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How I Learned to Play for the Mass
Or: 3 Lessons for Every Church Musician

I learned to play music for the Mass in second year high school. I was part of the Ateneo High School dramatics group, Dulaang Sibol, and we were given the Wednesday morning Mass to sing for every week. We had guitarists and flutists and sometimes even a pianist, but we lacked a rhythm instrument. So one day, our moderator, Mr.Onofre Pagsanghan (Mr.Pagsi) handed me a tamborine and asked me if I could play it for the upbeat songs. Oh boy, did I ever!

Lesson 1: Give It Your All

The most important lesson I learned on the tamborine? There are no small roles in any music ministry. Each one has his own strength to contribute. Therefore it is incumbent upon each member to contribute passionately, to give it your all — whether that means singing your heart out, playing guitar with all your strength, or tapping a tamborine in time with the celebratory Gospel Acclamation or gathering song. Because shouldn’t the music we sing for the King of Kings be the best music we have? Shouldn’t our effort and our prayer be directed towards serving Him to the best of our abilities? Mr.Pagsi used to tell us: there are no small roles, just small actors.

Lesson 2: Soak In It to Learn It

Later that same year, I learned to play the guitar — teaching myself plucking by listening to the early Bukas Palad Music Ministry recordings and copying what I heard. I transcribed the Bukas Palad tapes, writing down chords as I thought I heard them, and double checking it with the chord books we had for Mass songs. For months, I lived and breathed nothing but my acoustic guitar — who I nicknamed Zamiya. And it worked. Because I practiced and practiced (and often fell asleep with the guitar on my belly), I learned the instrument and learned the music inside out.

Lesson 3: Love the Mass and Love the Lord

Most importantly, as I learned the chords for the Mass songs, I began to fall in love with the Mass, and with Jesus himself who was present to me not just in Spirit and song, but in bread and wine. And that made all the difference. Soon, I found myself playing guitar for every morning mass — not because I wanted to get an award or fame or recognition — but because I had a specific time every morning dedicated to meeting with the Lord and offering up my meager talents back to Him. And it made service a joy, not a burden. It made music ministry a blessing and a privilege, not an entitlement or a job. It made morning Mass a romantic date, not a to-do task.