Allow me to introduce…sound!

You’re sitting at the piano (or holding your guitar) and the lector has just proclaimed the first reading and is leaving the ambo. As they return to their seat all eyes and ears are upon you. It’s time for the Responsorial Psalm.  In the room it is…silent. What happens next depends on you. You are about to “introduce sound” into this beautiful, reverent moment of silence as listeners contemplate a reading from the Old Testament. How will you begin? Loudly? Softly? Just piano? Solo flute? A cappella voices? Drums? There are so many options, and for each we must consider the liturgical moment. 

On any given Sunday the music ministry is directly responsible for leading up to 15 moments in the liturgy (not including Preludes, Sequences, Dismissal of Catechumens & Candidates, and Postludes.):

  1. Entrance/Gathering Song
  2. Penitential Rite
  3. Glory to God
  4. Responsorial Psalm
  5. Gospel Acclamation
  6. General Intercessions (if sung response)
  7. Song during Presentation of the Gifts
  8. Holy
  9. Memorial Acclamation
  10. Great Amen
  11. The Lord’s Prayer (if sung)
  12. Lamb of God
  13. Communion Procession
  14. Meditation/Song of Praise
  15. Closing Song

That’s a lot of music, and a lot of responsibility. But we should embrace these opportunities with excitement, reverence, and musical sensibility.


Where Are You Coming From? (Sound or Silence) 

Let’s take a look at the Entrance/Gathering Song. Most parishes and communities have their own style of beginning the liturgy. Some parishes and pastors request that you remain silent as you enter the church, until the gathering song. Some parishes encourage you to greet one another openly, welcoming friends and family. In other parishes the music ministry rehearses (sometimes with the assembly) before the official start-of-mass time. Depending on which Mass you attend it can also vary within the same parish. I know when I begin the 7:00am Mass at St. Ann’s it’s a little more subdued than the 10:30 children’s mass, or the 6:00pm contemporary teen mass!

So are you coming from sound, or silence? Are people talking openly, or praying quietly?  Listen. You are about to introduce sound to this moment. Here are some options, depending on what type of tone you want to set for the liturgy:

  1. When starting from silence: begin the gathering song tenderly. Piano/guitar and a solo instrument playing the intro are always easy on the ears, and rather expected. A cappella voices are also a great way to start from silence. Soft percussion works as well. Remember, this is just the start of the song. Once the song gets going you can make it as big and loud as it needs to be, but “get there” first. Forget what dynamic marking is in the music…you need to make a musical decision based on where you are in the liturgy. A contemporary band coming in with a crash on a downbeat would be…loud! Is that what you want to happen there? There are times for this, and I don’t think this is necessarily one of them. Similarly, an organ with all the stops pulled out playing a really loud intro can also disturb the silence in a “not so positive” way.
  2. When starting amidst a “gathering” assembly: When people are greeting one another, talking, shaking hands, etc. the sound in the room has already begun for you. You can begin almost any way you want, within reason. A nice strong downbeat with a band can add some majesty to that moment, almost like: “Wow, something big is about to happen!” People’s attention will shift and they will know that it’s time to begin singing.
    Another option, however, would be to grab their attention by playing softly…a solo voice singing the melody, a trumpet softly playing an intro, a soft downbeat by the entire band with a slow-strummed type chord in place of a “crash.” Again, people’s attention will shift as they begin to hear the music. Let it build as much as you want, encouraging full and active singing by the assembly.

The important thing is to be creative and musical. Don’t start every Sunday…every song…by counting 1-2-3-4 and everyone comes in together! Vary the way you begin from week to week. A single song can begin many different ways. Your assembly will appreciate the variations.

Next: Where Are You GOING?  How does the song end?