Personal - How Can I Improve the Music at Church?

How can I improve the music at church?Parish music ministry can be a minefield, an experience of joy and challenge. It’s generally a volunteer ministry in the Australian context, and so as a general rule, the generosity of people is relied upon to provide music to accompany the liturgical celebration.

While there’s plenty to suggest that singing in mass can move people’s hearts to prayer, the ins and outs of copyright, song choices, liturgical appropriateness can lead to lively debate. Often it can feel like a misery rather than a ministry.

Add to this, the varying levels of musical training and abilities of our worship leaders and strong opinions on style, some might wonder what the answer is.

In his general audience of February 26, 2003, Pope John Paul II called on musicians to “make an examination of conscience so that the beauty of music and hymnody will return once again to the liturgy. They should purify worship from ugliness of style, from distasteful forms of expression, from uninspired musical texts which are not worthy of the great act that is being celebrated.”

But how do we know? How do we know what music and harmony can be considered beautiful? It obviously isn’t just about personal taste. We can’t just choose a love song we like and direct it toward the Lord, right?

As a pastoral musician, I am always seeking out resources that might help to improve the musical offerings, so that the music truly serves the liturgy, without dominating it.

My job as a parish music minister is to, through the music I play, accompany the prayerfulness of the community.

Recently, I’ve been using resources provided by dioceses.

The website developed by Paul Mason and the team at Liturgy Wollongong contains suggestions for every Sunday of the year. They carefully consider the readings and find songs across a range of sources that fit in with the season being celebrated.

As one voice has been operating for over 30 years and have brought together collections of some of the most popular church music we have. On their website they have suggestions for each week.

The Australian bishops have a list of approved songs for use in liturgy that can be found at here.

There are more parishes and dioceses that are undertaking this mission, and you may have access to these resources.

All of this said, lots more needs to be done in our parishes so that our music ministers can be properly supported. Please contact our office if you would be interested in knowing more, adding to our list, or creating an online network for mutual support.

Written by Elisabeth Doherty (Beth’s music available here)