I Had This Idea

People keep telling me that they can't join the choir because they don't read music. Well, reading music is nice, but not necessary, depending on the level of musicianship and the difficulty of the music in your parish choir. But it got me thinking... what if they could? So I asked my pastor for a minute at the end of each Mass one weekend to make "an announcement." (To be fair, if he didn't want me to go on for a bit, he should have said no - he's seen the length of my previous "announcements," so it's on him, really.)

Below is the text of the announcement I gave:

"Hello, my name is (Kathleen), and I am the director of music here at (church). For over 20 years, it has been my honor to help enrich the liturgical life of this wonderful parish, with the help of a team of dedicated and talented musicians. I’m not actually here to recruit you to join the choir - in fact, the choir is just about to take their summer break, so that announcement will come closer to the fall. Instead, I’m up here today to talk to you all for a moment about singing.

I have heard the liturgy of the Catholic Church described as “a sung prayer which is sometimes recited.” Through its use of elevated language and formal gestures, it is set apart and solemnized, but it is only with the addition of melody that it reaches its full height. St Augustine tells us “singing belongs to the one who loves.” And Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says, "When man comes into contact with God, mere speech is not enough.” Things in our hearts that we cannot find the words to say are expressed once they become song. And when we all sing together, our hearts literally beat in unison. When we sing together, we become truly one Mystical Body, with Christ at the head.

And so, I ask you to sing. The structure and intent of the Mass becomes more obvious when each participant plays their proper role - priest and deacon, choir and congregation. You, the people in the pews, have a proper part in the liturgy too, and it involves singing - the Gloria, the prayer of the angels adoring God; the Responsorial Psalm, by which we accept and respond to the words of Scripture which are read to us; the Memorial Acclamation during the Eucharistic Prayer, the affirmation of our commitment to observing the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice as he instructed us. It is not merely something stuck in there to make us feel included; it is one of the means whereby the grace of the Mass works in our hearts.

To better assist you in participating in a deeper way, besides continuing my efforts to choose music that is both fitting and singable, this summer I will be offering a beginner class in sight-reading music. This class will be completely free, and does not put you under any obligation to join the choir. We will meet in the classrooms upstairs on Wednesday evenings, beginning June 22. You don’t need any previous musical training to benefit. Just like the choir, it is open to anyone ten years old and above capable of paying attention for an hour or so. Please see the bulletin for more information - my phone number and e-mail address should both be in there.

I am proud of this parish, and how well you already sing - but I can hear that there is great potential for even more. I hope that my efforts and yours will please God for many years to come. Please pray for me, for the success of the music ministry, and for our parish community. Thank you."

And yeah, now I'm teaching a class on sight-reading music on choir practice night all through my summer break, which is great! I bought a giant magnetic dry-erase grand staff and a million colored markers, and off we go. A bit of rhythm practice, some tricks for remembering the intervals - i.e. the fifth is Twinkle Twinkle, the minor third is Greensleeves, minor second is the Jaws theme, etc - and tonight we start in on Solfege with the Circle of Fifths for dessert. 

I hope to be able to sing Ut Queant Laxis by the end, since that hymn is the origin of the solfege names - each line begins on the next degree of the scale, and the latin words give the syllable for the step of the scale:

Ut queant laxīs (when "ut" got replaced by "do" I am not entirely sure)
Resonāre fibrīs
ra gestōrum
Famulī tuōrum,
Solve pollūtī
Labiī reātum,
Sāncte Iohannēs.
("Si" for "ti" was added as the seventh to complete the scale.)

I'll keep you updated with my results!

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