AST WEEK, I stated in my post that there is no conflict between singing professionally and praying wholeheartedly. One does not need to ignore the spiritual aspect in order to raise the standards of liturgical music. Another common misconception that people have is that professional church choirs discourage the participation of the faithful.
Music in the vernacular and composed based on different cultures of the local churches were introduced after the Council. These days, people also emphasizes more on participating externally in the liturgy. The mentality that the congregation needs to sing everything also caused the decline of the musical standards. But the Council really intended that the faithful participate active in the liturgy both externally and internally.
In order to participate internally, quality music is needed. Music, whether it is a congregational hymn or a motet, out of tune will definitely disturb and distract people from prayer. It is almost impossible to enter into any deep conversation with God when surrounded by people making noise. Singing “okay” may not be too disturbing; however, if the choir can raise their musical standards, the sublime music can lead the faithful into deeper meditation.
The choir’s role as a leader in congregational singing can only be carried out efficiently when the choir sings well. No one wants to sing with a choir that cannot carry the tune. On the contrary, choral singing with high standards can encourage the faithful to sing out more. I have witnessed, in different churches, how the congregation participate externally in hymn-singing more actively when the choir sings in harmonies, and occasionally a descant on the last verse of a hymn. Quality singing will encourage active external participation.
In recent years, there have been an increase in conferences and workshops on church music including the upcoming Sacred Music Symposium in Los Angeles, Summer Sacred Music Workshop in Charlotte, NC, the CMAA’s Sacred Music Colloquium and many more. These are some great opportunities for musicians to further their studies in sacred music and to perfect the techniques. Participating in these conferences is one effective way to help raise the musical standards.
ERSONALLY, I also find occasional concerts also help raising the musical standards in parishes. Performances of church music increase people’s appreciation and interest in liturgical music. They also create excitements among choir members and encourage them to strive to do their best. Putting musicians under the spotlight from time to time helps push them forward.
Two weeks ago, Vox Antiqua brought some beautiful Marian music to Our Lady of China Church in Hong Kong. The Marian Concert included scriptural readings and choral music chosen based on the life of Mary. Towards the end of the concert, we sang this hymn with the congregation. People were just so eager to sing and the church started to shake.
The original text, which is in Chinese, of this hymn was written by a Franciscan friar from Hong Kong. Here is the translation:
1. Most good and gentle Mother, most pure and stainless;
Cleanse my heart, and lead me to repentance;
To follow your Son more nearly, consecrating my whole life to you.
Proclaiming God’s name to the world, until to heaven I go.
My Mother, my Queen, and my Hope; transform my spirit, so that I may be Christ-like.
2. O sweet Mother, we implore your mercy;
Increase in us God’s grace and strength, to grow in virtues.
Keep us away from sin, and to live out the spirit of Christ;
To follow our Lord’s teaching, and to grow in sanctity throughout my entire life.
Soli Deo Gloria!