Preliminary Syllabus for the Formation of Church Musicians
Singing is one of the most delightful of the signs and symbols that make up the liturgy. Song has been called 'the sign of the heart's joy', and an old proverb says 'the one who sings well, prays twice'. All the liturgical books and instructions published since Vatican II have strongly emphasised the value of singing, especially singing by the whole assembly.
These are some of the ways in which music and song contribute to the celebration: they give a more noble and emphatic form to the Word of God; they help to strengthen the unity of the assembly; they give shape to the rite, emphasising its high points; they create festivity; and they point to something beyond the present, towards the 'hymn that is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven'.
The assembly sings the liturgy. But it is generally recognised that the key to successful singing lies in the leadership provided for the assembly by cantors, organists and instrumentalists, members of singing groups and so on. These people exercise a ministry, one which requires not only musical ability but also a clear understanding of the Liturgy itself. However, many people find themselves persuaded to lead parish music, or are simply involved in it, without having received formal musical or liturgical formation, and would like to remedy this. They are fired with enthusiasm and generosity, but recognise that a lack of basic skills limits both their musical repertoire and their liturgical effectiveness.
The Church takes seriously the needs of the liturgy and responds to the lack of formation by providing training opportunities for pastoral musicians. Eucharistic Ministers and, increasingly, Readers, are given formal training courses. The ministry of the musician should receive the same attention.
This syllabus is the work of the Church Music Committee of the Bishops' Conference. It is, we hope, a first step towards this. Its aim is to provide the framework for a programme of study which can be developed into a study course at a local level by Diocesan Liturgy Commissions or Liturgy Centres.
To help diocesan commissions and liturgy centres a Council has been set up to both manage and monitor the use of the syllabus. Those wishing to use the Syllabus will need to apply to the Council for accreditation. It is hoped that this will lead to both a consistency of standards and act as pool for resources developing ideas for both assessment and validation .
The syllabus is based upon the preliminary level programme of study suggested in the Guidelines for the Development of Courses by the Churches' Initiative for Music Education (CHIME). This ecumenical project provides the framework for an accredited and progressive programme of formation in Liturgical Music. Various bodies, including the RSCM and the Guild of Church Musicians, have developed courses that complement this syllabus.
Content and Method
The CHIME guidelines offer a clear modular structure and educational approach which have been adapted to meet our particular needs.
(a) Study Areas
Recognising the need to form the 'whole church musician', the CHIME guidelines propose that a balance be struck between the acquisition of musical skills and an understanding of the theological context of music and worship. CHIME lists five Study Areas, and these were used as the basis of the first draft of this syllabus (September 1995). The five areas are:
- General music skills
- Musical skills in a church context
- Applied musical and pastoral skills
- Christian understanding
Note the progression from purely musical skills towards an exploration of the musician's own response of faith. However, as a result of views expressed at a national consultation on the syllabus at Fawley Court, Henley (3-4 Nov. 1995), attended by nearly fifty musicians, the subcommittee decided on a radical re-casting. The Study Areas have been organised as follows:
- Liturgical Understanding and Skills
- Pastoral Understanding and Skills
- Musical Understanding and skills
This, incidentally, corresponds to the 'threefold judgement' of liturgical music proposed in the US Bishops' seminal document of 1972, Music in Catholic Worship.
Pilot courses around the country have confirmed have led to further refinement of the syllabus leading this edition which was approved by the Department for Christian Life and Worship at the Low week 1998 meeting of the Bishops' Conference.
(b) Modules and Learning Outcomes
Each study area is divided into modules, each headed by a Learning Outcome, which summarises what the student should hope to gain from studying the module.
This allows for local, indeed individual adaptation of the study programme. By creating courses around the learning outcomes, tutors will be able to use the syllabus imaginatively with students and groups of different experience and ability. Having reflected on the learning outcomes in the light of needs or capacities of a particular student or group, it may be decided to omit or radically re-structure a particular Module. Indeed, gifted students may be of great help to those who are struggling in a particular area.
The Study Areas do not need to be tackled in a particular order. They may, for instance, be undertaken concurrently, with two or three strands being studied in one evening session.
Preparing for Worship
Those participating in courses based on this syllabus will be better prepared to take part in the worship of their community. Opportunities for reflection on their community's worship in the group and/or through the use of journal, and active participation in preparing and celebrating liturgies during the course are a vital ingredient.
The syllabus may be undertaken by anyone. There are no entrance qualifications, and no previous academic experience is necessary. Emphasis is placed upon the students' continuing experience of music-making within their own celebrating communities. Similarly, participants are invited to reflect upon and evaluate their local liturgical celebrations.
Length of the Course
The principle of flexible adaptation applies here as well. The pilot courses were each run over a year and this would appear to be the norm but other patterns both shorter and longer are possible. Whatever the length it is hoped that the student will have matured in his/her understanding of music and liturgy and the liturgical celebrations of his/her community will have been affected.
Given the nature of Sunday Mass and its importance in the lives of the faithful, it must be prepared with special care. In ways dictated by pastoral experience and local custom in keeping with liturgical norms, efforts must be made to ensure that the celebration has the festive character appropriate to the day commemorating the Lord's Resurrection. To this end, it is important to devote attention to the songs used by the assembly, since singing is a particularly apt way to express a joyful heart, accentuating the solemnity of the celebration and fostering the sense of a common faith and a shared love. Care must be taken to ensure the quality, both of the texts and of the melodies, so that what is proposed today as new and creative will conform to liturgical requirements and be worthy of the Church's tradition which, in the field of sacred music, boasts a priceless heritage.
A: Liturgical Understanding and Skills
1. SHAPE OF THE EUCHARIST
to understand the shape of the Eucharist
through a study of:
- the relationship between liturgy and human experience - story, symbol, ritual, music;
- the vision of Vatican II: the eucharist as source and summit of the Christian life.
- the celebration of the eucharist today - its shape and origins- the place of music;
2. LITURGICAL CYCLES
to recognise the liturgical year as the celebration of Christ's paschal mystery
through a study of:
- the human experience of time;
- b. the Church's celebration of time.
B: Pastoral Understanding and Skills
to begin to explore the gift of ministry within the Church's ongoing mission
through the consideration of:
- the assembly as the principal celebrant of the liturgy
- liturgical ministry and the role of music
- c. working together in a parish context
C: Musical Understanding and Skills
1. THE ROLE OF MUSIC
to recognise the role of music within the liturgy
through the study of
- music in the Christian tradition;
- forms and function of music in the Mass
- planning and preparing music for the assembly
2. GENERAL MUSIC SKILLS
to develop basic music skills for the liturgy
through the practice of:
The Syllabus is based on the preliminary level of the CHIME guidelines
Full copy of the Syllabus: