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Songs That Make a Difference: A Report on the NPM Survey
August - September, 2005

During the months of August and September, 2005, the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM) conducted a national online survey called Songs That Make a Difference. We invited Catholics all over the United States to name a liturgical song that has made a lasting impact on their own life of faith and then to provide a brief explanation for their choice.

We were surprised and delighted to receive more than 3,000 responses to the survey. The questionnaire was completed by a variety of respondents, including directors of music ministries, choirs members, and average parishioners. Participants in the survey also reflected a wide assortment of ages, from elementary school students to retired persons.

We hope in the not too distant future to procure funding for a more in-depth study of the practice and pastoral impact of American Catholic liturgical music. In the meantime, however, this survey of Songs That Make a Difference reveals some very interesting patterns among those who responded.

  1. A very wide variety of songs. There is no one song or style of singing that dominates the responses. In fact, the 3,009 survey respondents named more than 670 different songs. Although On Eagle's Wings was chosen by more participants than any other single song, it was nonetheless the selection of just eight percent of those who participated.
  2. A wide variety of musical styles. Most of the top twenty-five songs selected by survey respondents derive from two major streams:
    • Catholic contemporary music (13), including compositions of Michael Joncas, Dan Schutte, Bob Dufford, SJ, David Haas, Marty Haugen, Sebastian Temple, Suzanne Toolan, RSM, Cesáreo Gabaráin, Donna McCargill, OSM, John Foley, SJ, and Gregory Norbet.
    • Traditional Catholic music (6), both metrical and chant hymns, mostly in Latin, including Holy God, We Praise Thy Name; Ave Maria; Panis Angelicus; Ave Verum Corpus; Tantum Ergo; and Pange Lingua.
    The remaining six songs among the top twenty-five choices include hymns from traditional Protestant/Evangelical and contemporary religious (not Catholic) sources.
  3. Associated with significant events . In explaining the choice of a song that has made an impact on their faith, a large number of respondents related that it had been used at an important celebration-the funeral of a loved one or friend, the baptism of a child, a wedding, or a religious profession. Funeral celebrations were by far the most commonly cited occasions on which a particular song made a lasting effect.
  4. Associated with childhood experiences . Another large group of respondents chose songs that they recalled from childhood and that have continued to evoke and express a connection to faith and to the Church.

These findings suggest several practical consequences for the ministry of pastoral musicians. Because the survey revealed such a wide variety of songs that make a difference, musicians and other pastoral leaders should be attentive to the many different musical styles that nourish and support the faith of American Catholics, taking care not merely to choose music from our own personal taste but to make selections out of a pastoral concern for the members of our communities.

We need to take a critical look at the musical selections commonly used for major celebrations-especially funerals-through the lens of the Church's evangelizing role. We should ask ourselves if these songs are able to bear the weight of inspiring and sustaining faith.

Finally, pastoral musicians and other leaders should take very seriously the impact that our music making has on the children in our midst. Are we introducing our children to repertoire that can last a lifetime?

The following are the top twenty-five songs identified by our respondents as making a difference in their own lives of faith.

  1. On Eagle's Wings (242)
  2. Here I Am, Lord (152)
  3. Be Not Afraid (146)
  4. You Are Mine (138)
  5. How Great Thou Art (76)
  6. Holy God, We Praise Thy Name (70)
  7. Amazing Grace (69)
  8. All Are Welcome (58)
  9. Prayer of St. Francis (43)
  10. Ave Maria (42)
  11. We Are Called (38)
  12. Let There Be Peace on Earth (36)
  13. I Am the Bread of Life (30)
  14. The Summons (30)
  15. Panis Angelicus (29)
  16. The Servant Song-Gillard (29)
  17. Pescador de Hombres (28)
  18. Servant Song-McCargill (28)
  19. Shepherd Me, O God (27)
  20. Ave Verum Corpus (26)
  21. Lord of the Dance (24)
  22. One Bread, One Body (24)
  23. Tantum Ergo (24)
  24. Hosea (23)
  25. Pange Lingua (23)

 

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