I was recently asked by a parish pastor if I had a set of interview questions for prospective music ministers. Below are some questions I put together. The pastor was looking specifically for someone to lead a more contemporary music group, but I think the ideas behind these questions work for any one looking for a music minister who understands the principles of post-Vatican II liturgy in the United States. Here are some of those principles:
Some principles of liturgical music that every good liturgical music coordinator should know, understand, and practice
- The aim to be considered before all else is the full and active participation by all the faithful.
- That full and active participation by the faithful is the primary and indispensable way they learn the true Christian spirit.
- Liturgical music is not an “add-on” to liturgy but is a necessary and integral part of liturgy.
- Because it is integral to the liturgy, it must be connected with the liturgical action.
- The Church holds Gregorian chant and the use of the organ as preeminent forms of liturgical music.
- However, the Church also calls forth use of other styles of music and instruments from the rich treasury of our Christian tradition, including contemporary compositions and instrumentation as well as music from the various cultures that make up the Church.
- Liturgical music planning goes beyond just choosing songs; how people are invited to participate in those songs is just as important.
- Liturgies are not private functions but are celebrations of the Church, which shows forth its unity among all its members.
- Liturgical musicians are, first, members of the faithful assembly; above all, they are worshipers who are believers, need conversion, and are called to hear the Gospel and proclaim the praise of God; they are not merely an employee or volunteer; they are ministers who love and serve the community through music.
Based on these principles, here are some possible questions to ask when interviewing a prospective liturgical musician for your parish. These are also good questions for current liturgical music leaders to review for themselves and perhaps use as a self-evaluation of their ministry.
Possible questions to ask when hiring a liturgical music coordinator
- What do you understand is the purpose of music in the liturgy?
- What is your process for selecting music for liturgy?
- What is your criteria for choosing a particular song for Mass?
- How do you evaluate whether or not what you have selected “works” for an assembly?
- How do you help an assembly learn and become familiar with a piece of music that is new to them?
- What church documents are you familiar with that deal with liturgy or music? What do you understand of these documents?
- How do you balance your desire or an assembly’s desire for one particular style of music or instrumentation with the rich treasury of music from our church’s tradition?
- What do you know of our parish community? What do you do to know a community better, to build on its strengths, and to help it to grow in its liturgical life?
- How do you ensure that a specific assembly in a parish’s Sunday schedule is united musically with the other Sunday assemblies so that there is a sense of unity throughout the whole parish among the different Mass times?
- How do you see your role as music leader in relationship to the assembly? How do you engage with them and encourage them to fully participate in the music?
- How do you build community among the music ministers in your choir or ensemble? How do you help them understand their role as ministers? How do you help them understand their principle role as assembly members gathered in faith?
- What is your own prayer life like? How do you share and model your faith with the people you lead?
In addition to these questions, I’d also want to see them in action, solo, with a group of musicians, and maybe even with an ad hoc assembly. Look for their teaching style in a rehearsal setting and how they would teach the assembly new music. In a liturgy, look for anything they do while leading music. Pay attention to them especially in between songs when they’re not leading music to see if they do anything that draws inappropriate attention to themselves or shows that they are nor engaged in the liturgy itself.
Download this article as a two-page handout (PDF).
Do you have other questions you’d add to the list? What else might you look for when hiring a liturgical music coordinator? Send your comments to me at DMacalintal@dsj.org.