What do we mean by 'church musician'?
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 396
    Is a church musician anyone who plays music or sings at church, or is it just the DOM, or is it just the organist (if the church is lucky enough to have one?) Does a church musician have to be on payroll, or can he be a volunteer? Is the leader of one of the musical combos that plays a Mass a church musician? Are the members of the choir church musicians? Is there just one church musician at a parish?
  • Liam
    Posts: 2,856
    And who is "we"?
  • I call the members of our choir "church musicians", but I'm not sure I would describe all choir members of all church choirs as such.
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,346
    When we founded The Church Musician Trip to Las Vegas (which has occurred the past three Summers and should again this Summer), we opened it up to anyone vaguely interested in church music. We ended up with organists, DMs, choir members, and someone who did IT for a parish but hung out in the DM's office occasionally and heard about the trip.
  • MarkS
    Posts: 107
    I have have always understood 'church musician' to mean the following:

    a) It denotes a 'musician.' To me, 'musician' in this context is a professional designation, like 'doctor' or 'lawyer' ('teacher' etc...) which assumes professional level training. There has been some debate recently on this forum about what that might consist of, or indeed if professional level training is necessary at all. But whether this training is acquired through a good professional-level degree program (to my mind the most desirable approach for aspiring musicians) or not, it assumes a certain set of knowledge, skills, and experience. So, for instance, many folks sing or play an instrument at varying levels of ability (and God bless them!), but are not 'musicians' as I understand the term in this context. (There are obviously many 'musicians' as I understand the term on this forum!)

    b) A 'church musician' is therefore a 'musician' who dedicates all (the lucky ones!) or at least some of her/his professional life to serving the church (and who, as a professional, has acquired the additional training/experience to function professionally in this context.)

    So, the term could apply to the DM, or the organist (the DM would also be a competent organist by my definition of the term), or a section leader or any member of the choir/schola who fit the description. (But, unfortunately, there are churches where it would not apply to the DM, or to the organist!)

    There is a trend in this post-modern world to refine 'art' and associated terms—all self-expression or performance at any level is 'art,' and anyone who plucks a guitar string or dips a finger in finger paint is a 'musician' or an 'artist.' There are indeed many gifted amateurs, and many of us rely on them! But I think it is helpful to have a vocabulary to distinguish between the amateur enthusiast and the professional.
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 396
    Such as calling the amateur enthusiast a 'weekend warrior'?
  • MarkS
    Posts: 107
    'weekend warrior'?


    That works! Actually, I use the term to refer to my weekend soccer activity!
  • RMSawicki
    Posts: 25
    The question is asked. What I offer is merely my personal opinion as to how to answer said question.

    I always try, as diplomatically as possible, to frame the question this way:

    There is a difference between a "church musician" and a "musician who works in a church".

    The former is someone who, either by genuine vocation, sincere devotion, or both, offers a personal sacrifice of praise to God through music (chant, choral singing, playing the organ, etc.) within the context of sacred liturgy and prayer. They may be either a paid professional or a volunteer, but in either case, when they are producing sacred music they are undeniably PRAYING at the same time.

    The latter is (exclusively) a paid professional who provides music on a fee-for-service basis, and for whom sacred music is merely one art form among many, likely holding no personal or spiritual significance to them.

    A perhaps harsh assessment on my part, but I think most folks reading this blog will get my meaning.

    Gaudete in Domino Semper!
  • MarkS
    Posts: 107
    RMSawicki-

    Point taken, although the professionally-trained working church musicians I know would all fall into the first category. Sounds like your experience has been different!

    But I insist that a basic minimum requirement for a 'church musician' of any description is that they actually be a musician—anything else is just well-intentioned. I believe that our worship demands this at a minimum!

    So as a purely practical matter, and assuming we can't actually peer into folks' souls: would you rather have your music program run by a) a professional who is an experienced organist and choirmaster, familiar with repertoire and techniques and capable of raising standards to the highest possible level the practical situation will allow (often higher than anyone thinks!) or b) a demonstrably devout volunteer who may lack the skills and experience to accomplish the above?
  • MarkS
    Posts: 107
    One last good natured comment re:
    when they are producing sacred music they are undeniably PRAYING at the same time.


    When I am involved in leading the choir, or leading a hymn from the organ, or offering a beautiful prelude or postlude, I am rarely praying—unless by that we mean praying that the altos don't go flat on the f#, or that I won't miss the pedal leap at the page turn! Instead, it is my job to be fully occupied by the musical task at hand, so that it will go as well as it possibly can—for the greater glory of God.
  • bonniebede
    Posts: 706
    Instead, it is my job to be fully occupied by the musical task at hand, so that it will go as well as it possibly can—for the greater glory of God.


    And that , my friend, is the definition of prayer.
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 396
    It denotes a 'musician.' To me, 'musician' in this context is a professional designation, like 'doctor' or 'lawyer' ('teacher' etc...) which assumes professional level training.


    But, unlike doctors, lawyers, teachers, ect., there is no license needed to be a professional musician. You can be a highly successful professional musician without ever taking formal classes in music. In fact, many, if not most, professional musicians got 'on the job training', not a formal music education. Making music is an art. Art depends more on talent than formal training. Some of our most revered and respected artist had almost no formal education at all.

    Additionally, to limit liturgical singing to only the best singers & musicians seem to me to miss the point. If the purpose of 'church music' is to aid in worship (or even be worship), then insisting on only the best, most well trained doing it seems to me to be counter-productive. Singing chant is not all that difficult. It takes time to get good at it and more time to master it, but that is true of any art. That doesn't mean that only highly trained artists should be involved with it.

    I find that highly educated people tend to overvalue formal education. Often to the point of looking down on those not as highly educated. I'm make my living in the construction industry. I sing and play at Mass on the weekends. Our priest even considered me to replace our Director of Music and Liturgy. Most of you would (and some did) say that I would be highly unqualified to for that post. But remember, most everyone involved in music ministries (oh how I abhor that term) at almost every church are amateurs - gifted or otherwise. They do the best they can, and usually do a fairly good job.
    Thanked by 1RMSawicki
  • MarkS
    Posts: 107
    In fact, many, if not most, professional musicians got 'on the job training', not a formal music education.


    The orchestral musicians, professional pianists, conductors and church musicians I know all went to good music schools. Can't think of an exception. Yes, I have heard of a few, but in my world they seem to be rare.

    to limit liturgical singing to only the best singers & musicians


    I would never want to do this! Our volunteers are the heart of our choir programs—as a matter of fact, I have been able to build the choir at my present church without resorting to hiring section leaders (I am lucky to have been able to attract a few trained singers and musicians to join us).

    I was simply defining what I mean when I use the term 'church musician'—I think of it as denoting noble historical profession, and I am humbled when I think of all the musicians in whose footsteps I am (humbly) following.

    highly educated people tend to overvalue formal education


    Possibly! Is it also possible that people who have not had extensive formal training might tend to undervalue it?

    I am in favor of every church dedicating the resources to hire (at least part time) a qualified professional, however defined, to direct it's music program, and by so saying I do not wish at all to denigrate the work and dedication, and skills and talents, of those like you who continue to offer your time and talents to the church!

    Best,
    Mark



  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 396
    But, the group of musicians you have listed make up a small portion of professional musicians.
  • MarkS
    Posts: 107
    Perhaps! And by listing the groups I did, I am probably revealing a lot about my frame of reference.

    But this partly depends on the meaning of the word 'professional' in this context. Many people use it to mean simply 'someone who is paid to (do ... in this case, music).'
    But just as someone can be paid to deliver health care services but not have the qualifications of an M. D., or to perform legal services but not be a lawyer, etc..., I would rather reserve 'professional musician,' to those who are highly qualified, however defined.

    I guess I've grown up with the idea that being a 'musician' was a really high aspiration, and that through a lifetime of work and dedication I might eventually be worthy of the title! Kinda romantic, actually. I suspect I was an odd kid.
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,130
    weekend warrior


    IIRC that term was originally applied to members of the US Army Reserve and Army Reserve National Guard, which members met one weekend/month to drill (and also had a 2-week summer camp obligation).

    "Warrior" may be an accurate description of a part-time church musician, but that does not require use of an M16A2. So far.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 8,029
    "Warrior" may be an accurate description of a part-time church musician, but that does not require use of an M16A2. So far.


    There are times when a whip and chair could be useful. Those sopranos can get rowdy.
    Thanked by 1bhcordova
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 396
    IIRC that term was originally applied to members of the US Army Reserve and Army Reserve National Guard, which members met one weekend/month to drill (and also had a 2-week summer camp obligation).


    I think they still do. Been a long time since one of my employees was in Guard or Reserve. But I had no problem giving them the 2 weeks off.
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 396
    There are times when a whip and chair could be useful. Those sopranos can get rowdy.
    True, but the basses egg them on. (The biggest cut-up in my old choir was the principal (and sometimes only bass).
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 972
    One of my graduate school teachers was a person who played in Church....many of my dear friends are "church" musicians. That is to say, playing in Church is more than playing pieces on the organ.
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,647
    So as a purely practical matter, and assuming we can't actually peer into folks' souls: would you rather have your music program run by a) a professional who is an experienced organist and choirmaster, familiar with repertoire and techniques and capable of raising standards to the highest possible level the practical situation will allow (often higher than anyone thinks!) or b) a demonstrably devout volunteer who may lack the skills and experience to accomplish the above?


    Well put. The sad reality is that many priests would rather hire the person described by B.
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 396
    So as a purely practical matter, and assuming we can't actually peer into folks' souls: would you rather have your music program run by a) a professional who is an experienced organist and choirmaster, familiar with repertoire and techniques and capable of raising standards to the highest possible level the practical situation will allow (often higher than anyone thinks!) or b) a demonstrably devout volunteer who may lack the skills and experience to accomplish the above?


    Would a) work at the same pay as b)? The parish budget could have a lot to do with the decision.
    Thanked by 2RMSawicki CHGiffen
  • MarkS
    Posts: 107
    The parish budget could have a lot to do with the decision.


    It's a matter of priorities. If the music program is a priority, the funds will (in most all cases) be available.

    Interesting article at CNP: http://www.canticanova.com/articles/misc/art7i1.htm

    Even smaller Episcopal parishes are constantly reminded that having proper resources to support an appropriate music program, very much including the hiring of professionals, is a priority. 'A Manual for Clergy and Church Musicians' (1980, Church Hymnal Corporation) goes so far as to state 'A well-arranged choir room can greatly facilitate rehearsals' and goes on to describe such a room, which contains a 'good piano' and is 'spacious and well-ventilated.' It goes on. Well, I don't have a choir room at my present church! But my point is: why isn't a high-level music program a priority at so many of our local Catholic parishes?
    Thanked by 2CharlesW CCooze
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,214
    It seems to me that in that scenario claiming that the choice is based on the candidate's devotion rather than the parish's (ahem) frugality crosses an ethical line. Anyone who has spent journeyman years in such environments will hopefully have learned the importance of learning to pray on one's own time.

    I would say the defining quality of a church musician is the awareness that one is serving others rather than one's own prayer life. When (as happened one time only) I get so involved with the intercessions that I don't notice the choirs anxiety about when to stand or the congregations fidgeting I judge it a shortcoming. It's really not that unlike the concert musician's obligation to make the audience be moved rather than just to let themselves experience (or worse, make a display of) emotion.

    ...to limit liturgical singing to only the best singers & musicians seem to me to miss the point.
    I have an unauditioned choir myself and I make lots of room for congregational song. If I'm really still missing the point though, I can hardly begin to imagine a protocol for selecting singers on something else than the excellence of their singing.
  • I've been thinking - and it seems to me that musicians are rather like health practitioners.

    Some are highly qualified, paid and usually fully-time: nurses, physiotherapists, doctors, specialists etc / paid organists in churches, gigging musicians on wedding/funeral/pub circuits, orchestra members, choral directors, music teachers, orchestra leaders, church DOMs.

    Some of these highly qualified people also choose to work part time while they pursue other interests or thing that pay better.

    But many people who work in the sector aren't so qualified, eg healthcare assistants, home-care workers, physical therapists / people who gig part time, most parish musicians in average parishes : these folks may not be in the high profile jobs, but their contributions to the sector overall are large simply by the sheer number of them. There just aren't enough registered nurses to do homecare for everyone who needs it (and besides they'd be bored with the work) - ditto music for small to middling parishes.

    And there are some from the alternative / non-traditionally qualified set who do amazing things: celebrity chefs who make substantial changes to a nation's eating patterns.

    The elephant in the room of this comparison is of course registration: in healthcare, qualifications aren't enough. To do some roles, people need to get qualified and have a period of supervised practise after which they become registered and their on-going practise is guided by the requirements of their professional body, as well as their employer.

    Once musicians can manage to agree a registration framework, then the rest of the world will start seeing them as professionals in the same sense as lawyers, teachers etc. (I'm not holding my breath). Until that happens, a professional musician is simply one who is getting paid for what they do, no matter what quals they have.

    And a church musician is just like a hospital nurse or a private-practise physical therapist: one who does what they do in a church (but could equally do it in another setting.)

  • b) a demonstrably devout volunteer who may lack the skills and experience to accomplish the above?


    Well put. The sad reality is that many priests would rather hire the person described by B.


    Begging to differ, we find that pastors hire those who are eager and earnest, if not necessarily familiar with the requirements of the liturgy, the Catholic faith, or the beauty of Catholic music. This is not the same as "demonstrably devout".
    Thanked by 1CCooze
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,647
    CGZ, you have described a person C, and I agree with you that pastors would rather hire person C than person A or B.
  • In my area, most church musicians have some level of formal training or equivalent professional experience. Choirs are usually all volunteer with the exception of the cathedral choir downtown.

    This is my own take on being a church musician: Be prepared, be professional, be ready for anything to happen. I woke at 4am this morning only to find my body on fire and in terrific pain. This is the second time I've had the flu in two weeks. There's no way to get a sub with that short of notice so I went anyway, and played to the highest level of my ability just like any other day. Half my choir was absent with the same flu, as was the pastor and his wife!!! But I was there. I stayed a safe distance away from everyone though. Being a professional musician and gigging musician for many years before I became a church musician was helpful, I think. I am very service-minded and my priority is on the audience or congregation. We had a very small crowd today with having a guest pastor and so many others being ill, but they were grateful for our music, even if it was a little sparse today.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,647
    I am very service-minded and my priority is on the audience or congregation.


    I think we are all this way to some extent. I would like to add that there are multiple ways to prioritize the audience or congregation. Some put the priority on the congregation's experience with SINGING, some put the priority on the congregation's experience with ENJOYING the selections (in an effort to get them to SING), and still others can put the priority on delivering quality content to the congregation, whether they sing or not. Still, others may suggest that it's not the congregation we serve at Mass: it is God, and that the music we perform must orient them in that direction, regardless of their enjoyment or if they sing or not.
    Thanked by 1bhcordova