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    A View from the Pew

    A really great morning 


    Several weeks ago, I wrote about shadow cantors (Murmurings, August 12, 2012). Today, I watched that method and pedagogy work in the best way possible. A gifted college student school in the musical arts led sung prayer for the very first time.

    This talented young neophyte shadowed several practiced cantors for one whole year, delving into the liturgical world of Catholic worship to familiarizing himself with the role of the cantor. He learned to apply elements of his musical training to the work of the cantor as the leader of sung prayer.  His training wheels came off last week; the student sat next to a practiced cantor throughout two liturgies and led several chants and songs. This week, he plunged into the deep end of the pool and led sung prayer for the entire Mass solo voce.

    Right before Mass began, the organist who directs music for the Sunday morning liturgies stood in front of the assembly. He greeted everyone with typical smiling warmth and the assembly responded in turn. What a great relationship between this pastoral musician and his assembly, I thought. The organist introduced the new cantor as a college music student. He candidly told the parishioners that this liturgy was the new cantor’s first solo run. He invited them to sing robustly as a sign of their support and affirmation. People nodded and smiled their approval. “This takes courage,” someone whispered to me. I agree. As a measure of security, I acted as the young man’s ‘floating device’ today and sat in the first row of the church and in his full view. Sunday Eucharist seems second nature to regular church goers until you assume a leadership role. The experience can be quite unnerving. The safety net of someone in the first pew to gesture postures and cues takes a bit of the heat off of a debuting cantor.

     The assembly’s full bodied song confirmed their enthusiasm and bolstered the confidence of the new cantor. His musical training and liturgical observation ultimately paid off as he rendered a stunning delivery of a Guimont setting of today’s responsorial psalm. Quelle belle prière: what beautiful prayer. He applied his musical preparation in recitative for a powerful outcome when I explained the difference between operatic recitative and psalmody.

    The form of recitative as used in operas, oratorios and cantatas employs the rhythms of ordinary speech in sung form. Comparatively, psalms may also apply the recitative to the simpler formulas of chants and psalm tones. However, the psalm is a sung prayer. So while a trained singer may use the same recitative technique, the intention differs. You must pray the psalm while yoking the recitative style to sing the psalm well. This morning, this new cantor just got it. He used emotion, articulation and musical skill to deliver an exquisite rendering of today’s psalm.

    In their rehearsal of the Gospel acclamation, a psalm tone by Gregory Murray, the organist told that he would play the tone in its entirety and told the cantor not to intone the chant. “Bring the assembly in right away, sing the verse and repeat the refrain with the assembly.”  I corrected the organist.

    “Never presume that everyone in the church knows that music, “I said. “Always presume ‘the guest.’” I offered the amendment because I confess to committing the same error in the past. “Everyone knows that because we sing that music here all the time.” Sound familiar? Suppose a parishioner brings a guest from out of town to worship in your church? Suppose someone heard really great things about your parish and decides that this might just be time to return to the church? An unfamiliar acclamation may feel a bit inhospitable to the people we call the ‘welcomed guest.’ We intone acclamations to offer the assembly an opportunity to hear and respond in prayerful song.

    Throughout two morning liturgies, the assembly provided the musical gusto that bolstered the invitation and delivery of this new and talented cantor. Many people approached the brave new leader of song in worship to express their gratitude, including the pastor. To the cantor and to the organist, I offer my heartfelt gratitude. You gave me a gift this morning.

    Think loaves and fishes, friends. This kind of scenario needs to occur over and over again. Young musicians, good ones, are waiting for an invitation to become acquainted with worship, find a home within a community of prayer and offer their musical gifts to lead sung prayer well. Throw the net wide for a really big catch!

    Until next time, be well.