What is church music for?

That feels like a good place to start this blog. We’ve been talking about starting a blog for a while (partly because the Webmaster thinks my Facebook posts are too long, I have to admit).  Then I thought about when to start, and we sadly missed April 1st, but I don’t want to wait until Easter, as everyone will be very busy then in church music circles.  So I think I will take a deep breath and just plunge in.  April is a good month for new beginnings; our youngest son was born in April, and he is a fine example of the genre.

I write the sort of music I write because I want more people to join in the singing when they are at church.  But why do I think it’s worth spending so much time on it? Lots of people, including several priests, don’t think church music actually matters very much.  Now I have strong opinions about church music : I don’t think it should be a concert performance,  I think it should be easy to take part in, I think everyone ought to join in, so they need copies (words and music) where possible…..but why is having church music important?

I think it matters because singing is something physical which engages the whole of us (mind and body), and singing in church engages the soul as well.  But the disadvantage of this is that if people don’t take part, they feel completely apart from the group, so the responsibility of church musicians is to make it not only easy but attractive to join in.

I started with writing tunes for Psalms, almost by chance at first, but then because the shape of a Responsorial psalm is such a good example of what I mean. It’s an easy form to understand, like nursery rhymes, or folk songs or sea shanties (I love sea shanties).  One person has the verse with lots of possible variation, and the congregation/audience/child/crew has the chorus, which we all sing together (I suppose you could leave the congregation to sing on its own, but in my experience this doesn’t tend to happen, because they like a strong lead;  and I don’t use a microphone, so I don’t drown them when they sing back to and with me).

The other useful parallel with sea shanties (and some nursery rhymes)  is that they are work songs.  You sing to help you get something done (raising the anchor, scrubbing the deck, washing the baby, getting dressed), and the same is true of the liturgy.  Liturgy is work too, Mass is Divine Service, and we sing to help us do the work better, all keeping the same rhythm and the same tune.

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