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A New Life for Music in the Church (Part Four): Taizé

This is part four in a series of posts on music in the Catholic Church. Previously: Part one, part two and part three.

One big discovery for me during the World Youth Day trip was the music of Taizé – a Christian community in the East of France, where they have cultivated a distinctive style of worship, welcoming all denominations of Christianity and putting visual icons and a particular kind of repeating sung music at the heart of each service.

I don’t think I’d ever heard of Taizé before that week, though looking back later I realised I had once experienced their music.

A First Taste of Taizé

During a period of quiet prayer in a vigil service in my church last Easter, somebody started singing a simple tune, and others joined in:

The words were so short and the tune so simple, that within a couple of repeats I was able to join in, singing softly with the dozen or so other people there. It was a wonderful peaceful addition to the service and a really memorable moment for me. I recognised it as a new and different form of sung music than I was used to, but didn’t have the relationships or the information to really follow up on it and learn more at that time.

During the World Youth Day trip, some of the music used by our excellent volunteer choir was in a similar vein. In particular this piece caught my attention:


A New Life for Music in the Church (Part Three)

This is part three in a series of posts on music in the Catholic Church. Part one covered my background and experience of Church music growing up and part two looked at the modern “happy clappy” style of church music.

Last time I was fairly critical of the upbeat poppy style of church music which sometimes seems like the only alternative to dirge-like traditional hymns, acknowledging that it’s a style of music which certainly appeals to some people but just doesn’t jibe well with my notion of what music should bring to the mass.

I wanted to add a corollary to that, however, which will then lead on some more positive posts on musical options in the modern church.

Everything in moderation

On the pilgrimage I took part in this summer there was a terrific music group, organised by one of the nuns who was with us (who, I might add, were a far cry from the black-and-white picture of a nun you might have in your head! Another eye-opening part of the trip for me…)

They led the music at the Westminster group services we had during the week. Some of these were masses in local churches, others were simple informal gatherings for prayer. The music was guitar led, with various simple rhythmic ‘shaker’ instruments among other members of the group. If you’ve read my previous post, you won’t be surprised to hear I was slightly apprehensive to see what the music would be like!


A New Life for Music in the Church (Part Two)

This is part two in a series of posts on music in the Catholic Church. Part One covered my background and experience of Church music growing up.

So what does Church music look like today? Well it’s often very much that traditional hymn-singing I talked about.

But there are a few other types of church music…

Raise your hands

One mode of modern church music is what I think of as “Happy-Clappy” style. That’s too disrespectful a name really, but it’s the kind of music where you’re singing songs rather than hymns, the words aren’t based on scripture but are much more informal and secular-sounding, the music is more poppy and modern. Often there are actions (I must confess I cringe just saying that) and there’s a lot of clapping and waving arms in the air.

For a long time I was absolutely dismissive of this.

There’s a body of church music coming from African-American Gospel music, which is more upbeat, lively, and, well, ‘clappy’. I respect that as a genre and a mode of worship, although it isn’t one I’ve ever identified with. I think that’s the influence behind the rise of guitar-based poppy music in Catholic churches, often as part of youth outreach efforts, or children’s masses.

In dedicated family or children’s masses I think the agenda is different, and I think that style of music definitely has a place there. But until recently I would have been pretty resistant to its inclusion in any other masses, where I feel it’s mostly a distraction.

Waking up

I was given cause to rethink this by my experiences in Madrid this summer. (more…)

A New Life for Music in the Church (Part One)

As I mentioned in my last post, the World Youth Day trip I went on this summer was particularly inspiring for me on the musical front. I’ve long been involved with and interested in church music, but the WYD week exposed me to some new and wonderful types of worship music (along with some old familiars which I like to varying degrees!)

This is the first in a series of posts on the topic of music in the church, inspired by the new music I encountered on that trip.

As it was in the beginning…

I grew up attending Catholic mass every Sunday with my family, which about half the time featured sung hymns. Depending on which local church we went to, some of the mass setting (e.g. the Gloria, Sanctus, etc.) might be sung, but for the most part it was hymns from a hymn book, accompanied by piano or organ.

I like hymns.

There are some fantastic hymns, and sung hymns can (if well chosen and well led) be a wonderful addition to a church service.


The big curse of church hymns is that more often than not, they are performed at a snail’s pace, leaving even capable singers struggling for breath by the end of each tortuous line, and giving you so much time for your thoughts to wander during each verse you’re surprised the thing ever ends! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some weirdo with a fetish for super-speedy hymns. I’m just looking for a reasonable tempo that’s something approximating speaking speed; enough to give the words some meaning and allow natural phrasing.

I’ve been guilty in the past of (more…)