Australia native brings passion for praise, music to Holy Family
To pray more beautifully, sing. The goal at the heart of worship, according to Holy Family Catholic Church's newest hire Nigel McBain, is "to focus ourselves back on Christ." And music is a beautiful and fitting method to do so, he said. McBain, ...
To pray more beautifully, sing.
The goal at the heart of worship, according to Holy Family Catholic Church's newest hire Nigel McBain, is "to focus ourselves back on Christ."
And music is a beautiful and fitting method to do so, he said.
McBain, a native of Australia, began on July 1 as the church's director of music and adult faith formation. Having moved from Australia to Milwaukee in April, 2015, McBain was attracted to the cozier community of Mitchell, as well as to the pastoral approach of Holy Family's Father Shane Stevens.
As with the move to Mitchell, the relocation from Australia to Wisconsin was to pursue a career working with music in the church, but it wasn't McBain's first change of country. His pursuit previously led him to England, with time spent teaching in both Sweden and in London.
"I've been quite all over the place really," he said. "I suppose that's the benefits of the modern day-you can do anything like this."
A multi-continent man, McBain said he's not one for favorites when asked about places he's lived, for there's something to love about all of them.
"Wherever I am, I usually try to make the best of it, so that's how it goes," he said.
And that's exactly his approach to his position at Holy Family.
New goals for a new home
The music director part of the position lends McBain the opportunity to play the organ for the church's four weekly masses. He's also made it his goal to revive the choir program at Holy Family. Through his music ministry, he hopes to create at least four choirs: a children's choir, men's choir, women's choir and a combined full choir.
Having become a choir member at age 7, the institution of worship is near to the heart of McBain. He's also a composer by degree, which he earned from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and was in the seminary for three years in Melbourne in the late '90s. Since, he's worked mostly with music in Catholic schools and playing pipe organ "all over the place." Before moving to the United States, he directed an opera company where he was living in the Yarra Valley in Australia, an area he called the nicest part of the country.
But, helping with the music in churches in Australia is more of a volunteer position rather than a career. They don't get paid as much as you do here, he said, although it's not about the money.
Because more than to just make a career of his gift for music, McBain wants to make a difference in the Church.
A balance on tradition
With the Catholic Church being more than 2,000 years old, there is much to learn and understand about its history, and how that history applies to modern situations, he said. And when people today don't fully understand the documents of the Church, he added, it can cause tension. The area of worship music is one such contesting subject.
He compared Catholic worship to that of a Protestant group, which he said has no official teaching on the subject of music.
"There are documents about what (Catholics) can do in church with music, and they can be quite strict," McBain said. "Now, it depends sometimes how you interpret them, but they're there."
One such document for instruction on music in the liturgy is the Musicam Sacram, a teaching of the Second Vatican Council. In a general explanation section toward the beginning it states the importance and significance of music, saying:
"Through this form (music), prayer is expressed in a more attractive way, the mystery of the liturgy, with its hierarchical and community nature, is more openly shown, the unity of hearts is more profoundly achieved by the union of voices, minds are more easily raised to heavenly things by the beauty of the sacred rites, and the whole celebration more clearly prefigures that heavenly liturgy which is enacted in the holy city of Jerusalem."
Such significance of music is why it must be handled carefully, he said, which is part of his job. McBain's personal preference is for a mixture of traditional music paired with something that's modern. He said there can be such a beauty in a thousand-year-old melody standing next to one written yesterday.
"It's good," he said, "because the goal is to get the best quality, whatever style it is. And I guess that's what happens with tradition is new things come in and they're tested and tested and tested, and they stay or they get cut."
In the new, untested music, however, is where the tension can sneak up, he said, calling it "quite a complicated thing." But the key comes back to making sure the focus is on God.
For some churches, McBain said, their big focus is on what's popular and what's going to "get the kids in and all that."
"But for (Catholics), music is more about the beautiful worship of God, or making the worship of God more beautiful. So it doesn't matter what the style is, in a way, if it's not contributing to that, it's not ... appropriate," he said. "So we want all that we do, whether it's singing, playing instruments, whatever, to focus ourselves back on Christ."
He added that he tries to be accommodating at the same time, and is always happy to welcome new approaches.
More opportunities for believers
Trying new things and broadening the spectrum of faith is another main function of McBain's new position. As the director of adult faith formation, he plans to offer more opportunities for parishioners to participate in an enrichment of their faith. He is in charge of programs to teach the faith to those who want to become Catholic, for example, and coordinates training for various apostolates (religious activities or works of service) that people want to do.
He also hopes to provide more Bible studies, feeling that is an area where Catholics sometimes fall short in what they offer to believers. Fewer ministries and opportunities to be involved was something McBain experienced personally when he converted to Catholicism in 1996.
Having previously been a member of the Anglican, or better known in America as Episcopalian faith, he had always been heavily involved in the church. But in the '90s, he explained, the Anglicans in Australia started changing their doctrine "quite a lot," and McBain felt they were heading in the wrong direction.
"And I read and read and read and read, as you do with these things, and eventually I decided that the Catholic Church was true and that I had to be a member of it," he said.
Not long following his conversion on June 29, 1996, on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, McBain went into the seminary, which later led to his travels abroad and eventually to Mitchell.