Earworms *

The words “You give yourself to us O Lord, so selfless let us be” had been running around in my head for days after we sang it at Communion recently. Often the refrain of the psalm we have sung will pop into my head when I least expect it. I wondered if this was just me, so on Monday morning at a parish scripture discussion group that I facilitate, I asked participants what (if anything) has stuck in their heads since Mass that weekend or what things from the liturgy sometimes stay with them in the days after they have been at Mass.

The comments were very interesting.

One gentleman said that he had found himself humming the response of the psalm from the feast of Christ the King all week: ‘Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord’. “So”, he said, “I decided that I would rejoice as I went to church the following Sunday and made a special effort to smile at everyone I saw and said a prayer of thanks to God after I arrived. You can imagine how delighted I was when the cantor got up to run through the psalm refrain before Mass and it was exactly the same one."

Others agreed that more often than not it was the refrain of the psalm or from a hymn that was their earworm from Mass. What this reinforced for me is the importance of singing by the assembly at liturgy. And repetition, because it is the refrains they have repeated that stay with people and become incorporated into their prayer during the week.

Sometimes the musicians say “We’ve used that in Advent the last two years. Let’s try something new.” But of course, the point at which the musicians are getting tired of certain hymns is the very time when the assembly is getting to know a piece well.

I am sure that one of the reasons Greg and others kept singing ‘Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord’ is the strong melodic setting by Christopher Willcock SJ that was used on both occasions. So ‘sing-ability’ too is important when hymns for the assembly are chosen.

Interestingly, a couple of members of the group said that it was the final hymn sung unaccompanied by the cantor that had been going around in their heads. They also commented that they have noticed it is only used during Advent so for them it has become a piece of music they associate with this time of the year.

So the learning for me – and for all pastoral musicians – from this discussion is that when choosing music for liturgy the key things to look for are sing-ability, repetition, seasonal music and good theology.

What is your earworm from Mass on Sunday?

* Wikipedia defines an earworm as a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person's mind after it is no longer playing. Phrases used to describe an earworm include "musical imagery repetition", "involuntary musical imagery", and "stuck song syndrome".



Elizabeth Harrington