Saturday, January 20, 2007

What helps American Catholics to sing the liturgy?

The National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM) recently conducted an online survey of both musicians and non-musicians asking them what helps Amercian Catholics sing the liturgy. There were 2,349 respondents; 1,541 were involved in music ministry; 808 were not involved in music ministry.

The survey results demonstrated an interesting divergence in the perspectives of musicians and non-musicians. Non-musicians identified familiarity and ease as most important in supporting their sung participation in the liturgy. The top three responses from this group related to the choice of music for people to sing: familiar melody (52.2%), easy to sing (51.4%), and traditional song (47.9%).

Those involved in music ministries--directors, organists, cantors, choir and ensemble members--were more likely to focus on issues of leadership and text. The top responses from this group included leadership of organ or instruments (66.4%), meaningful text (65.6%), leadership of cantor or director (60.9%), and music linked to the liturgy of the day or season (59.6%).
What might this survey be teaching us liturgical musicians? One possible lesson is that we need to get feedback from those in the pews. Songs that are familiar to us and easy to sing for us might not be for those who are not part of the choir. Remember, if you're a music minister:
  • you probably attend a rehearsal during the week at which you sing a particular song probably three or four times.
  • Then you probably rehearse the song again before Mass at least once or twice.
  • Then you sing it again at Mass.

You've sung that particular song maybe seven times that week, while the person in the pew gets to sing it only once that week, maybe twice if you go over it with them just before Mass.

  • That's 7 to 1!

No wonder the criteria for what helps us to sing is so different between musicians and non-musicians.

Of course, good leadership by the organ and instruments, meaningful texts, and the leadership of the cantor or director are important, and we need to continue to improve these. But we also have to put ourselves in the "shoes and pews" of the assemblies we serve. If they cannot sing the music we have labored so hard over during the week, we have ceased to be ministers and have become entertainers instead.

Read the entire set of results here.

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