M This email is from South Dakota.
M This mother of young children
M attended our annual Symposium:
I’m A Volunteer: I serve as a volunteer cantor (in a music program run entirely by volunteers) in a midwestern parish of around 900 families. I have attended the same parish for the majority of my life, having been baptized there as an infant—on Saint Cecilia’s Feast Day, which demonstrates God really does have a sense of humor. When I was a girl, I had no awareness that traditional Catholic hymns existed, because I never heard any. We sang about “gathering,” we sang about “mountains” (or to mountains, more accurately), we sang about “bread and grapes and tables,” and we sang about “leaving,” more or less. When I selected a college, I chose a Lutheran school because I wanted to participate in choir … and I didn’t think of choirs as things Catholics really did, unless there were banjos involved. None of this ever sat quite right with me, although I was happy to help with music at my parish because I loved the faith and I loved my community and I loved to sing.
Mother Travels 1,500 Miles: So, if there is a ‘typical’ attendee of the symposium, I would have reason to assume that I am probably not it. I am not a choirmaster. I am not a music major. I have little experience with the Latin Mass (as the closest stable EF parish is three hours away). I’m a midwestern mother of preschoolers who discovered the work of Corpus Christi Watershed because I decided one Easter several years ago that I couldn’t handle singing about “rivers of glory” anymore during the sprinkling rite and there had to be a better way. (Which there is … the PDF file is right on the website for hapless volunteers such as myself who are handed the latest copy of Breaking Bread and absolutely nothing else!) That was an important step in a long journey for me, which most recently became a literal journey of about 1,500 miles when—with the support and encouragement of my husband—I bought a plane ticket and flew to California for this year’s symposium!
Like Nothing I’d Ever Experienced: From what I have written, you can likely guess that your symposium was like nothing I had ever experienced. I am not accustomed to being at a loss for words, but I truly can’t tell you how much it meant to me to be able to attend. To be surrounded by such a gracious, kind, and encouraging group of Catholics who love the Lord, love music, and love their parishes … to benefit from the wisdom and expertise of a faculty who are experts in their fields but whose humility and love for the Church shone through everything they did, and moreover who were able to share their knowledge in such a way that all participants, despite our differing backgrounds and circumstances, went home with new ideas and skills that we could implement immediately … to sing such glorious and transcendent music, truly befitting the liturgy … it was one of the most moving things I have ever experienced.
The Prayer We Said: The powerful prayer of Cardinal Merry del Val, with which we began each day’s work, struck me profoundly. The first morning we prayed, I found it arresting. By day 4, there were tears running down my face. I spent some time when I returned home reflecting on why exactly that might be, and it occurred to me (after a time) that it related to my biggest takeaway from the symposium (notwithstanding all the wonderful tips and tricks we learned!), which is that the work of parish musicians matters immensely, that it is worth making significant sacrifices for, and that we do not labor alone, even though it may feel so from time to time.
Doing What I Can (1): As a volunteer cantor without authority over the parish’s music program, there are many things that I can’t do. I can’t build a choir loft. I can’t switch the parish from disposable OCP resources to something like the Saint Jean de Brébeuf Hymnal—as much as I would like to! I can’t cause an organist to appear out of thin air. But, after attending this year’s incredible symposium, I feel more confident than ever that there are things I can do, and that they will make a difference in the end … even if progress is slow. I can continue to scour the Breaking Bread for every last traditional hymn and piece of plainsong it contains … and sing them with joy and reverence.
Doing What I Can (2): I can continue to search reputable websites and the hymnals I have in my home for supplementary music to use whenever I obtain permission to deviate from the “four hymn OCP sandwich” I’m expected to provide—permission I am obtaining with greater frequency of late—and I can continue to enthusiastically share such music with those who do have authority to decide what resources our parish uses. I can continue to show up promptly and cheerfully and treat my accompanists with respect, letting them know that I am grateful for their willingness to try music that differs from what they have been accustomed to playing. I can continue to call friends and fellow parishioners up from time to time and ask them if they would like to sing together for an important feast, and if they would be willing to work up a motet. I can promise them dessert afterwards. And God willing, I can return to the symposium, and maybe talk another musician or two from my parish into joining me! My deepest gratitude goes to your entire team and to all involved in putting together such a wonderful event. I really can’t thank you enough—but what I have written above is my feeble attempt.