Psalmist Seminar and Workshop Part 2

(This is the continuation from Part 1)
They were only two from their parish of about 32 lectors and 8 psalmists. Upon learning about their psalmist group, we asked questions and learned so much from both of them. Their 8 psalmists only started late last year and a few of them only early this year.

It was interesting to find out how extraordinarily supportive their choir director is to ensure the psalmists are able to correctly chant the psalms in their Sunday masses.

The two said that, initially, the choir director would meet all of them at the same time a day or two before the Sunday mass. This would allow him to teach the response tune and verse chant to all psalmists in one batch. This would minimize having to repeat the ear training/practice sessions to individual psalmists. This is actually a great idea if the choir director could meet all of the psalmists at that same time.

I also learned that the lectors and psalmists of this parish use the social media heavily (facebook, email, yahoo groups) for their ministries. The choir director now sends his recorded voice singing/chanting the psalms and sending them as mp3 files to the psalmists. I suppose those psalmists who are quite confident in learning the tune by ear could just use the mp3 recordings at their own time. After that, they could briefly practice the tunes with the choir right before the mass.

Does the Size of the Church Matter?

When I asked how big is their church, the two ladies replied it isn't very big as it was part of their village. When I mentioned our parish church could seat over a thousand church-goers, the two were quite surprised. I did say that speaking at the ambo can become daunting as I experienced in my first time to speak as lector. I suppose when you hear your voice amplified many times over for the entire congregation in a big church can wrack a few nerves. What more if you have to chant or sing?

And so I thought that their parish's initial strategy of having psalmists practiced and trained by the choir director altogether in one group was a good idea. That way, there is a small audience where one can expose his or her chanting or singing skills.

After we finished lunch and before we parted, these are the three takeaways from the two ladies:

Learnings from Another Parish Over Lunch

  1. Initiate the Singing of Responsorial Psalms

    Don't wait for others (ministry head, parish priest, choir director) to lead, organize, or push for the singing and chanting of the psalms. As a psalmist, you have a mandate. So you may do it on your own. This seminar and calls for a psalmist ministry were requested from the parishes to the diocese. As far as the responsorial psalms in masses are concerned, this is where the direction of the diocese is headed. Eventually, all responses and verses in the psalms will be sang in the Sunday masses. It is inevitable. So the sooner you do it, the better.

  2. Simplify the Learning of Psalm Singing

    Find ways to simplify and implement. Build on what you already have (your accompanist, choirs) and the current practice that you know already works. If you need to meet up with the accompanist a day before, 2 days before or a week before your schedule, then so be it. You can simplify and streamline the procedure in the future.

  3. Build Rapport with Choirs

    Know the schedule of the choirs. Get the contact numbers of the choir leaders and/or accompanist. Know which choir is scheduled for your scheduled slot as a psalmist. Try your best to build rapport with the accompanist and choir members. This will allow you to work with them regularly and closely.

In hindsight, it was a blessing that our group shared a tiny table with the two ladies. I learned much about their church practices and was actually motivated and inspired by their sharing.

Afternoon Session of the Psalmist Seminar

In the afternoon was the workshop. The diocese had a good musician cleric from another seminary to conduct the workshop. The workshop was really more of an introduction to singing and chanting psalms.

I would have wanted the facilitator to break the attendees into groups and work on exercises. Exercises that would allow the psalmists to point psalm text and then chant them as a group, and then individually, would be good. Learning is more effective that way.

There's a Chinese proverb that goes this way: "Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I’ll remember. Involve me, I’ll understand."

But even though it was just an introduction, it was still interesting especially for newcomers like us. It was eye-opening (ears, too?) at least for me. What was really discussed were examples of psalm singing and chanting. One facilitator sang a beautiful version of the Alleluia.

About the only hands-on aspect of the afternoon session was when the facilitator asked for volunteer from the participants to chant a part of a psalm. The volunteer was good. He obviously has been chanting psalms for quite a while.

Later in the afternoon was the Holy Mass where the commissioning of the psalmists took place.