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Seven Summer Reads for Church Musicians

As a lifelong reader, I love having a pile of books at the ready any time — but especially in summer. While there is a place for mindless escape or fictional intrigue, I also populate my summer reading with thoughtful, chewy options. The common criteria: they have to be well written and accessible. Whether they are meant to keep me from thinking or kickstart some contemplation, I don’t want to work too hard on my summer reading list.

This list includes summer reads for church musicians and specifically ensemble musicians. I’ve read them or they’ve made my short list. Most are available at online book retailers, as well as from the publishers. Some are also offered as ebooks.

“Participation of the Heart: Deeper Engagement in the Mass”
Vicki Klima (GIA Publications, 2022)

This book started during the COVID 19 lockdown, which forced the question: What does Catholic liturgy mean? With the experience suspended or digitized, and meaningful parts of the liturgy paused — the cup, the sign of peace — what happens to its relevance when we are forced to live without it? Klima uses her experience as a diocesan worship director to explore parts of the Mass in light of our altered perspective.

The book includes questions for reflection. These are great for journaling but can also be a guide for use with a small faith group or parish liturgy team. Participation of the Heart was named a finalist in the 2023 Excellence in Publishing Awards by the Association of Catholic Publishers. That makes it a timely read, but so does this: We are still transitioning from the most disruptive global experience of our time. Shouldn’t we spend a little effort examining how to better reconnect to the liturgy and our faith as individuals, as ministers, and as Church?

“Lessons from a Troubador: A Lifetime of Parables, Prose and Stories”
John Michael Talbot (Ave Maria Press, 2018)

When I need a musical balm to heal the ache of grief or disappointment, John Michael Talbot’s spiritual music is one of my go-tos. The Christian singer/storyteller and Grammy winner has garnered incredible popularity over decades. Following his own faith journey, Talbot founded an ecumenical monastic community and has become a kind of modern mystic. This collection brings together for the first time the stories and reflections he shares in concerts all over the world. As a musician, I’m always curious about the origin and inspiration of the music we sing and play. This book promises to provide some of that insight into the music of faith that has accompanied me through hard times. I’m intrigued.

“Keep the Fire Burning: The Folk Mass Revolution”
“From Mountains High: Contemporary Catholic Music 1970-1985”
Ken Canedo (Oregon Catholic Press, 2009 and 2018)

These books tell the story of how Catholic music evolved in the first two decades following the Second Vatican Council. They are simply a must-read for any ensemble musician who wants to better understand the roots of the music we sing today. Canedo is an engaging chronicler of the times and the musicians who emerged and shaped a generation of the faithful.

In the first book, the author captures the political and social climate of those early years in which composers like Ray Repp, Fr. Clarence Rivers, and the Dameans helped launch a revolution of simple accessible music that could be easily played and sung in the revised liturgy.

The award-winning follow-up picks up the story of the Church’s new liturgical music as it matures into a more scriptural and prayerful genre. Canedo tracks the origins of composers whose music continues to shape our experience at Mass, including the St. Louis Jesuits, Marty Haugen, Jan Michael Joncas, Grayson Warren Brown — and early pioneers of Hispanic ministry like Mary Frances Reza and Pedro Rubalcava. My only hope after reading Keep the Fire Burning and From Mountains High is that Canedo is at work on the next book.

“Beyond the Sanctuary: Essays on Liturgy, Life, and Discipleship”
edited by Timothy A. Johnston (Liturgy Training Publications, 2020)

Here is another collection of contemporary reflections on the liturgy, this one from scholars in liturgical studies including Michael Driscoll, Christian McConnell, Anne McGowan, and Fabian R. Yanez.

A resource for individual learners and parish teams, Beyond the Sanctuary helps connect the dots between liturgy and the modern world. It touches on evangelization, spirituality, music, art, beauty, catechesis, and social justice. CLEF board member Mary Dumm, D. Min., offered this review: “Parishes and minsters often get caught up in the details of doing the rite right. But liturgy is much more than proper etiquette. The eight essays of Beyond the Sanctuary offer the reader time to gaze deeply into essential aspects of the Church’s liturgy.”

“Guide for Music Ministers, Third Edition”
Jennifer Kerr Budziak, Christopher J. Ferraro, Corinna Laughlin, and Paul Turner (Liturgy Training Publications, 2021 — also available in Spanish)

If you’ve been doing music ministry for a while, you may think you don’t need this primer for Catholic musicians. You’d be wrong. The authors — all dedicated practitioners in liturgical music — have created an incredibly readable and affirming guide for personal reflection or group discussion. It reads like a prose poem for those who dedicate their lives to serving God and their communities through musical skill and faithful commitment.

“A Book of Blessings and How to Write Your Own”
Ruth Burgess (GIA 2001)

Looking to build a new skill this summer? Writing blessings may not be on your radar, but as ministers and faithful churchgoers, we are often tapped to create meaning and ritual outside of the liturgy, whether at family events or church meetings. Here’s a resource to evangelize in everyday moments. The author shares the tradition of blessings, as well as a collection of blessings for the “people, celebrations, sadnesses, artifacts, special occasions, and journeys of our lives.” Give it a try — and may God bless you as you do.

Let us know what you think of these summer reads for church musicians! Head over to our CLEF Life Facebook page or join us in the CLEF Community private Facebook group to share your thoughts on these books.

Kathy Felong is a longtime liturgical musician in Erie, Pennsylvania. She holds a masters in liturgical studies from the University of Notre Dame.

Copyright © 2023 Catholic Liturgical Ensemble Formation

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