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October 1, 4:00 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, First Presbyterian Church, Gainesville, Ga.

October 15, 4:00 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, First United Methodist Church, Gastonia, N.C.

October 22, 4:00 pm Eastern
Inaugural recitalist, Allen organ, White Bluff United Methodist Church Savannah, Ga.

November 12, 3:00 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, Charles Town Presbyterian Church, Charles Town, W.V.

February 11
Inaugural recitalist, Casavant organ, Forest Lake Presbyterian Church, Columbia, S.C.

March 9, 2018, 12:15 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, National City Christian Church, Washington, D.C.

March 11, 2018
Guest recitalist, Waldensian Presbyterian Church, Valdese, N.C.

May 13, 2018, 5:00 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, First Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, N.C.

Entries in Worship (24)

Wednesday
Sep162015

Rinse, repeat, part 2: “Do you have a student who could … ?”

The emails and phone messages I receive each week: “We need an organist!” “We need a pianist!” “We’re looking for an ‘accompanist’ for our services,” (whatever that is). “Do you have a student …?” One of my teachers added the following statement to his office answering machine greeting: “If you’re calling about the availability of a student for a church position, your call will be returned only if a student is available, due to the large volume of such calls.”

I remember as a child that no church in my hometown was without an organist or pianist. Then in about the early 1990s, things began changing. Those organists/pianists started getting older and retiring and/or getting replaced by the band. Then I began to hear rumblings along the lines of, “Alice played for us for 50 years out of the goodness of her heart. We can’t find anyone to replace her.” I’d say that in many parts of the country, they won’t find a replacement for dear old Alice for two primary reasons: 1) there isn’t anyone, and 2) no one does it for free anymore.

The so-called “organist shortage” occurs on different levels in different places for different reasons. It began to become a bit more epidemic when more churches came into need of organists to replace aging Alices all over the country. But it is a little puzzling that out of 319 million Americans, there aren’t enough keyboardists (not just organists) to play for church. There are indeed fewer organ students in college today, and there are increasingly fewer colleges offering organ study. But there is truth to the organist shortage in that far fewer children are taking piano lessons any more. There’s no one coming up the ranks, folks! The very people in the congregation who claim to have appreciated Alice’s work all these years have not been paying attention to what they’ve been doing to their children by not training them in the arts. Parents were not paying attention to the future of church music when they sent their kids to soccer rather than piano lessons, to the youth service rather than the traditional service, to math camp rather than youth choir, and when they modeled screens instead of hymnals. It’s their own fault, and I can’t fix it by sending students to fill the gaps.

Our “Alice” above certainly served a lot of years. But rare is a 50-year tenure of any church musician in a single church any more. Many long-serving church musicians either grew up there, or their primary breadwinner took them there, and there they stayed. But today, everyone is fair game for departure to greener pastures, better pay, and higher rungs on the ladder. If Alice had not had such a good heart, she might not have stayed so long. There was a different mindset in those days. As a child, I always heard, “I do it for the church. I do it for the Lord.” “She would never make this about money.” Our organists and pianists were faithful church goers, just like everyone else. Playing was their service to the church, like that of other folks in the congregation who provided childcare, volunteered with today’s endangered species called “children’s choirs,” baked cookies for Vacation Bible School, and set up tables for Wednesday night dinner and chairs for choir rehearsals. There was always someone in the church who was there “every time the doors were open.” It was their service, yea even their contribution, to the congregation.

While I now tend to stand on the side of “pay your organist or do without,” I do understand this struggle many churches are experiencing, insofar as I understand (not accept) the historical model. Many churches have never put “organist” and “pay” into the same sentence. But musicians work as hard as the pastor, and they spend as much time preparing music as the pastor does preparing sermons and ministering to the sick, the friendless, and the needy. Whether or not it’s their primary job, service playing is worthy of an appropriate retainer because it is a time-intensive job. It is also worth an appropriate retainer because not just anyone from the congregation can step in and take over – as many churches have discovered. (Curiously, no one bats an eye when someone un-ordained takes over the pulpit to share a word that the Lord has laid on their heart. Funny that it’s easier to replace the boss/pastor than to replace the organist.)

Recently, I subbed in a church with a large four-manual organ. Although it is some distance away, I have played there in the past because I love the organ and how the congregation loves (loved) to use it. But on this particular Sunday, I discovered that their services had evolved to the point that my only official duties that day were the prelude (short, please), postlude (no one listens), the opening hymn (play from this arrangement, while the minister of music conducts and sings into his microphone), and the anthem (along with piano). Otherwise, I merely “chorded it” during praise choruses with the band, one of whose members is an associate pastor, who wore his less-than-best jeans and un-tucked open-collar shirt for the occasion. That church has been seeking an organist, but I don’t think they really need one at this time. They just need someone who knows how to turn it on and which piston to hit to provide background fullness for the band. If they continue to search for “real” organists, then they will encounter a real “shortage” of organists, until they go back to a service that actually requires an organist.

Now, a certain shortage of organists does exist. I live in a small-ish college town, the hub of a ski resort area, located in a glorified retirement and seasonal residence community with mountain scenery. That’s three levels of expensive I just named off! At my last reckoning, it’s the second most expensive real estate market in North Carolina. I have begun to propose some new models to these churches. I advise them to embrace the fact that they are located in a resort area and that real estate would be a problem for anyone who moves to this area to play for that church (should they even find such a person). I advise them to advertise nationally, in hopes that they might find a recent retiree who is looking to relocate to a resort area such as this. I also caution them to stop defining the position as part-time, because it just isn’t. And it is skilled labor, not a form of congregational donation.

And so to answer the question, “Do you have a student who could …?” yeah, I have eight students this year (2015), the same four of whom are still spoken for with good church posts, and the other four of whom are either not quite ready for regular service, or I just don’t have the energy to inform the church that my students are being trained as professional organists, not as Sunday bench warmers. 

Rinse, repeat, part 1

Monday
Jul282014

Spoken like a pro

The Rev. Kenny Lamm, senior consultant for worship and music for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, maintains a blog on worship and music. A fellow Facebooker shared one of Kenny’s recent posts, and I can’t let that pitch go by without taking a swing at it. I have known Kenny for many years, so I’m comfortable adding my own perspective and taking him to task here. So open your Bibles and your hymnals and Kenny’s blog in another window, and let’s get this service started:

Kenny says, “Worship leaders…are changing [the] church’s worship…into a spectator event, and people are not singing any more.” Well, YEAH, it’s a spectator sport and has been since the Ark of the Covenant and before. Walked into a Medieval European cathedral lately? There is so much to see in the architecture and appointments that you will always see something new each time. But in our modern churches that specialize in “contemporary” worship (hate that word, but history has not produced a better one yet), there is virtually no architecture to admire. And so our lights and graphics have become quite the visual feast (the only thing to look at, really) – so it's our own fault that people just look and don't participate, or at least look and not listen. Screens are hypnotic, and if the projector fails during a service, in some churches there won't be much left to take in. But being a spectator and not singing are two different phenomena. Looking at something is different from choosing not to sing along, and not singing along is a choice toward which many people are routinely driven today by worship teams. But when I attend church at, say, Esztergom Basilica or the Bavokerk in Haarlem, there is plenty to look at and there are plenty of kind and sincere people all around, and I can feel quite close to God without understanding a single word being said. Nothing wrong with worshipping with our eyes.

Kenny says about pre-Reformation worship, “The music was performed by professional musicians and sung in an unfamiliar language (Latin).” In many cases, the musicians were professional only insofar as they were professionally led and very well-rehearsed. Latin notwithstanding, presenting well-prepared church music is a good thing.

Kenny says, “The Reformation gave worship back to the people, including congregational singing which employed simple tavern tunes with solid, scriptural lyrics in the language of the people. Worship once again became participatory.” One must be careful not to “nutshell” the Reformation too much. It was about far more than any one issue, and it was brought about by far more than one person. And although Luther got tunes from wherever they needed to be gotten, many of them came from aristocratic soirées, not from drunken brawls. And the tunes were NOT simple; matter of fact, the watered down versions we have today (by Bach, of all people) are far simplified from the rather vigorous rhythms of the originals.

Kenny says, “What has occurred could be summed up as the re-professionalization of church music and the loss of a key goal of worship leading – enabling the people to sing their praises to God.” And there is his thesis. He blames the re-professionalization of church music for shutting out the congregation. I’ll disagree passionately by saying that if anything, worship music has deliberately shunned professionalization, to its detriment and that of the musical health of its congregations. Professional musicians have seen this issue coming since it started. Professional musicians could have told Kenny and everyone else that this would happen. It's one of the more tragic cases of "We told you so." But the good news is that this is imminently fixable; it doesn't have to be the way it is now. But folks, we need professionals all around us, in all spheres. We don't hesitate to contact professionals to fix our cars, our electrical shorts, our roofing, our air conditioners, and our bodies. Music is the same way, if you want it done well. And it is possible to be a professional musician and a compassionate Christian. [And I'm sorry, but I don't consider someone squeezing a microphone and crooning with their eyes closed and head tilted "professional." I sincerely hope Kenny does not, either.]

Kenny says, “Worship is moving to its pre-Reformation mess.” Sounds kind of alarmist to me. We’re way ahead on the Reformation issue of the vernacular in worship. And it took hundreds of years for the Reformation to finally gain enough ground to get started. And here we are hundreds of years after THAT, and our current sudden silence in the congregations took only about 30 years to come about. So it’s imminently fixable.

Kenny continues with nine reasons he feels congregations aren't singing anymore:

1. “They don’t know the songs.” I believe more accurate would be that they are not being allowed time to learn the songs, and they are not being presented with enough information to do so. Worship songs are not hard to learn. Any song on earth consists of text and melody, but our screens offer text only, thereby leaving out around 65% of the information required to sing a song. That's an easy fix on the screens, but it will probably require a professional musician to do it.

2. “We are singing songs not suitable for congregational singing.” No argument there. Worship songs are notoriously solo-centered. It’s one of the most destructive forces against congregational singing today.

3. “We are singing in keys too high for the average singer.” True; see #2 above. But keys are easily fixed, preferably by a professional musician (there’s that word again) who knows how to transpose and to produce parts for the band. But we used to sing even higher in our hymnals, before worship songs came along. That is easy to explain: we got bigger. People were shorter and smaller in the 19th century and earlier – bodies and voices were smaller, therefore, higher pitched than today.

4. “The congregation can’t hear people around them singing. If our music is too loud for people to hear each other singing, it is too loud.” No argument there, but the loudness is less than half the problem. Next to #2 above, dead acoustics are a primary culprit to congregational silence today. There has always been a reason why people sing in the shower and not in the bedroom. And at Kenny’s previous church, the acoustics were lousy, and the sound system and music were oppressively loud. Speakers just shout at you; they don’t envelop you. Loud doesn’t work when the organ is too loud. Loud doesn’t work when the band is too loud. Loud doesn’t work when the lead singer’s mic is too loud. And despite their insistence to the contrary, choir members don’t “get” their part by sitting next to someone singing their part in their ear or by asking the pianist to “bang out” their part. Sound must be all around a person to lead him, not shouting out of a speaker to drag him.

5. “Excellence – yes. Highly professional performance – no.” I cannot imagine how you can have excellence without some know-how behind it. So once more, with feeling: I am a professional musician. And so is Kenny. And when I “take the stage” to lead a crowd, I do it better than most. What’s wrong with getting the music as good as we possibly can? What’s wrong with hiring a professional musician to lead the flock? Give of our best. Get it right. Hire skilled musicians [I Chron 15:22, I Chron 25:1-8, Psalm 33:3]. In his excellent and punch-in-the-face kind of book, Music Through the Eyes of Faith, Harold Best asserts sternly on page 170 that “There is no hint anywhere in the scriptures that mediocrity is excused in the name of service and ministry.” He asserts over and over that God expects us to find the best people in order to offer the best product. "Professional" is required to educate, to produce, to move amateurs into a higher worship IQ bracket.

6. “The congregation feels they are not expected to sing.” I'm not sure this is verifiable. You’d have to ask the congregation. But they’re not professionals, so don’t expect them to be able to put their finger on it immediately.

7. “We fail to have a common body of hymnody.” Actually, the songs keep changing so fast that we can’t decide what’s in and what’s out. Worship songs are being churned out so fast that it’s impossible to determine which ones will stand the test of time. It's our own fault that few non-hymnal-based churches have a reliable repository of songs to use anymore.

8. “Worship leaders ad lib too much. Keep the melody clear and strong.” This is a sibling to Nos. 2 and 6 above. The fastest fix is to get the melody up on the screen. With that, you could even do away with most of the worship leaders, which could eventually pose the question, “Why did we require multiple worship leaders wielding microphones in the first place?"

9. “Worship leaders are not connecting with the congregation.” This one is tricky, in part because I'm not entirely sure what Kenny is saying. But the people are looking at a screen, so it’s impossible for worship leaders to connect fully with them. But ultimately, everyone is responsible for his own worship. A worshipper shouldn’t expect to be reached without reaching out himself, and a worship team should not be expected to take responsibility for anyone’s non-participation.

-------

This post came about from some comments I made on a Facebook friend’s page in somewhat rawer language. I hope I have been more compassionate here, but this debate is important, and I have my suspicions that all this is an easy fix. Kenny has offered his summary of the problem in an over-professionalization of church music. I have offered mine in the mis-channeling of professionalization and in uninformative screens. We’re both close, but it remains for churches to embrace their own fixes.

I'm not advocating here for the removal of the screens and a return to using hymnals. That would be too drastic for the screen camp, but it would solve a host of problems being increasingly debated.

Monday
Nov252013

Joby's rules of subbing

Playing short-term at another church requires you to do things their way. You don’t want people shaking their heads because they couldn’t figure out what you were doing. Here are the things I recommend taking care of beforehand:

1. Find out who is in charge. Pastor or music director?

2. Check that the hymn numbers in the bulletin are correct. Point out any wrong numbers to whoever is in charge, and let them deal with alerting the congregation.

3. Synchronize your watch with whoever is in charge.

4. Ask what should happen at the service start time. If the service is at 11:00, exactly what do they want to occur at the stroke of 11? Prelude starts then? Prelude concludes by then? Announcements? Striking the hour? Once you have your answer, honor that time at all costs. Honoring time makes you look very good, especially if the church is used to an organist who is always late.

5. Ask if hymns are announced or if you’re just supposed to jump in when it's time for each.

6. Ask if hymns are conducted. And hope they are not. If they are, follow the conductor carefully. Unless s/he has no idea what s/he is doing.

7. Ask about tricky rhythmic spots, such as the fermata in Lasst uns erfreuen or that infernal rhythmic kick in Hymn to joy.

8. Ask if Amens are used, whether printed or not.

9. Offertory and Doxology issues: a) if the Doxology is the Old 100th tune, ask which rhythm they use; b) ask about an Amen; c) ask if you should extend the Doxology introduction so that the ushers can get back down to the front; d) ask what you should do if the offertory is over but the collection is not.

10. Ask if there are any unprinted sung responses in the service. Ask if there are any spots where you need to provide pitches for the choir. Ask if those pitches should be blocked or spelled out.

11. If you’re playing the anthem, ask how many people are in the choir. This will help with organ registration.

12. Ask if there is any music they’d like played on the other instrument. Sometimes churches are shy about asking an organist to play the piano or vice-versa, so offer them that flexibility up front. It only makes you look good, and it gives them a better service.

13. Ask if there are any non-musical tasks you should perform, such as dimming lights, rolling a tape recorder, moving something, etc.

14. Plan where you will sit during the sermon. Try to stay out of sight so that you are not distracting to others. If you end up being on full display or in the line of sight of a camera, sit still, and don't text or play games on your smartphone. But if you're completely out of sight (and I was in one church for 7 years), then bring your smartphone and your laptop and a good book. If you're playing three services, you'll want the distraction. I wrote my dissertation during sermons for months. And I composed a lovely piano four-hand arrangement of [title withheld, because I never got permission to do it] during FOUR Easter sermons one year.

Monday
Sep232013

Weddings! Part 5: Jill and Kevin

We're talking about weddings in my church music class this semester. And since I'm such a huge fan of weddings (not), we have plenty to talk about. I'll be brief here.

One of the most viral YouTube videos ever is of a wedding party dancing down the aisle to a canned version of "Forever" by Chris Brown. I don't need to describe the music nor the event. You NEED to watch it here. And you have been warned. Don't say I didn't warn you. I warned you.

I will always maintain that a wedding held in a church is a service of worship, and not of the bride nor groom. But if you watch, you'll see that the bride and groom, particularly the bride, were worshipped in a big way that day. And so it goes. I'm troubled by it only because I'm not comfortable doing certain things in a church. I still don't walk into one without wearing a coat and tie. And I vividly recall some rather physical punishment I received as a kid, after I was running among the pews during a service. I have a learned respect for the inside of a church building. Nothing wrong with a little respect for where one is.

Ancient weddings included processional dances, but I doubt they included canned songs about sleeping together tonight. And they were done outside. While I would never deny a couple the joy that comes with getting married, if you're getting married in a church, then it's no longer just about you and your joy. On the other hand, I know that lightning did not strike our video wedding that day. God did not rain fire and brimstone upon the heathen. The building is still standing; the church still has a contributing congregation; no one got fired.

Well, mankind has pushed the envelope for centuries on what is appropriate in a church. Even murder has been committed in them, so what's a wedding dance down the aisle to a song about sleeping together tonight? So, just as I instruct my students this semester, I'll just say that since we don't know what God really thinks about it, we all have to make our own decisions, in consultation with our congregations, on what we'll allow and disallow in our church buildings. Had that wedding taken place outside, or had that dance occurred at the reception or the rehearsal dinner, we wouldn't have had a blog post today, for it would have been a non-starter. But there are some places on earth where we should still maintain some decorum. And when I'm the last old fart standing on that front, I'll graciously retire, give up the fight, and get out of the way.

Monday
Jul152013

Rinse, repeat

There is a cycle that keeps getting repeated:

1. Church’s organist is retiring after decades of service pretty much for free. Church feels that since organist served pretty much for free that that’s the way it’s supposed to work and anyone who insists otherwise just doesn’t have a heart for God or for his people. OR: Church can no longer afford a full-time person, and so when the incumbent moves on, the church will split the position among two people who have a heart for God, make them part-time, and pay accordingly. In either case, the flow chart continues:

2. Church has joined the national church management club and has been requiring written purchase orders and work orders for years. The paperwork to miss a day, get some tables set up, buy paper clips, or go to the doctor is now staggering. There are now regular meetings to assess performance, paradigm shifts, and purpose-driven drivel to make any church look on the inside like an oil company. And still the part-time help syndrome continues to whittle away at quality in all positions except clergy (and even then...!).

3. And so a job description is formulated, probably by no one who plays the organ. It outlines page upon page of duties, capped by a weekly work hour total of 20-25 or so. That number is critical, because if it reaches 30, then benefits must be paid. And even then, maybe not. And so the church says it can’t pay benefits. And so the hours are capped, regardless of whether the work can be done in that amount of time each week.

4. Church receives paltry applications.

5. Church wonders why. 

6. Church concludes there must be a shortage of organists. So let’s use a pianist on the organ patch of a synthesizer, or let’s just use a band like everyone else. We just couldn’t find anyone to play the organ; we had to do something.

 

But did anyone try to educate this church that they missed the mark in step 3? The same techniques used to attract and keep a pastor should be used to attract and keep decent church musicians. If you’re going to invoke business models, then invoke them everywhere. But we organists don’t TELL them they’re wrong, do we? We have been burned too many times, and so when we see another misguided job announcement, we just shrug and move on. And so the cycle repeats: church underestimates job and pays accordingly, organists don’t apply and don’t tell the church it has missed the mark, church doesn’t get good talent in the applicant pool or church loses a good person soon because the job and the pay just don’t match, cycle repeats.

Let’s talk about this “organist shortage.” Yes, there are in some ways a lack of warm bodies. But that exists primarily in the medium-sized churches. The big churches have plenty of musicians to choose from and enough money to pay them (for the most part). The smaller churches tend not to need a degreed organist (for the most part), and the degreed organists won’t be looking among the small, anyway (for the most part). And so it’s the medium-sized churches that are trying to save some money or just haven’t figured out that good music and decent pay really should go hand in hand. (For now, we won’t include here the mediocre musicians who are paid all too well. That’s for another post.)

But there are other “shortages” going on: 1) There is a lack of comprehensive teaching. I’m sorry, dear reader, but I’m seeing student after student graduating with no idea how to behave in a church or even in general public. I’m growing weary of hotshots on the scene who can play recitals but can’t keep a steady tempo in a hymn or even sightread a different hymn changed at the last minute. 2) There is also a shortage of money to attend college; families don’t have it to pay, and colleges don’t have it to offer. That alone is reaching critical mass. 3) But there is also a lack of organists with the backbones to tell these churches that they need to pay their musician as handsomely as they pay their pastor. Music is every bit as important as preaching to any given service, and until churches figure that out, they’ll continue to pay it less, ignoring ways to improve their situation.

Organists, get out there and educate these churches. Otherwise, rinse and repeat.

Rinse, repeat, part 2

Sunday
Jun022013

The Feast of Memorial Day, Rite x

Since I am no longer employed in a church and if I’m not subbing somewhere on a given Sunday, then liturgical feasts other than Christmas and Easter often pass by unnoticed by me. During a trip last year, I was reminded that it was Ascension Day, when I discovered that most of southern Germany was shut down on a Thursday! This year, I noticed that Trinity Sunday passed me by, when the organ listservs lit up with people complaining about disfiguring their liturgy with the insertion of patriotic music – this year, Trinity Sunday (church) coincided with Memorial Day (state).

Well, first, liturgy gets defaced every Sunday as a matter of course in some places, so I don’t have an opinion on what patriotic music might do to it further! However, I have written before of some interesting church & state (& otherwise) juxtapositions. But it can happen every year. Memorial Day usually “threatens” Ascension Sunday, Pentecost, or Trinity Sunday. And Boy Scout Sunday (first Sunday in February) usually falls during Lent.

For the record, yes, I am offended that some clergy and parishioners insist that God intended the USA to be free, and that we should therefore liturgicize it. Yes, I am offended that Memorial Day went from being a post-Civil War “Decoration Day” to being commanded by God (in some minds). Yes, I am offended that major US holidays honoring our soldiers are celebrated by giving civilians the day off (what’s up with that?). I am offended that many people insist that soldiers fight for our freedom and not for their own. And I am offended that people can sing the National Anthem at the top of their lungs in the middle of an otherwise solemn liturgy but still mumble a sturdy hymn they have known since childhood. Nevertheless, I also know that the sky will not fall if we toss the National Anthem into a service. I know that the national church will not excommunicate a congregation for moving the flag front & center every now and then. I know that churches near military bases are in a better position to make this work than others are. And I know that the writers of liturgy were human and not divine.

May I humbly suggest holding separate, ecumenical services on the high holy state days (and there are many: MLK, Presidents' Day, Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, September 11, Veterans Day, Pearl Harbor Day)? Liturgy is not sacred. But it is beautiful. And it is beautiful in its own way. If it is added to in certain ways, its impact is threatened. And that can be true for a lot more than just liturgy. Sometimes doing something just because people like-it-by-golly, is not enough.

Monday
May062013

A most "moving" Easter

Here’s a little tell-all of one of those decisions made by a church administration that my musician friends and I STILL cringe about, more than a decade later. But it is also a bit of a success story, because I managed to have a little fun with it:

The new "gymnatorium" had just been completed at a church I was serving as organist. The pastor thought it would be a terrific idea to take that room for its first spin with the largest crowd possible.

Hmmm, EASTER SUNDAY would be a good time.

Yes, EASTER SUNDAY. Let’s move all Easter services into the gymnatorium.

All of them.

And that’s what happened.

So picture it:

1) A gorgeous, traditional Georgian room with a splendid acoustic and a 72-rank Aeolian-Skinner installed in 1949 was going to be standing silent and unoccupied on EASTER SUNDAY.

That’s EASTER SUNDAY.

2) A short-order digital organ was to be rented and PATCHED INTO THE HOUSE SOUND SYSTEM in the gymnatorium. Translation: the organ’s sound was to be produced by speakers that were not designed for the dynamic and frequency range of an organ. And the sound system was to be run by non-musicians. Draw your own conclusion regarding THAT particular sound mix.

3) The gymnatorium was (and still is) so poorly designed that there was not enough stage space for the choir to sit onstage. And there was (and still is) virtually NO wing space. Therefore, the 60-voice choir had to travel up and down some little steps, single-file, to and from the stage to sing their anthems. It was decided that the organist would cover up that traveling with pretty music…

…on the digital organ patched into the house sound system operated by non-musicians.

Well, so let’s try to find some fun in this: the organist put his head together with like-minded musicians and came up with a brilliant idea for what music to play during those onstage/offstage choir moments:

Tunes from South Park: The Movie, played slowly, ecclesiastically, beautifully...

…on the digital organ patched into the house sound system operated by non-musicians, in the ugly room deemed a suitable venue for Easter Sunday just because it was a big, new room.

It was “moving” music. And the choir moved to it, as planned.

Three people in the room knew what was coming, and only one other figured it out during. No one else noticed. (Then again, who would admit it?)

Monday
Mar112013

Turn the tables

Here's an idea:

Churches ought to apply for the privilege of hiring some (SOME!) church musicians. Here’s the ad I would place:

WANTED: one church to provide musical inspiration, a smart congregation, and even-handed employment for an organist. Qualifications of this church include but may not necessarily be limited to the following:

-- Lead by example to encourage the congregation to remain quiet for preludes and postludes.

-- Stay out of the way regarding hymn tempos.

-- Provide an acoustical environment that enhances worship.

-- Allow only musicians and professional sound technicians to run sound, if any.

-- Adhere to all published wedding rules. If none exist, allow the organist to write some.

-- Establish and maintain a chain of command that actually works. The lay governing body should demonstrate a track record of refusing to hand its power over to the pastor.

-- Keep staff turnover at a minimum by providing proper pay and a professional work environment.

-- Stop paying dues to the Willow Creek Association.

-- Provide time off for both vacation and continuing education. One should not be used to “satisfy” the other.

-- Overhaul the music program with the music staff’s knowledge, guidance, and participation.

-- Provide the organist exclusive access to the organ chamber. Take the chamber keys away from the cleaning crew and maintenance crew.

-- Cooperate with the organist in allowing the console to be left unlocked and available to all.

-- Allow the organist to teach on the church organ.

-- Allow the organist to get actively involved with organ maintenance. This will save the church money on little things that go wrong in the future.

-- Upload photos and specs of the organ on the church website, as directed by the organist.

-- Allow the organist 24-hour access and alarm codes to the building. He’s got to practice, you know.

Interested churches should send an electronic package containing 1) a letter of intent, 2) references from at least three previous musicians on your staff, and 3) any evidence at all of an effective lay governing body to joby(at)jobybell(dot)org. Serious applications only, please. Files containing misspelled words, poor grammar, or the words "blessed" or "awesome" will not be considered. The successful church meeting these qualifications will be considered carefully and fairly. In the unlikely event that a church like this really does exist, then the organist will probably have had a coronary from the shock and will not be able to hire it. But a guy can dream.

Monday
Feb182013

“There’s a place for us…”

My childhood church introduced PowerPoint to their services many years ago, after I had left for grad school. I can still hear my mother now, yelling at the minister of music: “I learned to read music singing hymns in church and singing in children’s choirs! How are young people supposed to learn it now? They won’t know anything about music if all we do is show some words on a screen. And our children’s choirs will die. There will be no one coming up the ranks any more. What will we do then?”

She was right, and she wasn't alone. It has been happening for years now. Children's and youth choirs everywhere are wastelands. I have seen them die at the hands of soccer, gymnastics, cheerleading, the PowerPoint screens, the cultish appeal of the youth minister, and a general refusal to reappear on the church grounds on Sunday afternoon/evening. In one church I know of, the youth choir was reduced to ashes in a moment because the youth minister wanted that Sunday time from the youth choir director for other purposes AND got the pastor’s blessing for it.

There's more. In general, you can hear contemporary Christian music at any Chick Fil-A. But has anyone noticed that for months now, Chick Fil-A has been playing the accompaniment tracks with the vocals removed? What’s that about? And has anyone noticed how utterly trite, boring, vapid, and profoundly silent that music is without some words attached? Hour after hour, it’s the same four chords over and over again, the same strumming of guitars, the same beat. Same, same, same, same.

There there’s American Idol. And America’s Got Talent. And halftime shows. And Grammy performances. It’s not encouraging.

But there is always hope. People do grow weary of the same diet week after week. People do seek deeper meaning in their church music. I’m seeing it happen in all churches and across all ages. My church music students are a prime example. Nine years ago, my class of twelve had never heard of a hymnal. Today, a class of eight have all heard of hymnals and actually know some hymns. One student who played in a praise band said that although he gets an emotional and spiritual charge out of playing there, the music itself is repetitive and completely unsatisfying. By the time he graduated, he was mixed up over what he wanted to do. But he learned about all the options while he was here. And that’s the goal – learn and start down a path!

I believe we’ll eventually settle in the knowledge that there is room for all, even if many bands and organists wish each other would just go away. There will always be a need for organists, orchestra directors, and classically trained church musicians. You know, people like me. There will always be a need for musicians who are also ministers, not just ministers who are also amateur musicians. We’re human, you know – we all seek deeper meaning, eventually.

Thursday
Jun072012

Weddings! Part IV: The XIV Commandments

And it came to pass that the prophet Joby had had enough and did offer these fourteen commandments, thereby getting some things off his chest:

I. Thou shalt not marry a Bridezilla. Neither shalt thou marry a Groomzilla. Thou shalt not vicariously marry either parent of thy betrothed. For in the day that thou doest any of these things, thou and thy youthful spirit shall surely die.

II. When thou shalt say in public or post upon Facebook, “I got engaged!” thou art a liar, for thy fiancé(e) hath got engaged also, and shall be entitled to credit thereof. If thou be stuck in first person singular, then thy fiancé(e) shouldst take heed, for great will be his/her distress in married life.

III. When thou shalt say in public or post upon Facebook, “I’m marrying a doctor!” thou art a liar. Thou art not marrying a doctor. Neither art thou marrying a lawyer, stock broker, banker, musician, teacher, nor CEO. Thou art marrying a man or a woman, and no more, and thy names shall be ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’ Thy names shall not be ‘Dr. and Mrs.’ or ‘Mr. and Dr.’ or ‘Dr. and Dr.’ Enough already, I beseech thee.

IV. If any one person among you shall proclaim him- or herself to be in charge without pay, then all others shall run away and never return.

V. Thou shalt allow twice as much time to arrive for the wedding rehearsal as thou thinkest thou shalt need. Many wedding rehearsals begin during Friday rush hour, and in the day that thou respectest not that fact, then thou shalt surely be late to the rehearsal. If thou art a bride or a groom, then thou shalt be at least one-half hour early for rehearsal. If thou art anyone else who hath arrived for the rehearsal on time and do not find there a bride and a groom, then thou shalt be free to go and do as thou please for the rest of the evening.

VI. If thou art a mother or grandmother, thou shalt dress in a manner befitting thy age and thy status as a person not getting married at this time.

VII. If thou art a mother or grandmother, thy seating shall not need to be rehearsed. Verily I say unto you, walking down an aisle and taking a seat, it is a no-brainer.

VIII. Verily I say unto you, it shall not be bad luck for bride and groom to see each other before the wedding ceremony shall commence. Thou shalt not observe such superstitious behavior for a church wedding, for such is an abomination unto the Lord. Verily.

IX. If thou art under the age of eight years, thou mayest be enlisted to carry something down the aisle. But I say unto you that a better way for thee to be involved would be to stay home with thy babysitter until the reception shall commence.

X. If thou art a groom or a groomsman, thou shalt dress like a man, not a frat boy nor cowboy nor prom date.

XI. If thou art a bride or a bridesmaid, thou shalt dress like a woman, not a flower girl nor whore nor prom date. If thy makeup render thee unrecognizable, then thou hast gone too far with it.

XII. If thou art a congregant, thou shalt dress appropriately as befits thy gender. Thou shalt also remain quiet during the prelude. Thou shalt also refrain from applauding and cheering during a church wedding. Thou shalt also leave thy children home with thine hired babysitter.

XIII. If thou art a layman who hath been enlisted to read scripture, thou shouldst read audibly, slowly, and deliberately. Thou shalt not simply insert more pauses between rapid-fire words. And thou shalt say, “First Corinthians,” not “One Corinthians.”

XIV. If thou art a bride or groom, thou shalt recite thy vows confidently and audibly. Thou shalt not leave everyone wondering if thou believest that which thou saith.

Here endeth the lesson. Give thou unto me a break.