Music as ministry
I was born and bred in Wellington, where I attended Catholic schools and Victoria University. I studied organ under Maxwell Fernie during the early 1970s as part of my music degree. I first played for Saturday Novenas at St Gerard’s Monastery, Mount Victoria, at the age of 19, before being invited by Max to play for Masses at St Mary of the Angels.
From 1972, I taught at Kuranui College, Greytown, and played at, and composed music for, several Wairarapa churches until returning to Wellington in the early 1980s.
I am one of the musicians regularly providing liturgical music at Ss Peter and Paul’s Parish Johnsonville and the principal organist at St James Anglican Church, Lower Hutt, where I play nearly every Sunday. I welcome not only the opportunity to play a very fine organ but the opportunity to share in the liturgies of our Christian brothers and sisters.
The selection of music in my parish of Ss Peter and Paul, is largely autonomous and sometimes challenging because of the variety of musicians available. In every case the wish is to provide music that enhances the prayer of the assembly.
It is an absolute delight for all of us when the selection of music dovetails perfectly with sentiments expressed in the homily. I believe settings of the Psalms are the backbone of our liturgical music.
A very simple guideline to music created for worship might be to ask, ‘Do I feel lifted up when I listen to this music, or do I simply like it?’ This longstanding dichotomy is often evident in our choices of liturgical music today.
Early church music was entrusted to choirs, bestowing on them power to draw the congregation closer to God through the beauty of the music and its performance.
There was a time when liturgical music threatened to become a concert
Perhaps the resistance in some quarters to having music returned to the choir is a reaction to that.
So, today the congregation as a whole shares in the music, led by the organist or a musical group. The nature of that historic ‘power’ has changed to today’s ‘do it yourself’. Quite a responsibility there.
During the early 1980s I was organist for a brief time at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, under the direction of Fr (now Monsignor) Charles Cooper. Fr Cooper’s well-researched and carefully thought-out collection of hymns and psalms in his hymn book Sing Praise represented a multitude of musical settings from Gregorian chant to then-current Catholic worship music.
I recall the reception of his hymn book was not as kind as it should have been. It was, as if in the few short years since Vatican II, all the history and beauty of Church music prior to its establishment was to be abandoned.
I try to select music that draws people that may appeal and lift people through its beauty.
David Dobson is a parishioner of Ss Peter and Paul, Johnsonville, president of Wellington Organists’ Association, and a performer, composer and arranger, as well as an organist and choirmaster in a number of Wellington churches for nearly 40 years.