What it’s like to play music at Spanish Mass when you don’t, say, speak Spanish

Well, that’s not fair. I speak a little Spanish (and I did take two semesters of Spanish in college, though that was almost ten years ago). But when I started blogging again in medias res, I realized that the title of this blog post is something that’s worth explaining. So here we go.

I. Actually, it’s not that different from English Mass

There’s a reason for this, of course. Regardless of what language the Mass is celebrated in, it’s basically the same structure throughout. There are hymns, readings, a psalm, and, of course, the holy sacrifice of the Mass, all in the same order regardless of whether you’re attending Mass in English, Spanish, or Russian. The actions in most cases are the same, which means my cues are often the same. (For example, to cue the start of the Sanctus, or Holy, which is said or sung at every Mass before the consecration of the bread and wine, the priest closes his outstretched arms as he finishes a prayer.) I’ve picked up enough Spanish words to be able to tell when I need to start some other music.

II. On the other hand, maybe it is different

The hymn stylings are often very different. Por ejemplo:

This is a fairly common hymn, “Alabare.” (Don’t ask me to translate it.) I don’t think you’d hear a hymn like this at English Mass. A lot of songs are written in the traditional stylings of Latin American countries, with rhythms and syncopation very different from the traditional 4/4 hymns you would find in many English-speaking churches. In our hymnals, some songs are written with both English and Spanish lyrics, and if a hymn is usable in both English and Spanish, I find myself playing them two different ways to try to reflect the different congregations within.

I should also note: at Spanish Mass, sometimes unlike English Mass, they sing, and they sing, and they sing, sing, sing, sing. They sing loudly and with gusto. We could use some of that at English Mass.

Hey, it’s another filler picture! But this time, it’s of the Virgin Mary, so it’s a cool filler picture. This is a statue at my usual parish, by the way.

III. Most people know I speak little spanish

I can, however, do very basic stuff such as “¿Como esta?” They appreciate that. And I understand a little bit, so I understand, most of the time, the answers to the basic questions. I can describe my family, my day job (to a certain extent), and my commute. I can sell votive candles (“Tres dolares, por favor.“) But after that, I got nuttin’. I can’t do very long conversations. But, out of necessity, a lot of the good folks at Spanish Mass, many of whom emigrated here from a Latin American country, had to learn English to be able to do most stuff in this country. So they’re incredibly gracious, allowing me to stumble over a little Spanish while mostly conversing in English. Even those who don’t speak English appreciate that I’m trying to do a little bit in their language.

IV. It’s not awkward

You might think it should be, and perhaps you’re right. After all, I’m the only non-Hispanic white male, except for the priest, at Spanish Mass most of the time. And it was one of my worries when I started playing at Spanish Mass. But again, the folks at Spanish Mass are incredibly gracious. I get hugs and greetings every week. The kids, who are all bilingual, come up after Mass to chat, and so do their parents, sometimes. Occasionally, there’s some awkwardness: “¿Tienes una novia?” (No, and don’t nag me about it.) But much, much, much more often than not, it’s a great pleasure to play Spanish Mass.

Every once in a while, someone who clearly doesn’t speak Spanish drops in at Spanish Mass. Some do it for cultural education (especially if they’ve brought their kids), some do it out of curiosity, and many more do it because they can’t get to English Mass (my regular Spanish Mass is at 7 p.m. on Saturdays). I hope they see what I see: good folks, good music, and, of course, the Mass. And maybe the experiences there will serve them well long after they’ve headed out the church doors.


One response to “What it’s like to play music at Spanish Mass when you don’t, say, speak Spanish

  1. Pingback: Breaking down a language barrier | Pull Out All the Stops

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