Allow me to introduce…sound! (part 2)
Continuing the theme from the last Setting the Tone let’s look further at how we “introduce sound” to the different moments in the liturgy. Recall that we need to look at where we are coming from—sound or silence? Do we start loudly or softly? With one instrument or two, or the full band? Then we need to look ahead to where we are going. Ending appropriately with the proper dynamic is just as important. Last issue we discussed the Entrance Song and the Responsorial Psalm. Here will look at the song at the Preparation of the Altar and of the Gifts and the Communion song.
Make music—not distractions.
More often than not, the way we perform a piece of music greatly impacts its overall effect. It might be a great song, but if the performance was distracting—not inviting—we missed the boat.
Before you begin the Song of Preparation, as we move into the Liturgy of the Eucharist, there is a noticeable ‘change of gears.’ Think of what is happening: the assembly sits down, the weekly offering is being collected, baskets are being passed, ushers are standing and walking around, gift bearers are moving to the back of the church, the reader of the Prayers of the Faithful is leaving the ambo, etc. If there was ever a good time to use the introduction portion of a song, this is it. Use instrumental music to set the tone. Most often this is the first piece of music since the Gospel Acclamation. Since then we have heard the Gospel proclaimed, listened to a homily, recited the Profession of Faith, and shared the Prayers of the Faithful. Depending on the length of the homily, this could be up to 25 minutes. (Even longer if there is a baptism.) So, take this time to musically set the tone for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. If there is no introduction in the music, make one up! Play a verse or refrain while a solo instrument carries the melody, or start with percussion, adding instruments as you go. By the time the introduction is finished, the assembly will be ready for you to lead them in the song of Preparation.
Once you begin, don’t forget to think about where you are going. While we are singing, the priest and/or deacon are preparing the gifts of bread and wine at the altar. Quite often they are “waiting,” hands folded, for the song to be finished. We are getting ready to enter into a very sacred, reverent moment. This is not the time for a “Ta da!”– type ending of the song of Preparation! It would be best to ramp down the intensity of the music as the song concludes. No big drum fills, no loud brass parts, no screaming-high tenors or sopranos. Lead into the priest’s next words: “Pray, brethren…” Now, I know at my parish we use a wide variety of songs for the Preparation of the Gifts: loud, soft, fast, slow, etc. Entering into this moment with a slow, quiet song is easy, but you can do it with a fast, loud song as well. Here’s one way that really works:
You’re playing the song of Preparation—everyone is in: drums, bass, guitars, keys, vocals, horns, etc…the works. The band is at full volume, the assembly is singing with full voice…but it’s time to end. To bring everyone to a full stop would be too abrupt. We need to ramp down the intensity. The quickest way is for the drums to stop their ‘groove.’ Let’s take “Blessed Be the Name” by Matt Redman as an example.
Everyone is playing/singing the refrain: “Blessed be the name of the Lord, blessed be your name. Blessed be the name of the Lord…” After that downbeat, the drums would stop, letting the cymbals ring out. The rest of the band—guitars, bass, keys, vocals— would continue to the end of that refrain, letting the last chord ring out, even after the vocals have cut off.
Having the drums drop out here creates a sudden decrease in volume and intensity by the band, but not so much that it sounds odd. The vocals and bass are continuing, which is important. There is still a fullness in the sound (maintained especially by the bass). It still sounds planned and orchestrated. The result is a smoother transition to the next liturgical moment.
Again, everyone is playing/singing the refrain: “Blessed be the name of the Lord, blessed be your name. Blessed be the name of the Lord, blessed be your glorious name.” Now go ahead and repeat the refrain, but have all the instruments hold out the downbeat (on the word “name.”) The only instruments that might continue would be piano and/or guitar, just on the successive downbeats (even the bass could hold out). You could easily ramp down the intensity with just vocals and piano/guitar.
Take some rehearsal time to practice these techniques with your group. Practice transitioning from a loud, full band to a quiet moment. Ramp it down. What needs to keep playing? What can stop?
You’ve just finished the “Lamb of God,” Father says, “This is the Lamb of God…” and we respond, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” This is a very, quiet, reverent moment. Any appropriate communion song would need to start softly, breaking the silence gently. Counting off a measure and bringing in the band loudly would be very intrusive to the liturgical moment.
Once again, here is where you need to be creative. Ramp it up. If you’re playing a song that usually has a loud/strong intro you will need to change it for this moment. For example, the recording of “I Am the Bread of Life” (Kaczmarek) from the Voices As One CD collection begins with a nice tasteful drum fill that sets up an instrumental refrain. While great for the recording from a listening standpoint, this is not practical at Communion time. It would be better to start with one of the following:
1. Flute playing melody while piano or guitar accompanies
2. Piano playing intro with melody in right hand
3. Light percussion (congas, shakers, etc.) setting up the feel of the song
4. Synth pad with guitar or piano
Any of these ways would ease into the moment, breaking the silence with a gentle introduction. Just because the recording does it one way doesn’t mean you have to play it that way every time, or any time, for that matter.
Remember that quite often you will need to do things in a liturgical setting that you would normally never do in a performance-for-an-audience type setting. Playing music for liturgy requires a keen sense of what is happening at the moment, and where you are headed. It’s all part of setting the tone to allow the assembly to enter into full, active, and conscious participation.