The parish choir director wears many hats: conductor, organist, composer, liturgist, teacher, singer, and yes, even catechist.
People join the parish choir for different reasons. Many join for the same reason they sing with any choir: it is an opportunity to express themselves through music, to enjoy singing, and participate in musical fellowship with their peers. What sets the parish choir apart from your local community choir, though, is the liturgical and spiritual dimension.
Church choirs (should) focus exclusively on liturgical music, music that participates in, highlights, and elevates the Mass. Liturgical music is, first and foremost, prayer. Singers participate in the parish choir because music has a religious connection for them, as well. It is a way in which they draw closer to God.
We choir directors need to keep that last reason in mind during our rehearsals and preparation. How often do we choose pieces of music while preparing for the liturgy and think, “Wow, this piece is just perfectly appropriate for the Feast of Saint Whomever,” but never explain to the choir just why the piece was chosen. Surely, some of them already understand, but for the most part, members of your choir have the same catechesis that the rest of the parish has, that is to say, not very much. This way of feeding your choir helps them worship better, and frankly, helps them to sing the music better, too.
The catechist/music director needs to know his or her material well. It’s not enough to choose music because “it’s pretty,” and while using the Gradual or Missal propers is an ideal musical choice, it is no more helpful spiritually to the choir if they don’t understand why a particular text is chosen for a particular feast. For example, for the Fifth Sunday of Lent this year, why is the Offertory Antiphon:
“I will praise you, O Lord, with my whole heart; deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and observe your word; revive me according to your word, O Lord,” such a good musical accompaniment?
Why, to me, that sounds like the song of praise that the woman caught in adultery would have sung to Jesus, who saved her life. Teach your choir that.
Singers join the church choir for the same reason they join any other church activity: because they are hungry for something. Use the music you sing as an opportunity to feed them, and listen as their song becomes even more beautiful because they understand it more fully.
Andrew Motyka is the Archdiocesan Director of Liturgical Music and Cathedral Music for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. This piece was excerpted from the blog, Views from the Choir Loft.