Developing talent is empowerment. Sharing one’s skills is giving hope.
My experience of giving Liturgical Music Seminars and Workshops in different parishes exposed me to the various needs of parish choirs, especially poor churches who do not have access to resources. These choirs articulated their need through survey forms. A bulk of these surveys have been gathered in a grand choir workshop at the Ateneo de Manila University High School, organized by BukasPalad in July 2004.
Choirs said that they have problems choosing songs. What songs to use for particular masses? What is appropriate for each part of the mass? They also have questions about the delineation of tasks. What are the roles and responsibilities of church musicians? They said that they lack vocal skills, so they asked, “How does one sing well?” Moreover, the choir is not just a ministry, it is also an organization. What is the ideal organization of a choir in a parish? Furthermore, a large number had problems dealing with the parish priest, people in charge of parish worship or problems within the organization. How do they dialogue with their parish priest who may or may not know the liturgical norms for music? How do they deal with personal problems among choir members that are affecting the ministry and the choir itself?
These questions led me to form a choir that is particularly intended to pass on skills they learn at the Jesuit Music Ministry. The idea is to form a core choir of choral leaders to be trained by a professional coach so that they will in turn pass on the skills and know-how to their particular choirs. Thus, they are not to abandon their choirs. Moreover, if this choir has to articulate the faith of the masses, they should come from the masses. A composer once told to compose songs with social relevance and a sound that could capture the heart of the masses casually remarked, “How could I? I grew up listening to the classics!”
Canto Cinco or C5 has been organized for this purpose. They have recorded a training CD with vocal exercises, taken from the vocal class they attended. This CD is not for sale and is given to the choirs who attend the Liturgical Music Seminar. They in turn help give vocal workshops to choirs who need them. They primarily accompany me give the Liturgical Music Seminar while they take turns explaining the parts of the body used in singing, and then give exercises to develop each part. Though canto is song in Italian, it also puns on their primary apostolate: to go the masses, to the kanto (sidestreets). Cinco verbalizes the five core values that a choir must have: Christ-centeredness, creativity (choirs can compose their own songs), competency (they should be good singers in order to lead people to sing well), community, and commitment.
It is also undeniable that forming this choir makes my work a little bit easy. The demands are great, but the availability of people who can give them is dim. Besides, the church has recognized that the Holy Spirit works with the laity.
Furthermore, training is effective for people who has the talent, but does not have the resources to develop them. A remark from a meeting jolted me, “talent is innate.” It is indeed true, but when left with a given — you see a Jesuit here with a good voice, but does not possess the great talent of a Beethoven, the next best thing is training. Training tells another that whatever gift he or she has — even if it is as small as a mustard seed — and gives his or her all through practice will produce fruits greater than a genius who sleeps all day. Or, wait for a genius to apply and be accepted. The remark, ‘talent is innate’ is to close the door to many of us. Training empowers. It should therefore be available to all, and not just to a particular and singular group given favor in history.
What training workshops do we give? In order to have animated and vibrant liturgies, a guide to the ministry of music is important.
The following is a list of what we can give. A workshop can be designed using some of these contents viz the needs of a choir or a parish music ministry.
1. The Vocation of the Choir: a short prayer reflection that roots each choir member to the invitation of Christ to serve their specific community. I believe that a choir member will not find their ministry meaningful or the challenges they encounter bearable if it is not rooted in the personal call of Christ. This includes rooting their gifts and their ministry in scripture and the appropriate behavior of someone called to perform a special role in worship.
2. The Liturgical Structure of the Mass: a brief description of each part of the mass. A choir should know the rationale of each part of the mass so that they know what songs are appropriate for each — or they get to appreciate the Eucharistic celebration.
3. The Three Judgments: three simple judgments that each choir member needs to choose appropriate songs. It includes getting to know the reference books such as the Lectionary or the Sacramentary to help them choose songs appropriate for a season, a celebration or the readings of the day.
4. The Order of Importance of the Songs at Mass. It gives a choir member the songs that should be sung with the whole congregation (such as the Acclamations and the Processional songs), and those that allows instrumental music or simply silence.
5. The Importance of the Music Ministry in the whole Liturgical Celebration viz-a-viz the other Ministries such as the Ministry of Lector and the Presider at Mass. What are the areas of collaboration and when does another ministry respect the role of the choir (eg. when commentators sing solo or a priest dominates a song when there is a choir).
6. The Responsibilities of Choir Musicians such as the Music Director, the musicians, and the singers. What are expected of persons assigned to perform these roles.
7. Organizational Structure for Parish Choirs. Often problems arise because of the leadership structure. Or some choirs are part of a bigger organization. This workshop helps a choir discern their needs and the leadership structure that would fit their group.
8. Workshop on Choosing Songs: Choirs are given a specific liturgical celebration (eg. Holy Thursday, Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Birth of Our Lord) and they are asked to make a line-up of songs, according to the guidelines given above, and the Music Guidelines given by their specific diocese. Note: The Jesuit Music Ministry respects the music guidelines drafted by their Diocese.
9. Vocal Training: Simple vocal training is given by a JMM Choir such as Canto Cinco (C5). Each part of the vocal structure is explained, and appropriate vocal exercises are suggested to warm up their body structure. A vocal CD is given for free.
10. Workshops for Musicians. A simple workshop for parish musicians such as guitarists, keyboardists and those who know how to play other instruments. Often parish musicians are self-taught or beginners. Musica Chiesa is group of musicians from the UP College of Music. They handle these simple workshops. They can also give a workshop for improvising music instruments such as shakers using rice grains.
11. Spiritual Activities such as Retreats and Recollections are designed for choir members, musicians and dancers.
12. Liturgical Dance Workshop. The UP Filipiniana Dance Group, trained in cultural dances, adapts traditional movements to liturgical songs to make liturgical dancing meaningful and enhancing to worship.
Sample Video of Papuri sa Diyos.