion, a poetry in his love of God. One need only think of his stick violin and his dancing to see the music in his spirituality.

Although my own musical involvement predates my formation with the Secular Franciscans, I see music as part of my own Franciscan spirituality.

I currently belong to two groups at church - the regular Sunday choir, and Rock of Faith.

With the choir, I play guitar (yes oh traditionalists, that horrid instrument), and sing with the basses. The main instruments for the choir are the piano and the organ - though we do have two guitars (traditionalists shudder) and a bass (Horrors: A nun on electric bass, no less). The choir sings a mix of songs. Gregorian, traditional, contemporary "classical", and some contemporary. It's a nice mix, and the vocals and harmonies are sometimes wonderful.

Rock of Faith is more up-tempo. The kind of music you might hear at a rally at the Franciscan University at Steubenville. Keyboard, acoustic guitar (me), electric guitar, electric bass, and drums are the main instruments, with occasional flute, saxophone and other percussion. The main vocals are supplied by a woman and two teen girls. The keyboardist and I sometimes sing lead, and we provide the "male" backups to the main singers.

The main choir sings for most Masses. Rock of Faith plays once a month, usually for youth/school Masses. We've already been requested to play at two other churches as well, though nothing in stone yet.
I like both groups. I'm not a musical purist or absolutist. I don't think there is any one "proper" way to sing at Mass. Both groups fill needs, and the focus of both is on worship.

The music must be appropriate, done with reverence, and done well (but not necessarily "professionally"). Other than that, I think whatever helps to enhance the worship is fine.

Just as there are so many cultures around that can add richness and variety to worship, so can music. And I see no problem in taking advantage of that variety and richness.

There has already been mention of me providing music at some of the Secular Franciscan meetings. To be honest, I am not familiar enough yet with the music that's sung (accompanied by recordings), but I can see me playing eventually for Masses and some meetings once I get to know the songs better. I play by ear and familiarity- my sheet music reading skills are rudimentary.

Some purists might say that I'm not qualified to play at church because I don't have the formal training and the technical know how. Nonsense. I play well enough that I don't offend and can lead people in song, and have even composed some songs.

I would play even if it meant just picking up two sticks and dancing with delight for my Lord.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since when wouldn't guitars belong in Church? They've been part of the Mass in the Americas at least since 1524 when Franciscans carted them from Veracruz to Tenochtitlan-Mexico.

Latin-American sacred music usually was written for guitar and viol de gamba. Here in Sinaloa, where the local musical style is "banda" -- a weird cross between mariachi and German omm-pah-pah, the church musicians add trumpets and drums. At the end of the Virgen de Guadelupe day Mass, the band played what certainly sounded like "In Heaven There Is No Beer." Maybe that explains the visitation.

10:51 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Yeah, but they're Mexican Catholics. They're loud and joyous like those Spanish and Italians, and not sober and serious about religion like good Irish and German Catholics. :)

Kidding aside (and that ethnic stuff was a joke, folks), there are a number of people of the traditionalist ilk who seem on principle loathe the guitar at Mass (except maybe for a classical piece or maybe "Silent Night"). I agree with them: There were some awful pieces created for "folk Masses," and some barely competent guitarists became "pastoral musicians," but there are many fine composers and pieces for guitar and other instruments, and many good guitarists. Guitar-based music can be done reverently - and joyfully. Moreover, I've heard some pretty awful organists playing the more traditional hymns.

I think some of the anathema is aesthetic, but I also think some is because the guitar has come to symbolize changes in the liturgy and the Church.

As for me, I will happily sing bass harmonies with the choir led by an organ or piano at one Mass, then strum and pick away with joy at another Mass, and in both cases I am praising God.

So Mexicans ... play away.

7:37 AM  

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