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The Liturgical Guitarist Mission Statement

"My mission is to enhance the status of the guitar as an instrument for liturgical worship by: 1) providing accessible and musical hymn arrangements suitable for use as preludes, postludes and instrumental interludes; and 2) providing video tutorials to support church guitarists in learning these arrangements."

I can’t remember exactly when I wrote my original mission statement, but it was some time after we left Philadelphia and moved to Omaha back in 2006. We moved to Philly so my wife could do a post-doctoral fellowship in nursing at the University of Pennsylvania. We lived downtown, close to Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral, where we worshiped. The Cathedral was very conservative and didn’t allow guitar, even in the smaller side chapel where most Masses were held. It made me a little sad that, even though guitarists around the world were using my arrangements, I could not play guitar in my own parish.

For the first time, I began to realize there was an undercurrent of animosity towards the use of guitar in liturgical worship. A simple Google search of “liturgical guitar” brings up an article called, “Guitar as a liturgical abomination.” Such articles only go to prove the adage that what someone says about you tells more about them than it does you. I’ve heard that the guitar received a bad reputation in the folky free for all that followed Vatican II, but I really don’t know because I did not become Catholic until 2000. However, the broad brush used to paint all guitarists as show offs and all organists as humble handmaids of the liturgy is pure rubbish. I confess that I find small ensembles of guitarists who are all strumming the same thing somewhat overbearing, but I also believe that an organ or piano poorly played detracts from worship as much as weak guitar playing.

I love the guitar and believe it definitely has its place in worship. Some liturgical documents may say the organ has “pride of place” in the church, but the stringed instruments mentioned in the Psalms sounded much closer to a guitar than an organ. I will agree that the organ is the proper instrument for a large cathedral. However, I employ the guitar quite effectively at Mass in any modern worship space. At many funerals, I believe my guitar playing is much more comforting than the sound of a big organ.

All of the above is to explain why my mission statement begins with the phrase, “to enhance the status of the guitar as an instrument for liturgical worship.” When we moved to Omaha, I received a warm reception from Kevin Vogt, the former Music Director of the Archdiocese of Omaha. He had recently surveyed parishes and found that the top three instruments used in worship were piano, guitar and organ, in that order. He was even looking for someone to support the guitarists in the Archdiocese, and I have done some work to that end.

I believe that providing musical intermediate-level arrangements of common hymns and the resources to help church guitarists learn to play them can help guitarists grow in their skill level and musicianship. If you are going to worship God with your music, then you should continue to practice and develop your skills and musicianship in order to be able to make a beautiful sound before the Lord. If you need more help than what you can glean from videos, find a finger-style guitar teacher and have him or her help you to learn to play some hymn arrangements. Any advanced level player/teacher that reads music or TAB should be able to sight read my easiest arrangements. And of course, mine are not the only hymn arrangements out there. A simple YouTube search of “hymns for guitar” could keep you practicing for years.

As to the second part of my mission statement, I will continue to make tutorial videos of my hymn arrangements. Some hymns will have free sheet music, and others that are under copyright, will not. I will try to give you good camera angles and enough explanation so you can learn the hymns by sight and by ear if you cannot read music or TAB. I will also make videos of the short intros I use for the parts of the Masses I know, and maybe even some basic skills videos. If I do my part and you do yours, we can grow as musician servants and successfully share our gifts on the instrument we love to enhance the worship in our parishes and churches.

Finally, forgive me if I sound harsh. I am sensitive to the demands of the lone guitarist and musician in a rural parish that can simply strum chords and does their best with limited time to rehearse. With no guitar teachers for miles and hands stiffened by age and work, you are doing your best and that is all God really asks of us. May God bless us all in our service to support the Church in offering a sacrifice of praise.