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Andrew Motyka is the Archdiocesan Director of Liturgical Music and Cathedral Music for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
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“As the subject of the language of worship was discussed in the Council hall over the course of several days, I followed the process with great attention, as well as later the various wordings of the Liturgy Constitution until the final vote. I still remember very well how after several radical proposals a Sicilian bishop rose and implored the fathers to allow caution and reason to reign on this point, because otherwise there would be the danger that the entire Mass might be held in the language of the people-whereupon the entire hall burst into uproarious laughter.”
— Alfons Cardinal Stickler, peritus of Vatican II

Prepared to Receive: the Importance of Disposition
published 5 November 2014 by Andrew R. Motyka

COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO, we had a bad choir rehearsal. It was one of those rehearsals where even the literature that the choir knows inside and out sounds off. Anything we tried a cappella for more than a dozen bars started sagging in pitch, and the energy was just way down in the room. It was one of those rehearsals where even the singers were looking at one another, knowing that they didn’t sound as good as they usually do. What was happening? I realized that it was “one of those days” and spent the rest of the rehearsal helping them learn notes on upcoming pieces. I knew we could spend lots of time correcting intonation, breathing, and getting into shape on the pieces we were already working on, but it would be a grind. Some days are like that. And this one was entirely my fault.

What is the cause for a rehearsal like this? Sometimes it’s attendance issues. If all your first sopranos are out, it’s going to be a tough night. Sometimes it’s the weather, or the heat isn’t working, or you’re tired and cannot give the energy you need to give as a director. These can all contribute to a less-than-productive rehearsal. In my experience, however, most of the time these things can be corrected with a good, thorough warm-up.

I used to hate doing warm-ups with my choirs. Rehearsal time is a precious commodity, and any time spent warming them up is time that we’re not working on literature. What I’ve come to learn instead is that time spent warming up well is time that you won’t have to spend correcting vocal problems in every single piece you sing in the rest of rehearsal. Everyone (including the director) comes into the rehearsal with physical and mental baggage. Bad posture, improper breathing, and poor vocalization habits need to be broken down and intentionally reformed. Ten or fifteen minutes of warm-ups at the beginning of rehearsal will have a profound effect on the rest of the evening. The week after our train-wreck of a rehearsal mentioned above, I made it a point to have a thorough warm-up the following week. It was one of our best rehearsals, with almost entirely the same literature.

As I’ve mentioned before, disposition is important when receiving the sacraments. When you receive Holy Communion, as long as the Mass is valid, you are receiving the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. This is true for the traddiest of EF Masses as well as the elusive Clown Mass. You don’t add to or subtract from the grace provided grace based on the quality of celebration. However, our receptivity to that same grace poured out through the Eucharist is affected by our interior disposition, which is absolutely impacted by the quality and reverence of our celebration. Just as the recipient of God’s grace in the sacraments is edified much more by their interior disposition, including the way in which they celebrate the Mass, so is the choir is much better at singing the exact same literature for having warmed up.