Theo Tigno

Composer and Musician

Guitar at Mass, Part 2

Humility and Perception

In the first post on this, I was hoping to make two points: the prominent instrument is the voice and any other accompanying instrument should do so with proficiency, awareness and humility.

It is unfortunate that I placed humility as the third part of the second point because it really should be the first. The virtue of humility is a key part of living a life in Christ and liturgical music should be an extension of this. From humility, you can know what your limits are so that you can be proficient in playing your accompaniment instrument to help lead the voice. Humility is the key to being aware.

We often associate guitar players as someone who is on stage. It is what we are conditioned to seeing. So, I can see that associating an instrument, such as a guitar, to performance is something that many people will make a connection to. So, when seen in the light of the Mass, it can seem that the music ministers being accompanied by a guitar can often look like a performance. It is what we are conditioned to seeing.

Knowing this, I can see why many times when people see a guitarist playing at Mass, they can perceive this as a performance. Even more so, knowing that this is the perception, it has often been the case that liturgical ministers will often emulate how modern day performers play and present themselves.

A few years ago, I was in North Carolina for the wedding of two wonderful friends of mine. When we went to Mass on Sunday, the music ministry was an older husband and wife duo and the husband played the guitar. In the area, where bluegrass was prominent, it seemed that there was a different approach to music than I have seen in other Masses where the guitar was the primary accompanying instrument. The guitar was a part of their culture. It represented different musicians gathering around and playing together. I've played in bluegrass jams and what is beautiful about it is the fact that everyone has the opportunity to contribute to the song. Yes, one person is leading the song with their voice, but every instrument is invited to speak their part with a simple look or a nod of the head.

Many guitar players outside of that region may have a different view. The first music ministry I was a part of did have elements of performing what is cool versus offering a prayer in humility.

It is easy to think of humility in terms of people having their eyes averted and being solemn. Yet, I have been at Masses where people sang loudly and praised God with such joyful hearts. To praise God with full voice and joy is something that is beautiful and should be reserved for a God Who conquered death through His passion and death. Why reserve emotion for a God Who didn't hold anything back?

Yes, we should respect the liturgical season. It seems inappropriate to sing a full voiced praise song during a penitential season such as Lent, which once again points back to humility.

Here's one thing I know: many liturgical ministers have perpetuated the perception of "performance" at Mass. Yet, I know it because many times it is what they know from seeing performers who play the guitar in the same way classical musicians try to emulate great classical performers. Knowing this, then, we have a unique opportunity to then be an example of what it means to accompany a prayer with humility, awareness and proficiency. We can change the perception by entering into the prayer the liturgy and remembering that we servants to Christ, to His Church and to His people.

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    This website is for showcasing my compositions as well as a musician blog. For more information regarding my professional career, please visit my LinkedIn page.

    About Me

    I am a Catholic composer and musician. My compositions include music written for the Polk Street Band, a Mass setting (Mass of the Immaculate Conception) and Antiphon settings for the full year that are geared toward contemporary ensembles. As a musician, I am a bassist and guitarist for Catholic recording artists and bluegrass bands.