Church music hits the right note in Bangladesh “” The Malaysia News

Church Music Hits The Right Note In Bangladesh “” The Malaysia News

The Catholic bishops’ commission for liturgy and prayer conducts training to ensure that musicians are singing.

June 20, 2022

Catholic singers and choir leaders participate in national training in liturgy and sacred music at the Holy Spirit National Major Seminary in Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh. (Photo provided)

By Stephan Uttom Rozario

For over three decades, Ruma Brizita Biswas has sung various popular liturgical and devotional songs with incorrect notations and lyrics because no one taught her the correct versions.

“One of my favorite songs is Jishu ghrinar rajjye enechho take prem (Jesus you brought your love into the realm of hate) but I had incorrectly sung all my life as ‘Jesus brought love into your realm of hate’. The same happened with other songs,” said Biswas, a Bengali Catholic.

The 40-year-old singer is the choir leader of St. Joseph’s Cathedral Parish of the Diocese of Khulna in southern Bangladesh. The parish has about 5,000 Catholics.

A church-sponsored music training program in the national capital Dhaka helped her correct her wrong lyrics, she said.

Biswas was one of 50 participants in the national training on liturgy and sacred music by the Catholic bishops’ commission for liturgy and prayer at the Major Seminary of the Holy Spirit from June 3 to 9. Among them were two priests, 11 nuns and lay people representing eight Catholic dioceses in Bangladesh.

Participants learned basic concepts related to liturgy, devotion and the importance of liturgical music. They practiced correct notation of songs provided by the coaches. They were also trained to select appropriate songs for occasions such as christenings, weddings, funerals and parties.

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“I never knew that specific songs had to be selected for specific liturgy and for different parts of Holy Mass. That was a valuable learning experience for me in training,” she said.

The national formation is an annual program carried out since the 1970s with the aim of making the liturgy more participatory and harmonious, said the commission’s secretary, Father Peter Chanel Gomes.

He said their attempt was to bring discipline to the church’s liturgy and music in Bangladesh, in line with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

This year’s show was held after a two-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“There are problems in the liturgy and music at the diocesan and parish level. The use of incorrect lyrics and melodies and the excessive use of musical instruments, inappropriate selection of songs, especially during Mass, are the main problems”, said Fr Gomes.

The Second Vatican Council allowed the inculturation of the liturgy and music “but we need to ensure that everything is disciplined,” the priest said.

He said diocesan teams have been trained and will train choir groups in parishes.

Father Patrick Gomes, a Bible expert and prominent Catholic musician, was a trainer. He insisted that correct music is necessary to help the sacredness of liturgies.

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“We’ve seen that the meaning and purpose of songs change if words are used incorrectly. Musical instruments should help liturgical music” and should not disturb and distract people, he said.

Sometimes, when songs intended for the distribution of communion for the offertory are sung, it “destroys the meaning” of the songs, said the musician priest, pointing to a common problem.

Fr Gomes of the Diocese of Rajshahi in northern Bangladesh noted that, due to popular devotion to some saints, there is a tendency among Catholics to sing songs dedicated to the saints instead of Jesus during Mass on feast days.

“For example, Saint Anthony is a popular saint, but he is not more important than Jesus. So when we sing songs to the saint during Mass, it diminishes our faith,” the priest said, adding that the lyrics of some songs are also not in harmony with the Bible.

Fr. Gomes was referring to the devotion to Saint Anthony of Padua, the Portuguese saint famous for his miraculous power. There are several shrines in Bangladesh dedicated to the saint that attract tens of thousands of Christians and non-Christians every year.

Bangladesh has around 400,000 Catholics out of a population of over 160 million in the Muslim-majority nation.

“I think that each diocese should have two or more trained people who know how to handle liturgical music. They will be responsible for the proper selection and singing of songs. Seminary curricula must include a course in liturgical music,” added Father Gomes.

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Rinku Biswas, 40, a Paharia Catholic and choir leader for Queen Assumed to Heaven Parish in the Diocese of Rajshahi, said all parishes have choir groups, but most singers are untrained. They learned to sing from their elders without any training, he said.

“It is necessary to have this training for at least one month a year. There’s a lot to learn and fix. In the five-day program, we at least learned something that will improve church music in my parish,” Biswas said.

He said he learned music as a student at a church-run hostel and only once had brief musical training in his diocese.

“I now realize that training is important for a creative art like music, and when it comes to church music, we need to be more cautious because it affects the devotion of people who attend the liturgy. I learned a little, but I need to learn more,” she added.

Both Ruma and Rinku insisted that church authorities at diocesan levels should provide regular training to improve church music locally.

“I think these training programs will have a real impact if carried out regularly at the diocesan level for parish choir members. This will help make church liturgy and music more participatory,” said Ruma Biswas.—

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