Interview with Mª Dolores Aguirre: “Music is a gift from God, even for those who think they can’t sing”.

“I am Mª Dolores Aguirre; I was born in Madrid in 1935. I live in Rome and I dedicate myself to music”. This is how this Vedruna nun presents herself, with an extensive curriculum of a lifetime dedicated to music. In 1972 she was called to conduct in Rome the St. Peter’s Guide Choir at the Vatican, which she led for 30 years. As head of the St. Cyprian’s choir since 1979, he sang the Rosary that Pope John Paul II recited on the first Saturdays of the month. In 1980 he joined Vatican Radio as head of the Liturgical Program. We recorded all the chants for the liturgical celebrations that were transmitted. And it was always linked to teaching through the monastery of Santa Cecilia, the choir of the Valle de los Caídos or the Escuela Tomás Luis de Victoria, initially intended only for religious men and women, and later for anyone interested in receiving liturgical-musical training. When asked which of these activities has given her the greatest satisfaction, Mª Dolores Aguirre answers “all of them equally”. “I have never made a distinction between one or the other; in all of them I have sought to give the best of myself, making alive the step of (Micah 6:8) “walking humbly with my God”, singing of his wonders. I have always entrusted Him with the rest.”

How long have you had contact with music?

From a very young age. My mother played the piano and I sang with her. She was an artist, and I remember how well she played Chopin, which helped me in my future career at the conservatory.

We know the importance of music in the evangelizing mission of the Church. What do you tell us about that from your experience?

At the mission level I exercise it in the Choir “Iubilate Deo” through music at different times. In the singing tests, the meaning of the text and its musical interpretation are entered into. In the concerts we are very clear that our presence is to evangelize through art. In the liurgy, to encourage with our presence and our singing those who, like us, participate in the celebration of the Lord’s Day. All this also becomes a mission for the choir, but it involves an assiduity and a conviction that is not indifferent.

I also exercise my mission at the School of Music. There you feel a greater responsibility. They are adults interested in acquiring an adequate liturgical-musical formation to serve in parishes and religious communities. Most come with little knowledge of what chant represents in the liturgy. When it is explained to them, a wonderful horizon opens up for them and they realize that they have never received any training in this area.

I believe that music in general, and singing in particular, is a medium through which people can discover and experience feelings and values that are sleeping inside them: complexes, fears, feeling unvalued, etc. How many people have I seen cry for not being able to communicate even a simple sound! And on the contrary, what a joy to discover that they are the ones who transmit them!

The participation of the choir in the liturgy is important to gradually discover the message and content of the songs. In the liturgy we acclaim, respond, dialogue, affirm, praise…. It is there that the singers find themselves personally and communally fulfilled, in the midst of a group of people and an assembly praising their Lord. Each moment of the celebration, accompanied by its song, has a deep meaning; this makes that, giving life to these songs, the choir acquires a knowledge of what the Lord wants to communicate to them. It is thus understood that singing in the liturgy becomes a permanent catechesis, both for the choir and for all those who participate in the celebration. This will be possible as long as the choir is aware that what it transmits is always an experience of God.

What is your dream, in music, for the future?

That everyone may experience that music is a gift from God to the person, for all people; also for those who think they cannot sing. There are many ways to sing, one of them is to know how to listen and make the song or music you hear your own. I like to quote a phrase from Isaiah: “Listen and your soul will live”.

Of all the works you mentioned, which is your favorite?

The Iubilate Deo Choir. We have grown up together for many years: parents, children and their children’s children. They have been God’s gift to me.

What would you say to young people today, on the feast of St. Cecilia?

I think many young people have a somewhat reductionist idea of religion. For example, when I see soccer players make the sign of the cross before going out onto the field, I have to say that I am moved. They are good people. But I would tell them that in the field of life there is another play worth living with joy, hope and a well-rooted faith in a God who watches over them, who goes before them to teach them how to run, who seeks them out to be their best friend. Like St. Cecilia, may they know how to remain faithful in the face of the seductions that prevail in today’s world.

I would also tell them to gradually change their concept of the Church in today’s world. May they make the effort to think that, although the Church is made up of a weak, sinful humanity, full of filth, as Pope Benedict XVI said, it is also sustained by a Person. This Person is called Jesus Christ, who, in love with the vulnerability of his children, went up to the cross looking with love at each one of us to make us sharers in a new risen life.

Finally, I would tell them to sing, to sing with art, giving meaning to “their song” in each of the circumstances in which they interpret it.

Maria José Meira