Planning music and choosing jelly

While a certain level of skill and practice is required to be a music director, I find the most difficult part of my job to be choosing the music we sing each week. Once I’ve decided what the music will be, practicing it becomes the easy part.

Before Vatican II, most of the music was dictated by the church (at least the lyrics). With the celebration of Mass now in the vernacular, the music choices multiplied and continue to become more numerous as composers continue to create new works. Choice can be overwhelming and stressful. Just imagine going to the store to buy some jelly. If there are only two or three choices, it’s easy to make a decision, but if you have to pick between forty or fifty varieties, you might just take a little more time. If you think of every song in the two hymnals that we have in the Cathedral as a flavor of jelly, you begin to get an idea of how many choices I have to make every week!

Because “the role of music is to serve the needs of the Liturgy” (Sing to the Lord, #125), I can’t simply choose my favorite songs for us to sing every week. That would only serve my needs. Likewise, while I am happy to hear requests for specific songs, I have to find a place and time during the year when a requested song will fulfill the needs of the liturgy. At the same time however, Sing to the Lord urges a pastoral evaluation of the music:

“Does a musical composition promote the sanctification of the members of the liturgical assembly by drawing them closer to the holy mysteries being celebrated? Does it strengthen their formation in faith by opening their hearts to the mystery being celebrated on this occasion or in this season? Is it capable of expressing the faith that God has planted in their hearts and summoned them to celebrate?” (#130)

So in the end, the music must serve both the people and the liturgy. I know the music and the liturgy, but I am still getting acquainted with everyone here. So that I can make better choices and do the best job possible, help me get to know you better by saying hello and sharing any thoughts you might have about the music here. Stop me after Mass, email or call if you have any feedback to share.


Written for the Music Notes column for the parish bulletin of the Cathedral of Mary, Our Queen in Baltimore, MD.