Promoting sacred music as an integral part of parish life
  • TL;DR version: I assumed my current role two years ago, and among my primary goals has been to establish sacred music--among the entire parish community--as an important part of parish life. Here's what I'm doing. Tell me what you're doing.

    Long form: As we on this forum all appreciate, sacred music isn't just a bit of icing on the liturgical cake; it is critical and integral to the liturgy. Good and well-executed sacred music has remarkable power to lift the hearts and minds of the faithful to God, it can draw people to the Church, and may even help convert and evangelize. Bad or poorly executed music has the power to push people away, or at least leave them unfulfilled/disappointed/disaffected by the experience. And yet, so often music is relegated to the back burner, an afterthought among both staff and parishioners.

    But this thread isn't to gripe about a real (or sometimes only imagined!) lack of appreciation. It's about what we can actively and positively do to create a parish culture that understands the value and importance of music in the parish and liturgical life. To that end, below are a few things that we've started or augmented in the past two years since I began my current DoM position (lucky for me with full support of our Chaplain and parish staff/councils). I'd love to hear what ideas you have implemented (or would like to implement) to further inculcate a sense of the value of sacred music in parish life. I've always been blessed to work under supportive priests and parish leadership; but I'd love to know what you've done to promote sacred music in situations where parish leadership is not so supportive.

    Trying to build, grow, and promote a program can be a daunting task, especially if you haven't done it before. My idea here is to just assemble and share as many thoughts and ideas as possible to serve as a resource for anyone who is trying to grow and promote a parish music program. I know I'm always looking for new ideas, and I'm sure others are as well!

    With that in mind, here's how we've been trying to make music a more prominent part of parish life at Mater Dei in Harrisburg, PA:

    1) We launched a parish music website highlighting our music program, choirs, organ, etc. (http://MaterDeiPA.com/music)

    2) We've grown and promoted our children's music programs, which includes a "Chorister" program (students learn about the philosophy, theory, and performance of sacred music; we have more than 50 students across three grade levels, one class period each per week throughout the school year) and a week-long summer Chant Camp

    3) We've introduced occasional sacred recitals throughout the year to encourage appreciation of sacred music beyond the scope of the liturgy; these are advertised on social media and in the bulletin

    4) We offer several evening workshops throughout the year covering a variety of sacred music topics (history, pedagogy, theory, practicums, etc.); these are also advertised on social media and in the bulletin, and sometimes shared directly with other parishes in the diocese

    5) We purchased new beautiful hard-cover hymnals, and made custom bookmarks for them with brief information about our music, and an invitation to join in congregational singing for the hymns and ordinary of the Mass

    6) We put together a promo video for our music program to help our parishioners understand all of our efforts, and to introduce others to the work we're doing (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QoZXhE7Nomk)

    7) We highlight sacred music events, videos, recordings, and announcements on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/materdeipa/)

    8) We recently launched and actively maintain a YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnn2RHYAnQAih-6WChyPMrA)

    9) To help encourage congregational hymn singing and to introduce parishioners to different hymns, we've begun producing a "Hymn of the Week" series, which is promoted on the website, on Facebook, and in the weekly bulletin (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL5ZPp3ZKHGYQAMHhVQ4DRZ5qR0V705lMS)

    10) To propel things forward, and to further reinforce our focus on good sacred music, we recently hired section leaders for our adult mixed choir. This allows us to learn faster, sing more difficult pieces, and it sends a clear message about our commitment to sacred music.

    Hopefully some of these ideas can be useful to others. Let's hear what you've done/are doing/want to do to promote your parish music program.
  • Carol
    Posts: 488
    This is an encouraging post! Makes me want to move to Harrisburg!
  • Let's hear what you've done/are doing/want to do to promote your parish music program.


    Always a work in progress! There are several things done between our parish (Sacred Heart) and our sister parish (Old St. Mary's, i.e. the two parishes administered by the Oratorian Community here in Cincinnati) to promote a greater degree of connection musically to the Liturgy:
    • A musical Oratory several times a year as a musical reflection on the season. This is advertised and promoted via social media and radio; featuring professional musicians; focused on sacred music. (Old St. Mary's)
    • Meditation concerts once a year. This is somewhat different from the musical Oratory... it is a concert with narration between segments to provide both education and food for meditation, something that is more prayer than concert (no applause). We alternate annually between a choir concert (volunteers) and one using professional musicians with some tie to the parish. (Sacred Heart)
    • Adding several sung liturgies in the EF. Tenebrae (one night at Old St. Mary's; three mornings at Sacred Heart); occasional Christmas Matins (Sacred Heart); Rorate Mass (Old St. Mary's); a number of other feasts throughout the year that are of devotional interest to the people. (both parishes)
    • Program handouts for special Masses with musical text and intended music. (both parishes)
    • Monthly program handouts that discuss in more general terms the music and the liturgy along with upcoming events. There is some focus on text, some on musical pieces and why they were selected, some on highlighting composers, some on what the choir is doing next and why. Obviously not everything can be done each month, so everything varies depending on what the space will accommodate. Example of next month's program is attached. (Sacred Heart)
    • The community has just started the Women's Oratory, which includes monthly talks on a variety of subjects, including the nature of sacred music, congregational singing, etc.. (both parishes)
    • Various conferences, intensives, workshops, and similar events - like the Sacred Music Retreat, the Sacred Music Pilgrimage, and similar types of events. (Sacred Heart)
    • More participation by the choir in parish events to promote the nature of what we do vis a vis music, through social outreach. (Sacred Heart)
    • Nothing formal in terms of a children's program, but we are encouraging a broad spectrum of participation in the choir, including very young members (pre-teen), and corresponding light theory training. (Sacred Heart, but there is something similar and more structured at Old St. Mary's with more children participating)
    • Use of the summer liturgies in particular to encourage congregational singing. (Sacred Heart - Old St. Mary's has a separate approach for doing something similar)