On Musical Oil Changes
  • Many thanks to Michael Lawrence for his article "On Musical Oil Changes", recently posted at the NLM. There is so much in this article that I think church musicians really need to discuss. I completely agree with his approach which is (in essence, anyway) to set appropriate boundaries to prevent burnout. As a church musician who has experienced burnout in the past, I only wish I had been warned about what could happen before it did!

    I think that some points I might add to Michael's advice would be as follows:
    - Train assistants. While it is time consuming to train people to help you, in the long term it is useful to have people around you to share the load.
    - Plan holiday time - If you don't want your music program hijacked and destroyed while you're away, make it your own responsibility to set the music that will be played in your absence, and the person who will do this. I like the idea of having a "staple" repertoire that you know the congregation can manage with minimal direction. Missa de Angelis is a pretty safe bet where I am...
    - Try to get holidays immediately after a major liturgical feast - Holidays immediately after Christmas (or at least Epiphany) and a week or two after Easter are a must. Preparing for these feasts, while often very enjoyable (as is the satisfaction of seeing a well prepared music program succeed) is very taxing on the mind and body. Both need a decent break.
    - When you are holidaying, get away from your "normal" parish, or at least from your normal timeslot. A holiday should be absolute - no "just helping out" - it's time to rest!!!

    One thing that the article didn't cover, and I'd be interested in knowing what people think, is how Church Musicians take care of themselves from a spiritual point of view. Sometimes I feel like a "Martha", directing everyone else and making sure the music goes smoothly, at the expense of my prayer at Holy Mass. Of course I try, but when you're deeply involved in the music, your participation is somewhat different to that of a member of the congregation, who, for instance, can close their eyes and meditate deeply on the words of the Epistle, while you, knowing that the Graduale will follow shortly, scan through the Epistle quickly to understand it, try to internalise it as best you can, and then prepare yourself to intone the Graduale at a reasonable pitch for the Schola.
  • "Down time" is different for each individual. I try to take some every Sunday between my morning and late afternoon Masses. If the weather is nice, my church is only a block from a beach at the mouth of Charleston Harbor, and I keep a reclining lawn chair at church just for those days. And no one seems to mind me napping there still in my shirt/tie!

    As to praying, I really do believe that, the more one is totally comfortable with the music/cues/etc., the more one can actually concentrate on prayer. And not just when not performing music, but IN the performance of music. It takes time and experience - and understanding the dynamics of the flow and structure of the Liturgy. Or maybe I'm just so blest as to NOT have a paid "liturgist" always making adjustments to keep the congregation "interested" and the organist off balance!