Symbiotic Relationship: Parish and University - What works?
  • I have been in discussions with the Director of Choral Activities and lead Early Music Historian at my local University School of Music (the school where I did my undergrad). I have come to them wondering if our Catholic Diocese (Office of Worship) and local Catholic parishes might be able to strike up some sort of mutually beneficial collaboration.

    A few of the needs/desires/benefits are:

    (1.) Parishes/Dioceses need quality singers for the singing of the sacred music of the liturgy, seek to catechize on the proper role of music in the liturgy, and also seek to train its musicians in the Church's sacred music tradition.

    (2.) The University (may) want to give its students field experience of singing sacred music in its proper liturgical environment, and surely would like to offer possible employment or tuition reimbursement opportunity to its students. Beyond this, it seems that universities would have a desire to support and collaborate with the fields that they prepare students to enter into.

    So far there has been a real openness in this conversation on the part of the School of Music faculty. But before we get into discussing details I would like to call on the collective experience of all here:

    Has anyone been successful in creating a fruitful relationship between (secular) School of Music and Diocese/Parish before? What works? What doesn't work? What are the benefits? What are the pitfalls?
  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    We've tried but without any luck at all. The University is a great help to our schola but not typically the music department as such. The presence of highly educated people with diverse talents all over town does help.
  • I have a wonderful relationship with the music departments of our two secular universities- Sacramento State University and University of California(Davis). For the past three years St Stephen the First Martyr has enjoyed the fruits of our Choral Scholar Program and I can honestly say I have no criticisms. The parish offers a stipend of $100.00 for each High Mass (which includes rehearsal). The program will be expanded next year to 5 Choral Scholarships as this relationship with the universities has proved so fruitful, and I have been assured by the choral scholars themselves that they have benefited greatly from it as well. The choral scholars have been immersed in a music (Chant) which was really nothing but a footnote in their academic studies, as well as learning the oldest musical notation in the Western world, St Gall/Laon Notational schools. They have also been exposed to the masterworks of Polyphony and in the EF of the Mass there is so much music to sing they all have told me how good their sight singing has become. Two of the choral scholars have recently expressed their desire to become choir directors in the Catholic Church after their experience singing with us. They have greatly enriched the musical life of the parish, and six and eight part polyphonic pieces are now common place in the repertoire. One of my choral scholars was even asked to teach semiology at his university in a medieval music theory class from what he learned being a choral scholar at St Stephen's. The benefit to both the parish and the university has really proved to be successful and I now have a waiting list of undergrad students in music wanting to take part in this program. So, from my experience, I can say it has been entirely successful.
  • BachLover2BachLover2
    Posts: 330
    ....looks like the two jeffrey's had different experiences.... :)
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    This is a question where the details about the university and the parish(es) are critical, and I think the two Jeffreys' answers illustrate that. I can offer a perspective from a large public university.

    The Choral Scholar programs like those described by Jeffrey Morse represent the ideal, in my opinion. The benefits to the students are education, experience, and money. Over the long term, these individual benefits translate into institutional benefits: better placement of department graduates in graduate schools and professions. And the university has to do practically nothing.

    Money is key for a Choral Scholars program, or for almost any long term relationship, and my guess is that it must come primarily from the church side of the equation. On a day-to-day level, a music department at a public university has very little to gain from such a specific relationship and thus has little incentive to divert dollars in that direction. For a long time there was a Choral Scholars program like Jeffrey's at an Episcopal church near me. A member of the family whose name adorns my university's football stadium endowed the program at the church. In general, the program drew its students from our department. On an institutional level, the university did nothing to support the students, but there was a faculty liaison who facilitated communication between them and the church choirmaster. In other words, individuals made it happen, not the institution.

    Generally speaking, music departments and music curricula are not designed with community service/outreach in mind. Awful, I know, but that's the way it is. On top of that, music departments are frequently ruled by strange politics. The academic faculty and the applied faculty often have different visions of what the department's purpose is: a liberal arts education or vocational training. In your case, it sounds like your contact might bridge the divide, which is good.

    Maybe a parish close to the university with good facilities could offer church space for university choral concerts or faculty/student recitals (piano, violin, voice, or whatever). This might be a nice way to get dialogue started and to generate community/diocesan interest in supporting a Choral Scholars program or other creative program that you design. I hate to sound cynical, but you are probably going to have to do more "giving" and "reaching out" than the university. Just be persistent, creative, and proactive!

    In a better world, community service would make up a much greater proportion of a musical education...and don't even get me started on music at our Newman Center.
  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    Practically all the larger Protestant Churches in my area pay the students in the MM voice dept to sing every Sunday, with a yearly contract. Of course, no Catholic Church does, b/c we are supposed to have an all-volunteer choir. I pay out of my own pocket andam happy to do it for a couple of good singers, one of whom is Roman Catholic and his wife.

    Donna
  • ref_scottref_scott
    Posts: 90
    This coming fall I will be attending a secular University to study organ. The department has already assured me a job in a local parish as an organist each Sunday. I learned that this is true for every organ student at the school.
  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    Donnaswan gets it here. In our town, the Protestants pay college kids in choral programs to sing - taking advantage of cheap labor and a work/study kind of relationship. This arrangement has worked well for decades. Churches use faculty for organ and choral conducting. The Catholics are completely out of this loop, not only because this is the deep South etc but also because the Catholics haven't shown a serious interest in music in many decades - never having paid a student or faculty member and not encouraging serious music. Our schola is wonderful but we are all volunteers ourselves and are not in a position to pay anyone. The hired help for the parish generally is hardly hired at all. I would make more money mowing two lawns on Saturday than they make playing 4 Sunday Masses. All these factors add up to the complete absence of a relationship between the music department and the parish.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    As I said, money is key, especially with college students. All the interest in the world won't amount to much.
  • j13rice
    Posts: 36
    From the university/student point of view, one thing that has to be worked out very carefully is the the schedule, especially when you're talking serious money (ie, scholarship) and a semester or year-long relationship. The student will obviously have performance and rehearsal obligations at the university that conflict with church rehearsals or liturgies. Another consideration is that students will often be from out of town, so expecting them to sing for Christmas or Easter could be difficult. This type of arrangement can be done successfully, but both parties need to commit to a detailed arrangement in advance that they can both live up to. It's sensitive and difficult work.
  • gregpgregp
    Posts: 632
    I have a question that I hope is not too naive: in these kinds of arrangements, are there local volunteers singing in the group who are not being paid? And does that cause friction?
  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    Over a long career as a singer, almost always I have been paid to sing in a volunteer choir, since the age of 14 or so. If anyone objected, I never knew. I'm sure there were some. The two I have in my own choir now are such beautiful singers, no one but an old curmudgeon could object. I am blessed- one tenor and one soprano. Yay!
    There is a downside to this, though. I once sang in a choir for a summer spent with my in-laws while my husband was on duty somewhere, forget where, but the church had a paid quartet who felt free to talk, powder noses, etc during the service. Not good.
    (Women powdered their noses- LOL)
    Donna
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,061
    Janette Fishell, now Professor of Organ at IU-Bloomington, had some sort of set-up between her (Episcopal) parish where she worked and the school, Eastern Carolina University, where she taught. The most obvious sign of the collaboration was that the school's main concert organ, a pretty big CB Fisk, actually is the church organ at the church. They split the cost, etc., and practice time is guaranteed and so on. Maybe she would have ideas...I don't know her personally, but being introduced in brief, she seems very kind.
  • At St Stephen's, the Choral Scholar Program has caused no friction with the volunteer singers. I have always made it very clear that the program is ONLY for full-time undergrad/postgrad music students. To the one volunteer who did ask about this, I said they would be more than welcome to apply if the fit the requirements- full time university student, music major. I do not hire non-students, so this has worked remarkably well in not ruffling any feathers. My colleagues who DO hire professional musicians almost always have to pay more AND have more general problems with choir moral, etc.. The Choral Scholar program at St Stephen's is envisioned not to be just to help the parish, but to expose music scholars to the riches of Gregorian Chant and sacred polyphony while pursuing academic studies in music.
  • Mark M.Mark M.
    Posts: 632
    I'm hoping to initiate a "symbiotic relationship" between my parish's music program and the university music program where I teach… something along the lines of what Jeffrey said above ("taking advantage of cheap labor and a work/study kind of relationship").

    So… can I talk numbers here? What's an appropriate per-Mass stipend for a student? I'm sure a lot hinges on geography and the relative financial resources of the parish. But that notwithstanding, what's generally appropriate for a twenty-year-old-or-so excellent singer — a music major, but not really a professional per se?
  • don roy
    Posts: 306
    if one doesnt have a good college nearby theres always high school. the best orchestra i ever hired was primarily composed of high schoolers who played beautifully for 50 bucks. i got a very good hard working 14 piece string orchestra for around a thousand bucks.
  • don roy
    Posts: 306
    thats with hiring some profesionals for first chair positions.
  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    I know it might be hard to believe here in the deep south, but I live in a small town with a high school string orchestra of over 200 players, plus same-sized Band , and they also own 12, count'em 12 harps, with a full program and harp instructor.
    When my daughter was there she made lots of $$$ playing violin for churches and weddings. Even though most of the music is what the Symphony players call 'Jeezac music'

    Donna
  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    $50 bucks is about going grate, but $75 for more experienced high schoolers.
    Donna
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    Off topic here, Donna, but I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas and played viola in school orchestras from grades 4-12. After I moved to Houston for college, I found that public school string programs were everywhere around town. The advanced students in my undergraduate program all made really good money teaching the middle and high schoolers. In Chapel Hill, NC where I did my graduate work (a very blue town in a purple state), the music programs are severely lacking. Just goes to show you can't assume much about a place based on its reputation...
  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    That's for sure. We were twice stationed at Blytheville AFB. Talk about another world from Little Rock! LOL

    When my husband and I looked for a place to retire with a child still to put thru HS, we had to find a place with a good highschool orchestra/music program, a place for me to finish my degree, no state income tax, and readily available Fly-fishing streams!
    East TN is the answer!

    Donna
  • Adam Bartlett
    Posts: 533
    Thank you all for sharing your experiences here!

    Speaking of the customary Protestant practices, and the conflicts surrounding "paid singers", I found this wisdom on the subject to be very insightful.

    A few questions for Jeffrey Morse, if I may:

    1. Have you had scheduling challenges with your university students? Are you clear with them about the demands of Christmas and Easter? Do they always comply? What about irregular liturgies, such as those that might pop up during weekdays--what do you do if all of your singers are in class when you need them?

    2. Do you ever experience, for the lack of a better term, "flakiness" with your young singers in comparison to more established and more adjusted adults?

    3. What about longevity/turnover? With the amount you are surely having to teach your choral scholars, do you find that many of them end up staying with you for a while? Several semesters? Or do you have essentially a new batch of singers each semester? My thinking here is that with the investment that is being put into the singers it would seem to be much more beneficial to the music program if they were able to remain involved for a while.

    Thank you again for your insight--Greatly appreciated!
  • Jeffrey MorseJeffrey Morse
    Posts: 202
    Adam, first let me explain the composition of the choir, this might make some of my answers make more sense. The choir at St Stephen's is composed of 24 senior choristers who sing the soprano line and 23 adults singing alto, tenor, lines. The choir is an audition only choir. At this stage I have three Choral Scholars.

    I shall answer your questions in order-

    1. Scheduling problems have been few and tend to effect the Wed. night rehearsal more than Sundays. As every 1st Class and many second class are High Masses at St Stephen's, the choral scholars have much opportunity to pick up extra money. The High Masses for feasts which fall during the week are at 7.00 pm. Occasionally this will conflict with their schedules, but it has been rare. The choir is strong enough to stand on its own on those occasions when they have all been absent.

    2. I am very clear about what I expect from the choral scholars when they are hired. I don't let anything slide, in particular tardiness for rehearsals and sung services. More than a couple times without a valid excuse and I will sit them down for a talk. In three years this has happened twice, so not a concern. Not including the choristers, the rest of the choir has an average age of about 24, so the choral scholars are about the same age. There can be some "high Spiritedness" and fun at rehearsals, but the focus is always there and I get a lot done during rehearsals.

    3. I have had the same 3 choral scholars for three years, so have had no turn-over, and I will have them next year as well. In Fall of 2011 I'll be looking for three more to replace them. The hardest thing for the Choral Scholars to learn is the Chant and it takes a few months of singing it to REALLY get it, but being voice majors they can all solfege so it comes pretty quickly. As for the polyphony of course, they can jump right in. The choral scholar program is considered a good "gig" by the university music students. The pay is fair, and the music is far superior and enjoyable for them than at most churches (be they Catholic or Protestant), and I try to make it an environment where they can learn, a true "schola" so to speak, and as I mentioned above, some have become so adept at the Chant and in Semiology their professors are asking them to teach classes or at least take over the "Chant" part.

    I have tried to get to know the voice teachers of my choral scholars, and I enjoy a good relationship with them. This helps as they send me only their BEST students. I also try to always attend their voice recitals and other events and I think they appreciate the support. Also, I am able to connect with other faculty and future choral scholars at these events.

    I hope this answers your questions. Do let me know if I can expand any of them for you if I did not cover it sufficiently.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    It sounds like a resounding success, Jeffrey!
  • Adam Bartlett
    Posts: 533
    Jeffrey M--

    Thank you so so much for sharing your experiences here. It truly sounds like this is a great success for you and your program!

    I'm wondering if you might be willing to share some of your contractual/scholarship information here, or if not here, if you would be willing to share it with me privately. This might include scholarship (job) description, expectations, schedule, contract, etc. Surely a "generic" copy would be appropriate.

    I'm currently trying to draft a similar document to propose to the local School of Music, and comparing it to yours would be most helpful.

    Perhaps others here might also like to see this and possibly also adopt the model for themselves?
  • Jeffrey MorseJeffrey Morse
    Posts: 202
    Adam, I don't have anything written up, though I can see depending on the situation you might want to have something. I try with the choral scholars to be flexible if something comes up (rehearsals at the university, performances, recitals, ,master classes), and I have noticed that they in turn are very flexible with me when something last minute comes up (i.e. a funeral). I am lucky in that even if all three choral scholars were to be absent, the choir would still be fine, maybe not 6 and 8 part repertoire, but certainly usually still 4 part, and if I just have a lot of trebles, well the SSA repertoire can be pulled put.

    When I first hire the choral scholars, I am very clear as to what I expect. To many absences from either rehearsal or services and they know they will be let go, they also know there are at least a few people behind each position waiting to grab it when it comes up, so this helps to keep them professional, on time and present when I need them. If they are late to rehearsal (more than 15 minutes without good excuse), I would turn them away from that service. I would rather do without than in any way condone that sort of unprofessionalism, though I confess, this has not happened, perhaps because I have explained it is a real possibility.

    The choral scholars are expected every Sunday and First Class feast (and some 2nd class as well). I always give them a schedule at the beginning of the year with those dates and times, and expect them to let me know if there are any conflicts as soon as possible. Last minute conflicts are dealt with case by case. Again, I do try to be flexible, but if the parish suffers to much from their absences they will be let go. They are not paid a salary, but per service ($100 per service which includes the wed. night rehearsal).

    I realise that this may not help much, again let me know if I can be of more help. Feel free to email me as well, you can get my details from my profile.
  • Adam Bartlett
    Posts: 533
    Thank you, Jeffrey. What you have shared here is fantastic, and has been enough to help clarify my thinking on the idea. I will be putting together a proposal for my local school of music (and, frankly, one for the pastor too). Perhaps I can post it here when I'm done if it might be helpful to others.

    Many thanks!