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Retreat examines importance of spirituality for musicians

By KATIE LEFEBVRE, Globe staff reporter
(Email Katie)


For musicians, their own spiritual growth sometimes takes a back burner to preparing for and singing and playing at Mass.

The Office of Worship and the Cathedral of the Epiphany in Sioux City took that into consideration and sponsored a spiritual retreat for parish musicians, cantors and music ministers, on Sept. 26 and 27.

There were about 35 participants from “a pretty good cross section of the diocese,” said Father Brent Lingle, director of the Office of Worship.

“I am very happy with how the two days went,” he said. “It gave the musicians a chance to get together for prayer and education, and also a chance to get to know each other and share experiences. I think the musicians enjoyed the opportunity to visit and listen to the Bishop and take some time to sit in the pew and participate in Mass from a different perspective.”

Spirituality of the musician

Father James Moore, O.P., who is working on a doctorate of sacred music with an emphasis in choral music at the Catholic University in Washington, D.C., was the keynote speaker for the retreat.

The Dominican priest talked about the spirituality and the importance of the role of the church musician.

“We really are the beginning of the evangelization. The beginning of opening someone’s heart is not necessarily preaching or teaching but usually it is beauty,” he said. “It is important for church musicians to be engaged in sacred music from a spiritual perspective.”

Father Moore spoke about three areas. First was to continue to be inspired by church music.

“The second was the importance of careful preparation,” he said. “If you prepare music very well and work hard at the music, then you can pray and not be bogged down in the minutia of the music.”

Lastly, the priest stressed the importance of going to Mass outside of when they are playing and going to reconciliation regularly.

Father Moore also addressed the relationship between the musician and the priest.

A lot of times, he said, a priest might have an idea of doing a certain kind of music, but “the reality is executing it. The musician might know better what their resources are. Sometimes there is not a congruity and sometimes this can be a source of big problems.”

Enhancing the liturgy

Bishop Walker Nickless celebrated Mass for the participants on Saturday morning and offered comments to the ministers.

“Thank you for caring about liturgy and the church. Thank you for your desire to enhance, as Father Moore reminded us last night, the beauty of music and song,” said the bishop. “I applaud your efforts and encourage you to expand your horizons and renew what the church documents have told us about music and the liturgy.”

Recalling his pastoral letter, Bishop Nickless took a moment to talk about a couple of the passages. An important thing to think about, he said, “You and all those who are involved with the liturgy are involved in something that is wonderful, beautiful and majestic. It is what we are all about.”

“You all have a part to play in that along with the priests and others who participate and plan and make it happen,” said the bishop. “You have some great power and some great grace coming through you as you celebrate with the community every Sunday and on other special occasions.”

Matthew Geerlings, director of music at the cathedral, went through the Mass and discussed appropriate music for the intro, the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of the Eucharist and the closing.

Some of the important liturgical documents, from which liturgical direction is taken, were examined – The General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the document from the USCCB’s Sing to the Lord, guidelines for the United States.

Expanding knowledge

Spirit Lake St. Mary’s music director and liturgical coordinator Allison Oyler thought it was time “to discover some things for myself and educate myself.”

I took the position at St. Mary’s two years ago not really knowing a whole lot about liturgy,” she said.

“In two years, I’ve had a good crash course from Father Brian Hughes. He has been a great teacher,” said Oyler, who added she gained clarification of what is supposed to happen musically during the liturgy.

Sharyl Bruning, volunteer musician and cantor at St. Mary Church in Mapleton, attended with Father Dan Greving, pastor, and other music ministers from her cluster.

“It is wonderful to have that support. Father Greving is working with the whole cluster to get us all on the same page,” she said. “He highly encouraged as many of us come from the parishes that could.”

After being the parish musician for about 30 years, Bruning acknowledged there are things she can do better and keep her direction “to the sacrament.” She plans to implement some of the new resources in the future.

“As the gathering wrapped up, I received several inquiries as to doing something like this in the future so I am going to work with the musicians to continue to provide opportunities to get together and continue to grow,” said Father Lingle. “I look forward to more opportunities like this so we can constantly grow and be supported in our ministries.”

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