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    A View from the Pew


    This weekend, I provided some well-deserved time off for two hard working pastoral musicians and accompanied cantors for three liturgies in two different churches with three different priests. I listened with particular interest to several really sterling homilies and marveled at the insights that a well-prepared homily can proffer in a ‘word that will rouse them.’ However, I particularly feasted on the example of service that manifested itself through the ministry of experienced cantors and a cantor ‘shadow’ intern that I met and accompanied this weekend.

    What is a cantor shadow?

    I developed ‘cantor shadow’ training years ago, to instruct new volunteers in their role as leaders of sung prayer. New cantors who wish to lead sung prayer slowly break into the role as interns. They learn repertoire and rehearse with experienced cantors before worship. They learn the theology of the cantor and the role as a leader of sung worship. With collaborative efforts between the music director and experienced cantors and the interns, new song leaders ‘shadow’  an experienced cantor for several months as they partner to lead acclamations, psalms and hymns together. Slowly but surely, the intern leads the psalm independently, followed by acclamations and chants, followed finally by the hymns and songs of the liturgy. The director of music, experienced cantors and the cantor shadows mutually decide when the interns will lead song independently of their partnered teachers. For the first few ‘solo runs,’ an experienced cantor will sit in the first pew in view of the intern cantor as a safety net, using eye contact and gesturing the cantor’s orans posture when necessary. The method works. Cantor shadows learn to lead sung prayer with confidence and skill.

    Parishioners value cantor shadows; they embody a growing music ministry, always a joy for a parish. People are particularly gratified when a young person steps up to volunteer. If the parish enjoys a young person’s choir, shadow cantors emerge from this ministry. Even in their absence, an astute parish employs a strategic plan of action designed to achieve a consistent growth for a robust and worthy music ministry. Inviting and employing the wealth of vocal gifts available in every community (yes, every community!) begins with a search for talented singers and a personal invitation to those persons by the music director. Fostering and nurturing prayerful sung worship employs a collaborative effort by a parish music ministry that works together to insure that its community is well served by the diverse and rich gifts among its members. A ‘cantor shadow’ program employs one means in this pastoral effort. On Saturday, I enjoyed the benefit of witnessing the collaborative cantor practices first hand.

    Scheduled to meet the first cantor at 3:30 pm to rehearse music for the 4:00 pm liturgy, I prepared to meet one person. Instead I met three cantors. The first to arrive was a young fourteen year old girl who said that she came to “shadow” the cantor who would lead sung prayer for the 4:00 pm liturgy. The experienced and well-rehearsed cantor arrived, graciously welcoming me as a visiting accompanist before we began to review timing, intros and adjustments to accommodate the ‘cantor shadow.’ They asked me if the cantor and the shadow should lead from two different locations, the ambo and the cantor stand. I told them that they should mutually lead from the ambo. The complexities of leading from two different locations could potentially seem quite confusing to an assembly. Follow the cantor or follow the shadow? We agreed that both cantors would lead from the ambo where all scripture is proclaimed, including sung psalmody. The cantor shadow also agreed to lead the gospel acclamation; she would observe the experienced cantor for the rest of the liturgy from where she participated as a member of the worshipping assembly.

    A third cantor appeared as we rehearsed. Scheduled to sing the following morning, this cantor said that she was insecure about the psalm for this week, a lovely setting by Michel Guimont from his three-year cycle collection published by GIA. The cantor asked if she could stay to rehearse the psalm with the other cantors. She also asked permission to tape the rehearsal and remain in the loft with me throughout the singing of the psalm at Mass so that she could hear the psalm and return home to practice that evening before she led the psalm the following day.  I must tell you that the commitment of these three women to their voluntary role as leaders of sung prayer moved me beyond words. How might the body of Christ better taste and see God’s goodness if every parish music ministry would personify such exquisite partnership of collaborative pastoral partnership and deliberate effort?

    Too often, our music ministries resound with ‘murmurings’ instead of finely honed music and cooperative ministry. “She said something that hurt my feelings.” “He gets more solos than I do.” “That person put his name on my music.” “This is too much work.” “I hate that song; do I have to sing it? “ Jesus tells us front and center to knock it off. “Stop your murmuring,” he tells us. Quit complaining and get to work. It’s really one of my favorite scriptural passages. I think of it as a ‘Jesus face off’ moment, especially when I place the reading within the context of pastoral musicians, who hold such a distinct and imperative place in the service of the liturgy - or in the context any liturgical ministry. Let’s face it: if you’re made of flesh and blood, you’ve known one of those ‘moments.’

    The three cantors that I met and worked with before yesterday’s 4:00 pm liturgy serve as a model of musical diligence, prayerful skill and service without boundaries. No murmuring exists in that group; they love music ministry and work as a team on behalf of the people of God. They communicate clearly and respond with assiduous attention to the liturgy, the prayer, the music and one another. Without any whispers in the logia about who excels, who might be bitter over particular relationships or speak with malice against another because someone might possess a greater gift, each gives in service with kindness, compassion and generosity. That’s a model of food for the journey if I ever saw one. I know that I’ve canonized them in this blog, but they really impressed me.

    As music ministry begins to move ahead toward the fall and a full schedule, today may be the time to start the year off on the right foot as we trod this continued road toward the heavenly banquet. Does your music ministry reflect that banquet here and now, in this time and place? Or is your music ministry a place where ‘murmurings’ exist, leaving no room for the zeal and zest of the Spirit of God to reside within the pastoral music that you create? If you serve as a reader or communion minister, a presider and preacher, a minister of hospitality, sacristan or acolyte, what can you take from this and apply to your own liturgical ministry? Whatever the service we provide, our name is “Christian.”  Christ in the world. No murmuring allowed.

    Thanks to the worshipping communities and musicians, presiders and preachers who welcomed me and fed me so fully this weekend. I am so, so grateful and happily stuffed to the gills. J