Music Search Question
  • I am at a good sized parish that has a long standing music program. Our Director of Liturgical Music retired about a year ago and we have had challenges finding the right person since then. We are looking for someone who can work with the existing repertoire and respect the established musical tradition of the parish while also slowly introducing the parish to chant. What should we be looking for in candidates to find someone who can bridge our past program with something a bit more sacred? We need someone who is not going to come in and just continue the old program but also who will not come in and radically change things in a short time. Blessings!
    Thanked by 1janetgorbitz
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,586
    Where have you posted your position?
  • I don't know if this will be of any help at all, but I'll offer a few thoughts.

    It sounds like you have a pretty good sense of what you are looking for. I also thing a large number of contributors to this forum would be qualified and motivated to follow right in line with what you described. Thank you for your priesthood and for seeking out the path towards blending the past program with ancient tradition (or at least ancient traditional forms). Where have you been having difficulty, specifically (ie lack of candidates all together, lack of experience, not having the same vision, etc)?

    From a practical point of view, I would think it would desirable to find someone who has already taken over from a previous long-standing director and gone through that transition once already - hopefully with both sides unscathed ;) Obviously, the person would need to have familiarity with -and share affinity for- sacred music in the sense that you are talking about (chant and sacred polyphony). You could probably show your hand a little in an interview and see if they have any vision for how to blend the new and old (you can interpret which of the two are considered "old" and "new" as it depends upon your context!).

    If your parish's existing musical tradition is heavy the folk music side, you could hire a director who is knowledgable in classical guitar repertoire to blend over from the strummy stuff to the melodies of the chanted prayer hymns.

    Honestly, someone with solid music background (probably don't need a masters or doctor of sacred music degree though), good leadership skills, thick skin, and a warm personable nature will probably go a long way. Really you need a musical saint is all!

    God bless you and your search!
  • Kathy
    Posts: 4,996
    I'm not a saint, but this is something that I have done and can do.

  • Chaswjd
    Posts: 115
    I am not sure that "What should we be looking for?" is the right question. I think the right question is "What should we be doing now?" The key to moving from "the established musical tradition" to "chant" is educating the entire parish on why such a move is important. And that cannot be done by simply having someone make repertoire selections played during mass.

    You obviously want to make a move. You must have a reason for doing it. If it is a good reason (and I assume it is) you should share it with your parish council, liturgy committee and the parish as a whole. If it is a good reason, people will agree and get on board with the change. As a side benefit, if you can sell it, you won't have to "lull" the parish into accepting the change by making it gradual.

    I think that relying on the music director to be responsible for the change is a mistake. He or she will have more limited communication with the parish and will have less "pull" to make it happen. If any change in liturgical style or content is viewed by the parish as merely an expression of the new director's personal taste, you are setting him or her up for failure. And then you will be back to where you are now.

    To put it differently, the liturgy documents talk about the priest as "presiding" over the liturgy. But that doesn't mean simply showing up, "saying the black and doing the red." You also "preside" over preparation and all that goes into the liturgy. That does not mean that you have to do it all or manage every step. But it does mean that if you have a vision, you (among all the other things you have to do) must take the responsibility for selling that vision to the parish as a whole. In matters liturgical, you are in charge in a way no one else is.

    As far as selling chant to a parish, it shouldn't be that hard to do. Ask your liturgy committee, if you have one, to read through Sacrosanctum Concilium. It's right there. Challenge your parish to understand that your earthly liturgy is a participation in and reflection of the heavenly liturgy. Ask your parish whether when you say, "We join with all the choirs of heaven as they sing . . ." does the music that follows actually sound like you are joining with the heavenly host? If not, why not? and what can be changed so that it does? If people start asking those questions (as opposed to "what do I like?") you will be more than half way there.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Dear CatholicPriest, welcome to the forum.
    May I ask in which region of the US you reside? Thanks.
  • Wow. I really appreciate all of the thoughtful responses. I am completely new to the forum world, so my apologies on being late in responding. I am in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Thanks for all of the help!
  • Reverend Father,

    Thank you for asking this question, and welcome to the Forum.

    It is important that you define (i.e., not the liturgy committee or parish council, but you, the spiritual father of the parish) what you mean by "respect" the existing repertoire.

    When I took a position many moons ago, I played my first Mass with what I thought appropriate for the Vigil of All Saints', in a vernacular parish. I had about half-a-dozen ladies (80-ish years old) climb into the choir loft, tears streaming from their eyes, as they welcomed me and proclaimed me an answer to their prayers. When the first Sunday of Advent arrived, near Thanksgiving as it usually is, I made the decision in consultation with the remnants of the folk group (i.e., those who weren't out of town for Thanksgiving) that that group should move upstairs, since the few who were still there that week didn't want to be up front without the "leaders". I had the full support of the remnants of the folk group (in part because I had asked them, not imposed). A week later a ton of metaphorical bricks fell upon my head, and I didn't last the year at this parish. It wasn't the parishioners who were unhappy.

    In a different parish (later) I was brought on as part-time organist/director of music with explicit instructions to put the parish through "detox". I worked there 5 years, leaving shortly after the pastor who hired me was deployed to Kuwait. We consulted with each other twice a year, if I recall, just to make sure the details of Holy Week were straight.

    In still another situation, I was told [by a headmaster] "not to go all [vernacular-parish-conservative] on the bishop when he's here". I asked what specifics I should use, and avoid, since I don't know that parish well. I lasted one year there.

    Please understand that I'm not washing laundry in public, but trying to frame a proper answer to your question. It sounds as if you want someone with a commitment to long-term change in the music, so you need someone willing to be there through the long term, but you also need someone whom you will support because you and he know the steps along the way. You might try a questionnaire which candidates would submit before bringing anyone in for an interview. Be frank with the prospects, both about the direction and about the pace of change.

    Someone else here has written that you need to prepare the ground first, and that's quite true. If it looks as if change is happening because you hired someone rashly, that goes badly for you and that person. If it looks as if the position is being filled, but only temporarily, those with knives to wield will either use them early and often or wait until precisely the right moment and make both your life and his miserable. If, on the other hand, the hiring of this person is the logical consequence of your pastoral care for the people, that they might know God more fully, worship Him according to the mind of the Church and grow into the music which that same Church tells us is best suited for the purpose, the bishop will get the unpleasant letters, and he will check with you, and you will assure him that you have done your homework, and life will be well.
    Thanked by 1Incardination
  • Father, hire the person you are most comfortable with, stand behind him/her at all times, ignore any anonymous complaints or rumors that you and your new person face, call anyone on the carpet with a complaint or rumors and meet, the three of you, in person and get it taken care of.

    Have a meal with the new director once every two weeks to communicate.


  • Carol
    Posts: 447
    On a related note, be kind to your volunteer musicians. Many of them will have been in the parish for many years and (hopefully) are giving their best for the parish with the best of intentions and humility. They will likely be there after you have been reassigned. Be grateful for what they do willingly and when changes must be made, be respectful of the effort and time they give without monetary reward for the good of the parish. Volunteers can be trickier to deal with than paid people.
  • jcr
    Posts: 31
    I agree with many of the comments offered above. It does seem that the crucial question that needs to be asked by those hiring is,"what does the ideal candidate need to bring to the position?" Too little attention to identifying the needs of the parish, the attitudes of the volunteers who serve in the parish, the kind of leadership the nee (which may not be the kind they want), and the pastor's capacity to withstand the whining, complaining, and threatening that might come from any or even all quarters. Leadership is a "follow me" activity. A music director has to possess traits that will cause people to cooperate.

    If you will take a look at ads for music directors you will notice a monotonous sameness asking for a "collaborative" style, and for broad familiarity with all styles of music, and even referencing some recent study led by the deacon at the parish. Often they want someone with a bachelor's degree in music, or, preferably a graduate degree. However, upon further investigation it is often found that "collaborative" style means that the director must cave in to every whim of everybody who got there before him/her. If they want someone with a graduate degree in the field, do they want to support the program that training (and maybe even experience) has prepared her/him to provide?

    There are many other things to think about, but consider the needs of your parish and also consider this question. Why would a well trained musician with good character and excellent leadership skills want to come there?

    Music directors need to ask the same question. Remember that when you interview for a position that the church is also being interviewed.

    Thanked by 1Carol
  • Reverend Father,

    One more thought I've had because of another comment here, and then a further reflection.

    Anyone who has complaints about the music should be willing to meet with you and the director of music every time the squeaky wheel squeaks. You'll show that you're willing to listen, and that the choir master has your complete support. If the person complaining isn't willing to face the person he's accusing of (whatever unspeakable crime he has committed) you should pay no heed to this complaint at all.

    Once the person has been hired, you might preach on the importance of music and the obligations of musicians as servants of the liturgy. You could preach on the text or the kind of music or similar sorts of things, once you have advanced notice from the Choirmaster of what music he has programmed for the next month or so.
  • jcr
    Posts: 31
    There have been a number of good comments regarding this question. I would like to relate a story that I think is pertinent. Some many years ago I was the program chairman for a choral director's association out west and had arranged for a fellow from a church south of us to come and give a workshop for our members. The title of his talk was,"Auditioning the Church" and he had some very worthwhile things to say about ascertaining what the position for which you may be interviewing may be like. The most interesting thing he had to say referenced his interview at his position. The topic was salary and the church interviewers said, "We want to ask you to take this position, but we can only offer you a much smaller salary than you said you need. We would ask that you take a step of faith and trust God to provide us with the means to raise your salary to a living wage." To which he replied, "When it comes to a step of faith, I'm right behind you. I ask you to commit to me and my family for a salary that will support us adequately and together we will trust that the Lord will provide you with the means to meet your obligations." He said that this was met with uproarious laughter and they agreed to his request.

    It would seem that an equal exercise of faith, trust, and openness is required. A little seriousness about our faith and honesty when we are trying to come to agreements about matters that are, or should be, of importance to all concerned. If all are to be satisfied with the association, then all must represent everything openly.
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • I don't have much to add, but thank you for your openness to bring chant back to the liturgy. I appreciate your pragmatic approach. It sounds like my dream job!