Fr. Edward Gilbert, born in the Dominican Republic, is a priest for the Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona. Cecilia Music caught up with this priest who has placed music at the center of his priestly ministry to ask him a few questions:
What was your first musical instrument?
My voice…and it’s still the only one.
Can you think of any stories from when you were a kid related to your music?
Yes, when I was a kid, in order to get people to take me to get an ice cream or to the fair I had to sing songs by Pedrito Fernández, like “la mochila azul” (“the blue backpack”). I would get my aunts and uncles together and it was a great show.
Who taught you to pray?
My mom taught me to pray. I was always very timid, and the darkness was something great and scary. My mom taught me to pray to calm me down and understand that God would always protect me.
What did you feel the day of your priestly ordination?
The most emotional moment was when I prostrated myself on the ground for the singing of the Litanies. I remember it was the only moment I cried. It’s hard to explain…it’s as if one moment could sum up and give meaning to the past, illuminate your present, and fill your entire reality with hope. Everything I had fought and worked for in the end was given to me as a gift.
How do your priestly vocation and music go together?
In the beginning it was part of my pastoral work, helping the choirs to improve their sound. I found it very discouraging when a choir sung poorly. Later I discovered the talent of the guys of Kaivós and I understood it was important to go one step further and pursue musical production. Now it’s necessary to balance my time, prioritize my ministry, my obligations, and to enrich my ministry with the service of music, which forms part of the work of evangelization in the Church.
Has anything funny ever happened to you while singing?
There’s one thing that always happens: As soon as I step on stage, my right knee starts trembling and for the first five minutes I am trying to control it as I sing.
What about the line, “He who sings prays twice”?
Well…haha…the actual Latin quotation is “he who sings WELL prays twice.” I always thought it was interesting that in the indications for singing the Exsultet during Holy Week it says: If it cannot be sung with dignity, “read it.” Music in the Church always required specialization, delicacy, work…doing it well is a great aid in entering into the peace that a moment of prayer requires; it helps to raise hearts to God, and can bring about authentic communal spiritual experiences.
Any advice for someone who wants to do music?
The first is to train. Inspiration by itself is not enough. If you can do it in a music school, even better. In my parish things began to change when music began to be taught and studied. Where this is not possible, it is important to search for opportunities to improve and to never be content with where you are, but to always do better.