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What Helps Congregations to Sing?
Online Survey Yields Differing Perspectives Among Musicians and Non-Musicians

What helps American Catholics to sing the liturgy? In a recent online survey by the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM), both musicians and non-musicians had an opportunity to offer a response to this question.

Congregational singing has been a normal part of Sunday Mass only since 1964, when the first liturgical changes were introduced following the Second Vatican Council. In its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Council had directed that all the faithful should take an active part in the liturgy, and identified singing as one of the most important means of that active participation.

Since the time of the Council, bishops, pastors, musicians, publishers, and other leaders have devoted considerable effort to enabling and supporting the singing of worshiping assemblies. Parish musicians and other leaders have sought to foster singing by developing good leadership and by making sound musical choices, while publishers have provided both traditional and contemporary music for the liturgy.

The NPM survey asked people to select from among thirteen factors those that most helped them to sing the liturgy. Respondents could choose as many elements as they found helpful to their sung participation:

  • leadership factors-the role of the organist and other instruments, the cantor or director, the choir, and the priest celebrant;
  • musical choices-easy to sing, something I can sing by heart, familiar melody, traditional song, contemporary song;
  • the words of liturgical songs-meaningful text, linked to the liturgy of the day or season;
  • environment for singing-enthusiasm of the congregation, a church building that makes singing a pleasure.

The survey results demonstrated an interesting divergence in the perspectives of musicians and non-musicians. Non-musicians identified familiarity and ease as most important in supporting their sung participation in the liturgy. The top three responses from this group related to the choice of music for people to sing: familiar melody (52.2%), easy to sing (51.4%), and traditional song (47.9%).

Those involved in music ministries-directors, organists, cantors, choir and ensemble members-were more likely to focus on issues of leadership and text. The top responses from this group included leadership of organ or instruments (66.4%), meaningful text (65.6%), leadership of cantor or director (60.9%), and music linked to the liturgy of the day or season (59.6%).

Complete results from the two groups appear in the tables below.

WHAT HELPS YOU TO SING THE LITURGY?

 

% of Those Involved in Music Ministry (1,541)

Leadership of Organ or Instruments

66.4

Meaningful Text

65.6

Leadership of Cantor or Director

60.9

Linked to Liturgy of the Day or Season

59.6

Enthusiasm of the Congregation

58.7

Leadership of Choir

47.3

Familiar Melody

46.7

Easy to Sing

43.5

Church Building That Makes Singing a Pleasure

35.0

Leadership of Priest Celebrant

32.9

Traditional Song

30.7

Contemporary Song

25.6

Something I Can Sing by Heart

23.9

Other

22.0

 

WHAT HELPS YOU TO SING THE LITURGY?

% of Those Not Involved in Music Ministry (808)

Familiar Melody

52.2

Easy to Sing

51.4

Traditional Song

47.9

Enthusiasm of the Congregation

47.0

Meaningful Text

46.8

Leadership of Cantor or Director

44.7

Linked to Liturgy of the Day or Season

42.2

Leadership of Organ or Instruments

39.9

Other

33.4

Leadership of Choir

29.6

Something I Can Sing by Heart

26.2

Contemporary Song

25.7

Leadership of Priest Celebrant

20.4

Church Building That Makes Singing a Pleasure

18.7

 

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