Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 11, 2004
Connect and sing from the heart
Visiting composer injects spiritual grounding into Catholic musicians heart
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Catholic musicians need to be grounded in reality and have a solid spirituality to be able to be channels of God to others, says a Los Angeles-based lecturer and composer.
This simply means musicians must be in touch with who they are, be honest with God and have an attitude of service, said composer Christopher Walker.
And he said the Christian musician must sing from the heart. To do that, they must first connect with the song.
"Singing music perfectly technically is nice, but the first thing is to connect with that music and sing from a spiritual and an emotional place what's real for you," he said. "The secret of music is to connect with the song."
Walker, an internationally known lecturer, composer and conductor, led a retreat for music ministers at Good Shepherd Church Oct. 1-2. Some 150 ministers from across the Edmonton Archdiocese and the dioceses of Calgary and St. Paul participated in the event.
The Liturgy Office of the Archdiocese of Edmonton organized the retreat to help Catholic musicians "appreciate the reasons for their ministry and for their own spiritual refreshment," explained office director Rose-Marie Fowler.
Born and educated in England, Walker served as director of music at Clifton Cathedral in Bristol and as a director of music for the Clifton Diocese. He currently lives in Los Angeles where he combines the roles of music lecturer at Mount St. Mary College and director of music and worship at St. Paul the Apostle Church. He is also a member of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate. He became a Catholic in 1985, but has worked with the Church since 1972.
Walker spoke on The Spirituality of the Musician, mixing humour, stories and music to illustrate his point and keep his audience going. The audience responded well, singing along, responding to his questions and laughing at his jokes and stories.
Music is powerful, Walker said, noting he's met many people whose lives have been changed "not just by a piece of music, but by the way it's sung."
"Sometimes a piece of music and the words are not as important as the commitment of the musician," he said.
Before he sings a piece of music, he looks at the words and sees what those words mean to him now. "I go to that feeling about what those words mean to me and from that feeling I sing the music. And then the music is authentic."
"It's important to sing the right notes, of course, but sometimes I like to talk about music as being a birthday cake; sometimes we look at the icing, at the frosting on the cake and we don't look at what's inside. And we should sing from the inside."
In an interview, Walker said parish musicians should try to strike a balance between connecting with the song and connecting with the people.
And for that to happen, he said, they must stay grounded in reality, in real life, in what's going on. "If I am struggling with my faith, I sing from the struggle. I don't pretend the struggle isn't there."
People who come to Church bring all their problems with them and the role of the musician is to help them, through music, to make sense of their lives and have hope, Walker said. "And music really can do this."
Once he wrote a piece called Like Child Rests in his Mother's Arms. A woman who gave birth to a stillborn child told him she played that piece for about two days to get over her grief.
"When I wrote that piece of music I don't know how God is going to use that," he told his audience. "That's the other thing; you cannot plan how to make God work. God is going to use it in his own way and all you have to do is to be open for God to use you and to trust that God will use you."
Some people, especially teachers, would like Church to be happy all the time because they want the children to have happy experiences. "But that's not being real because children are not always happy," Walker said.
"They have fights with their brothers and sisters, they have pressures, there is bullying in school and if you come to Church and pretend none of that is happening then I don't think we are helping children. We (must) sing songs and pieces of music that meet the children in their real life and that give them hope."
During Mass, musicians are often too busy with their music and find it difficult to pray. So they have to have their own prayer life. In fact, Walker recommends musicians pray everyday. He knows why.
Once the Diocese of Portland, Oregon commissioned him to write a Celtic Mass. He was given a week to complete the task. He started well but suddenly he found himself completely blocked, unable to write. He phoned his Jesuit spiritual advisor for help.
The Jesuit was rather direct. "You are too busy talking to yourself and you don't talk to Jesus," he said. "Talk to Jesus." Walker got on his knees and said a prayer. Soon after that he wrote the musical piece The Lord is My Light. "I wrote that (piece) straight after that phone call," he said. " I got on my knees, I made a prayer and I wrote that piece. Suddenly I could write again. I just had to plug in, if you like, I had to connect."
"If I am struggling with my faith, I sing from the struggle."
- Christopher Walker
Stay humble, connected
The moral of the story is that the musician must be humble and has to stay connected. "You have to stay connected to God no matter how thin the thread and you have to trust God will take care of it," Walker said.
"Even when you are playing the organ you are playing as a person of faith, not as a person who can just play the organ."
Dori Whyte, a musician at Holy Trinity Parish in Spruce Grove, attended the retreat to get refreshed. And she liked the fact Walker used God's gift of laughter to accomplish that. "Quite often as musicians we give and give and give but when do we get fed?"
Whyte agrees with Walker on the need for the musician to stay grounded in Jesus. "The music is nothing without being grounded in Jesus; it's just music. But with Jesus as the cornerstone of our faith, music brings life to the liturgy and brings life to the community," she said. "Christ really speaks through music."
Marlene Risling, music minister at St. Anthony's Parish in Lloydminster, liked what she heard as well. "He is right. As musicians we have to be grounded in our own spirituality in order to be channels so the Lord can use us to help others to come into that spiritual dimension," she said. "We have to be prayerful and be in touch with the Lord all the time."
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