Thursday, May 31, 2007

Church Music Ramble

Reading this post over at the New Liturgical Movement my heart was moved slightly. :-) It is no secret that church musicians are some of the lowest creatures in any ecclesial structure without regard to denomination. In many places they are paid pennies on the dollar (if at all) or even replaced by worship tape recordings of hymns or popular Christian pop music. In circles of other musicians, Church music is looked at as being easy and campy. The musician culture is such that there are basically two main fields of music for the serious musician. They are:

  • Music Education (make a living)
  • Music Performance (wow, you must be awesome)

After that on the musical totem poll you've got the jobs that serious musicians will take any day alongside their teaching gig because they want to be cool or because they get a real kick out of them:

  • Rock/Jazz/Fusion Band playing in bars (i really enjoy it!)
  • Wedding Band (make some money on the side, besides the teaching thing)

After that you have the inevitable, for people who just want to play or sing. They might be musicians by trade, they might not be. Either way, its just fun!

  • "Community" Band (they asked me to play, and its fun)
  • "Community" Singers (just waiting for the day I can actually take over this ensemble)

Finally, we come to the lowest on the poll. (drum roll, please) Representing 2000 years of history and tradition:

  • Church musician ("I play in Church." "Oh, thats nice.")

This is not my perspective at all, but it is what goes on in the back of (nearly) every pro-musician's head. Note too that if you are in community ensembles and you don't have the negative attitude, bless you. To be honest most people with a negative attitude probably aren't participating anyway, so be safe in assuming the people around you are generally happy to be there. Another disclaimer, there is nothing wrong with teaching or performing music outside of church for a profession. In fact, I praise these people. It is a vocation we desperately need... but I digress...

Playing/singing in church is something you do on the side, when asked, or only during Holy Week. I want to stress: Part of this is the Church's fault for authorizing and using horrific music no serious musician will devote hours to each week to get right. I know from my point of view, "On Eagles Wings" didn't endear me to the Catholic Church when I was about to go in to college for music. Part of this is just plain culture. Its true that every human has to make a living - and ya know what, its not in the Church as a musician anymore (in most places). People respect you for how much money you pull in. Thats the no spin truth right there.

On the same side, I did get chastised at my Baptist church for playing "dirges" on the organ instead of "peppy pieces". I was just playing "organ music". They were not interested in my selections for preludes and postludes. That was a long time ago so I'm not so sore any longer. :-)

Before I left for the university my band director flat out told me "go into education, its the only place to make any money." I didn't even know you could major in church music at some places. However that is exactly the culture of musicians today. People go into music to teach other people how to teach music. The result is not a growth in ensembles or musicians, the result is that the industry trains itself to train more people to train others who will train.......


Cut to right now. I love where I am at the moment. When I became Catholic I knew there was a chance I would have to give up any hope of ever playing or singing in Church again. Many Catholic churches don't even have choirs anymore, which is sad. But God put me in exactly the place I needed to be and for that I am eternally grateful. I do get paid which is a nice plus but I told them when I started that I didn't need to be. How on earth could I stumble upon my all time favorite music, an incredibly beautiful liturgy, a faith I was moved to join, and get a chance to participate and use my musicianship every week? What tremendous grace!

When I see college friends who ask what I'm doing with music now I proudly say I am a Church musician once again. To heck with the stigma. I love it. Its not my day job but in some cases I bet I'm having a much better time in music than they are.

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"The whole truth is generally the ally of virtue; a half-truth is always the ally of some vice." - G.K. Chesterton