Music that lifts the soul
The beautiful liturgies of Holy Week and Easter have provided an opportunity to listen to some of the greatest and most joyous hymns ever composed and to reflect on the way these hymns can lift the soul. What a blessing it is that we have talented musicians to perform it so well. There have been several experiences that have made me reflect on the importance of music in the life of the Church and in my own life.
On Palm Sunday our family attended the 9:00 a.m. Mass at St. Agnes. The Mass is a moving experience to read the account first of the entrance into Jerusalem and then the Passion narrative. The children's choir did a beautiful job as always and it is wonderful to hear the young voices sing some of our most precious hymns. But the musical show stopper is the post-communion meditation sung by Michael Vaughan, a tremendous cantor. I learned after Mass from Father Jack Graham that some former parishioners travel back from Maryland to Arlington for the Palm Sunday Mass because of the beautiful music and Michael's solo that adds so much to the beginning of Holy Week. For them, and for all of us present, it is truly music that lifts the soul.
On Wednesday of Holy Week, Father Jonathan Gaspar joined Father Matt Williams and me for The Good Catholic Life radio program to discuss the Easter Vigil liturgy. Father Jonathan serves as the Director of Divine Liturgy at the archdiocese and also as a priest secretary to Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley. Like Michael Vaughan, God has blessed Father Jonathan with a tremendous voice and part of the broadcast involved Father Jonathan chanting the Exultet, the Church's Easter Proclamation. The lyrics and melody of the Exultet have moved me since I first heard it in my early twenties and it is one of my favorite parts of the Easter liturgies. Father Jonathan discussed on the program how both the Exultet's lyrics and the melody were both enhanced as part of the New Roman Missal. To listen to Father Jonathan's explanations and hear him chanting the Exultet, please visit www.TheGoodCatholicLife.com, click on "complete index of shows" and scroll down to show #272.
On Saturday, our family returned to St. Agnes for the Easter Vigil. A violinist and a trumpeter joined the outstanding choir to sing the hymns and psalms. A moment that stood out for me was the singing of the litany of the saints where we begged their help and assistance on the candidate for reception into full communion into the Catholic Church and on all of us. I have never heard the litany be so moving as it was that night. Later, hearing the choir sing one of my favorite church hymns, "O God Beyond All Praising," I started to share with my children how privileged we were to be present together at this Easter Vigil and to hear such wonderful music. I prayed to myself that they would always appreciate its beauty and never take it for granted.
This past Monday, Eric Genuis was my guest on The Good Catholic Life program. Eric is a composer, virtuoso pianist and performer whose music is classical in form with a modern feel. Recognizing that his musical talent was a gift from God, Eric promised God that he would always say yes to any invitation to share the beauty of uplifting music. Over the past 3 decades, Eric has played in schools, churches, concert halls, prisons, homes and stadium arenas.
The discussion with Eric about the impact of music on our culture was fascinating and enlightening. Eric described how much of popular contemporary music moves people toward emotions and behaviors that do anything but lift the soul. It is the equivalent of junk food for the ears. Some of the more popular acts are constructed by the music companies to become entertainment icons who have a "star quality" in the eyes of young children. For many popular acts today, it isn't about the music as much as the image.
A great part of our conversation was hearing Eric's advice on how to talk to your children about the music they listen to and how to expose them to other types of music that will be uplifting and entertaining for them. Another interesting section was hearing Eric describe how prisoners, who are confined to a depressing ugly aesthetic environment, react when they become exposed to Eric's beautiful music. To listen, please visit www.TheGoodCatholicLife.com, click on "complete index of shows" and scroll down to show #274.
Eric will be performing 2 concerts in the Boston area next week. On April 16 at 7:00 p.m., Eric will be at St. William Parish in Tewksbury. The following night, April 17 at 7:00 p.m., Eric will be performing at St. Mary Parish in Waltham. There is no charge, but a free will offering will be taken up at both concerts. Eric encourages families to come together, as the experience of hearing this type of beautiful music can allow some great conversations on the ride home. For more information on the concerts, please visit www.CatholicQuest.org or www.EricGenuis.com.
What type of music do you listen to? How does it lift your soul?
Scot Landry is Secretary for Catholic Media at the Archdiocese of Boston and host of The Good Catholic Life radio program each weekday at 4 p.m. on 1060AM WQOM.