June 22, 2016

Introducing a new song in your parish community - Part 1

hymnal book

Many people, myself included, ask themselves “how should I introduce this new song to my parish.” But if you really want to be successful in introducing a new song, this question should be asked before the song is even selected.

Listen to your community

The most important step to finding a song for your parish community is to listen. What songs are they singing well? What style of music does the congregation respond to? Which group/cantor does the congregation sing best with? While listening, you might be surprised to find that some of the “favorites” are not the best option for your parish. Try to find your parish’s musical voice. Maybe they do not have one yet? These questions will help you discover the needs of your parish community.

Consider your parish’s strengths

After spending some time listening, take a look at your parish as a whole. Every community has specific charisms and strengths. Find music that supports those strengths. Whether you have a parish with a passion for social justice, or a community with a great love for the Eucharist, the music should reflect that. On the other hand, there might be other aspects of your community that need encouragement. These are all things that should be taken into consideration when selecting new music.

Prepare them for change

Listening and discerning the needs of your parish will lead to change. Whether they love change (not likely), or hate it, it is always important to prepare your community. This could be done by communicating to them why you are introducing new music. You could also try to find some songs that bridge the gap between styles. If you want your traditional choir to sing a contemporary song, try to find a couple songs in your repertoire that could be done in a contemporary style. If you want your choir to sing more chant, look for some songs based on chant modes.

Select music that unifies

For many years, when I found a new song, I would say “this is perfect for the folk group,” or “this would be great with my praise band.” Variety abounds in Catholic liturgical music, and there are just as many opinions on what style is best. All styles of music, when done well, can bring people closer to Christ in the Eucharist. It is a good idea when selecting new music to find something that can be sung with more than one group, preferably all of them. The Eucharist is the single greatest act of unity that we have with Christ and each other. Our music needs to reflect that unity, not just at the “8:30 traditional Mass”, but at all the Masses. (Please do not think this only applies to the English speaking Masses. If you are part of a diverse language community, try to find music that can unify those communities.)

I hope this will be helpful for you and your music ministry. Don’t forget to always pray with a song before you decide to use it. If you find a song brings you closer to Christ and supports eucharistic celebration, then you are moving in the right direction.


Introducing a new song in your parish community

Nichlas Schaal

Nichlas Schaal is a gifted musician, music director and composer who is known as a community builder and worship leader in his local archdiocese of Portland, Oregon. For more information on Nichlas and his ministry please visit