Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I Think I'm Too Much of a Chicken to Give this Post the Title It Should Have

I shall now go off about something that is not really my problem, though it is my concern and has been my concern for years.

I feel like, with saying this, I am now officially old, too.

I'm talking about the music ministry at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Now, I love FUS, I love the community that has sprung up in this town with and because of it, and I have been attending daily Mass at the University, on and off, schedule and family life permitting, for 15 years. I was a grad student at FUS from 1997-1999, and I was head of a music ministry team that lead music for the 12:05 Mass on Fridays for a semester. I also led music at various times during summer and Christmas breaks way back when. Before I had those leadership experiences, I used to occasionally critique and criticize those who lead music. Mostly I had a beef with people whose style was not mine. But then I stepped up to the plate to do it myself, and I learned only a stupid person criticizes something at which they've never made their own mistakes.

My favorite story in that regard is the time I completely forgot the word "Alleluia." We got to the gospel acclamation, I strummed the chord, and I could not for the life of me remember what it was we were supposed to sing. Not the notes, not the words, nothing. That was the last time I ever got up there without music, or at least without the word "Alleluia" written down with chord notation. I desperately whispered to the singer nearest me, "Sing something!!" She did, and the moment was saved.

I've also seen very experienced leaders sing the Lamb of God where the Holy, Holy goes, and other things that people remember and tell with chagrin until the day they die.

But there's thing that that has been steadily gnawing on me for the last several years, and today is the day I say it: There needs to be a music ministry formation program at Franciscan.

I wrote about this last year in this post called Thoughts on a Vocation of Music Ministry, and I got to this climactic moment of saying what is this "something" that is needed, and I stalled out, not able to name it. I think it is simply the ability to be an effective leader of music ministry.

That's a multi-faceted thing. For one thing, basic liturgical knowledge is very helpful.

Wait, let me back up. Yes, it's been roughly 13 years since I was in the loop of music ministry on campus, but it doesn't seem to me that the modus operandi has changed any. Someone correct me if it has. Whoever was designated the "leader" of the group made all of the decisions about choosing songs, Mass settings, how things would be sung, with only the most general of guidelines coming from the chapel staff. For example, at the 12:05 Mass, the psalm used to be sung by the music ministry, but now it is read by the lector. That was a very good call, not only because of the time constraints, but also because those psalms spun way out of control, because the music ministry leader was also responsible for, if you will, composing the setting for the psalm. Often they ended up in 6- or 7-part harmony (depending on the population of the given ministry group) and they were completely inarticulate. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Ok, so you've got a bunch of college kids, with the occasional non-trad or graduate student thrown in, and they are completely in charge of the music for their day of the week. Back to the liturgical knowledge bit. It's great to have Lenten hymns during Lent. It's great to have Easter hymns during Easter week and the extended season. Etc. It often seems that leaders are just picking their favorite tunes that have blessed little to do with anything, or perhaps there is a line from the gospel that matches, but the season is off.

There is also the matter of what can be pulled off by whom. I appreciate the genre of contemporary worship music that is often employed at FUS Masses, but some songs are just very difficult for one guitarist to pull off. Some songs are equally difficult for an organ or keyboard to try to pull off. What doesn't work well shouldn't be tried anyway.

But apart from these things, the thing that screams out to me the most is what I wrote about in the above-mentioned post: the difference between standing up and worshipping God in front of people, and leading people in worship. I say it that way because quite often we are talking about a guitarist and a group of singers, perhaps with a keyboard who is following the guitar lead (though sometimes it is reversed). I suppose the same could be said about an organist who is just playing songs. There has to be a certain sense that is clear and consciously known in the mind of the leader that s/he is there to be the leader. I think there is such a thing as a natural-born leader, even in music, but I think there is also such a thing as learning how to lead.

And there is a personal and spiritual element to that that requires personal and spiritual formation.

Now, back in my day, we were all encouraged to pray together before singing. That's good, and I'm all for it. But something deeper is needed. That prayer becomes a way of the singers/musicians saying to each other "Golly, I'm nervous. Let's do a little group huddle and go out and do this thing!" That's not even necessarily the worst thing in the world, but it is on a rather immature level, both as an emotional expression and especially as a prayer expression. God wants something deeper from us than to be our lucky rabbit's foot that we rub for confidence.

How does one develop confidence? Part of it is about living a life of discipleship in Christ. Another part of it is mentoring and training. Wait, did I just repeat myself? Jesus didn't just find a bunch of disciples and send them out the next day. He spent time with them, so they could see what He did. Then He sent them out to learn by doing, and to get feedback to do better. Formation!

The vast majority of the many, many leaders and groups I have witnessed in recent years desperately need formation in leadership confidence, and often some help with basic liturgical tools. Occasionally, musical ones as well. These are students, I know, they are young and immature by definition, and to me they are getting younger and more immature all the time. They are there as students; they are not part of a religious order. And yet, Franciscan has always been about spiritual formation of its students. A big part of that formation in general actually flows through the liturgical celebrations. And an integral part of those celebrations is the music ministry. (And the lectors -- and they do get their own training. That's another story.)

It seems to me that part of the weakness of the charismatic heritage on which Franciscan's music ministry has been mostly built is that it was expected that if the musicians just prayed and "did their thing," that God would bring it all together and the worship would be effective. Then of course there's all the blather about styles of music that people have been tussling over there for decades. Part of the problem is that, in order to have any music at all, the chapel is dependent on whomever they can dredge up to provide it, and Catholics have not considered musical training an integral part of education, like learning to read (as the Lutherans are more apt to).

But, whatever the problems or the source of the problems, I have this concern, because I love liturgy. I'm a third-rate, relatively ignorant musician who has a sharp and painful passion for liturgical music being "just so," or at least close to it. Music should give the people the freedom to worship God, not to focus for good or for ill on what they are hearing.

Ok, rant done. I think. Concern, ongoing.

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