Death by liturgy committee

I was at a meeting for all the music ministers at one of my parishes. It was at this meeting that we would listen to the newly selected Mass setting and get ourselves acclimated to it. So the music director started to play it.

And the musicians all started to look at each other. The new Mass setting was not very good. It was a revised version of an old setting that was good, but this revised version was not good at all. Being the good musicians and complainers we are, we immediately complained. It was hard to sing the Gloria verses. The accompaniment stunk (although, to be fair, it wasn’t great the first time either). Who picked this, anyway?

In our questioning of the music director, it soon emerged that she had not chosen the Mass setting. She didn’t care for it either. Instead, the liturgy committee, including the pastor (really not a musician) and multiple volunteers (many non-musicians) had picked the setting. Uh-oh.

Now, liturgy committees in and of themselves aren’t terrible. Necessarily. The feedback of the people in the pews is important to musicians, even though opinions are like fingerprints — everyone has them but they’re not the same. But at the same time, that meant non-musicians were dictating to musicians what they should do, and that’s a recipe for disaster. Non-musicians can’t analyze a score to determine its difficulty, nor can they assess how singable something may be. They may not know much about why music is only appropriate for certain liturgical seasons. And only some of that can easily be taught to them.

But they do know what they like. They mean well and are good folks, and this isn’t their fault. I am not foolish enough to suggest they want to ruin things for the musicians. But they’re in a difficult spot, and they put the musicians in a tough spot too. No matter how well-meaning the committee is, they should only be used for feedback, not decision making. Otherwise, their good intentions end up being an inadvertent disservice to the parish they want to help.

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