Spiritual Feeding of Choir members?
  • I would like to know of any directors out there, who have made efforts, or involved their pastor to periodically make efforts, to provide some sort of spiritual guidance let's call it, to their parish singers on their involvement in liturgy, and the spiritual depth involved in using our voices, singing the latin treasury of music for the Glory of God, but also at the same time, if you have an all-volunteer choir program as I do, providing spiritual meditation on the ministerial aspect of being involved in the choir(s), welcoming to newcomers, balancing our continued growth toward excellence with our charity and patience toward one another, etc.

    I am wanting to either help present this to my pastor in a less open-ended way, to ask him to give some sort of presentation/talk occasionally to our choir members, or at least once or twice a year (maybe during the penitential seasons) to help them grow in the depth of their love for ministry through music and the spiritual nourishment it can/should give them, as well as addressing the practical side of how it connects us as people within our parish, and gentle reminders toward the ministerial aspect of being in the parish music program.
    Or, I am wanting to do this myself, by including meditative "nuggets" in rehearsals, either insight on composers/music, but also more broadly meditation on ministry through music in the parish setting.
    I hope I am being clear enough. We sing very traditional music here. Almost all gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony, w/ a few later era catholic motets thrown in here and there. Many long-standing choir members, and very tradionally minded, but we are also a parish with robust growth, and lots of new faces weekly, including lots of newcomers to the TLM in general.
    I want to strive harder to "spiritual feed" my choir members, and connect it in a way to our music.
    Any books you would recommend I read, or books that have short meditations related to catholic music, or music ministry?

    Thanks in advance!
  • Some choirs, probably more Episcopalian ones than others, have choir retreats at least once a year. These can take place at a local monastery, a church-owned camp, etc., and may feature a guest spiritual adviser-lecturer as well as a vocal technician. These can be invaluable for building choral esprit de corps, instilling theological dimension to choir work, and, generally, are a tremendous inspiration for all involved. They may last for as long as one wishes - sometimes a whole week, sometimes a an entire week-end, sometimes just a Saturday - however one wishes to structure it.

    Also, it can be an invaluable morale builder if the pastor makes regular visits to his choir to thank them for their sacred work and say a few words about the spiritual dimension of sacred music and those who offer it, and their sacred role at mass. A conscientious pastor may do this once a month or once every two months, or 'every so often', but it can be one of the most important personal contributions which he makes to the liturgical life of his parish.

    A by-product of the pastor regularly giving attention and appreciation to the choir and its music is that people will take it more seriously, respect it more, and! more might even be inclined to join because they can see that it is important to father.

    Include a weekly 'choirmaster's column' in the parish newsletter or bulletin. It can include topics such as news about the choir, how and why music is chosen, vignettes about composers or sacred music, the Church's teachings about sacred music, why singing is important (spiritual and psychological benefits), etc.

    Do follow through with your idea of having a short (sung!) devotional to begin each rehearsal. This may consist of a few lines from one of the many psalms which wax fervently about singing, plus a short Bible verse pertinent to the choir's work, plus a collect or two. Additionally, always close rehearsal with a (sung) prayer, the Our Father, the seasonal Marian antiphon, etc.
    Thanked by 2Antonio CHGiffen
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,041
    Fr. Dominic Johner's "Chants of the Vatican Gradual" provides commentaries on many of the proper chants, so you may find some beneficial reflections there. The book is available as a free download from the resource page at http://musicasacra.com/ , or you can buy a copy in softcover -- which is probably cheaper than printing the whole thing out.
  • or music ministry?

    First, I would strenuously suggest the dropping of the idea that music at Mass is a kind of ministry -- because this concept usually requires adapting to those receiving ministrations -- and, rather, replace it with the idea of "Office". Those who sing fulfill a kind of liturgical office, and should therefore be taught to cultivate both their musical skill (individually and as an ensemble) and their spiritual life.
  • JahazaJahaza
    Posts: 468
    The words ministry, duty, and office (i.e. ministerium, munus, officium) are quite closely related in Catholic theology and not really separable. To the extent that music ministry is a ministry, those ministered to are the congregation as a whole, not the members of the ministry.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,835

    Spiritual feeding of choir members? Hmmm! My choir has better spirits when given donuts.

  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 1,131
    [color=purple]If you're giving spirits, I'll take a Jack Black![/color]
  • Jahaza,

    The term "ministry" is applied nowadays to musicians and all manner of other people -- at least at its origin -- for the purpose of being able to say, "We're all ministers: there's nothing really special about a priest." "Office" sounds too stuffy for what musicians do, especially in the era of "ministry of Greeter".

    Therefore, while I happily concede that the terms ministry, duty and office are closely related in Catholic theology, I must insist that not every use of the term is, therefore, legitimate.

  • First, I would strenuously suggest the dropping of the idea that music at Mass is a kind of ministry -- because this concept usually requires adapting to those receiving ministrations -- and, rather, replace it with the idea of "Office".

    The word Office implies rights: eg a priest has a certain office by virtue of his ordination, and thus has certain rights, irrespective of whether he meets his responsibilities or not.

    Where as the word ministry implies work / service that I must do.

    It is also a mistake to say that music-ministry is limited to Mass: especially as the number of priests decreases, we are likely to see a broadening of the the range of parish activities for which musical support is needed. For example, the people who lead a few hymns at our Eucharistic Adoration have as much right to music ministry support as our choir members do.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,041
    In Catholic theological terminology, "ministry" refers specifically to what the ordained do: preach the Gospel and celebrate the sacraments. Back in 1997, a church document about lay co-operation with the ministry of the clergy reminded people of this point.
    "... only in virtue of sacred ordination does the word obtain that full, univocal meaning that tradition has attributed to it."

    [...] The non-ordained faithful may be generically designated "extraordinary ministers" when deputed by competent authority to discharge, solely by way of supply, [the offices of distributing Holy Communion or of witnessing marriages ... ]. Naturally, the concrete term may be applied to those to whom functions are canonically entrusted e.g. catechists, acolytes, lectors etc.

    Temporary deputation for liturgical purposes — mentioned in Canon 230, § 2 — does not confer any special or permanent title on the non-ordained faithful.
    Thanked by 1Jenny
  • I cannot but offer my long-held feelings that ministry and the cooperative performance of musical drivel is basically an oxymoronic coupling of concepts . Ministry is the service to others of what is beneficial to them. Serving them rubbish, even if that is what they want, can hardly be called 'ministry'. It is more like offering a dope addict the heroine he or she desires and calling it ministry. Ministry, by definition, is the serving up of what is healthful. A more apt word than ministry for this sort of 'service' would be pandering. Playing fine hymns for people, along with chant and good choral music is ministry. Playing the down-dumbing sacro-pop to which they have become addicted is not ministry in any meaningful use of the word.
  • Coffee is healthful, no?.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW bhcordova
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,835
    A rather brain-damaged flower child once asked, while raving about her "ministries" what my ministry was. I answered, "I play the damned organ. Sometimes I work the light switches."
    Thanked by 1ClergetKubisz
  • ViolaViola
    Posts: 377
    I have been known to clean the music office and put up bookcases.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW tsoapm
  • Elevating lay people to do things that were once reserved to the priest alone is what has destroyed the church in the minds and hearts of many. The creation of false ministries. Francis could say it better.
    Thanked by 1ClergetKubisz
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 1,131
    The former Director of Liturgy and Music would read a prayer from 'Prayers of Those Who Make Music" available from Liturgy Training Publications. She also gave all the choir members a copy. I still use mine.
    Thanked by 1Stella611
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 1,259
    I sort of thought this was going to be more of a "how to maximize my choir's attention TO the Mass, during Mass, while still performing their roles as choir members;" etc. Or even the choir director's.
  • CCooze,

    That would be a valuable topic.

  • ViolaViola
    Posts: 377
    We are considering having a choir retreat, perhaps including choirs from other parishes. Does anyone have experience of this?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,835
    My choir retreats every Sunday. It could more properly be called a rout, but we come back for more every Sunday.

  • The best spiritual nourishment for choir members, and in fact for all other musicians, is performing the best music available. For the schola or church choir, this means Gregorian chant and Sacred Polyphony. For organists, it means playing the greatest works of sacred organ music that have been written: for me it would be the Classic French repertoire, but that's just my view, YMMV. No music will draw them closer to God than that.
    Thanked by 3CharlesW CHGiffen bdh
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,487
    We are considering having a choir retreat, perhaps including choirs from other parishes. Does anyone have experience of this?

    Yes. I led a retreat for my choir and choristers from around the diocese (and beyond actually.) I can send you my outline for the retreat if you like (PM me your email addy). I based it on a day at the CMAA Colloquium. I considered it a success. It was a lot of work though.
    Thanked by 2CCooze Viola
  • Maybe I should be more clear by saying we are an FSSP parish. So there is no need to split hairs about "ministry" or "office" or trying to clarify singers' role to the liturgy. We have no diva idea of our role toward the liturgy. We serve God through our music. I don't have to worry either about the choir program being involved in other ways. All our choirs serve through music at mass or other liturgical events at the parish. That's pretty much it. The sidetrack conversation above on the use of terms doesn't do anything to help me at all. It should be pretty clear even from my original post that by "ministry" or "ministering", what I mean is that I want to help foster greater personal interactions between members and depth of spiritual understanding of what we sing.
    Choir member feedback recently indicated that new choir members didn't feel very incorporated; after even a whole year, they still feel a bit like an outsider, esp. if they can tell they may not be as "traditionally minded" as some of the other choir members. Maybe most of you can't relate to this kind of situation, if you are working more in the trenches within the NO mass parishes. Since we are beyond that kind of situation, I personally find that as you raise the bar of musical excellence, "cliques" can easily form if there is not enough stress on cooperative effort of ALL choir members, that each have their own vocal strengths and weaknesses to contribute, etc. I want to help my choir members grow in the spiritual nature of their "work" as singers, as well as the depth of meaning of the texts they sing. AND maintain a welcoming atmosphere to new singers, so that those with talent who find themselves at our parish, find the choir program as a place that helps them feel welcomed into the parish community. Whether you agree that the choir program should serve that purpose at all, it is a practical reality, especially if you have a larger parish. People who get themselves involved in different parish groups often do so as a way that makes them feel "at home" and connected to others, especially in this day and age of extended family likely not living close by. I myself, truly see my choir members and involved families, as my spiritual family.

    M. Jackson Osborn - Thank you for the multiple suggestions! Our parish actually uses flocknotes, so that could be a beneficial way to use the "choir news" group on there: to send out monthly tidbits about the choir program.
    Exactly what you mentioned about the pastors' involvement is exactly what I am wanting to try to make happen. we have 3 priests too, and being a TLM parish it is VERY true that when it comes from the priest, parishioners take more notice! They do thank us from time to time on the music, and have a pizza party w/ the main pastor after holy week, but like you mentioned, I would like to try to get more "spiritual/meditative advising" involved into it, even a few times a year/once per season. But I know to make that happen, it helps to give our priests something more detailed or concrete you have in mind, rather than leave it open ended. They are more likely to respond to your request if given a more guided request. So any ideas of specific topics/sources they could give mini lectures on for the choir?

    Thank you chonak
    for your suggestion; I actually do have the Chants of the Vatican Gradual book, and use it sometimes w/ the women schola, but hadn't thought to peruse it more thoroughly and find ways to apply it to the choral groups' music. We do sing motets often though, based on the propers, so I should do that.

    we basically do what you say already, singing from the best treasury of vocal music the Catholic Church has to offer, but I find that just singing it is not necessarily enough. I want to help take my choirs the next step deeper; deeper understanding of the text, and really taking that poetic text to heart, and not being afraid to personally express it in our singing. Sometimes our singing is a bit "dry" or "vanilla", because I find TLM goers can be more reticent than most to express emotions to others outwardly. But to move the hearts of our fellow parishioners, to aid them in their prayer... I think it is important to make ourselves as singers, vulnerable to the music in this way.

    , thank you for the book suggestion!

    Canadash: I will PM you. I would LOVE to know what resources/material you used to have the choir retreat.
  • JL
    Posts: 171
    If such a thing exists near you, it could be worthwhile to have a choir retreat at a local monastery where the choristers can take part in the monastic liturgy as part of the retreat program. If you can find a musically adept monk or nun to lead the retreat, so much the better!

    The RSCM Choristers' Prayer is always a good starter for rehearsals and warmups. You could even chant it to one of the collect tones.

    "Bless, O Lord, us Thy servants who minister in Thy temple. Grant that what we sing with our lips we may believe in our hearts, and what we believe in our hearts we may show forth in our lives. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
    Thanked by 2CCooze Viola
  • JL,
    I actually use that simple prayer with the children choirs. Thanks for the idea of setting it to a collect or psalm tone, though!

    For those interested, I have a couple other prayers I have found and have given to choir members to tape in their music binder:
    "Open my mouth, O Lord, in praise of Thy Holy Name. Cleanse my heart of all worldly thoughts, prepare my intellect and inflame my will that I may worthily sing this Divine Service. As we gather to sing thy praise, may we but touch one soul and lead it to thee. May our music foreshadow thy beauty which we shall see forever in Thy Kingdom. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen."

    And another one:
    "Dear Lord, Please bless this music, that it might glorify your name. May the talent you have bestowed upon us be used only to serve You. Let this music be a witness to your majesty and love, and remind us that You are always watching and listening, from your throne above. May your presence and beauty be found in every note, and may the words that are sung reach the hearts of your people so they will draw closer to You. May your Spirit guide us through every measure so that we might be the instruments of Your peace, and proclaim Your glory with glad voices. Amen."
  • Have you tried engaging your more advanced and/or senior/professional management oriented choir members to help with auditioning new singers and to help guide you in crafting organizational changes that would facilitate the development and integration of new members? It seems that the challenges you face are really administrative in nature rather than spiritual.
  • Earl_GreyEarl_Grey
    Posts: 882
    I was wondering the same question as the OP. Some good ideas here. Any other thoughts. A book of short meditations on the spirituality of music making would be most helpful.

    Reflections on the Spirituality of Gregorian Chant by Dom Jacques Hourlier is very good.

    Anything else to consider?
    Thanked by 1Incardination
  • Spiritual feeding of choir members? What’s that?

    I have a book that has an analysis of all the propers in the Roman Gradual. I try to read it before each Sunday so I have a better idea of what I’m Singing and the spirituality behind the propers chosen.
  • Personally, I feel that this is a continuous and sustained educational effort, an essential part of our role as choir director (perhaps, truth be told, THE most important aspect of what we do). For the same reason, I think it is important that we teach concepts and theory - not simply learning music for the coming Sunday or feast day, but making a conscious effort to build and develop the people who will be the next leaders of liturgical music.

    Participation in the Liturgy is simultaneously privilege and responsibility... that is, we are uniquely blessed to take part, but that degree of participation with which we are privileged carries with it a particular sense of duty. Unfortunately, it is too easy for all of us (directors and choir members) to take both of these aspects for granted unless we have periodic reminders. We don't have to fixate on the "why" behind participation in choir, but neither should we ignore it completely.

    In my groups, I discuss the dual purpose for which we exist as a choir - that we strive, by our participation in the Liturgy, to increase the honor and glory of God; that we endeavor, through the medium of our music, to draw souls to Christ. I've selected two patron saints (neither one connected to music) who each epitomize one of these purposes. We sing a prayer before and after every practice, invoking these patron saints each time. I will periodically mention these considerations (briefly) through the year, but spend significantly more time in our end-of-year meeting developing these thoughts, tying the purpose for which we exist as a choir back to the concepts of privilege and responsibility.

    Every so often, I propose certain events that give us opportunity to focus on this purpose. This is the intent behind the Sacred Music Retreat that we held in 2018
    (https://forum.musicasacra.com/forum/discussion/15491/sacred-music-retreat#Item_1) and of the Sacred Music Pilgrimage that will take place in 2023 (more information forth-coming). This is also one of the reasons why I think it important to foster opportunities for partnerships with other parishes and other groups - as a group, we learn from others; as a group we share some ideas and concepts with others... and sacred music benefits across the board.

    I'm also trying to extend this education to the parishioners. I print out a monthly music program at a high level with an explanation of how it connects to the season and the focus of that particular month. I explain some of the reasoning behind the scheduled music and also talk about the composers whose music we sing. Very high-level, but it underscores the purpose we strive toward as a choir.

    This kind of thought-process - recognizing that the educational aspect of our role (whether tied to the spirituality of the choir or the mechanics that we strive to perfect so that we can become better at accomplishing our purpose) - should influence EVERYTHING else that we do as choir directors. If we truly want to accomplish the purpose for which we exist as a choir... if we truly believe that our role as musicians in His service is meaningful... then we ought to take the time to develop our choir structure; to build time for development of new members; to plan our music and practice schedules - instead of simply skating by from week to week through personal talent (or the talent of our group).

    Palestrina wept bitter tears for having composed non-Sacred music earlier in his life. Lambilotte bitterly regretted that he did not more closely adhere to the mind of the Church in his music at times. How much will we have to regret at the end of our time?
  • The other part of the equation is that you can’t give what you don’t have. If choir directors aren’t spiritually well fed and living a good Catholic life they can’t spiritually feed the choir entrusted to them. I try not to judge the interior and spiritual lives of choir directors, and instead just pray for them all, but the thought often occurs to me how terrible it would be to spend your life using your talents to serve God and His Church only to spend eternity in Hell for a lack of living an upright life.
  • EMH
    Posts: 47
    Let me know if it is not allowed to resurrect this, but I am in the same boat as the OP looking to spiritually form my choir. Any more books or meditations about the mass, liturgical year, readings, or propers that you have found helpful? Just some tidbits to share at the beginning of rehearsal every week. Thanks!

  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,233
    I recall there are some much more useful threads on the forum about this topic than this one, if anyone can find them.
    Thanked by 1EMH
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 2,524
    This may be of help with the Propers, each set has a link to the Johner's book on the Propers. Gueranger's Liturgical Year is another good source, these can be found on the internet archive https://archive.org/details/V01TheLiturgicalYear

    A prayer that can be sung can be found here,
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen EMH
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,362
    I regularly educate my choir on what we are singing and why. We begin every rehearsal with prayer, frequently the divine praises and another prayer written specifically for our choir. We will do extemporaneous prayers in front of the Blessèd Sacrament as well.

    Sometimes I will draw on books about the liturgy that talk about specific chants (or their texts) such as Dom Prosper's Liturgical Year and other such works. The choir is very receptive to all of it.

    It can be very powerful too... I specifically remember the day we sang Rorate Cæli desuper... discussing "jerusalem is a wasteland" and relating that to what is going on in the church today and why it's so important that we are extra holy to make reparations etc.

    There are also books that discuss the chants themselves (from a musical perspective) which can be interesting too. "Hosanna Filio David" opens up with a fanfare-like motive, which scholars believe is no accident. They are hailing our Lord and we are singing horn calls as we repeat their words.
  • GambaGamba
    Posts: 514
    In my choirs [before the pandemic, before I was laid off and took a new job where someone else directs and I play], I always began each rehearsal with the collect of the Sunday we were preparing to sing. Where there was some very clear connection to our rep, I might briefly point it out before our warmups. Then we concluded with the Hail Mary and V/. St. Cecilia R/. Pray for us. V/. All the angels and saints of God. R/.Pray for us. But that’s just kind of baseline choral functioning….

    I did, whenever introducing a new piece, take a minute or two to unpack it, with the usual “N. wrote this; he lived in the 19th c. Watch out, tenors divide on p. 3, and the last page is fast; we’ll take it in one.”

    But I also made sure to explore the text: where it comes from in the Bible and who any figures it references are, how it explains the other propers for us (whether the prayers, readings, or other chants), and how it relates to the day or general time in the liturgical year and thus teaches us how to live. I find this can be done pretty fast with adequate prep time, and turns the time the singers want to sit and rest and get some water before the next piece into a useful period.

    I find this is much appreciated and makes for better singing (surprise, people who actually understand the words they are singing really do care what they are singing about….), and a few times, a singer would stay after to say they were truly grateful I had shared X or Y and it was completely new and much appreciated.

    This approach seems to be more necessary than it may have been in past times. Not long ago, Psalm 133 was appointed for Sunday, and a singer with multiple music degrees and several decades of weekly church work asked who Aaron was and why on earth we would sing about oil on his beard. I guess in all her years, no one had ever thought to identify a pretty vital guy in the Jewish story, or to point out that this psalm teaches that unity in the community is a divine gift, beginning in the sacramental life, and sustained by the anointing of the Holy Spirit…..
  • Many years ago (this was in the early days of Walsingham, of which I am the founding choirmaster) I drew up two short 'offices' for before and after choir rehearsals, and one before mass on Sundays and feasts.

    They each consisted of opening versicles and responses, a music-oriented psalm or portion thereof, a music oriented 'chapter' (old or new Testament), a collect for choirs and church musicians in general, suffrages, Our Father, Hail Mary, and dismissal.

    Each of these took no more than two or three minutes - four at the very most.

    They were typically sung.
    Also, at my choir rehearsals all wore their cassocks.
    Also, we rehearsef a capella, and if a pitch was ever needed it came from a tuning fork

    Also, we would often read that part of the coming day's lectionary which pertained to the chosen offertory and communion anthems and comment on its pertinence.
    Thanked by 3CHGiffen tomjaw EMH
  • dad29
    Posts: 2,191
    Do follow through with your idea of having a short (sung!) devotional to begin each rehearsal.

    FWIW, Roger Wagner 'warmed up' his Chorale with the Chant Ave Maria. Bear in mind that they were all professionals and likely did extensive vocalise prior to arriving at the venue. But the piece is short, has moderate range, and certainly is devotional.