Early in my ministry career, I was hired as a youth ministry coordinator. However, my job description included an added ministry. I was also charged with leading music for church at the evening youth mass.
For 4 years, with the assistance of our parish music director, I helped develop a team of musicians to provide dynamic and contemporary worship and liturgical music at mass. It was an awesome experience. My skill level in both liturgy and music rose tremendously and I remember that time fondly.
My music team grew in numbers as I was able to help develop numerous high school musicians to play different instruments at mass, as well as the development of a consistent group of youth and young adult singers.
As our music team got better, we started to see growth in the number of attendees at the Sunday evening mass. We were having fun, praying through music, and watched as others in the congregation were doing the same.
I don’t lead music at church anymore, but my experience has helped me in my ministry in more ways than I can count. There are numerous things that I learned along the way that helped improve music at my church.
- Get a team. The more our music team grew, the more creative energy was brought to our music. Having a large music team allowed us to do things musically that really enhanced the worship experience that we could not have done with a small team.
- Work with people that compliment your skills. I was not the best instrumentalist. I could play and get by. My real skill was getting new members on the team, empowering them to play their instrument or sing, and helping the team think outside of the box, try new music, and create different arrangements to classic songs. My music director was the professional musician. He made sure everyone hit the right note and could play piano phenomenally well. We made a great team! I brought the creativeness and he brought the musical skill. Our music team was successful because of that set of complimentary skills.
- Add percussion. It’s such a simple thing, but percussion makes a huge difference. It doesn’t have to be a full set of drums. You don’t have to be doing contemporary music to have percussion. Even a good egg shaker, tambourine, or chime does the trick. I’m personally a big fan of congas.
- Try something new. When I visit churches, I often hear the same old music with the same old arrangement. When the music never changes, it does nothing to enhance my prayer experience. Try new songs. Take a classic song and change the arrangement to add some flavor. But don’t go overboard. My rule of thumb is not to have more than one or two new songs in a given week. Try new things, but don’t introduce it all at the same time.
- Rehearse. When a music team does not rehearse, it always shows. In fact, it almost always distracts worshippers from the prayer experience. Never underestimate the need for rehearsal. Even if it is a song that your team has done a thousand times, it still needs to be rehearsed so that the full arrangement and the dynamics are remembered.
- Focus on the dynamics. For instance, when all the singers don’t start a phrase on time, the music sounds off. When the word “God” ends a phrase in a song, make sure the singers actually close the word off with the “D” and not say “Gaaa.” Don’t play a song all the way through at the same energy level. Add crescendo’s and decrescendo’s to bring the music more alive. Once your team knows the song, play around with the dynamics that will make a good song a great song.
- Remember that music adds to the liturgical experience. Music is meant to compliment what is happening at mass, not be a show in and of itself. Good music moves me deeper into the ritual and symbols of the mass. If does not unnecessarily delay the movement of the mass.
Question: Whether you are a musician or not, what elements of music add to your worship and liturgical experience?