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First Communion Liturgies, Part II: “We’ve Always Done It This Way” (Pushing the Needle)

First Communion Liturgies, Part II: “We’ve Always Done It This Way” (Pushing the Needle)

In the first part of this piece (found here), we talked about the mission and vision at the core of our work with children preparing to receive their First Communion: we are there to form disciples. As a part of that vision, it is crucial that we begin to look beyond the beauty and specialness of the day itself–though of course we do not forget it. We look forward and within, into the life and worship of the parish community and the wider Church of God–their fellow disciples in the journey, whose company they are preparing to join. We visited the idea of working intentionally, through repertoire choices and other aspects of the day, to link the First Communion celebration with the week to week and season to season life of the larger community.*

It is a process that takes planning and consistency, and each time I’ve been part of the process of shaping evolving norms and ways of thinking at parishes where I’ve ministered, there has been a mountain of cultural history (most often voiced as “but this is the way we’ve always done it”) to work through. History takes a long time to shape, and it will of necessity take a correspondingly long time to begin to shift. (If you are in a parish where this is not an issue, blessed are you among musicians!)

So, let’s look at just one of those ingrained cultural moments we so often seem to run into: the opening procession.

(Let me preface this with a disclaimer and a caveat. As one writing publicly about liturgical formation, and as one with advanced degrees, and who has taught liturgical/musical studies at the graduate level, please be assured that I do know the documents, I am familiar with the rubrics as well as the deeper theological underpinnings of the various rites, and given the choice I definitely prefer to take those as the starting point from which all else flows. In fact, there is a nervous little part of me right now going, “Oh no, what if my wise liturgical colleagues read this and hear me suggesting things that don’t necessarily fall in the liturgical best practices envelope? What if they see me openly compromising my Educated Liturgical principles? Will they take away my liturgist card?” But I am also very well-acquainted with the reality that not everyone in leadership in every parish has read and studied said documents, and that saying “This is what the documents say, so this is right and the way you’ve always done it is wrong” would be not only hurtful to one’s colleagues, but also ineffective in actually, you know, producing growth in the life-giving direction of letting the rich symbolism of the liturgy speak as it is crafted to speak. Sometimes being together is more important than being right. Sometimes we need to begin in a place we did not choose–but always holding the end in mind, and slowly help our communities move there.

In other words: ultimately, we have to Make It Work. End of disclaimer.)

Back to the opening procession. Almost everywhere I have ever been, First Holy Communion has begun with an elaborate and lengthy procession of all the children in their beautiful clothing, carefully spaced to ensure optimal visibility (and photographability). Music has usually been entirely instrumental, or has had the children enter to an instrumental piece followed by a separate opening hymn as the liturgical procession follows them. I can understand this, at least. In this beautiful moment, parents want to see their children walking into church; if there was ever a time when being buried in a worship aid is not a valid expectation, this is it.

However, in most of the places I have ministered, the catechetical teams have tended to a tradition of the children entering to Pachelbel’s Canon in D or the Trumpet Voluntary of Jeremiah Clarke or something of that ilk—music I mostly know, as I am certain do most others, from playing it for weddings. 

Think of the imagery here: boys in suits and little girls in white dresses and veils processing into church to wedding processional music. Is this the image the Church calls us to in this moment? The Eucharist is its own powerful sacrament, one of the three sacraments of initiation; must we overlay it with such heavy imagery of another sacrament here in this moment? Are there other choices we might make, choices that would put the focus on the processional as the start of a wonderful and special eucharistic gathering, rather than as an “event” of itself?

For the moment, let’s assume that we do want an instrumental piece for the part of the procession where the children walk in (something I would not take as a given, and the documents certainly do not, but more on that later). What if we chose a piece of music that could automatically segue into a congregational piece, at the very least expressing in a concrete way that the children’s entry is part of the liturgical gathering?

Just as an example: for several years, at one parish, we played Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of man’s desiring” as the children processed in. (I am aware that this one also appears on many “Wedding Processional” lists in various places; in this parish, however, it was rarely used as such, and its relative cultural familiarity made it an acceptable substitute for the planners I was working with.) We then seamlessly segued into James Chepponis’s “Come to the Banquet”—a wonderful and lively song in G major compound time like the Bach–and all began singing together as the liturgical procession entered the church. Since this song was in our regular parish repertoire already, parents and children already knew its easily singable refrain by heart and could join in while the choir and cantors sang the verses.

I still kept thinking, though, of #31 in the Directory for Masses with Children, which reads: “The children’s entering in procession with the priest can serve to help them to experience a sense of the communion that is thus being created”–clearly an invitation to the children to enter not in a separate formal procession of their own, but with the ministers.

What if, instead of keeping these pieces separate, we instead blended the two pieces of music, shifting back and forth from “Jesu, Joy” to “Come to the Banquet” during the time the children were walking, slipping an instrumental verse and refrain of the Chepponis between statements of the Bach material? Musically as well as symbolically, this is far more aurally satisfying than simply playing through all of “Jesu Joy” three or four times in unceasing succession before shifting to the congregational song. (There were a lot of children.) While not perfect, and acknowledging that some people might be even more upset with disrupting the integrity of the Bach than the integrity of the should-be-sung opening of the liturgy, this solution honors the desire of those who hold onto “the way we always do this,” and at the same time achieves the sense of a unified procession linking the children, the ministers, and the Sunday liturgical experience. In future years, one might then consider singing those interpolated refrains…and then singing the verses…

It might take years to arrive where you are trying to go, but the final destination is worth it. Incremental shifts in practice like this one, over time, can continue pushing the needle further and further–in this case, from the original quasi-bridal procession of the children in pairs–with the goal of making this celebration feel like a joyful and celebratory eucharistic gathering of all the people of God, welcoming these little ones to the table for the first time.

I have also been in parishes where we did not assume that the opening piece had to be instrumental. One can have great success with a congregationally sung opening for First Communion, as long as it can be sung, by all, mostly from memory. A joyful Taizé ostinato like “Laudate Dominum” or “Let us Sing to the Lord!”—especially if they are already in the parish repertoire (and if they are not, it’s a good idea to get them there before introducing them at First Communion)—would be very easy to sing without programs, especially if a few minutes were taken at the beginning of the liturgy to teach the simple refrain to all those gathered and encourage them to take part in the singing. Consider “Uyai Mose/Come, All You People” in its new call-and-response setting arranged by Gary Daigle, a joyful song that can easily be sung by everyone without booklet in hand. It can be a wonderful thing for the children, who are often nervous as they enter the full church on this big day that they have been preparing for so long, to be surrounded and even embraced by the joyfully singing voices of their families, inviting them into the space on this day.**

Note too that choosing music from the regular Sunday liturgical repertoire, in addition to offering music that links the First Communion celebration to the Sunday liturgical practice of the community, renders unnecessary that most dreaded and love-of-music-killing phenomenon of many First Communion processes: the dreaded “Song Practice” where the children “learn their songs” for First Communion, and where the songs are often treated as another assignment or classroom-based lesson before they may come to the table. In a perfect world, Sunday Eucharist should be all the “song practice” they need. They, and we, are the same community–why would we choose music that obscures that beautiful reality?

One significant change that more and more parishes have begun to explore is to offer the option—or the norm—of having their children receive communion at the regular Sunday liturgies during the Easter season. In these communities, children might be scheduled for a specific day and time, maybe 6-10 per liturgy, and their reception at the table takes place literally within the Sunday community. Depending on how many children a parish is initiating, entire Easter season can become a time of welcome and celebration. This model bypasses many of the challenges presented by the separate First Communion liturgy on a Saturday, and it is a beautiful thing: this smaller group of children, with their parents and families all present (in this contexts we are not faced with “you can only bring as many family members as will fit in the pew” or ticket distributions to make sure everyone fits), can enter with the liturgical procession in the beginning of liturgy, and then can be be called up around the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer. They are welcomed to the table individually and by name, rather than as a whole “classroom” group. The logistics of planning and organizing, coordinating with catechists and clergy and music and liturgy departments, can be complicated especially early on, but once it settles into the rhythm of the community, it’s a truly lovely thing. (And, by the way, it also needs add no more than a minute or two to the total length of the liturgy.)

I have had the pleasure of witnessing and praying in this kind of within-Sunday-liturgy celebration several times. However, when I have tried bringing the idea back to the parishes I have served, it was generally met with horror and absolute resistance. A Sunday celebration, without all the children together, without the formal processional at the beginning and highly choreographed Communion procession–not to mention without the children’s group song at the end (a rant for another post)– represents a deep and countercultural departure from the way most of us (at least where I live) “have always done it.” The cultural history runs deep, and on some level we all instinctively know that to change the way we ritualize our most important life moments is to change who we are as a people. And that change cannot come until we are ready for it.

The opening procession is just one liturgical moment—but it is the first such moment in the gathering, and every moment is an opportunity. Every hymn or song we choose, every choice we make about sound or silence or movement, is going to speak volumes.

It is up to us to be awake and alert to what it is going to say.

I would love to hear about your creative approaches to First Eucharist in your parishes! Regardless of where you started and what traditions are firmly entrenched in your parish practice, how have you, through music, helped shift the needle toward a deeper connection with the ongoing life of the Christian community?


*An increasing number of dioceses in the United States are shifting to the restored order of the Sacraments, bestowing the Sacrament of Confirmation prior to First Eucharist; this would of course shift the dynamic of how these liturgies are celebrated and merits a post all of its own.

**In fact, this very concept is what I express to the families and guests when I teach the opening song before the children come in: “The children are excited, but they are also a little nervous; as we welcome them to the table with us for the first time, let’s surround them with our voices, so that as they walk into church and down the aisle, they can feel and hear our love and welcome surrounding them, and we can help transform that nervousness into happy anticipation.” People who normally would not want to sing will sing when they are singing for their kids.

50-50… What Makes a Liturgy Bilingual?

50-50… What Makes a Liturgy Bilingual?

Welcome back! Bienvenidos de nuevo a ¡Cantemos Amén!

I saw a post awhile back on a pastoral musicians’ forum that caught my eye. Music directors were responding to a question posed by a colleague about how much English versus Spanish there should be in a bilingual liturgy. Several responded, rather matter-of-factly, that the obvious answer is that it should be “50-50” — that is, equal parts English and Spanish. This got me thinking…

What makes a liturgy bilingual?

I’ve attended, prepared, or ministered at dozens, possibly hundreds of bilingual liturgies over the years, including outside of eucharist. One thing that struck me was that the most successful and memorable celebrations, at least in my mind, were not necessarily “equal parts” Spanish and English. In fact, they didn’t even carry with them a sense of quantitative measure or ratio, but simply “felt” right. 

Perhaps this aspiration toward balance should be a question of “what does it feel like in prayer” more so than “what does it look like on paper.”

From my perspective both as a pew prayer-er and as a liturgy preparer, a bilingual mass cannot be measured in terms of percentage or quantity of texts at play, nor should it. Merely “dividing up” the liturgy to meet an arbitrary benchmark demotes the ritual to the level of a commodity, like something to be parceled off or “distributed” at the discretion of those who wield such power (the image of casting lots comes to mind). To put an artificial quantifier on the “degree of bilingualness” as the desired measure in itself misses the point. I would caution against framing our sacred mysteries in such simplistic terms. 

On the contrary, I’d suggest that a bilingual mass is any in which a good faith effort is made to draw the communities at hand into the sacred mysteries by virtue of not just the language employed, but the experience in real time — via the visuals, sincerity and warmth of expression, the sounds, melody, harmony, instrumentation, rhythms, tempo, vocal style and delivery, etc. These all play a part in making one feel at home in prayerIn essence, we should be talking about facilitating a bicultural experience of prayer, not merely a linguistic fulfilling of the rite’s texts and rubrics.

Variation in Application

A bilingual mass might include (but is not limited to), mass texts and readings in varying languages, a homily skillfully rendered in a way that is seamlessly woven through intertwining narratives, music selections that are both bilingual and monolingual, musical arrangements and playing that touch the heart beyond lyrics, and visual elements such as worship aids or projection that play a practical role while lending a sensory counterweight to aural elements. Above all, a successful bilingual mass exudes a profound level of hospitality at every corner.

For some communities, a bilingual mass might see some of the spoken mass texts and preaching done bilingually, but the music entirely in Spanish. In other communities, you might find the spoken texts mostly in Spanish, but the music more bilingual-minded, even including English-only songs. Still other communities might incorporate some different blend of linguistic treatment as their norm. In communities with immigrant populations, the primary language of the community may be Spanish, but the presence of younger generations may introduce some openness to English throughout. Conversely, the desire among Latinos to want to connect with their heritage, including its “sound,” may drive English-speaking Latinos (even non-Spanish-speaking ones) to attend a mass that is Spanish-leaning in text and/or character.

Recall that the church already gifts us with vocabulary that transcends culture. The words “Alleluia” and “Amen,” preserved and handed down from their Hebrew origins, are inherently multicultural to begin with. Additionally, creative use of the original Latin (or sometimes Greek) language of our Roman rite in bilingual liturgies can also be a unifying means amidst our diversity.

Attention to Context

Context is also a factor. Attuned to the pastoral judgment in the document Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, certain types of musical pieces and/or linguistic treatments might work better in some celebrations than in others. In a diocesan-level liturgy, for example, where the use of strophic hymns might be normally expected, singing some of those hymns’ stanzas in Spanish might be effective — that is, for “the actual community gathered to celebrate in a particular place at a particular time” (STL, 130). Especially since there now exists good, poetic translations of English-language hymns (thanks, in great part, to our protestant brothers and sisters), inclusion of such a translated hymn could be meaningful and appropriate to either language group. A tune like “Hymn to Joy” comes to mind, whose melody is recognized across English-speaking and Latin America. This same piece or treatment, however, might not be as applicable for a Sunday liturgy at a parish where hymnody is seldom used or whose communal expectation is for more recently-composed Spanish or bilingual selections.

Music planners must also be attentive to the linguistic treatment of the mass ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Alleluia, Sanctus, etc.) and responsorial psalm as central to the experience of bicultural prayer.

All Bilingual, All the Time?

An important piece of advice is not to presume that just because a celebration is labeled bilingual, all of the music selections must therefore be bilingual, too. Bear in mind that the bilingual repertoire published in the last few decades serves a valuable purpose, but these compositions are meant to supplement, not supplant, the vast treasury of sacred music each culture has to offer. An overall design to the “flow” of language elements, whether monolingual or bilingual, is more important to the effectiveness of the prayer than is a de facto application of newly-composed bilingual music. 

Bilingual liturgies could and should include a variety of genres and instrumentations, from classical to chant to folkloric and contemporary. A myriad of styles and musical forms exists within both the English-language and Spanish-language repertoire. These are to be explored and applied with the understanding that music speaks in a way that words alone cannot. The power of music on the ears of the faithful to uplift and transport them to a place of “at home” is difficult to define but cannot be denied. When extrapolated in creative ways, this thinking could invite a polyphonic motet in Spanish alongside a huapango in English! An open mind to this reality counters the misinformed but oft-prevalent thinking among well-intentioned planners that Hispanic music must always be mariachi style.

Key Resources

Many of these observations may resonate with your own experience or approach. Or not. The premises upon which these observations are based could be vastly different from what you see as your reality. That’s the nature of this ministry. We’re all still discovering, from the trenches on up through the hierarchy. Note that the U.S. Bishops now offer Guidelines for a Multilingual Celebration of Mass on their website. These are generally accepted as good starting points by liturgy planners, but, in the absence of official mandate, cannot viewed as definitive (nor should they be, given the ever-evolving nature of multicultural worship and perils of a one-size-fits-all approach). Of the little academic work that has been done in this field, special mention should be given to the resource Liturgy in a Culturally Diverse Community: A Guide by Rev. Mark Francis (published by the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions), the successor to his earlier, pioneering Multicultural Celebrations: A Guide. This was the first resource in the U.S. to really frame the issues and offer practical solutions, laying the groundwork for practitioners such as you and me.

In closing, I contend that a bilingual liturgy is one that is planned and executed with good intentions, and that has the net effect of welcome. The point is not to subject the participants to some kind of forced, awkward linguistic handshake, but rather that the unity gained by partaking of another’s expression of prayer far surpasses that which is lost by giving up the momentary comfort of one’s native tongue.

¡Que cantemos Amén! Let the church sing Amen!

Organ Construction

Organ Construction

The Organ’s Tonal Design and its Building Blocks

The following article was written by John-Paul Buzard, President of Buzard Pipe Organ Builders. John-Paul is a colleague I have known since our student days at Northwestern University, and he is always willing to jump in and be helpful to a friend. Here John-Paul explains the basic sound classes of the pipe organ:

The pipe organ is a unique musical instrument.  It does not have a single tone color, but a wide variety of different tones which can be combined to produce the richest palate of sound known to humankind.  Even though Full Organ is harmonically complicated and sophisticated, its fundamental building blocks are fairly simple. 

There are two species of pipe construction: Flues and Reeds.  Flues are like whistles; a vibrating column of air produces the sound and the geometry of the pipe colors it; Reeds produce their tone by a vibrating brass tongue which is amplified and colored by the resonating tube connected to it.  Flue pipes make three groups or families of tone:  Principals, Flutes and Strings.  Reeds, being their own beast, produce a variety of imitative sounds. 

Once you become familiar with the four families and their pitch levels, you can combine them to create new sounds.  By using one’s ears and imagination the organ can be registered to text-paint hymns and anthem accompaniments.  All it takes is spending some good play-time in the musical sand box minding the basic premise that there’s no right or wrong.


The Principals (or Diapasons) produce sounds specific to the organ; they do not imitate anything.  These cylindrical pipes are made of metal.  Stops in this family may be called Principals, Diapasons, Octaves, Super Octaves, Twelfths, Fifteenths, Seventeenths and Mixtures.  Principals form the backbone of the organ’s tonal design, and they are found at a wide variety of pitches in both the manuals and pedal, to build up complete harmonic choruses.


Flutes can be orchestral or organ-like with a wide range of tone colors.  Flutes can be played together or with any other stop in the organ to fatten the tone, color an ensemble or a solo stop.  The range of Flute Tones is limited only by the imagination of the organ builder.  The geometry of the pipe body and the mouth treatment creates a flute’s tone color. 

Flutes may be made of wood or metal, open or covered by a tuning stopper (or canister) inserted into or over their open ends.  Stoppered pipes have prominent fifth-sounding harmonics, rather than the full range of an open pipe.  These may be called Bourdons or Gedeckts.  Open pipes may be called Melodias, Claribel Flutes, Open Flutes, Nachthorns.  Some stoppered flutes have a “chimney” bored through their stoppers, or soldered onto their metal canisters.  These are called Rohrflutes, Chimney Flutes, Flûtes á Bibèron, Flûtes d’Amour.  Some flutes are tapered and are called Spire Flutes, Spitzflutes, Blockflutes, Recorders.  These hybrid constructions replace a wee bit of the octave harmonics missing from a completely stoppered pipe.

Some open pipes are double their normal length, and have a hole drilled in the center of the pipe to stabilize the pitch.  These are called harmonic pipes and their intense tone is imitative of a modern orchestral flute.  Harmonic Flutes can be found at all pitches.  These may be called Harmonic Flutes, Orchestral Flutes, Flûtes Octaviante, Octavins.


Organ strings are the warmest, keenest sounds in the organ, but sound least like their orchestral counterparts.  They are called “strings” because they produce a harmonic series similar to a bowed string instrument.  They may be soft or loud, and appear at many pitches.  Typically a string-toned stop in the Swell division of an organ will have a partner rank, tuned slightly sharp, called a Celeste.  The resulting undulation is warm and shimmering.  Strings may be called Salicionals, Viola da Gambas, Gambes, Violes, Gemshorns, and Voix Celestes.


Reeds produce the greatest variety of tones within a single family.  They imitate medieval or modern orchestral instruments.  Wind pressure, geometry of the resonating tube and the treatment of the reed itself determines the tone color and volume which the pipe will produce.  Conical resonators produce a blaze of the entire harmonic series.  These are called Trompettes, Trumpets, Cornopeans, Clarions, Trombones, Tubas.  Cylindrical resonators produce a fifth-sounding harmonic series and may be called Krummhorns, Cromornes, Clarinets, Basset Horns.  Hybrid-shaped resonators produce orchestral tone colors as English Horns, French Horns, Oboes and Bassoons in addition to the antique sounds of Bombardes and Zinks.  Short-length resonators, often with creative resonator shapes, produce unusual tone colors like the Vox Humana, Rankett, Regal, Baarpfeife.


Mixtures are stops in which multiple ranks of pipes sound on a single note.  These are nearly always made of Principal pipes.  Mixtures are typically composed of unison and fifth-sounding ranks, repeating themselves at points in the musical scale which the tonal designer determines, given the desired result.  If appropriately composed, scaled and voiced, a low-pitched mixture can be used to create a complicated full sound, but without adding brilliance to the ensemble; a medium-pitched mixture can add brightness to a chorus in the bass and reinforce the unison in the treble; a high-pitched mixture can add brilliance to a chorus or an individual unison stop for special effects.  Mixtures are easy to spot as their stop controls indicate how many ranks each note plays by a Roman numeral.  Common names you might see on your console might be: Mixture, Fourniture, Plein Jeu, Full Mixture.  Scharf, Sharp Mixture and Cymbale are high pitched mixtures. 

By artfully combining stops one can create a sound for any situation.  By varying registrations for each verse of a hymn, the organ can add interest and, if the right stops are combined at the right time, highlight the texts being sung.

If one were to analyze the harmonic structure of Full Organ, the resulting graph would be almost impossible to read.  With a majestic, full sound the organ can support hundreds of people in their singing.  It can create a “Festal Shout” in one breath, and weep for the passing of a child in another.  It significantly energizes the acoustics of the building, and routinely elicits emotional responses. 

Have fun and take the time to listen to every stop in your organ, and combinations of others.  You’ll find hundreds of possible combinations which you might use for just the right moment in an upcoming service.  Enjoy your time in the musical sand box!

John-Paul Buzard is president and artistic director of Buzard Pipe Organ Builders, based in Champaign, Illinois and founded in 1985. He was appointed Curator of Organs for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign following graduate school, and began to lay the groundwork for his company through organ-building and restoration projects in the Champaign area. Mr. Buzard continues as Curator of Organs for the University of Illinois, and also serves as Curator of Organs for MacMurray College, Illinois College, Indiana University, and DePauw University. He earned a Master’s degree in organ and church music from Northwestern University, studying organ with Richard Enright and Wolfgang Rübsam, and also spent two years in the organ performance program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, studying organ with Jerald Hamilton. Mr. Buzard is a certified Master Organbuilder with the American Institute of Organbuilders (AIO), a member of the Associated Pipe Organ Builders of America (APOBA), and a member of the Worshipful Company of Musicians of the City of London.

Welcome • Bienvenidos a ¡Cantemos Amén!

Welcome • Bienvenidos a ¡Cantemos Amén!

Musings in Hispanic Music Ministry

Welcome! ¡Bienvenidos! These days, there’s many excellent forums to be found on the topic of Hispanic music ministry. There’s also many wonderful minds contributing to the important dialogue on liturgical music and bilingual liturgy. What a privilege to add my voice to theirs… though it is only one among many who are collectively trying to find our way in this new reality. 

My own ministerial journey, which began over three decades ago, has taken me from suburban Detroit “folk” masses to inner-city Spanish masses in Chicago, from diocesan liturgies in borderland Texas to impressive large-scale gatherings in cathedrals, arenas, stadiums, and conference ballrooms across the country. This blessed adventure even includes unexpected involvement in papal visits and saintly celebrations. I’ve seen so much along the way, not to mention the unique perspective I’m afforded by the editor’s desk where I sit. But in the scheme of things, I also realize I’ve seen very little. There’s so much more “out there.” 

LEFT: Holy Cross Church in Chicago, IL, where I led music for years in a predominantly Mexican-American community. • RIGHT: The El Paso Diocesan Choir at the Sun Bowl Stadium during the 2016 papal visit to the U.S.-Mexico border.

For that reason, I’m the first to admit I don’t have all the answers. There’s a part of me that questions regularly if I really know what I’m doing at all. In all honestly, I don’t. I can’t. And I would venture that none of us in this field could legitimately call ourselves “experts.” Bilingual music and liturgy as we know it in this country is a relatively new phenomenon. We are still foraying unknown waters, making new discoveries, and trying new approaches. Years ahead, we’ll look back on this period and, with the benefit of hindsight, affirm what we got right and reject or revise that which we didn’t. When it comes to bilingual music and liturgy, we still find ourselves in a time of trial and error, with the latter expectedly in abundance. 

As I always preface in my workshops, there does not yet exist a higher institution of learning doctorate degree in bilingual liturgy or multilingual liturgical music; there are no individuals out there with a Ph.D. in this field (that I know of) to serve as authoritative experts on such things. I, like many of my colleagues doing this work, am simply a practitioner who has amassed some wisdom in pastoral experience, but who is also very much still learning and open to new discoveries and discourse. 

There’s astoundingly so much to explore when it comes to bilingual Spanish-English liturgy. For some communities, the very notion of attempting to meld languages in a liturgical context is a source of anxiety and trepidation. For others, it’s simply second nature. Wherever you find yourself on the spectrum of parish bilingualism, know that in ¡Cantemos Amén!you have a page that seeks to equip you with pastoral insights to help you better engage in this ministry. 

For my part, every time I see what’s being done in a different corner of this ministerial world, it keeps me yearning for more. I relish the opportunity to reflect on it all within these pages. So when it comes to matters concerning this exciting world of Hispanic music ministry, I look forward to journeying this path with you, my fellow ministers, filled with wonder and fervor for God’s amazing works.

Hasta pronto…  till next time… 

¡Que cantemos Amén! Let the church sing Amen!

Body Mapping: with Bridget Jankowski (Sing Amen! The Podcast, episode 19)

Body Mapping: with Bridget Jankowski (Sing Amen! The Podcast, episode 19)

When I look back over the past few decades, it feels as though I have spent a huge portion of my life as a professional musician dealing with tension, pain, stiff shoulders, tendinitis, and all kinds of bodily aches. Most of my colleagues would say the same, I expect. It never occurred to me to wonder if they were optional; I thought that was just part of being a musician.

            I had heard of Body Mapping, but I never seemed to find the opportunity to dig in and learn about it, or find out if it could help me. (I was too busy working, and practicing, and taking Advil for my aching joints and tension headaches.) Until last summer, when Bridget Jankowski, author of Body Mapping for Music Ministers, sat down with me one day during the 2018 NPM Convention in Baltimore, and taught me more about this remarkable practice.

            This podcast episode is essentially a distillation of that conversation. Bridget’s work, and her book, talks not only about Body Mapping as a vehicle to increased clarity and efficiency (and decreased pain!) for the musician’s body as we make music, but also about how this practice can help deepen our awareness and focus as we perform our work as ministers. Our conversation quite literally changed almost everything for me about the way I conduct, the way I sing, the way I teach, and the way I work with my own choruses; it is truly amazing—and I’ll leave it there and let you listen, since Bridget explains it all far better than I can!

            (And if this intrigues you even a little—Bridget herself will be speaking at the Raleigh NPM convention in a little over a week, giving one of the Mega-Breakouts. Please come see her in person and learn from a truly remarkable teacher!)

Music heard in today’s podcast:

One Is, G-3968

As recorded on Vision, CD-295


Sing Amen! the Podcast, with Jennifer Kerr Budziak
Sound by Jim Bogdanich

Sing Amen! opening music: Promenade, by Bob Moore (from Let Every Instrument Be Tuned for Praise, CD-491, from Liturgical Suite #4, G-4789 ©GIA Publications, Inc).
Sing Amen! closing music: Amen, (from More Sublime Chant, CD-459, The Cathedral Singers, Richard Proulx, conductor. ©GIA Publications, Inc.)



Keyboard to Keyboard

Keyboard to Keyboard

Welcome to my first edition of Keyboard to Keyboard! This article appeared in the GIA Quarterly, Volume 30, No 4. The beauty of a blog is that I can add links to the information included in that print article, and give you a bit more information. I am very excited and honored to be sharing my love of the organ with you, and I hope that you are inspired to jump in with both feet (or, if you don’t want to use your feet, just jump in anyway).

As a child I wanted to fly airplanes. (I also thought I wanted to jump out of them.) Then I discovered the organ and transferred my fascination with gadgets, knobs, buttons, lights, power, out-of-body excitement and massive sounds to a safer yet just as demanding career. As the daughter of a Presbyterian minister and as an organist, I’ve spent most of my life in churches. When I was ten years old the organist at my father’s church asked me to turn pages for her, knowing that I was taking piano lessons. Seeing my rapt attention, she offered to teach me for free (she was finishing an undergraduate degree in organ at Northern Illinois University and wanted a student…here’s a shout-out to Norma Washburn Kentner). Since then my love for the instrument and its repertoire has grown and deepened, and it is my hope to encourage others to discover for themselves what fun, satisfaction and downright excitement can be had by playing the organ. My focus is to help pianists who play in any church or synagogue where they are occasionally expected to play the organ and have not had any formal training on the instrument, pianists who have already taken some organ lessons and would like to find more resources, or anyone who has keyboard proficiency and would like to work on their service-playing and church-repertoire skills at the organ.

What’s stopping you?

Thinking back to my first organ lessons, I am remembering what was fascinating and what was intimidating. The array of pipes in varying shapes and materials in the chancel of my dad’s church was the first draw, even before I had seen a historic, large organ…also those wooden shades that opened and closed. Why did they do that? I wasn’t very attentive to my dad’s sermons (he knew that!) but instead was paying attention to the organ, the graded choirs, the choir directors and the organist.

What was intimidating to me was learning what the stop tabs were and how to use them, as well as what to do with my feet. I do remember that the first question I asked my teacher was how the pedals were arranged. It didn’t occur to me that they would be in the same order as the black and white keys of the piano—they were so big (to my ten-year-old eyes). I was afraid it was a completely different order of pitches. Believe me, I was very relieved.

The Klais organ pedals at Grosse Pointe Memorial, Grosse Pointe Farms, MI

Having a teacher meant that learning the stops and how to use them wasn’t an issue, because she drew them for me. Such help is not available to the pianist without a teacher who wants to experiment and play occasionally, and it’s the question most people ask me first. What do I do with the stops? So, is that what’s stopping you? If so, there’s a lot of help out there.

Thankfully, much newly-published organ music has registration suggestions for each piece, which is helpful. The names and spelling of the stops may vary from organ to organ, but one can google the stop name to look for alternatives, explanations and even sound examples. For example, flutes on the organ can be called Rohrflote, Harmonic Flute, Bourdon, Gedeckt, etc.

Where to look for help, both in print and online

GIA is publishing a book on the organ from past Quarterly issues, edited by Jennifer Kerr Budziak, available in the summer of 2019. The Organist’s Craft contains articles on organ-playing and registration from a variety of authors. There are also books and online articles on organ construction and registration available from a variety of sources.

Easily-accessed videos make such learning and knowledge accessible to those who have internet access. These two resources combined can empower a curious and dedicated person with the techniques necessary to develop their abilities at the organ.

The American Guild of Organists has a wealth of information online. Lessons for the New Organist can be found on their YouTube channel.   There are thirty videos intended to assist pianists in learning to play the organ, starting from A Pianist’s First Steps in Transitioning to the Organ through the topics that concern all of us as organists, such as organ stops and design, technique, pedaling, and other subjects. The length of the videos ranges from less than five minutes to fifteen. Also at that site are many other videos of masterclasses and performances that the AGO has posted for all enthusiasts of the organ to view. Take a look!

In addition to the AGO videos, numerous instructional videos are available on YouTube, so start by searching for “organ registration.” Here’s one from Dublin, Ireland.

Most organists are delighted to give tours and basic information to anyone who expresses interest. Contact an organist nearby and ask for a tour or demo. Those of us who have spent our lives loving this instrument are happy to share our knowledge with you, and offer the occasional lesson if you want it, to help ensure that our craft continues into the future.

Get started!

Two Spirituals for Keyboard (G-6239) arr. Richard Proulx.
These arrangements are moderately easy, and suitable for preludes or interludes. Here are my registration suggestions: In Christ There Is No East or West: Swell: Flute 8 and Gambe 8, Swell to Great; Great: Any of the 8’ principal, flute or string sounds combined, your preference.Begin on the Swell, at the “Slower,” take off the Flute and add the Celeste. At the mf take off the celeste, add any Principal or Flute sound on the Swell and move to the Great.  Over My Head: Swell: Principal 8, 4, 2, Oboe 8’, Swell to Great; Great: Principal 8, 4, 2. Play the Forte sections on the Great, At the mp section, play on the Swell, using the Swell pedal to adjust the volume, and playing the mf phrases on the Great, first moving the left hand, later moving the right hand. Add the Mixture to the Great for the D.S. Experiment a little, and trust your judgment.

Available for free download from GIA is one of my favorite go-to pieces when I want something fun, flashy, and not too difficult. The Jig Fugue is a short piece (about four minutes) by Dietrich Buxtehude (1637/39-1707), a Danish-German organist of the Baroque period who was a strong influence on the young J.S. Bach. I use it most often as a postlude, or for a wedding postlude if the recessional isn’t long enough. I have done an arrangement of the fugue, which has minimal pedal (DOWNLOAD HERE), as well as for keyboard alone, which can be played convincingly either on an organ or a piano: (DOWNLOAD HERE). In a few weeks I will give some more extensive comments on how to learn, register and play the fugue, in hopes that you will enjoy playing it as much as I do.

Don’t let anything stop you!

Show By Your Life: A Conversation with Lori True (Sing Amen! The Podcast: Episode 18)

Show By Your Life: A Conversation with Lori True (Sing Amen! The Podcast: Episode 18)

Okay, it’s been a while since our last podcast! It’s good to be back.

Part of the learning curve for me with this site has been realizing when the crunch times come, so I can be ready for them…I’m just coming out of one of those crunch times, because in Publisher World, there is a big push about 6 weeks before all the big conferences, when all the projects need to go to press for printing. NPM is next month in Raleigh, July 16-19—and if you haven’t registered to go yet, please do consider it, because it’s going to be a great week.

(By the way: I will be one of the retreat leaders during the Pre-Convention events, for a retreat day for women on Monday July 15, working with Lorraine Hess, ValLimar Jansen, Meredith Augustin, and Sarah Hart. It will be a day of music and prayer and reflection, and you won’t want to miss it—I know it’s filling up fast, so while they will take onsite registration if there is still space, I’d recommend registering early.)

Anyway, a lot of stuff has gone to press in the last few weeks! New collections, books, Revival 2, new wedding music, Volume 8 of Paul Tate’s “Seasons of Grace” collection, The Organist’s Craft (the newest volume of the “As Found in the GIA Quarterly” series, which I edit), and of course Lori True’s new collection Show By Your Life, inspired in great part by the writings and words of Pope Francis.

That edition is in fact hot off the presses as I write this, and so it seemed like the perfect moment to release this podcast episode of a conversation I had with Lori last fall at the GIA Fall Institute, when this collection was in its early stages of development. Lori had just given a workshop addressing the importance of singing about social justice and letting the words we sing as a community address the very real concerns of our world today. She was kind enough to sit down and talk with me about her writing process and how she got here. It was a wonderful conversation, and here it is interspersed with excerpts from some of the songs from the new collection, as well as a few old favorites.


Music heard in today’s podcast:

Show By Your Life, G-9980

As recorded on Show By Your Life, CD-1054

I Send You with the Grace of my Spirit, G-9985

As recorded on Show By Your Life, CD-1054

Who is the Alien? G-6711

As recorded on There is Room for Us All, CD-639

Prayers of the Faithful—Advent (from Cry Out With Joy, Year A, G-8481)

As recorded on Cry Out With Joy, Year A, CD-931

What Have We Done for the Poor Ones? G-6709

As recorded on There is Room for Us All, CD-639

My Favor Rests on You, G-9983

As recorded on Show By Your Life, CD-1054


Sing Amen! the Podcast, with Jennifer Kerr Budziak
Sound by Jim Bogdanich

Sing Amen! opening music: Promenade, by Bob Moore (from Let Every Instrument Be Tuned for Praise, CD-491, from Liturgical Suite #4, G-4789 ©GIA Publications, Inc).
Sing Amen! closing music: Amen, (from More Sublime Chant, CD-459, The Cathedral Singers, Richard Proulx, conductor. ©GIA Publications, Inc.)




The Left Menu

The Left Menu

One other piece of the whole thing you should begin to get used to is the menu bar on the left. The most important thing you’ll need over there, aside from the Media tab I showed you in the Featured Image post, is the “posts” item (with the thumbtack). If you click on “all posts,” it will show you everything on all the various pages, including unfinished “drafts” (You can do this too–create a post and “save draft,” without publishing it yet.)

If you want to see just your own, look at the top of the page and you’ll see some choices of filters. Go to “all categories,” and then use the dropdown to change it to “blog: keyboard to keyboard” and then click “filter.” Then it will only show you your own.

What’s important here too–if you ever create a post and forget to categorize it, here is where you’ll find it! You can go back to “all categories” and pore through that, or just filter for “uncategorized,” and you’ll be able to locate it.

Here’s a video of that too if it helps:

Most of the rest of what is over there you can ignore. The Posts menu and the Media Library are important, but not much else. Comments are always filtered, and we get a lot of spam, and I go in regularly to get rid of as much spam as I can. If you see a specific comment that you want to approve, you can do that, but I try to stay on it pretty well, and if the comment looks and sounds like a real person and not a bot, I’ll generally let it through.

Everything else I don’t touch–that’s Jim and Paul’s (our IT guy) domain. 🙂

Setting a Featured Image

Setting a Featured Image

Part of the way we have this site laid out sort of demands a “featured image” for each post–a sort of header thing for every blog entry that in some way relates to what it’s about.

Since we’re dealing in publication here, the copyright of the image does begin to matter. You may have a pile of jpg images from your work, pictures you’ve taken of organs or keyboards or whatever (or you could in the next few weeks take your phone/camera to different instruments and catch different shots of them–something I’d recommend actually!)–these are ideal, since they’d be yours (or Jim’s) and no issues with their use. If you have friends and colleagues with photos to share that’s great too; we usually just give them a little photo credit at the bottom of the post.

There are also a lot of sites where you can get free stock photography, something I pretty much depend on these days. The best ones IMO are,, and, but a google search for “best free stock photos” will give you a lot of options. You can download photos for free from these.

Here’s a super-quick video of how it works (It would be quicker if my computer weren’t so slow):

Broken down, here’s what happens (I had already uploaded the photo I wanted to use for this header, so I just did an additional random upload to show you how that works, which you probably didn’t even need):

Go to the “document” menu in the right hand sidebar. (Again, if you don’t see it, click the little “gear” icon above, next to “publish.”) Scroll down till you see “Set featured image.”

If you click on this, it will take you to the “media library,” where you can upload a new photo or choose one you already have up there. (You should edit your photos to the size you want before you do this, though.)

By the way, regarding the Media Library–you can also get to that on the left-hand menu bar any time. You can add a bunch of photos at once if you want, independently of writing a post, just to have ’em up there. Click the “upload” tab and you can go crazy. :-)) Note though that if you are mid-post when you want to do this, make sure you click “save draft” before you leave what you’ve typed, or you’ll lose it. The site should warn you that you’re trying to leave without saving, so you’ll want to watch out for that.

Re sizing the photos: Header photos honestly don’t have to be too specifically sized, but Jim will want me to give you this information about their proper dimensional proportions–Dimensions should be something like the following (in multiples going up to bigger photos)–essentially, a little less than twice as wide as they are high:
795 X 448
1590 x 896
3180 x 1792
3975 x 2240
4770 x 2688

The reality is that if you have something more or less the right rectangular shape, and it’s not too specific, you’ll be fine; you only need to mess with these dimensions if you run into stuff that looks funny once it’s up there.

Once you’ve got a post and a featured image, you’ll want to click “preview” to the top right, and it will take you to a new page so you can see what it will look like.

Then you can schedule your post, or just publish it, or whatever.

I think that’s it for now! Let me know if you have any questions; otherwise, have fun playing!

Creating a Post on WordPress

Creating a Post on WordPress

It’s pretty easy and fairly intuitive, actually, once you get past all the VAST amounts of data they feel compelled to plop all over your page, and figure out what to show and where the stuff you need is.

I made a little video of the process if you’re that kind of learner (and it was fun for me to learn how to do a screen video–but sorry I type so slowly)…but in a nutshell:

First, make sure you’ve created your new account and can access the “admin” bar…the site you’ll log into will be something like Then you’ll click “new” at the top, then dropdown to “post” and off you go.

They have this new system called “blocks” instead of normal word processing; it apparently has something to do with viewing the site on a mobile device. If you look to the top right of the page, you might see a sidebar down the side…if you don’t see it, click on the “settings” gear icon thing in the upper right, and it should appear.

It gives you two choices: Document and Block. Block is the one you see whenever you type, and Document is the one that gives you control over pretty much anything else.

If you click “Document” you can scroll down to “categories.” For you, you’ll want to always check both “blog” and “blog: Keyboard to Keyboard”–that’s how the site knows to send that post to YOUR page. (All of mine have the “ministering through music” category tagged, so they go to mine.)

That’s the basic gist of it…I’ll add more as we go, since Jim would like to have a few posts already up there before we send it to you so you’ll get a sense of what it’s going to look like.