S CATHOLIC MUSICIANS we are fortunate that there are an increasing number of wonderful symposiums, workshops, colloquia, and festivals in this country and abroad that provide us the opportunity to learn about the availability and performance of music appropriate for the sacred liturgy. Most of these gatherings are sponsored by national or international organizations whose reach and impact is vast. We are blessed that such organizations exist and are run so well. But can something on a smaller scale happen at the parish level?
Work and family issues have kept me from posting here for the last couple of months. But I now want to share with you two back-to-back events that I was fortunate enough to be involved with that took place in May. Both were parish-driven events that had a profound impact on the people that attended and on the life of the parishes in which they were held.
The first was the conference that my colleagues and I at St. Rita in Dallas convened, “High Above the Stars: Sainthood, Beauty, and Catholic Artistic Expression.” I had written previously about this conference and world premiere here on this site. The second was the Sacred Music Symposium held by the FSSP parish in West Hollywood, where I was honored to have been asked by Jeffrey Ostrowski to serve as one of the clinicians and conductors. Both of these events were initiated at the parish level and fed the musical and spiritual needs of, together, well over 1,000 souls.
I bring this up not to advertise or to self-congratulate, but to encourage. David Clayton, one of the distinguished speakers at our Dallas conference, was, as he said, “blown away” that such a major event could take place at the parish level. He told me that this was the way things could and should be done, that this was a model for others to try. I felt the same way about the Sacred Music Symposium in LA. It was a wonderful experience for everyone. Not every parish needs to produce a major conference, create a website, advertise nationally, and take two years to do it. But here are some things that can be done at the parish level: commission a new three-minute motet or a new piece of art; organize a reading session of seasonal choral music; invite a chant expert to come in for a Saturday morning workshop for choir directors; hold a three to five day summer camp for children; bring in a lecturer from a local university to talk to the parish about your patron saint; dig through the church archives and organize a talk or small conference about the history and architecture of your church. These are only some ideas, and many of them would pay for themselves.
Is this a lot of work? Yes. Will you lose some sleep before it’s finished? Yes. Will it be worth it? Absolutely. I am convinced, after my experiences in May with these two events, that David Clayton is right. Things like this can and should happen at the parish level. This is where we can really feel God’s presence and blessing on our efforts.