So, what's this all about, then?
My name is Kathleen, and I’m the music director at a Catholic parish in a small college town in Southern California. During my 20+ years at this parish and throughout my whole lifetime of liturgical music, I’ve worn many different hats - organist, choir member, cantor, choir director, person who chooses the music, person who manages the music staff - so I can speak from many different perspectives.
My experience is my main qualification - I am the owner of zero pieces of paper validation except for a certificate of completion of the kind of Child Safety Training I’m sure most of my target readership is painfully familiar with. But I’ve studied a lot, thought a lot, had a lot of discussions with a lot of thoughtful people, and tried a lot of different things, so I do hope that my experience and perspective will be helpful.
I do have one publication to my name: a hymnal for Catholic schools that I helped edit for the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education. This project was so fun and so well received that I hope to help create many more.
The above information should be worrying. Many parishes hand over the keys to their liturgy to good-willed musicians with no training in theology, liturgy, or the musical traditions of the Church (and sometimes, even very little training in music beyond a few years of piano lessons). These musicians are rarely even aware of the scope of their task, having been formed in a parish where the music is regarded as little more than Auditory Wallpaper (to borrow a phrase from my first organ teacher). The misconceptions about the role of music in the liturgy can only fester in these conditions.
I was as ignorant as any in my first plunge, and I was singularly fortunate to be guided by the dear friends who sang with me. They helped me choose the music, guided in turn by their deep love of traditional Episcopalian and German hymns. We practiced together over Sunday brunch every week, oftentimes continuing to sing long into the afternoon for the sheer joy of the music, interspersed with conversations about the poetry and theology of the words we sang.
Most newly-hired music directors are not so lucky. They have The Internet, but what a wealth of conflicting information that can be! Anyway, it is my intention to create a resource of formation, both theoretical and practical, to help liturgical musicians find the right path on which to put their feet.
Where I’m coming from
As I mentioned before, I work in a Catholic parish. Our parish (by local reputation) “skews strongly traditional”; that is, our priests are conservative, our altar servers are all boys in cassocks and surplices, and there is usually incense on feast days - but we celebrate the Novus Ordo facing the people. A large part of our parish is made up of large families, with a good number of home schoolers, and our parish ministries are active.
This picture is the work of more than 20 years of effort. Our parish is staffed by a religious order, so we are not subject to the every-3-to-5-years rotation of pastors that keeps most parishes from generational consistency - we have had the same pastor since 2000. I started as a back-up organist at the early Mass even before that, because 7:30 am was the only time slot the parish was willing to try out older hymns and Latin ordinaries. How we got from there to where we are now (choir and organ in the choir loft, no piano - or worse, rock band - and we sing mostly hymns, some chant, and some polyphony) is a whole blog post of its own - or maybe several, as it took many, many small steps.
What I have to say here in this blog will apply to many, many different parishes, not just traditional-minded modern Catholic college town parishes. It’s not my intention to write a How-To guide on making your parish sound just like mine!