Monday, July 27, 2009

Music and Context

Yesterday was a festive day at my parish, St. James on Chicago's near south side. We celebrated St. James day, our patronal feast. The church hall where Mass is held was packed. I was privileged to be asked to play the piano for the responsorial psalm. In addition to our parish choir, a guest musical group was in attendance as well: Tecora Rogers and the Chicago Spirituals, pictured here.

This gospel group really "brought the house down." I always enjoy gospel music. I was paying extra attention yesterday as they performed. I was moved to tears as the music soared. I wondered why I was so moved. I can listen to gospel music on my mp3 player and not be so moved. I can listen to gospel music at a gospel brunch and not be so moved. What was it about gospel music at St. James that reached out and grabbed my heart? I pondered this for quite a while and realized that context has a lot to do with it. There I was, with a community that is dear to my heart, listening to music that clearly spoke to every person in the room. Before Mass, one of my favorite ladies in the choir made her way across the room in order to give me a big hug and a kiss. People in this parish know how to be hospitable in so many ways. People look into each others eyes in this parish. I guess the reason why the music was so moving was because I was hearing it with people that I cherish; people gathered to give God praise and thanks; people committed to help the poor and needy; people who love to sing. 

I know that I have visited parishes where the music was not done well; where the music just seemed kind of lifeless to me. And yet, in conversations with the regular parishioners, it would surprise me when they told me how wonderful and moving the music at that same Mass was. Perhaps they were experiencing what I experienced at St. James yesterday. They were singing and praying with members of their own community. This was the context in which the music touched their hearts. Not sure if I am on track with all of this. Thoughts?

Hope you have a good Monday. Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

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