What helps/hurts most?
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I didn't see any category for such a topic, so I posted here. Perhaps a "Music program management" or "general music discussion" category would be in order.

    My question is what "makes or breaks" a good music program at a church? That is, what factors play the most strongly into a program's success? I would say the pastor is the largest factor, given that he can usually do the most damage by everything from celebrating a poor Mass (thus giving the impression that the liturgy is unimportant) to actively encouraging the congregation against tradition to even banning traditional music or firing the willing musician. And of course a well-celebrated Mass can do much for introducing good music (although influencing a congregation for the better is much harder than ruining them) as can a sung liturgy.

    What say the rest of you?
  • For the Masses I have served, I have noticed that people sing the older hymns much better than the new music. However, they claim to love the newer music more. This disconnect is one of the biggest hurdles a director faces. You are right, however, the pastor is the key. If he is on board, you can do wondrous things. If not, you are always watching your back and expending energy selling the proper music.

  • I'm in the process of putting together an Advent program for people who have never experienced solemn liturgy before. It has a huge emphasis on singing, a blend of Latin and English, and clarity and simplicity all around. We also hope to pace this evenly and prayerfully. We'll see!
  • Hmmm, Gavin. I think, all things being equal, continuity of qualified and vital leadership makes or breaks a parish music program. Now, if that means that a DM/Organist/Choirmaster remains at his/her post because of the wisdom or convenience of the pastor, then that administrative authority is most important. Whether the pastor and/or his vicars liturgically choose poorly or wisely should not directly affect the competency of qualified and dedicated musicians and choristers. That they would take as much care and preparation with their duties as celebrants and homilists as many of us do would be glorious beyond words. But even good guys, good celebrants mostly pay lip-service to the goal of improving the "quality" of worship. But, such gentlemen generally do support their musicians' efforts vigorously.
    I say "continuity" because it's obvious that organists/choirmasters generally need to move to greener (as in filthy lucre) pastures often and regularly. That is not healthy, particularly when much of our musical culture depends upon the cult of personality, which is already a detriment.
    Who could best affect all of this? Bishops.
  • There are so many variables. I have a friend who has a very supportive pastor, and he himself is an encyclopedia of knowledge about church music-- he's even written a dictionary of sacred music. We're in the sticks, though, and his parish choir has a handful of older women. Try as he might (and he sure does try) he's never going to get them sounding amazing.

    I really think you need a perfect storm of (a) knowledge, (b) support of pastor, (c) support of congregation, (d) money, (e) access to good singers, and (f) access to good choir director. A lack of any of those can kill you.
  • I agree with Charles. Look at a place like St. Agnes in St. Paul, MN, which has maintained a strong liturgical and musical tradition over the years. I'm not too familiar with its history, but it seems that there is an unbroken thread of orthodoxy from the leadership, and I can't imagine the Archbishop of St. Paul assigning to that parish a pastor who might be inclined to take out the statues, paint the walls off-white, install an elaborate sound system and dismantle the choir and organ to replace it with a "contemporary ensemble."

    On the other hand, the parish where I currently serve as DM/principal organist has had a chequered history of DM's with varying degrees of skill and background. As we all know, it's down to the tastes and desires of the pastor. If the pastor doesn't care about good liturgical music, the program is likely to suffer. If there's no strong tradition from one pastor or music director to the next, the choirs and other musicians are left to twist in the wind. I'm lucky in that the pastor who has hired me did so specifically because of my training and ability. I could work very hard to build programs and institute practices more in keeping with the traditions of the Church, but in the back of my mind, I think to myself, "why knock myself out building existing programs or establishing new ones, if it could all come down like a house of cards with the change of pastor?"

    Ultimately, it is the congregation at large that looses because with a pattern like that, music becomes an easy battleground for one person's tastes over another, rather than a question of tradition versus innovation.
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 756
    It's very difficult to combine place, skill, experience and a sensitivity to liturgy. I live in a part of the world that has a considerable place in the history of Western Christendom; I'm a competent singer; and I'm a Catholic. I have to do a round trip of c. 120 miles to sing in a Catholic parish that values the ars celebrandi to the extent that it will support a proficient DM and schola. In consequence, I tend to sing locally, with our non-Catholic friends ...
  • Jan
    Posts: 242
    Jeffrey Tucker

    I would be interested in hearing what you put together for your Advent program for the congregation who has not experienced solemn liturgy. (Per your entry 2 days ago)
  • Oh i meant to get to this today. So sorry. soon.
  • Jscola30
    Posts: 116
    I think also you need a supportive congregation. I've heard stories of influtential congregants driving out DMs/organists.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Jscola, stories? I'm frequently in the middle of it :P Then again, If I didn't have a supportive pastor, I would definitely be fired.
  • In response to Jscola30:

    I hate to engage in the time-honored tradition of playing "ain't it awful," but my experiences have been that the support of the congregation doesn't seem to matter, especially if the priest and/or staff are bent on undermining or destroying the work being done by a properly-trained, professional DM/organist. What's worse, even if you do have the congregation's support, if (when) things go south only a few will come forward to voice support, and it usually goes unheard. The rest of the congregation (and even staunch supporters in the choir, etc.) typically will tell you they support you, but will cave, capitulate and generally keep their heads down when you're packing your bags.

    Most distressing is when the complaints and attempts to undermine, undercut or challenge come from staff, especially the ones who also serve as volunteers in the music program, especially when they are products of the 60's and wedded to the more narcissistic trends in church music, i.e., the contemporary ensembles. They have been, and remain, the gadflies of the music program. Their behavior is like watching children in a sandbox throwing fistfulls of sand at each other; screechy, spoiled brats who throw temper tantrums to manipulate situations or get their way. They are dramatically contrasted to the folks who participate in the more traditional choirs, who (as I remarked above) tend to be rather complacent, but happy to participate in the program when there's at least a DM/organist who knows what they're doing, no matter how short-lived their tenure.

    Gavin: I have learned to appreciate, but not rely upon, the support of a pastor. If you are in a dynamic where the pastor's support is the lynch pin of the program, once the pastor is moved all of your protection is gone, and it's best to just pack your bags. When its you and the pastor "contra mundum," all bets are off when he leaves.

    Stiff drink, anyone?
  • Jscola30
    Posts: 116
    Gavin: I can remember reading a story on Aristottle's blog a while ago about an incident like that. I've also had friends tell me that members of the congregation would get pushy and disrepectful in their "comments."
  • Actually just today we had another run in with the rep for campus ministries from the diocese. He's trying to stir up the students to call for contemporary music at our Catholic chapel services (long story there). So far the students aren't biting and we, the leadership of the Newman club, have informed him that he is no longer welcome at our meetings. This is the first year that we've had traditional hymns and some chant and the people who've said anything at all have loved it. Since we can't have a true Mass on our campus (traditionally Baptist college), we have a liturgy of the word with meditation music from the students or my colleagues in the music department. The music is usually in Latin, but the rest of the liturgy is in English (except the Kyrie). The troublemaker from the diocese was also insisting that we ditch the Latin since "students won't get that in their home parishes." We simply responded "Yes, you are right. That's why we are doing it." One small success in a land where a traditional Mass is as rare as snowfall (S. Florida).

  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    moconnor, the other point is that if they hear it at college, they'll want to hear it at home. Of course, that's what the diocesan rep was thinking. Odd how youth involved in ministry is such a threat to TPTB...
  • I think that the one thing that youth ministers always forget is that young people want adults to act like adults. If they think that church music gets no better than their LifeTeen services, once most of them grow out of that music, they are left with nothing to grow into.

  • Pes
    Posts: 623

    That is extremely perceptive.

    The advantage of chant is that it grows naturally into other forms of music. Chant grows into Renaissance polyphony, which grows into Baroque, which eventually gets more and more harmonically adventurous, and so forth. As a singer "trained up" in these styles, you will experience many great, and growing, satisfactions that seem nicely adapted to your age, as you age.

    And of course, some of the greatest music is a Mystery you can explore and explore and never seem to find the end of. Don't we owe it to our children to expose them to this, train them into it, and thereby prepare them to move upward and onward?
  • Jscola30
    Posts: 116
    MoConnor: that is exactly what happened to me in college, I was only limitedly exposed to chant (mainly in high school), but then alot when I went to college, and i realized I was liking it more than the Haugen and Haas fare.
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,473
    I think all of your comments are helpful. In my experience, the what gane is the pastor, his attitude toward music and whether he will back you up when folks in the congregation want to oppose what you are doing. Knowing what I know now, I would ask such pointed questions (kindly) in the interview with the pastor before I woud accept the position. The pastor influences the tone of whether the people should 'follow' you or not, even if what you do may be different. Comments welcome of course.
  • gregpgregp
    Posts: 632
    ghmus7, I think there are two kinds of musicians here: one is the professional who looks for a position, and the other is the amateur (in the original sense of the word) who works at something else in order to feed his music habit. Those of us in the second category are stuck in a parish, for better or worse, and have to deal with the pastor and his ideas. We get involved because we want to make a difference, and after several years of striving a new parish administration may come in and demolish whatever progress has been achieved. But no matter which category you're in, it's extremely disheartening to be forced to decide whether to stay and fight a (possibly) losing battle, or to pull up stakes and move on to start over again.
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 756

    Life's too short, and the list of available music to sing or play too long. Vote with your feet. Find somewhere else where your skills will be valued and will make a contribution (e.g. an Anglican/Episcopalian church), and just attend a music-less mass at home. If things change, come back.
  • gregp,

    There are some of us here who are professional (that is, we make our living by serving as trained music directors) but are by no means mercenary about it. We need the income, but we also have a commitment to the greater issues facing the Latin rite church. Our frustrations often come not so much from a lack of knowledge on the part of the pastors/congregants we deal with, for they can always be educated (always with charity). Rather it is the cultural poverty that is permitted to exist that frustrates. I'm reminded of a quote from Mechtilde de Magdeburg: "Stupidity is sufficient unto itself, wisdom can never cease learning."

    I'd also like to share a thought I recently had while discussing a job opening with a colleague of mine. The posting is for a Catholic church, firmly rooted in the "reform of the reform," but not particularly interested in making the TLM a regular part of its liturgical life. The job description is likely to be read by professional musicians, orphaned by the Episcopal church (which has its share of problems both in terms of leadership and music), who are looking for an opportunity to engage in performing the best of the music of the western liturgical tradition. That's unfortunate, because one wonders if its the music they're more interested in than the whole of the connection between that music and the liturgy of the church. I'm not sure that I would want to hear Elgar, Howells, Stanford, etc., as wonderful as it all is, if the person leading the music had no working understanding of how that great literature may or may not always appropriately function within the liturgy of the church.

    By that same token, I have tried (being a former Episcopalian) to serve as a Catholic in the Episcopal church as a music director, and it's nearly impossible to make the paradigm shift. It's rare indeed to find a truly "Anglo Catholic" church that has the capital to support a full-time director. Within the Latin rite, Anglican Use parishes are few in number, and any job openings will always be like blood in the water near a school of sharks. . . feeding frenzy.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    David, I worked in an Anglo-Catholic church for my last job. It was quite amazing. But it wasn't just the architecture, the incense (and the thurifer stood right by the console during the ENTIRE Communion), the 4 manual 1926 Skinner, or the vestments. It was the people. They loved to sing the old Anglican hymns. They restored the organ for me. The entire church did not move until the last note of the postlude was ended, and they would ALWAYS applaud (if it was good... if I was just "phoning it in", and they always knew, I'd get a rather harsh silence). And after every service, even if I was late, screwed up the key signatures on the hymns, and played 2 verses of "Praise to the Lord" for postlude, they would line up and give the priest a perfunctory greeting. Then, after greeting the priest, they'd walk by the organ and all tell me how much they appreciated my playing, each and every Sunday. It wasn't that I enjoyed the praise, it's that I put so much into playing, even if it's just subbing to play "How Great Thou Art" at a funeral, and they were grateful for that. That is what makes playing for Catholic parishes so eminently unsatisfying. Even if one were to play for an EF Mass, the most from the congregation you'd ever get would be an old lady screaming at you calling you a heretic if you use the mixture or play Bach.
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 756
    Greg, David and Andrew,

    I guess the other distinction here is between organists and singers. The roles make a difference to this discussion. The former tend to be music directors, with a greater institutional commitment to the parish. The singers don't have this tie-in, and so are more likely to go to where they will be appreciated for doing what they enjoy. Also, parishes that pay singers are almost certainly those with an approach with which we sympathise.

    As to the Anglicans - for all their faults and difficulties, so many Catholic musicians tell the same story as Gavin. A middle-of the-road Anglican church in which I sing once a month loves to hear Renaissance polyphony as part of the liturgy, and makes a point of telling us so.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,703

    I certainly can give motion to your opening statement.

    In my last full time music position (which was a good five years ago or so), I was hired by one of the Archdiocese parishes that was the wealthiest. (money and religion can be a terrible mix). I came in understanding that they were a full fledge post Vatican II music program. I thought I could carefully steer my way and have a positive effect. Ultimately, I think I did, even though it was short lived. Many of them certainly heard the truth out of me.

    They had an organ (albeit, digital, ho-hum, money and they got that????) but they liked to keep it locked. I moved very judiciously and cautiously to remove the bad contemporary music that they were using. This was quite easy because 98% of it was photocopied and I immediately warned them about their violation of copyrights! (a great tactic in removing unwanted material from the premises of a church) I made subtle and not so subtle moves toward establishing an authentic liturgical music program. However, my stirrings and careful attempts to 'bring balance' (hmmmm) were met with stern and outspoken resistance. I was amazed. People would send me flaming emails that they had walked out in the middle of the Mass because "it was starting to sound like the Cathedral" and not the big AOG church down the way.

    The pastor came to me after six months and asked me to resign. I said, 'You will have to fire me, because I have not done anything that is wrong. In fact, I am trying to follow the norms and dictates of the church". I appealed to him to back me up, and he told me he had no unilateral authority to do so. WOW! I was undone. This was a pastor's (in my case, my own) worst nightmare. The 'Parish Council' had trumping authority over the priest. In fact they had their own bylaws governing decision making and daily operations which was decided by those who drafted the bogus statutes.

    It is a shame that our church has come to this. I am unemployed as a professional, and my music skills are set aside because of this kind of nonsense. I found the CMAA in 2005 and was sorry I didn't know you for so many years. Keep up the good work.
  • Gavin, I hear you brother! I just left a similar parish in S. Florida for similar reasons although I was not on staff there. It is one of the richest parishes in the country and they choose to have bad music. It would be something if they invested in bad music out of some misguided attempt to relate the modern world like many of the parishes in this diocese, but they pay the director and musicians very little and insist on as little music as possible. On top of that, the pastor keeps meddling in things (e.g., he demanded that "Jesus" be added to the Lamb of God so that people would know who was the Lamb..) The organist is a good friend and wonderful pianist, but he's not a very successful organist. Just down the street is an episcopal church that has a paid professional choir and the best organist in town. They insist on great sight-readers since they go through some very difficult repertoire. At the Catholic church, which is literally walking distance away and part of this fabulously wealthy island, the choir is all volunteer, mostly non-readers, and only sings during the snow bird season. You are right. Something must be done or many of us will just find other ways to worship.