'Good Tunes and Good Text' Create Vital Liturgy at Colorado Parish; It Takes Time, Dedication to Build Quality Music Program, Says Director

By Jones, Melissa | National Catholic Reporter, January 23, 2004 | Go to article overview

'Good Tunes and Good Text' Create Vital Liturgy at Colorado Parish; It Takes Time, Dedication to Build Quality Music Program, Says Director


Jones, Melissa, National Catholic Reporter


St. Frances Cabrini Parish is a place where quality liturgical music is foremost in the minds of the church's leadership and parishioners. A passion for "good tunes and good text" has helped the parish grow from 900 initial members in 1972 to the present 9,000 parishioners, said Dan Wyatt, director of worship ministry for the suburban church located in Littleton, southwest of Denver.

Wyatt came to St. Frances Cabrini in 1990, hired by then-pastor Richard Ling, a noted liturgical writer. Ling was fundraising for a state-of-the-art worship space with a strong music program, but left before bringing that dream to fruition.

The original worship space was a dim, squarish area with low ceilings and a sliding back wall that could open to the adjoining gym for an overflow crowd. The acoustics were dismal and the choir was tiny "There were six people in the choir," Wyatt recalled. His initial plan to have a solid choir in two or three years proved unrealistic. It took about five years of recruiting and forming talent to truly tap into the parish's musical potential. Wyatt advises parishes hiring liturgical ministers to be reluctant to hire anyone who can only give the job two or three years. "I know it takes five to 10 years to build a program. People need consistency," he said.

When the present pastor, Fr. Ken Leone, arrived in 1993, he renewed the building project, and in 1998 the parish dedicated its large new music-friendly worship space. The sanctuary is roughly octagonal, with the altar in the middle. A niche behind a large crucifix is filled with pipes from a huge organ that easily fills the church with rich sound. The interior has lots of angles and hard surfaces, the pew backs are wood, and only the aisles are carpeted. Wyatt said architecture is a great asset to musical worship, "a really good naturally acoustical, reverberatory environment is so important, so the assembly can hear itself singing, because it doesn't have microphones."

Wyatt said building quality liturgical programs is very much tied to staff development, budget issues and priorities. A good relationship between the liturgist and the pastor also makes the job easier. He's been lucky to work with pastors who share an enthusiasm for music ministry. He said pastoral leaders must ask, "What does it take to create support for a very vital liturgical life, and a vital liturgical worship experience?" He added that the parishioners' attitudes are also important, for they must willingly participate in "that vigorous vital worship."

To build musical support in the liturgy, Wyatt said, the first job is to tap into the talents of the community He used a number of techniques: "beating the bushes," putting out the call, and approaching people from the congregation directly. Most crucial, he said, choir members "must have a high reward experience." He said, "Who wants to waste their time on schlock or shoddy stuff?" When choir members get frustrated, they drop out. Even small things, like starting rehearsals on time, are important. "Part of the high reward you want people to experience is that they find a certain discipline maintained," he said. "Then it becomes a matter of recruitment by attraction, rather than recruitment by persuasion."

Wyatt also advised music ministers "to tend the building of community in the choir" Most choir directors have dealt with "choir divas" (male and female) who want to run things or be the star of the show. Wyatt said liturgical leadership requires balancing personalities. He sees the choir as a small community within the larger community, "so we have to model the virtues of faith, love and charity that one would expect the larger community to be living," he said. "If we can't get along in the choir there's not much hope for the parish. …

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'Good Tunes and Good Text' Create Vital Liturgy at Colorado Parish; It Takes Time, Dedication to Build Quality Music Program, Says Director
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