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Catholic Vancouver July 9, 2018

Musicians tuning up to Make Every Sunday Matter 

By Agnieszka Ruck

Chants and antiphons are among the ways some parishes are trying to improve the quality of music. A  Sacred Music Symposium will take place at Sts. Joachim and Ann Parish July 20 to 22. 

When Archbishop Miller announced his new Priorities and Goals in 2016, at the top was Make Every Sunday Matter” by improving music ministry, preaching, and parish hospitality. What has happened since his announcement? The B.C. Catholic is taking a look, starting with music.

If a Catholic church sees its membership going down, it should check the quality of its music ministry, according to former parish music director Heather Khym.

“We’re losing people at an alarming rate, for a variety of reasons. I know a lot of people are going to Protestant churches that have excellent preaching and really engaging music,” she said.

While Catholic churches have the sacraments, followers “want to engage in a real and personal way with God and their faith, and music matters. We can’t continue to do things in a mediocre way and expect people to keep showing up.”

Khym, who has led liturgy workshops over the last 15 years and has been a music director at parishes locally and in the U.S., said music is an action of the heart.

“We’re not just singing songs. We’re actually worshipping a God who is real. He is a person. He is God. He deserves our attention. That impacts both the heart and our skill.”

It’s not only Khym who has a passion for music ministry. Archbishop J. Michael Miller, in 2016, announced four major priorities for the archdiocese: one was “Make Every Sunday Matter,” and one main goal under that was to encourage beautiful liturgical music.

“I wholeheartedly agree,” said Khym, about Archbishop Miller’s call for better music.

She said singing or playing an instrument at Mass is not a performance; it is a parish ministry and, like other ministries, exists to bring people closer to God. That means choosing appropriate music, drawing attention to the liturgy (not the musician), and lots of practising.

“Music can engage people deeper in what’s going on in the mystery of the liturgy,” said Khym.

“It can pray things that people don’t know how to pray on their own.”

A liturgy at Sts. Joachim and Ann Parish. (Garvan Yeung photo)

Archbishop Miller’s priorities and goals have spurred on other efforts to support music ministry. One is Langley’s first-ever Sacred Music Symposium coming July 20-22.

First-class musicians including trumpet player and internationally known vocal soloist Paula DeWit as well as vocal coach and performer Alex McCune will lead workshops for all – not just Sts. Joachim and Ann parishioners – during a weekend of workshops.

Organizer Ryan Bjorgaard hopes the event will erase the misconception that only musically trained professionals can sing in a church choir.

“People are intimidated because they hear the cathedral’s choir, or hear Mark Donnelley’s choir at Holy Family,” but, “no matter what level you’re at, you can learn something and use it at Mass.”

At Sts. Joachim and Ann, for example, he said only two choir members are professional musicians; the rest are business people, physiotherapists, or parishioners with no musical background.

Bjorgaard hopes the workshops for beginner, intermediate, and advanced musicians will provide training, confidence, and a few resources that participants (85 registered so far) can take back to their parishes.

The Sts. Joachim and Ann community has vastly changed the way it does liturgy and music in the last eight years.

“The main instrument of evangelization in the Catholic Church is liturgy,” said pastor Father William Ashley. And one of the first things people notice about liturgy is music.

Over the years, Sts. Joachim and Ann has replaced many of its hymns with chants and antiphons from the missal and offered some training for vocalists.  The upcoming symposium “is inspired by Archbishop Miller’s goal, which I share 100 per cent,” said Father Ashley.

“Music is the language of love. If you love deeply, you want to sing and chant to praise God.”

The symposium is the latest (and largest) effort to improve parish choirs, but far from being the only one. At Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Vancouver, for example, the strumming of beginner guitar players can be heard weekly in the church basement.

Some of Rebecca Reynoso's guitar students as they prepare to sing at a Mass and first communion for two children with special needs May 26. (Photo submitted)

The free lessons are musician Rebecca Reynoso’s way of giving back to her community and helping recruit new members for her church choir.

“Guitar is like a base that helps you learn other instruments,” said Reynoso, who sang in Nicaragua’s National Choir and also plays the piano, accordion, and flute.

When she arrived in Vancouver four years ago, she received more requests for private lessons than she had time to accommodate. So, she suggested offering a free group lesson and received wholehearted support from her pastor, Father Richard Zanotti.

In exchange for the free lessons, Reynoso’s students will become more involved in music ministry. She launched a trial class in January, and when 20 people signed up, she split the group in two: one class in English, and one in Spanish.

“Not only because I am a musician, but also because I am a Christian, I know how powerful and meaningful music is,” she said. Various parish groups – including youth ministry, Charismatic Renewal, and the Legion of Mary – all seek musical components for their various functions and liturgies. “I don’t want to do it all myself. I know that God gave these gifts to a lot of people.”

Her guitar students have already played at their first liturgy: Mass and First Communion for two children with special needs May 26.

Another benefit of training more musicians, she said, is music often opens the doors to involvement in other aspects of church life; they may move to reading, greeting, or other ministries.

Also starting in January, students at the Seminary of Christ the King participated in a three-day workshop on Gregorian chant.

Monks and seminarians at Westminster Abbey in Mission took part in a workshop on Gregorian chant in January. (Westminster Abbey photo)

Led by two members of the monastic Community of Jesus from Massachusetts, they learned about the history and notation of this ancient form of music and were encouraged to share it with the faithful after their ordinations.

Do you have an example of a great choir, musicians, or music in the Archdiocese of Vancouver? Let The B.C. Catholic know!