"Community of Faith First, Musicians Second"
  • The line above was said to me the other day by a priest in conversation. He said that it was critical that choirs be "communities of faith first and only then musicians." I smiled and asked about something else. I have two questions and I'd like to hear others' take on this. First, what does the phrase "community of faith" mean? Does this imply that the music director has some faith formation responsibilities? I've always done some teaching about musical forms, saints, feasts, but only as directly related to the texts/events at hand. Second, I find the "we've all got to be best friends" attitude of some choirs actually keeps new members out. They already have friends and families and aren't looking for another "community of concern." Their goal is to sing.

    I'm interested because it's my belief that beauty can lead people to God because beauty rightly directly points to truth. However, I wonder the extent to which a focus on group prayer, intercessions, and sociability will stop folks who might be coming into the faith (or rediscovering their faith) from finding their way through music.
  • Yeah, I'm skeptical too. It sounds to me like a rationale that all music must defer to the the community's will. The priorities seem a bit mixed up. It overlooks, for example, that musicians are technicians who are working to fulfill the goals of the faith, so their technique is rather important priority. Let's say that the parish hired someone to re-pave the parking lots. You wouldn't say to the pavers "you must first be a community of faith and only then pavers." You wouldn't say that to gardeners or to those who wove the altar cloth or those who built the building or to anyone else who does things for the parish. The community of faith is the result of doing things well in accordance with the letter and spirit of the needs of the faith.
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,188
    I would kindly beg to differ on those connections. Yes, we are all communities of faith. However, the what does the role of the choir have to do with that? The task of the community is not the same as the choir. The choir has a task at liturgy, but then so does the community. They are not the same in terms of ability or place. We are confusing liturgical theology with ecclesiology. In other words, what we do as a church is the same as what we do at liturgy. They are not the same. Communities of faith teach, create programs to pass on the faith, socialize, etc. What communities do at liturgy is worship the eternal God. Choirs, priests, deacons, other ministers and the congregation have their role in that task.

    In fairness, it should be noted that choirs are a community within a community. Their time spent together generally creates a community as does any group that spends time together in common purpose. Commonality of belief is useful (as in we are all Catholic), but execution of the task is always paramount in their time together, whether in rehearsal or at liturgy. That task does not overwhelm the notion of prayer, but contributes toward it. Hopefully, choirs are people of prayer in their lives as well as a choir.

  • I'm concerned for the souls of those in the choir, but they're called to do good music well. When I hear how the choir is a "community of faith first" (and why use that terminology? Are we talking about Muslim choirs?), I hear an excuse for lost focus.

    I liken it to how the church has often been watered down to be a community that replicates what other communities do plenty well but "forgets" to worship God, which is the one thing that other communities don't do. Churches start to preach the Gospel of Recycling or whatever the Cause Du Jour is, but what if you're really looking for the Savior? There should be somewhere you can find Him! In the same way, choirs can develop all sorts of aspects as a community, but if their focus is not on meeting the challenge of singing well, they lose their distinctive meaning.

    May I say that I consider all the other aspects of choir -- friendship and fellowship, the personal sharing of lives and hopes and projects as the seasons of the church year come and go, and simply as the years come and go -- as wonderful and precious. I don't want them dismissed at all. I just don't think some people realize how these things are rooted in a shared purpose a belonging to an as-good-as-possible choir.

    "Community" in this case may be like happiness, which should be a by-product but not the goal, of life. If either becomes the goal, it becomes elusive and vague. A "community of faith" is a vague thing. Now choirs? They're looking for the downbeat. (On second thought, they're looking for the arsis and thesis!)
  • Vigilate, can we trade user names?
  • Thanks for the comments which are helping to "clarify thinking," as Peter Maurin liked to say. I've been around choirs that focused on music and had a number of non-Catholic members - some of whom did eventually begin to think about more than Renaissance music and enter the Church. I've also been around lots of hand-holding and pious talk with poor singing - and directors who felt that the former excused the latter. I also sang with a choir that combined both - work at singing, parties that lapsed into slightly tipsy folk songs, and abiding friendships.

    And speaking of community, I thank God (and my lucky stars) for all the good folks who participate in this forum - a communtiy of faith, interest and love.
  • right mj! without the faith, there is no point at all. Our own schola has been through so many trials--together. Our times together have been the holiest moments of our lives.
  • Some months ago, David Haas delivered himself of the opinion in "Ministry and Liturgy" Magazine (April 2008) the following wisdom: "All God's critters got a place in the choir."

    The punch-line of his wisdom was the following:

    The parish choir is not the local choral society. The parish choir helps empower the assembly. The choir is also a witness, a small Christian community called to live faithfully, to serve passionately to the poor and outcast, to celebrate and honor the family of God. . . Their passion, faith and commitment is far more important than how perfected their choral sound may be.

    (My emphasis added.)

    So, there you have it. Note the words: empower, witness; the catchphrases: serve the poor and outcast. A choir, in Haas' world, celebrates and honors the family of God, not God Himself. It's not about being properly disposed, trained or equipped to serve as lay liturgical ministers within the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it's about feeling like you belong to something.

    Things that make you go, "Hmm." And remember, dozens of young people (and adults) attend his "Music Ministry Alive!" camps every summer, and NPM members are exposed to his ideology regularly, in almost every major publication in general circulation to both the laity and clergy.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,956
    In a more rational time, since our culture has surely left the Age of Reason behind, Haas would have been hooted out of town as an unenlightened and semi-talented clod. Now we honor the know-nothings - or at least NPM routinely does. I think future church leaders and musicians will look back on our times, and say "Who was Haas?" I don't expect anything he has written to be of lasting value.
  • "The parish choir is not the local choral society. The parish choir helps empower the assembly. The choir is also a witness, a small Christian community called to live faithfully, to serve passionately to the poor and outcast, to celebrate and honor the family of God. . . Their passion, faith and commitment is far more important than how perfected their choral sound may be."

    Yes, you can be mediocre or even worse in the singing at Mass, but as long as you are passionate about your faith commitment that's all that matters. And now we're are back in the 1960's, starting all over again. Composers don't sit and wonder if their music will sell....if there is any doubt of its merit, they burn it and start over again. These guys seem to have kept everything from the fire.

    And my choirs already have the poor and the outcasts in them...they are not the elite he seems to want in his choirs.
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,188
    Mr. Haas espouses an anti-intellectual and a-historical view of music at liturgy. Sadly, both of those are counter to the Catholic tradition. What is even worse is that he is Lutheran (or was in the early nineties).

    Okay, I am being parochial today.

  • Kevin,

    You're confusing Haas' denominational identity with that of Marty Haugen's. I believe Haas has always been a Newchurch Catholic. Haugen (whose music is, all things being equal, a cut above Haas', which isn't saying much) was Lutheran, then Congregationalist, and is apparently back to being Lutheran.

    But the Catholic publishers will always gladly feather his nest.
  • That's right, but is Haas still Catholic?
  • Michael, I think that's a matter between Haas and his confessor. ;^)
  • "Their passion, faith and commitment is far more important than how perfected their choral sound may be."

    What a nutshell. Great statement of the opposition. As if passion is not an ingredient in the recipe of perfected choral sound. As if one could not hear passion in choral singing. Kind of like faith without works being dead. Granted that passion, faith and commitment are very important, but in a choir, they lead to choral beauty. Let that "PFC" bloom, choirs!

    (and to Jeffrey Tucker -- I'm too shy to let go of my user name but ... thank you very much.)
  • Ok, maybe I'll change mine to Vigilate2
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,183
    Jeffrey, perhaps "vigilante" is available. Interested? :-)


    Expressions such as
    "[choirs must be] communities of faith first and only then musicians"
    "Their passion, faith and commitment is far more important than how perfected their choral sound may be"
    are missing the mark.

    Just imagine applying them to the clergy:
    "Priests must be men of faith first, devoted heart and soul to Jesus Christ, and only then ministers of the Gospel"
    :"His passion, faith, and commitment is far more important than how perfected his doctrine and ministry may be."

    It's instantly apparent that these set forth a false separation, an either/or polarization; they suggest a de facto anti-intellectualism or fideism. The way of the Faith, however, is the "both/and".
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,188
    Yes, thank you for the clarification regarding Haas. I stand by my anti-intellectualism and a-historical critique.
  • In response to the original topic, I can see a place where there is truth in the priest's remarks. I have been in choirs that have brough in professional singers for the big holidays regardless of these singers' religious beliefs. I have heard more than one of these singers deride Catholicism outside of choir, and the only word that fits is scandalous. Perhaps all that the priest meant was that a choir must be more than a collection of musical performers. "Community of faith" need not denote anything formal in terms of organization. Certainly it's probably not a bad idea for a choir to attend a retreat or day of recollection together every couple years or so in order to deepen its members' appreciation of their role in the liturgy. As a choir member, it's easy for mass to pass me by as I count to four over and over and over...