BUFFALO — Kevin Johnson had one hand on a piano keyboard as the other guided a room full of participants through seamless key changes from one gospel song to another.
“I could go on and on playing just song after song,” Johnson said. “I could go on playing music that I consider Catholic.”
Johnson, who is associate professor of music and chairman of the department of music at Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga., led participants in “African-American Catholic Worship,” through the greatest hits of that worship. The July 13 workshop was part of the 10th National Black Catholic Congress.
Johnson pointed out during his workshop that although innovation, musical evolution and songwriting has not stopped, few publishers are producing new black Catholic music. To inject new life into Masses at black Catholic parishes, Johnson suggested parishioners seek out new music and new directions in music, such as hip-hop or R&B influences, to reflect what today’s youths and young adults are listening to.
“Quality worship increases church attendance and membership,” Johnson said. “Churches that were barely operating and on the verge of collapse are bustling churches where African-American worship is done well.”
Johnson said several problems can crop up in music ministries, including instances where a parish leader imposes Eurocentric models of the Mass on black parishes. He said another common problem occurs when a non-Catholic music director may not be familiar with the parts of the Mass or may not realize when a song is expressing ideas that are not authentically Catholic. He said a director may need training on the Catholic liturgy and beliefs.
Cherry Seabrook, a choir member at Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Charleston, S.C., in the Diocese of Charleston, said music strengthens her faith.
“I know I’m feeling more faithful, and I want to get back to my church to let them know more about the things I have learned here,” Seabrook said.