At a recent Life Teen Liturgy & Music Conference I asked a large group to use only their ears and listen to the silence. Then, after a brief moment, the band on stage played a loud, crashing introduction to a song. People were startled, to say the least, but that was the point. This is, after all, what parishioners experience at Masses every Sunday.
How many times at Mass are we called to “introduce sound” to a quiet moment? How well do we do that? Is it gradual…musical…subtle…or do we come crashing down like in the example above?
I’m talking about a very simple technique called ramping. Picture a hill seen from the side: it begins flat and slowly rises (ramps) to a peak, then it starts to ramp down again to flat ground. Our dynamic, or volume level, should do the same: It begins quiet (flat) and slowly rises to a peak (crescendos), then starts to ramp down again (gets softer) to flat ground (silence).
This applies in liturgy, especially at those crucial times when we must really be sensitive to the moment. After the first reading when we all say, “Thanks be to God,” it is silent. All who are present reflect on the word that was just proclaimed. For the Responsorial Psalm it is now our job to “introduce sound” to this moment. How will we do it? With a crash, or a loud chord? No, instead we need to build up our music from the ground. Start with a single instrument or voice, or a flute and piano, or a flute and guitar, or just a guitar…whatever. Just keep it light at the beginning. Then, as you start to build, make it as full as you want: full band, full voices…everything.
Now, remember where we are going: the Second Reading follows the Psalm. It will be quiet again as the lector approaches the ambo. Ramp it down. Once of the easiest ways is to have the drums drop out early. Use fewer instruments on the last refrain. Use fewer voices. Maybe hold out the last few chords of the refrain instead of “playing through them.” Experiment with different ways you can make this happen, but make it happen. The musicality that will follow is inspiring, appropriate, and necessary.
As musicians, we have a huge responsibility. Our voices, our guitars, our pianos, drums, horns, flutes…everything…makes SOUND. We need to be sensitive to the way we introduce that sound to each beautiful moment of the liturgy.