OW IMPORTANT is music to the Mass? The answer is: VERY IMPORTANT! Even though music is the “handmaid of the liturgy”, it is probably one of the most important elements of the Mass. The answer and the explanations of the relationship between music and the liturgy can be found in multiple Church documents. But from a different perspective, we can also see its importance from the practice of labelling Masses based on the music: a high Mass, a Low Mass, a traditional Mass, a folk Mass, a Lifeteen Mass, etc. Music plays such an important role in the liturgical life of the Church and it is definitely worth investing in parish music programs. Financial support is necessary for developing a successful parish music program!
Obviously, there are some unavoidable costs for the music department’s budget like missals & hymnals, other music scores, musical instruments, the sound system and the choir robes. But I would like to focus especially on the paid musicians. I don’t think too many people understands what “being a church musician” means. I found that priests, financial managers and Catholic faithful don’t fully know what we, music directors, do. Hiring good musicians is the essential part of building a successful music program. Nowadays, musicians are often being looked down on. But I think good musicians deserve to be treated well and paid fairly.
So what do we actually do? What people see are usually the performances, a tip of the iceberg. What people are paying for is not only the performances, but the many years of training and practicing behind the scene. It can take over ten years for one to master an instrument and the art of music. And even for a professional musician, practices are still crucial in order to maintain high standard of music and to perfect our skills. Many musicians also spend time in developing their musicianship and further learning by joining choirs and ensembles outside of work.
As church musicians, we also dedicate our time in the preparation for each liturgies. We select music carefully every week like how a priest would prepare his homily. A good director would pick the music after reading and praying through the propers and the readings of the Mass. He also has to take into consideration the language, style and level of difficulty of the pieces, and the ability of the choir. A good parish music director would also study the documents and teachings of the Church on sacred music in order to select the appropriate and the most suitable music.
A choirmaster or church organist is usually a person who is very strong mentally. He is used to being judged by others subjectively constantly. It requires great patience and excellent communication skills in order run a parish music program with multiple choirs and ensembles. His job also requires him to stay positive and charitable when mistakes happen. It is a very extraordinary vocation.
Finally, being a church musician is a sacrifice. Most of us don’t get off on holidays. Obviously, Sundays are the busy days, and so as other solemnities. When the church office is close on a feast day, we are the ones who stick around with the clergies and serve at the Mass. And of course, Christmas and Holy Week require us to work extra hard outside of our regular office hours. We also have to be around for random parish events and special liturgies. And funerals never happen at a convenient time and they usually come suddenly with short notice. Being a church musician means that we have to keep a very flexible schedule.
BOVE IS WHAT WE DO! That is the “job description” of many church musicians. Please feel free to share my analysis with your pastors and fellow parishioners, especially those who are on the parish council and finance council. I have seen parishes losing half of its choir members overnight after cutting down the music budget. I have also seen successful programs being built from scratch when sufficient supports are given. Our Lady of the Mountains Roman Catholic Church is a good example. Their story, “There Will Be Blood” – Lessons on Introducing Good Music Into a Parish“, was actually shared on New Liturgical Movement recently.
The parish music program is like a plant. It must be watered regularly in order for the flower to bloom. Likewise, both spiritual and financial supports are essential in order for a parish music program to flourish!