At Lourdes, we have recently convinced a talented father of six children to cantor for mass on a sporadic basis. He was the music director of his parish before he moved here a few years ago, and the aforementioned six kids prevent him and his wife (a lovely soprano) from being involved in the music ministry on a regular basis. When he does cantor for me (I play the organ when needed) he shows up a few minutes before Mass, I say, "Are we OK?" and he replies, "Yup!" and we go to town. It usually works great.
This week, however . . .
When he announced the wrong opening hymn, I suspected something was awry. I played the hymn that was on the schedule, the hymn whose number was on the board for the congregation to see, and he quickly caught on. I thought, "OK. We are good." Then I played the introduction to the responsorial psalm and he sang the wrong words to the right tune. I sang loudly from the organ, hoping he'd catch on before the verses. I looked down to see him frantically flipping pages in the psalm book to find the right date. And phew. We were back on track.
After the Gospel Acclamation, I went downstairs to talk to him. I wrote down the numbers of the next 2 hymns and gave them to him, teasing,"These are the hymns I'm going to play. Perhaps you'd like to sing them with me. " He chuckled and said, "I'm so sorry. I don't know what's going on." I replied, "Well, you appear to be on the wrong week." To assure him that I didn't mind, I told him, "It's just God keeping you humble. Cantoring does that to you, you know. Just when you think you're getting good, God knocks you down a peg or two." The rest of the Mass went fine.
As I returned to the loft, I thought about my early cantoring experience with a very talented yet impatient organist. I wasn't Catholic at the time and was just learning the Mass. I was 19 years old and he would give me an entire legal page full of notes on how to improve for the next Mass (in an hour) and if I made a mistake like announce the wrong hymn, he would yell at me for my incompetence. I remember one time, I overslept because a storm reset my alarm. Our priest was concerned about my well being and wasn't upset at all that I was late (I missed the opening hymn). The music director on the other hand, was furious and didn't speak to me until the end of the second Mass because it was "humiliating" for him to have to announce the opening hymn from the organ.
It's a wonder I stayed at Lourdes, really. But I am from what I call the "don't sweat the small stuff generation". I don't mean to say that little things don't matter or that I don't have a standard of quality. It is just that I realize that the world did not come crashing to a halt when the cantor announced the wrong hymn. I was actually pleased that I was able to recover in a calm way -- two years ago, I would have fallen apart at my new instrument. And I was pleased that the cantor was able to find his way, despite the immense distance between cantor and organ. It's difficult to communicate, for sure.
There is a certain risk of failure that comes along with live music, live theatre, any kind of live performance. And it certainly isn't worth having an aneurysm over if something does go wrong. I usually just offer up gratitude to God for keeping my pride in check. Sometimes, that's all we can do, really.