Sacred Music Workshop offers tips and formation


Musicians and vocalists in the Diocese of Sioux City were able to receive some practical tips to apply to their ministries and some background about the significance of sacred music during a workshop held last month in two diocesan locations.

The Sacred Music Workshop featured guest presenter Dr. Mark Lawlor, director of sacred music and professor at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver. He facilitated workshops on Feb. 23 at Holy Trinity Parish – Corpus Christi Church in Fort Dodge and on Feb. 24 at Cathedral Parish in Sioux City.

“The church tells us of the differences between religious music and sacred music,” said Lawlor. Sacrosanctum Concilium, a constitution on sacred liturgy promulgated by Pope Paul Vi in 1963, stated sacred music surpasses merely religious music when it is joined to the liturgical rite to become “a necessary and integral part of the solemn liturgy.”

During the day, his three presentations were: “Building Your Small Church Choir Using the Westminster Model,” “Does Your Music and Liturgy Lead to Prayer and Worship?” and “Why Catholics Don’t Sing, What the Church of Our Future Looks Like.” During his talks, he offered hands-on learning of music that would be used for Mass that day and he gave resources.

Some general thoughts helped center the workshop attendees on their real purpose as Lawlor reminded them, “It’s not about your voice, it’s about prayer.”

The guest presenter also urged them to partake in another important mission, praying for vocations.

“How many young Catholics have you spoken with about a vocation to the priesthood or religious life in the past year?” Lawlor inquired.

Sister Esther Mary Nickel, RSM, associate director of worship for the diocese, said she wanted to host a music workshop because many people had noted they could use guidance on selecting hymns, would like more knowledge about chants and were sometimes puzzled about the liturgical style of sacred music.

“Dr. Lawlor takes people where they are and helps to teach them,” she noted of the presenter. “He is a wonderful teacher – going from point A to point B.”

Sister Esther Mary was impressed Lawlor was not only able to give workshop attendees practical tips that will help them sing sacred music but offered background into how the music fits into the liturgy. For instance, the presenter was able to explain the differences between religious songs and sacred music that might encourage choirs to expand their repertoire.

During the workshop Lawlor explained many churches are now singing the Entrance Antiphon and Communion Antiphon as they tie together the readings and prayers of the day. The presenter pointed out that one of the benefits of using the Communion Antiphon is “95 percent of the time, it leads back to the Gospel” and ties together the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

“Why not start by having your cantors sing the Communion Antiphon each Mass, then have the congregation start singing it – to a simple setting either by Adam Bartlett or using one of the Meinrad Modes?” he suggested with the question.

Valerie Fakler of St. Cecelia Parish in Algona described music as a passion of hers and a gift from God. She wanted to attend to learn better how to share her musical gifts with others.

“I wanted to be able to bring back information that can be used in my parish,” she said. “It has been very informative. I hope we can have more of them.”

Fakler, who is a choir member, cantor and flautist, said now with her Catholic parish community being made up of four parishes, it is more important than ever for music ministers and others to receive pointers.

Colleen Kenyon, organist at St. Michael Church in Whittemore, attended the workshop to get some ideas on new music and how to get more people involved in the choir.

“It’s been a lot of help,” she said. “He gave us some tips on how to get a better sound of the choir.”

Along with getting practical suggestions from the presenter, Kenyon said there was value in connecting and networking with other musicians and vocalists from the diocese.

“What I saw in Fort Dodge and Sioux City was that in the beginning, they were a very diverse group, but when they came together for singing as he was directing, they were one community that was preparing for Mass,” Sister Esther Mary said.

She pointed out about 20 attended the workshop in Fort Dodge despite inclement weather and there was only about one-third of those who had originally planned to attend in Sioux City with eight, due to the forecast of a snowstorm. Among the participants were choir directors, cantors, organists, school teachers and choir members.

“Those who did attend, benefitted a lot,” said Sister Esther Mary. “It was a great gift to the diocese that Dr. Lawlor was willing to come.”


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