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, May 02, 2009

On music (including "rock") in Church

I play with two music groups at Church - the "choir" (organ/piano, guitars, bass, flute, and the chorus of between 15 and 30 voices singing in parts), and Rock of Faith, and uptempo contemporary group (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, sax, and flute with five main singers, often singing in harmony).

The choir sings a wide variety of classic and contemporary choral works.

Rock of Faith plays contemporary and original hymns.

The goal of both is not to put on a show, but to lead the congregation in song.

I occasionally see disparaging remarks about "rock" music in Church, including that it is not appropriate for Church. I've seen at least one comment suggest that "rock" music would not appeal to the young anyway.

First, "rock" is a broad category. Buddy Holly. Beatles. Rolling Stones. Kinks. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Creedence Clearwater Revival. Led Zeppelin. America. Alice Cooper. Eagles. The Who. Jethro Tull. Kansas. The Ramones. Anthrax. U2. Nirvana. Springsteen. Metallica. Green Day. Heck, even contemporary country often sounds like what would have been called rock 30 years ago.

"Rock" is too vague a term to be an effective pejorative. What one person considers loud rock, another person might consider folk!

As for appropriateness for Church, the music we play with Rock of Faith - except for the original music - all comes from the two volumes of Spirit and Song, which were published "with the approval of the Committee on Liturgy of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops."

Approved songs.

Volume 1 came out in 1999, Volume 2 in 2005. Pretty contemporary.

The hymns include ones that have topped the Christian Music charts in the last few years or were written by musicians who have been topping those charts. Music listened by and and that appeals to young people. Music played even at the Franciscan University at Steubenville at youth gatherings and Masses.

Songwriters like Matt Maher, Tom Booth, John Michael Talbot, Steve Angrisano, Sarah Hart, Chris Tomlin, and more.

Songs like "We Fall Down," "Open the Eyes of My Heart," "Your Grace Is Enough," "Let the River Flow," "I Can Only Imagine," etc.

Not everyone has to like them. There are many songs I don't like - both classical and contemporary, but I recognize that not everyone has to share my taste and that I don't have to share everyone else's taste. At the same time, I play even hymns that are not particular favorites of mine because I know some people like them and the songs help them to worship.

I am there to serve God and the worshipping community.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

4:21 AM  
Blogger The Gimp said...

Mass is not a concert. If you want to listen to music which pleases your taste, be it chant or classical or "rock" go to a concert of your selected music.

Those in charge of the music at Mass try their best to come up with music which assists and promotes the worship of God in this particular situation. The crowd offended by "rock" music per se needs to get over itself.

4:38 AM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

The Gimp - well said.

The point is not to put on a show - it's to "assist and promote the worship of God."

I have been to Masses where the classical organ/choir music was more of a concert than leading the congregation in worship. I've also seen that with contemporary music, and Gospel music. I'm sure it happens with other kinds of music.

I'm not a fan of "show-off" music, as I call it. The goal is not to get people looking at you, it's to get them praying to God.

6:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like all kinds of music at Church. I belong to a large parish and we have four Masses on Sunday, but each liturgy is unique. There is something for everyone. The 7:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. Masses are geared for those Catholics that like the traditional hymns and the 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Masses are geared for the youth and young adult crowd. The music at each Mass is always done in good taste.

6:44 AM  
Blogger Barb, sfo said...

Lee, this is a great post. I too play guitar in church, with an "all-guitar" group. We now have 5 guitars because we have 2 high school students (one is my son) playing with us. We encourage kids to join us in playing or singing as they are able.
Our pastor is no fan of guitar groups in church but he "puts up" with us. And I'm not saying we have no room to improve. BUT we know we're not there to perform, to put on a concert or show. All of us are on board with the fact that we are there to help people pray by singing. We don't want people to be intimidated by the choir and not sing along. We want to invite participation. After all, it's our prayer too.

9:54 AM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Anonymous - interesting artice - thank you for pointing it out.

I've wrtten about music before and if I did not make it clear here, I want to be clear: I do maintain that the music has to be quailty music. It's not a matter of anything goes. I would not play punk, disco or heavy metal at church, for example, no matter how spiritual the words.

11:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not want to have to pick and choose which Masses I go to because a certain Mass time happens to be the "rock music Mass". By using traditional hymns, this problem does not exist.

1:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I would not play punk, disco or heavy metal at church, for example, no matter how spiritual the words."

Funny how you think rock is appropriate but not these genres. Perhaps its the case that none of these are.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Barb - Five guitars! Wow. Any thoughts on getting any of them to branch out - like playing bass (as MacCartney did)?

Are they all just strumming chords, or are they able to play off each other with some rhythm, some lead or fingerpicking?

1:12 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

"Funny how you think rock is appropriate but not these genres."

- Did you read what I actually said about the term "rock"? It's too broad a term, and ultimately meaningless for discussion purposes. Indeed, two of the genres I mentioned - punk and heavy metal, are kinds of "rock."

To facilitate discussion, what do you mean by rock?

1:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rock- making use of electric guitars, and possibly even drums.

3:03 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

So if we play the same songs with acoustic guitars, that would be okay?

4:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would there be shouting involved?

9:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The trouble is, most of the songs written after 1960 or so tend to be theological mush, either speaking as God, or emphasizing the community above all else. I have absolutely no problem with contemporary music if it has theological purpose. Most Marty Huagen/David Haas banalities do not. Most Matt Maher songs tend to come from scripture, traditional hymns, or traditional prayers, only with more upbeat music.

While I prefer Gregorian Chant, I have absolutely no problem with Maher's music in some instances, since it actually IS a prayer, unlike, say "we are companions on the journey" or "i am the bread of life" or "take, o take me as i am" or any of that other hullabaloo

11:24 AM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

anonymous - Shouting? What do you mean?

6:18 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

anonymous (11:24) - Just speculating, but it may help that Maher is Catholic. Maybe he is sensitive to what the music needs to be.

6:25 PM  
Blogger Barb, sfo said...

Lee, that would be really great, but 2 guitars are just "beginners" so they are not even up to the "audible by someone not sitting next to them" stage. We encourage them, though, and hope that over time they will get more courageous.

Two of us will occasionally do some fingerpicking but as we are acoustic-only, that really doesn't carry well in our church. So if I'm fingerpicking, I usually abandon it pretty quickly.

Personally, I'd like to move one guitarist to keyboard as I know he plays. But that's probably not going to happen.

8:58 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Barb - ah, two quiet guitarists, I've been there!

Does your church have enough mics for the guitars? Just for vocals? Or no mics?

With the regular choir at my church, the organ/piano have nothing, the two guitars are plugged into an amp/speaker together; the bass has her own. There is a separate mic available for when the flute is with us. We have three general mics for the choir, and one for the cantor.

For Rock of Faith, the guitars and bass each have their own amps/speakers. Each vocalist has his/her own mic, and as one of the vocalists plays flute sometimes she uses her mic for that as well.

I used to use one of those insert pickups you put in the hole, and I plugged into a speaker. You can get an acoustic guitar amp/speaker relatively cheaply. My new guitar has a built-in pickup, which makes it easier (but some purists don't like them - cut another hole in my guitar?!)

Of course, if you have a limited budget, limited space, etc., it can complicate things!

5:48 AM  
Blogger Barb, sfo said...

Lee, 2 of us have acoustic/electric guitars and I'm sure we could plug in, but I don't want to be stepping on toes by leaving others to be acoustic only. I'm kind of the "new kid on the block" since most of this choir has been together over 25 years. I'm only on my 3rd year. And we only use one mic--for announcing the hymn numbers. Though it has been rumored that they want to give me a mic for when I sing the harmony parts. I can wait.

2:27 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Ah, Barb, limitations. Good luck with it all; it can be a challenge. And keep up the music!

We're lucky that our parish has a music budget, so we have some equipment. Plus, a few of our Rock of Faith members have played in bands over the years, so they have some equipment of their own. I know not all parishes are so blessed.

But that they want to give you a mic - that's a compliment to you.

7:27 PM  

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