Thursday, September 06, 2007

Another Thought on Liturgical Music

Last October I temporarily took on the job of cantor at our local church. I quit about a month ago, due to the upcoming busy-ness of this final year of high school, but over the course of those months I received many, many compliments.

I was mostly assigned Haugen, Haas, Schutte, Toolan, and all the rest of them, and went nearly crazy having to sing them every week. But I got plenty of compliments. I was told I had a lovely voice, a clear voice, a beautiful voice. I was told that it was such a pleasure to have me, that it was wonderful to see me up there singing every week. I'm surprised my head didn't swell to the exploding point... so many kind things were said about me (I think having to sing the banal music I did deflated me just a bit).

When May came along, so did the good old Marian hymns, and the music in general was much improved. I managed to work in two familiar chants... the Salve Regina and the Ave Maria.

The Ave Maria is just beautiful (like all chants, absolutely supernal), one of my favourite chants, and my favourite Ave (though I do appreciate the classic Schubert and Bach/Gounod versions). I sang it the second week of May, and afterwards was approached by one of the lady parishioners... no doubt, I thought, to pay me the usual compliments.

Well, there weren't any of the usual compliments. There weren't any compliments, in fact. She told me she hadn't heard Latin and chant since she was very young, and then went on to say how beautiful it was. I figured in the conversation very briefly... I was thanked for doing it.

And I've been thinking about that ever since. Isn't that the point, anyhow? The cantor, or choir, or whatnot is there to sing the pieces, and to do a beautiful job... but I'm more the background, so to speak. The main focus is God. Our rapture at the beautiful voices of the choir should be because it was hinting, with the very vaguest and slightest of hints, at the unimaginable beauty of God.

Or, in short, it isn't about me and my beautiful voice.

And I don't know if I'm right or not, but somehow I can't help but think that I was the center of attention when I was singing Haugen and Haas compositions... maybe my voice was the only beautiful thing they could hear in the music. At any rate, I got showered with praise.

But when I sang the Ave, the music was complimented. Apparently they found it more worthy of praise than my voice. And maybe that was because in that gorgeously haunting chanting, they found that it didn't matter if it was me singing it, or another nice young girl, or anyone at all, because the beauty of the music had raised their souls too far up to God to care.

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