I grew up in a Methodist church where the only song we sang unannounced was the Doxology. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” Then I started playing at Catholic Mass, where there are so many songs that musicians know when to start simply based on the words said by the priest. It was so nerve-wracking starting out and I made so many mistakes. I definitely know the Mass so much better than I used to, but kind of wish I had had a “cheat sheet” to refer back to when I was starting.
In the past few years, I have also started mentoring high school students who wish to start playing or singing at Mass. The first few times they sing/play, they are constantly looking to me at the piano to know when they are to start. They have all expressed concern and nervousness at knowing when to begin the pieces. I did the same thing when I started, where I deferred to the cantors who had been singing for years to help me know when to start playing. Over a couple of years, I became comfortable playing at Mass, as well as singing at Mass. I know the cues that the priest says before I need to start playing. But it has been a long road.
To help the students I am mentoring, I created a cheat sheet on the cues for when songs start during the Mass. I feel that it’s best to reduce stress for the new musicians so that become more comfortable more quickly and focus on other things like proper diction, correct tempos, etc.
I hope that more seasoned musicians can share it with new musicians and help them settle in to playing and singing at Mass. In the future I will be creating one for funeral Mass and wedding Mass.