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How to bring better sacred music to your parish

Jeffrey Bruno
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“It’s time that we stopped the musical starvation diet and reached for richer fare.”

The teaching of the Catholic Church is no less clear: the organ is the primary and most fitting instrument for sacred music in the church, period, end of discussion. This has been taught so many times that it is foolish to dispute it, and the experience of great organ music is the closest thing I know to a totally unanswerable argument of fact. Just as chant and polyphony should be present in every parish and every school, so too should organ music resound in every church and chapel. We need a new generation of organists, well formed musically and well informed theologically, who can add once again the glory of this king of the instruments to our worship. Still, as glorious as it is, the organ is not indispensable to a sacred music program. With one organizer, a few good voices, and adequate pastoral support, sacred music can blossom anywhere.

Organ

For young people who are serious about sacred music and what they can contribute, what would you recommend?

The irreplaceable foundation is to become intimate with authentic sacred music. Although you can do this by listening to a plethora of wonderful recordings out there, it is better to get involved with a parish or a religious community that is serious about sacred music. You can be a member of the congregation and soak it in, or a member of the choir so that you sing the music and get to know it firsthand, whether it’s chant or polyphony or traditional hymnody.

The next big step is to attend a workshop of the Church Music Association of America where you will have an “immersion experience” of singing the Church’s great music, learning from teachers who really know how to teach it. The CMAA has an annual Sacred Music Colloquium and multiple chant workshops throughout the year that are life-changing and unforgettable experiences. Meeting and working with many other musicians who are attracted to the same beautiful music is a sovereign antidote to the despondency of feeling “all alone” at times.

The CMAA also has an online forum in which hundreds of musicians participate, asking and answering questions like: “I’m looking for a Mass for my choir but I only have sopranos, altos and tenors. What would you recommend?” I have learned so much over the years from my friends and acquaintances in the CMAA, both at the Colloquium and through online exchanges.

Speaking more broadly, it’s a good idea to visit blogs like New Liturgical Movement and Chant Café in order to keep learning about Catholic culture and the liturgy. We need inspiration and consolation, encouragement and concrete ideas, as we seek to restore the sacred in our own little corner of the world.

You have obviously given a lot of thought to sacred music. Have you written any articles that could be helpful for those who wish to go more deeply into the subject?

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