Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


‘Cantar Es Vivir’ Engages Hispanic Music Ministers

By RUTH E. DÁVILA, Special To The Bulletin | Published March 17, 2011

To sing is to live; that’s the translation of “Cantar es Vivir,” a daylong workshop for local Hispanic music ministries held Feb. 19. Dozens of Spanish-speaking musicians from churches around the archdiocese gathered at St. Andrew Church to listen to the words and songs of guest speaker Santiago Fernandez, an award-winning Catholic singer-songwriter.

Organized by the archdiocesan Office for Divine Worship, the workshop outlined the tenets of liturgical music. It was designed to address the unique needs of the growing number of Spanish music ministries belonging to local parishes.

“We’ve got lots of very talented musicians in the archdiocese, but there are also a number that are very talented as musicians but don’t have a whole lot of liturgical background,” said Father Theodore Book, director of the Office for Divine Worship.

Fernandez, a liturgical musician based in Pontiac, Mich., spoke at “Cantar es Vivir” last year, the first of these now annual events. A pianist, guitarist and composer, many of Fernandez’s songs, such as “Oh, Puertas” and “Espero en Ti, Señor,” are distributed by Oregon Catholic Press in popular hymnals. In addition to speaking to Hispanic music ministries around the nation, Fernandez directs the Spanish and English choirs of his local parish.

“Santiago (Fernandez) has been good at helping us in learning what makes liturgical music different from secular music, and how it is that the different parts of the Mass work together, and how each one has its own character. …We couldn’t in a workshop teach them how to be musicians, but we can teach someone who is already a musician a little bit more about how to use music in the liturgy,” Father Book said.

According to Fernandez, music ministries are charged with leading congregations to a higher calling: “full, conscious, active participation” in the Mass.

“In our world (of liturgical music), the idea is to have others engage in song,” Fernandez said in an interview with The Georgia Bulletin. “We sing so that other people sing. If you understand that correctly, you are an effective music minister.”

As a former member of the National Advisory Council to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Fernandez drew much of his teachings from the USCCB’s “Sing to the Lord” document. He outlined concepts such as the structure of the Mass and appropriate musical accompaniment for each part, highlighting the “dos and don’ts” of liturgical music and oft-broken rules. For example, the responsorial psalm should always be sung, he said.

In recent decades it has become common for Catholics to appropriate songs from other Christian traditions, particularly lively praise music. While the Church does not prohibit such songs, they may only be used if in accordance with Catholic doctrine, Fernandez said. Even so, during culminating moments of the Mass, such as holy Communion, Fernandez urged music ministers to opt for rich Catholic songs, with meditative rather than energetic beats.

That said, cultural adaptation is inherent in Catholic parishes around the world. Hispanic choirs often incorporate bongo or conga drums and other common instruments from Latin America, like maracas. Hispanic parishioners often clap to the rhythm of the music.

At the workshop, a Latino music minister from the audience asked Fernandez if clapping is appropriate. The question seemed to strike a chord with Fernandez, who migrated from his hometown of Mexico City to the United States for college more than 20 years ago but has always remained close to his Latino Catholic and musical roots.

“Songs should correspond to the identity of the community that is celebrating them,” Fernandez said. “Clapping is part of who we are as Hispanic Catholics. … There is no rule that says you can’t clap during Mass in joyful moments (of song). How wonderful that people would show their joy with applause.”

Following the workshop, Auxiliary Bishop Luis Zarama celebrated Mass, with music led by Fernandez, including one of his original hymns.

“This is where it gets really exciting for me,” Fernandez said. “When songs get into the hymnal and that reaches the pew, that’s when it touches people and it becomes part of their lives.”

For Antonio Juarez, a cantor at St. Joseph Church in Marietta for nine years, “Cantar es Vivir” reinforced a simple message. “As music ministers, we must abandon the desire to be the stars of the show,” said Juarez, who sang in a choir in his native Guanajuato, Mexico, for 22 years before moving to the United States. “We are servants and we should present ourselves with humility. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aim for perfection; we should strive to give God the best we have to offer. And to sing from the heart is to give the best of ourselves.”