As a musician, I first fell in love with making music because of how fun it can be to perform and participate in the enactment of aural aesthetics. As I studied music more intentionally, I found it difficult to feel motivated or hopeful in the long, tedious, sometimes slow, work of practice. Similarly, as a Catholic I felt that developing a prayer life/routine (if such a mundane word as routine can even encapsulate the practice of developing a personal and consistent relationship with our Creator) was a difficult or trying task at times. Through my musical journey I have come to appreciate the special religious callings embedded within Catholic musicianship which I have shared here.
As musicians, to hone our craft, we are called to a specialized discipline of skills such as perseverance, self-discipline, collaboration, analysis, creative and critical thinking among others and we develop these skills through practice, rehearsal, and performance. As Catholics, we are called similarly to apply those same gifts and skills of mind and body to all aspects of our lives. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that our dignity as humans comes from our design in God’s image and likeness– as both body and spirit. Through deliberate practice, action, and cultivation, “the human person does, or does not, conform to the good promised by God and attested by moral conscience” (CCC 356, 1700). As humans, we are responsible for developing and contributing to our interior growth and to use our “whole sentient and spiritual lives [as] means of this growth” (CCC 356, 1700). In short, we must utilize every aspect of our life towards developing and growing our interior (spiritual) life. As Catholic musicians, we have the unique opportunity and calling to use our talents– our practice, performances, and rehearsals as a means of spiritual development.
Over the course of my musical and religious studies, I have found an increasing symmetry between the study of music and the development of my interior life. When I am more serious and dedicated to one, the other improves in a similar manner. The first similarity is one to which I have alluded already, and that is the parallel between the daily endeavor of musical practice and the daily endeavor of prayer. This is perhaps the richest comparison between these two realms because while they are separate practices, we can transform our practice into a form of prayer. Below are some tips that I have found most helpful in bringing prayer into my musical practice.
Integrating Prayer into Practice:
1. The first thing I want to encourage you to do is just simply invite God into your practice sessions. Ask Him to shed light on your struggles and ask Him to guide you towards solutions. He is never above coming to our aid. He has gifted you with musical abilities and He will not fail in guiding you in how to use them all you need to do is invite Him in and be open to receiving His direction.
2. Make time in your practice schedule for prayer. Some easy ways to begin integrating prayer into your practice routine could be as simple as opening and closing your practice sessions with the Sign of the Cross, reading a verse or two from the Psalms, or listen/sing your favourite hymn as part of your practice time.
3. Call on the intercession of St. Cecilia. If you are looking for a short and simple way to integrate prayer into your practice or performance, this is a super simple little practice that I adapted when I started doing music competitions in high school. I would get nervous before performances and would often begin my playing in an out-of-control state of nerves. After a day of a discouraging performance, my mom encouraged me to take a moment, breathe and ask for St. Cecilia to be with me in that moment before performance. If you are a music student, St. Thomas Aquinas is another great one to tack on to your intercession as well since he is the patron of study!
4. Pray Novenas– especially the Surrender Novena. Ultimately, we are performing to share our work and the beauty of the music we make with the audience or adjudicators but sometimes we let our minds, worries, and the stress of the moment overwhelm us. During my undergraduate studies, I started integrating the Surrender Novena prayer into my practice sessions in the 9 days leading up to my performances and juries. Not only did I experience a significant shift in my mindset and my ability to truly surrender my performances, but I found that those practice sessions were more fruitful, and I had more clarity in finding and resolving musical issues when I surrendered them to God. The central prayer of this novena is simple and easy to recall during moments of stress or anxiety so if you are struggling with performance nerves or want to strive to let God direct your practice and performance, this is an excellent prayer to pray!