Conversation and information about music and liturgy from a confessional Lutheran perspective.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Singing is the Main Thing

My daughters attend a small parochial school. On the first Friday of every month they have a Mass. Today, one of my younger daughter's class "hosted" the Mass. This means the the kiddies do some readings and help with the prayers, and then hold a little reception in their classroom for the parents who attend. You all are probably familiar with this practice.

The hymnody was typical Catholic fare. "Here I Am Lord," "One Bread, One Body," "Lord of the Dance." This post is not going to critique these pieces. The purpose of my post here is to note the very strong singing in the Mass -- by ALL those in attendance -- students and parents alike. Very strong singing. But here's the catch. The singing was done a cappella! No instrumental accompaniment (unless you count the kid playing melody only on a keyboard).

Now, I found this rather notable. Roman Catholic congregations are not exactly renowned for their singing in the first place, but these folks really did sing, and without instruments to boot. I looked around and noticed the participation of the adults with whom I was sitting. Parents of students and many rather elderly people who just decided to attend this Mass. There was a small group of students in the back of the church that were taught the songs and sang as a sort of "choir" as well.

In previous years, there was a teacher who played the guitar for these Masses. He is no longer at this school. So, here are my observations:

1. After the guitar playing teacher left, I was told by the singer who prepares the choir that the singing was at first a little tentative, but soon improved.

2. This shows that congregations can indeed adapt to a cappella singing, but it requires some getting used to and some stronger, more prepared singers guiding them.

3. This shows that instrumental accompaniment, where very pleasant and often glorious, is by no means a necessity and we should not elevate the use of any instrument in the service (e.g. the organ)as utterly indispensable.

4. Do we really need electronic resources (without a real live person playing) to "help" the congregational singing? Or can we rely on our own live flesh and blood parishioners to guide the singing for the congregation by simply singing themselves?

5. Some congregations may have to sing without any instruments, if they do not have anyone to play them. Or they may have to use a flute/trumpet/violin to play the melody, much like the student who plunked it out on the piano this morning. But, if our congregations can do it the way this little Catholic school did, with the lovely voices of the whole congregation singing so nicely, I'd consider it a great success.

The Lutheran Church has always been known as the singing church. We should not shirk in our attempts to continue to be just that even when the instruments we tend to treasure are not available to us. Just sing. That is the main thing!

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