By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published September 4, 2008
The powerful voices of music ministers from across the Southeast joined in harmony and filled Sacred Heart Church in downtown Atlanta Saturday, Aug. 16, as they gathered for the opening Mass of the first Southeastern Liturgical Music Symposium.
A blend of reverent prayer and informative workshops from experienced speakers brought together choir directors, cantors and musicians to discuss the importance of music ministry and its place in liturgy.
Guests included keynote speaker Msgr. James Moroney, past chairman of the U.S. bishops’ liturgy committee; Gary Daigle, composer and producer of pastoral music; and Benedictine Father Cyprian Constantine, assistant professor of fine arts and director of liturgical formation at St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pa.
The roots of the symposium date back nearly two years with the formation of a music committee by the archdiocesan Office of Divine Worship to bring together leaders in Catholic liturgical music in the archdiocese, according to Father Theodore Book, director of the office.
“The committee serves to advise the office on matters relating to sacred music,” Father Book said. “The symposium sprung from the discussions that took place among the members of the music committee.”
The symposium had two goals, he said: “to enrich the musical life of the archdiocese and the region by bringing nationally recognized speakers to Atlanta to share their insights on sacred music” and to strengthen communications and relationships among music ministers.
The opening Mass celebrated by Msgr. Moroney was full of spoken and sung prayers. The crowd was eager to respond with song and it was clear they were delighted to be a part of the assembly.
Msgr. Moroney took a moment during the homily to touch on the importance of the day, before giving his keynote speech following the Mass.
He spoke a lot of the Blessed Virgin Mary and how she should be an example to music ministers in the Catholic Church.
“Mary’s example encourages us to cherish the word of God in our hearts … to love God … above everything,” he said. “It’s the Blessed Virgin Mary that serves as the real keynote.”
More than 150 music ministers representing 42 parishes from eight states listened intently as the priest touched on some of the major issues facing them.
Msgr. Moroney discussed the need for a “music dialogue” between ministers, as well as between ministers and their bishops, priests and congregants.
“(Music dialogue) weaves us into something so far beyond ourselves,” he said. “Often times in the most impassioned issues, there is some truth on both sides of the issues.”
He also spoke of “Sing to the Lord,” the newest liturgical music document released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last year. Msgr. Moroney helped put the document into context by presenting a brief history of liturgical music documents over the past 40 years, in order to help the attendees gain perspective on what has been accomplished so far.
Translation was one topic raised in Msgr. Moroney’s talk. The priest, who serves as an advisor to the Vox Clara Committee translating the Roman missal into English, felt that Catholic music ministers “need to look at the whole issue of translation again.”
He provided examples of how current translations are “much more poetic” and that Catholics must understand that liturgical language is different from that of “the streets” or “the dinner table.”
In the afternoon participants had the opportunity to attend two of four workshops offered, including “Contemporary Music in the Liturgy,” led by Daigle, “Chant for Small Parishes,” led by Father Constantine, “Cantors: Leading People to God,” led by Deanna Light, and “Singing Holy Week Within a Multicultural Context,” led by Jaime Cortez.
“The goal was to provide workshops and speakers that would be of interest to a wide range of musicians coming from a variety of stylistic, ethnic, linguistic and geographic backgrounds,” Father Book explained. “While there are many important and worthwhile topics, we can only cover a few each year, but the hope is that we will be able to cover a wide variety of topics as the years go by.”
Daigle led an interactive session, inviting people to voice their concerns and thoughts about the place of contemporary music in the Mass. He highlighted Msgr. Moroney’s message of dialogue, saying that “the nature of the liturgy is dialogical, it is poetic.”
One woman raised her hand to ask Daigle’s thoughts on how to balance the many forms of music into the Mass, which is the same all over the world. She presented a situation of a visiting priest in one’s home parish.
“How do you blend the two if you have a visiting priest who uses Latin dialogues in a Mass with contemporary music,” she asked.
Daigle again touched on the issue of dialogue and said that, in an ideal situation, everyone would be comfortable responding to any form of music in Mass. That is the goal music ministers need to work toward, he said.
In a room nearby, another discussion was taking place on the growing multicultural presence within the Catholic Church. Cortez, who is involved with pastoral music ministry at St. Bridget Church, Mesa, Ariz., took an important part of the Catholic Church’s calendar, Holy Week, to discuss how to incorporate multicultural aspects into music at Mass.
Cortez handed out a sampler of bilingual songs for the Easter Triduum as well as a sample Mass sheet with English and Spanish music.
Steve Hobbs, a parishioner at St. Oliver Plunkett Church, Snellville, attended this particular session.
“I was especially interested in the multicultural presentation as that is an area in which my wife and I have been involved since the inception of the Hispanic Mass at St. Oliver Plunkett,” he said afterward.
“I left that presentation with the confirmation that we are doing things right at our church to maintain appropriate liturgical standards with the highest quality of bilingual liturgical music that’s out there,” he said.
Light, the co-director of music and liturgy at St. Brendan Church, Cumming, led the workshop exploring the duties of cantors in the liturgy. Through example and discussion she helped her fellow cantors understand their role and how to avoid common blunders.
“No improvisation,” she exclaimed with a smile, following a brief video of a cantor trying to make up words and melodies during the Mass.
Light used video often to point out mistakes many cantors make. One of her main messages was to “be prepared” so cantors can focus on leading people to God through music, instead of worrying about messing up a song.
The final workshop presented a wealth of resources on chant in the Mass. Father Constantine helped those unfamiliar with this form to learn where and when chant should be used.
“We learned of the appropriateness of using chant for the antiphons and psalms,” said Hobbs, who attended the workshop. “We did get a chance to practice some of the antiphons and a psalm in both Latin and English.”
The Southeastern Liturgical Music Symposium again brought together all of the music ministers to end the event the same way it started: with prayer. Vespers, or evening prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, concluded the symposium, weaving song and spoken word together once again in a reverent and sacred fashion.
“I was extremely pleased with the event,” Father Book wrote by e-mail after the symposium. “We had 150 participants, well over our goal of 100. Individuals came from as far as Ohio and Louisiana, as well as from Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee and Alabama. We received a number of positive comments from the participants and encountered a strong desire to make it an annual event.”
Those who attended felt the same way.
“I thought it was great,” commented Hobbs. “I wish it had been longer so that I could have attended all four workshops. The topics were very timely and the keynote speaker brought us up to date regarding the new English translation of the Roman Missal and the possible changes in liturgical music because of it.”
“It was good to see old friends from other parishes and also meet new folks from out of town,” he added. “I would like to thank Father Book and his group for organizing this event. It was well worth it.”