Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.

How would you respond should a member of your parish music ministry mentions to you before, during or after performing your shared duties at Mass, “Man, I have so much fun doing this! Isn’t it fun for you, too?”

Before deliberating your response, the issue rests upon your shoulders, not upon those of your colleague who uttered both the exclamation and the question. Well, for my part, I would search my memory banks and conscience simultaneously to see if the word “fun” has any resonance of meaning within the context of worship, as I now understand it. I guess this utilizes the I Corinthians 13 exam criterion, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child….” Another caveat: try to avoid characterizing your colleague according to their specific roll and duties in music ministry. It’s just as reasonable to imagine that one’s organist, a master improviser, could think aloud after a deft, imaginative and wonderful postlude, “Wow, that was FUN,” just as would a LifeTeen kit drummer after being part of a cohesively tight rendition of “Awesome God,” or perhaps even a gifted and facile chorister who soars through the versicle of a gradual or alleluia with peerless perfection.

I think we can dispense with the admonition of our Lord to “suffer the little children to come unto me” as a defense of describing our service and office at liturgy as “fun.” So, let’s just move on to a safer platform upon which we can consider the emotion, or state of being we commonly call “joy.” Somewhere between the poles of a spirit-filled choir/congregation belting out “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say REJOICE” in full abandon and the Introit for III Sunday, Advent, is a question of exactly how do we manifest the notion, or even mandate that we represent and/or express “joy” in our duties as both servants of the liturgy and Christians?

As a choirmaster generally regarded as a taskmaster, many of my current and former singers would likely agree “He sure has a mean way of showing he’s happy!.” But that’s a burden I carry primarily only in rehearsals. And I’ve taken great pains to minimize those behaviors which would lead folks to depict me so, alas to mixed reviews. But at worship, what is the proper measure of joy in all of our individual and corporate efforts to effect music that is “sacred, beautiful and universal?” Are we called to represent some sort of “affect,” like the emotive associations that Baroque theorists ascribed to specific key tonalities? Or are we better off just making sure that after sufficient rehearsal, we render any and all text and music settings in a stoic, expressionless façade, even though the product evidences the joy of mastery and accomplishment? Of course, reality exacts from me the possible truth that most of our choristers have their eyes and noses fixed firmly towards their scores until the final cadence, at which time their most likely facial response would suggest “Pop pop, fizz fizz, oh what a relief it is!And them some might actually look at our facial demeanor with trepidation or anticipation to know if “joy” is warranted, if only internally.

I’ve recalled the one experience I was afforded to prepare and conduct the Allegri “Miserere” as one of the supreme moments of elation I’ve known at service. Is that aberrant? In May, I will be graced to conduct a large and capable choir and orchestra in the performance of the Mozart “Requiem.” And as a chorister under Wilko Brouwers singing the Brudieu setting three summers ago, there was exquisite joy in every aspect of that endeavor for me. Is there something wrong with this picture? Or, is it much more an elegantly simple and natural response to the grace and gift by God to us intrinsic within the objective of composition and singing of sacral texts to inspired musical composition?
Does “joy” have a face or façade in the musical acts of worship?
For your consideration, intersecting both this thread on “Joy” and my previous post on
“Circumabulation and Processions, the Ovum Introit!”
 Just for FUN!

10 Replies to “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.”

  1. Charles, I am but a simple organist and choir member now. But I have been a music director, like yourself, at various parishes for a span of fifteen years. I have heard similar comments from choir members – rehearsals are FUN; wow, singing that arrangement of Lift High the Cross with the brass quartet was so much FUN; etc. But I think that it was really inner JOY at making a joyful noise unto the Lord that encouraged the comments of FUN. Speaking for myself, I have been possesed by the desire to play and sing before the Lord since the kindly nun music teacher put me, legs dangling, on the organ bench so many years ago . I was hooked! By fun or joy? I think both. Like you, I'm certain, I never get tired of serving the Lord through His gift of music. One of my silly daydreams is that of my collapsing over the console at Mass and happily being blessed by the celebrating priest…she died doing what she loved the most.
    Yes, JOY in serving; FUN in the purely human understanding of doing what you love most.

  2. Yes and Yes again….

    I don't want to go as far as to say that "fun" has no place in the preparation of music for liturgy, but if "having fun" becomes the reason and motivation for your choir (or Director), things head in the wrong direction very quickly.

    Another related idea is the idea of choosing and singing music that the choir "likes" or that the assembly "likes". Because, as everyone knows, we have lots of "fun" singing music that we "like". This whole concept that it is about us, and our likes and dislikes and our enjoyment…that needs to be washed from the whole fabric of the musical clothing of the liturgy. A good anlogy would be to ask if you think that Mother Theresa had "fun" serving the poor. "FUN"? Not the right word…

  3. I think the problem is that the word "fun" has been cheapened. I play plenty of video games, and while no one will debate the proposition "video games are fun", at times it involves a lot of swearing and throwing the controller at the couch. It's not that the game stops being fun, but it's a labor of love.

    I rarely have a non-"fun" moment with music. Whether playing a recital, having a productive practice, leading hymn singing, or just listening to chant at Mass (yes, even listening), it is FUN! Perhaps most of the time I don't want to do a cowboy dance and yell "yeehaw!", but that doesn't diminish the thrill of the moment. MORE importantly though, I'd say it's a PRIVILEGE to be able to have such experiences. I think the difference between worthless pleasure and enjoying beauty is the gratitude at being allowed to enjoy the moment.

  4. It would be an amazing enough thing for us mortals just to experience the fact that serving the Eternal One does bring us joy. Even more amazing is that joy in serving Him seems to be part of His expectation for us: "Servite Domino in laetitia"!

  5. There's plenty of "fun" to be had on a natural level. It's enjoyable to breathe consciously. It's a pleasure to learn, to master, to cooperate on an endeavor. Planning something complex engages the mind, and that is fun. Most conductors (I'm darn sure you're one of them, Chaz!) know when to break the tension with a big laugh, and that is fun. It's fun to look other people as they feel the emotions that arise with music. And for that matter it's fun to feel the emotions that arise with music.

    And that's BEFORE joy!

  6. True dat, Kathy. On our little trip to the country over the weekend, I bought one of those carved wooden word thingy's, "LAUGH."
    I'll put it up in my rehearsal/classroom tomorrow.

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