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Upcoming Performances

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)

Friday
Dec232011

An organist's tale of two Christmases

 

I love traveling at Christmas. I especially enjoy being able to travel before Christmas, to wherever I wish!

Christmas 2008: A church hopper's paradise

I was not employed at a church that year, and I had no Christmas gigs lined up (churches tend not to need subs on Christmas Eve unless the organist is sick), and so I was looking forward to church-hopping on Christmas Eve while visiting my sister. I don't ask advice on which churches to check out. I have fun making my own discoveries:

1. I look at advertised service times and start forming a general geographical plan of attack. How many churches can I "hit" in one evening?

2. Any church I visit must be of traditional architecture. Old or new, it must look like a church, not a warehouse.

3. If I find the church does not have a pipe organ, I will take in the architecture and the general quality of the music and then leave.

4. Attending a whole service is not necessary. Hearing some music is primary. Hearing the homily is not.

5. I tend to choose big buildings over smaller ones, preferring spaciousness to intimacy.

So, for Christmas Eve 2008, I attended a traditional candlelight service at a Baptist church with a good-sized hybrid organ. Then I arrived at the Catholic church during communion, during which a marimbist was playing a solo rendition of Feliz Navidad. I took in the sight of the Holtkamp tracker sitting unplayed, and then I quickly left. From there I went to a Presbyterian church, where I discovered that their advertised service time was one hour too late, and so I got there during Silent Night and did not get to hear the organ. From there, I went to my sister's church (Methodist), where the organist insisted that if he didn't play loudly, no one would sing. Therefore, we were screaming Christmas carols at the tops of our lungs. Gutbusters such as Away in a Manger and Silent Night. A very interesting approach to singing to a sleeping baby Jesus.

Christmas Day, I attended the local Episcopal church, where a friend of mine was playing. Good dose of liturgy for me, and my friend played the Mulet Carillon-Sortie for the postlude, inspired by my recent performance of it in recital in this area. I was honored.

Of course, dinner at the sister's was its usual marvelous quality. A happy Christmas indeed.

 

Christmas 2011: A hospital hopper's paradise

My mother has been very sick lately. We got her discharged from her hospital back home and drove her to my sister's for some TLC and fresh medical perspectives. Since my sister is the CFO of her hospital, the staff has been all too willing to meet her mother and help her as much as possible. Mother is doing much better. She is now discharged from that hospital, and we are all together at my sister's house for a few days.

And now I am looking forward to a fresh batch of churches for my church-hopping pleasure tomorrow night, Christmas Eve. And I will look forward to attending my sister's church again, where there is now a new organist, who, I'm told, will not require us to scream at the baby Jesus.

Now to you, Dear Reader, I wish a very Merry Christmas 2011 and a Happy 2012.

Tuesday
Nov292011

Advent I-IV? Or Christmas I-IV?

Last Sunday was Advent I. I’ll bet that whether they wanted to or not, many organists were playing Christmas carols in church that day, just because it was Advent I. And I’ll bet that many MORE organists will be playing Christmas carols NEXT Sunday, just because December will have arrived. Liturgically, those are poor excuses to drag out the Christmas music. Even worse, some churches will bring out the Advent wreaths, light the first candle with the proper reading – and then launch into Christmas carols.

But there are still many “holdout” churches and organists and directors of music, who will bring out the Christmas carols on Christmas Eve and keep them cranking until January 6. But there is yet another “holdout” level – those churches who follow the liturgical calendar to the letter by withholding Christmas carols until midnight on Christmas morning. (Christmas Eve is unfortunately named -- it is simply the day before Christmas. It is part of Advent.)

Yes, I have heard (and contributed to) all the grumbling of being saturated in Christmas carols throughout December. My gripe with it is not of a liturgical nature; rather, I have found that the carols are just not exciting on Christmas Eve when I have been playing them all month already. The best I can do is withhold the Willcocks arrangements until Christmas Eve – that becomes about the only excitement left to enjoy. But then there have been those years when I was not employed by a church and could church-hop on Christmas Eve. That is the ultimate fun at Christmas for me, and I look forward to doing that again this year.

Let’s be honest, folks: the liturgical calendar is completely man-made, and when “other” churches deviate from it, what’s the worst that can happen? Will lightning strike just because a Christmas carol is sung in church before Christmas? Will the organist grumble? About the only compelling reason to keep advocating for “liturgical correctness” is in the name of congregational education. Many churches have never heard of Advent. Many other churches have heard of it but mix it up with Christmas throughout December. Many others know all about it but just can’t stand not to be singing Christmas carols all month. The commercial pressure exerted all around us sometimes wins in our churches, and we have to decide year after year just how faithful we will be to a man-made standard. But the admonition to take a month to prepare for (not celebrate) the birth each year is compelling, and there is plenty of wonderful, applicable music to enjoy in church. Should we wish for more Christmas music, then we can attend any number of “holiday concerts” or shop at any number of retail stores and listen to their muzak. There is also Sirius and our own recordings of Christmas music. Church really CAN afford to hold out on Christmas music until it is time.

My Advent I this year was spent at St. Thomas Church, New York. Places like that serve as the choral standard to which many churches aspire. And many churches in this country get close. But many others can only press their faces up to the window of doing things the “English way,” but they just don’t have the resources, the boy voices, the administrative/clergy support, or the congregational education to pull it off. You can join the Royal School of Church Music, where you take an oath to do things here the way they do them in England (yet another man-made standard). In any event, it is hard work (St. Thomas requires three fulltime organists and two offices of administrative support), and if you don’t have the support, it is even harder, nigh unto impossible. Children’s choirs in this country have been utterly crippled by soccer, gymnastics, Karate lessons, praise bands, the youth minister’s cultish appeal, and a general disenchantment with church by millions of people.

Perhaps finding the occasional pocket of excellence in a sea of the cheap and commercial makes it that much more precious and worth fighting for. But if everyone did their church music the same wonderful way, would we get complacent? And then would we get bored and start wishing for simpler approaches?

Well, that's for another blogger to answer in full, but the answer is Yes, we would. And we already have.

Monday
Sep192011

Weddings! Part 3: No charge

I don’t charge for wedding rehearsals, simply because I will not be there. Reasons, in no particular order:

My role at a wedding rehearsal is not in line with my role in the professional world, and I have never reconciled those two roles. Chalk it up to not enjoying playing when no one is listening. Going to a wedding rehearsal opens me up to unnecessary scrutiny. In the name of it’s-their-wedding-they-should-have-it-the-way-they-want-it, I have been critiqued and asked to play faster, slower, more detached, softer, and louder. I may be a world-class organist, but not at a wedding rehearsal. At a wedding rehearsal, I’m a vendor with a customizable product. I am not Dr. Bell; I’m not even Joby. I’m usually “the organist,” and in one case, I was addressed by the visiting clergy as Mr. Organ Player, while he pantomimed air-typing.

Wedding rehearsals are logistical, not musical. They exist to give the uninitiated a chance to find their way.

Wedding cues are visual, not aural. It is much more efficient for the musicians to watch what’s going on and provide the correct music than it is for a wedding coordinator in a noisy narthex to listen for musical cues.

Mothers and grandmothers do not need to rehearse walking down an aisle and taking a seat. I’ll say that again: Mothers and grandmothers do not need to rehearse walking down an aisle and taking a seat.

No one needs to rehearse “walking with the music.” That is known as marching, and it has no place in a wedding. If the power goes out and takes the organ with it, the walking can continue, and the place of arrival will not move.

At the rehearsal, while the wedding coordinator is trying to instruct the wedding party, usually from the other end of the room, music on top of that just adds to the confusion.

No one walks on Saturday the same way they did on Friday. So why bother rehearsing with music?

In addition to my day job, I play Sunday mornings. A wedding gets an additional chunk of my Saturday. It’s not getting my Friday evening, too. Enough already.

And finally, I don’t need to rehearse; I’ve done this before.

Glad that’s off my chest.

Tuesday
Aug302011

Weddings! Part 2: Prelude music

Memo to:
The Wedding Terrier
The Associate Pastor
The Pastor
The Director of Music
The Chair of the Worship Committee
My favorite vocalist and trumpeter

From:
Joby Bell, the Exhausted One

Lately, the organ’s role as a service instrument has become difficult to maintain at weddings. I feel it is time to reduce the organ’s (and/or piano’s) “social” function and tighten up its liturgical/worship role for weddings.

Indoor traffic during 30-minute wedding preludes has increased in quantity and noise level. At any given wedding, there is usually a fair amount of noise generated by chatty acolytes, clergy conversations, soloist/reader traffic, media traffic/conversation, and general congregational nervous excitement. It has become difficult to establish and maintain a worship atmosphere, let alone be able to concentrate. [Hint to the clergy: stop bringing guest clergy out at the last minute to talk through logistics while the prelude is underway.]

I believe we are all in agreement that the organ’s first “appearance” at a wedding or any other service of worship should signal the beginning of that service, but I have found it is impossible for guests to maintain such a frame of mind for very long, let alone 30 minutes, in the midst of such a social event. Since many of the participants mentioned above are rarely ready by the time the music has begun, it now seems more effective to me to allow a reasonable time of socializing and last-minute setup, then signal the commencement of the service with the organ’s first notes. Therefore, I have made the decision to reduce wedding prelude time from thirty minutes to ten. It is my hope that by ten minutes prior to the ceremony start time, the room will be prepared and the service may commence. I feel that a worshipful attitude will then be unmistakable to most people. When taken in the context of continuing efforts to promote a certain high level of worship IQ among all who enter our doors, I feel that this is a good decision and will not detract from the ceremony’s importance as a worship service first and a social event second. [Hint to all: Seating of guests to music is a social convention, not a liturgical one. I play for services of worship, not cocktail parties.]

Exception: I will be willing to play for up to twenty minutes, if the couple has made specific requests and if I determine that the assembled congregation and participants would not compromise the organ’s worship role with excessive noise or distraction. This exception should never be construed as a license to solicit such requests from couples. Those couples to whom music is especially meaningful will know who they are and will already be organized accordingly with their requests. [Hint to the Wedding Terrier: do NOT mention this exception to couples. I’ll handle it myself, based on my visit with them.]

If there are questions, see my tirade on playing when no one is listening.

Friday
Jul082011

Once more, with feeling: hymnals vs. bulletins

There is no more beautiful sound than that of a congregation singing healthily, loudly, and lustily. And according to Reformed tradition, that sound should be a church musician’s primary concern.

At some point in quite recent years, hymnals were deemed clumsy and too massive for the available space. They also did not contain the latest and greatest tunes to sing. Enter the printing in the bulletin of any congregationally-sung texts. Many people feel this is a good solution; they feel there should be one printed text for each pair of eyes. There usually aren’t enough hymnals for that, but I don’t understand why that suddenly became a problem when people had been sharing resources in worship for CENTURIES. I am convinced that many congregations sing so well because they open the hymnal, wrap an arm around their partner or child, and sing together. Long may they live and sing.

A hymnal is loaded with much more information than just words and notes. It contains authors, composers, dates, poetic meters, alternate texts and tunes, a fairly complete Psalter, and indices for all possible searches. Presenting hymns exclusively in verse form in a bulletin lessens their dramatic and informative potency. Melodic inflection and syllabification differences are also hopelessly lost without the music attached. Printing out just enough of a hymn to get by on Sunday robs a people of the opportunity to maintain a high liturgical IQ, and it sends the message that hymns are not very important. It also clutters up the bulletin. The hymnal is a well-developed, time-honored resource, and reducing hymns to text-only for anything other than reading is impersonal and devaluing of their richness.

Consider a sermon text. There is power in reading straight from the Book, rather than from an insert or the bulletin. The complete sermon text is not printed in the bulletin; indeed, the congregation is even instructed by the preacher to open their Bibles. There is a definite potency in holding the entire book, and something is lost when holding a flimsy pamphlet.

Throughout the Church these days, music and text appear together outside of published books far too rarely. People all over the country (and the world, I’ve discovered) are losing their ability to sing and follow along. When challenged on it, they claim a comfortable and damaging ignorance: “I can’t read music.” Text-only PowerPoint screens and bulletin printouts have rendered all but the simplest tunes foreign and more difficult than necessary.

No literate person who has ever sung a hymn from a hymnal can honestly say, “I can’t/don’t read music.” Music is printed proportionally across the page, and the untrained eye can discern long and short notes and melodic contour from the page after a short while. That’s all that is needed to be good at it. Seeing printed music is just as normal as reading anything else, whether fully understood or not. It becomes a habit—a good one.

“Well, the hymnal is available to them; all they have to do is reach down and get it.” The very existence of that choice does the damage. The bulletin is the path of least resistance, and a congregation, no matter how well educated, will eventually follow where it is consistently steered. If the hymnal is never mentioned, if an altered text is printed in the bulletin, if stanzas are cut or added, it renders the hymnal useless, and the conditioning of using the bulletin for singing becomes stronger. It is our responsibility as church leaders to eliminate the poorer choice entirely. If you keep handing the congregation a quick fix in the bulletin, a lusty congregational sound will be reduced to mere murmuring, and the repertoire will consist of a handful of hymns recycled far too often. People are not stupid; they can handle a hymnal.

Altered texts usually change only a few words, the sum total for which I cannot justify forcing the congregation into the bulletin. I feel “inclusive language” implies freedom to sing the words one wants to sing. Even if the hymnal “updates” a text, those who wish will undoubtedly sing the words of their choice or the words more firmly implanted in their memory. I should think that unity is better found there than in insisting on this or that text in the bulletin. This brings new meaning to the phrase “all on the same page,” and I find it no more unsettling than, for example, the “trespasses vs. debts” train wreck in the Lord’s Prayer, or the train wreck between the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds.

Let the bulletin provide the necessary information: hymn number, first line, tune name. The reader can then engage in a little personal research to find the hymn (imagine that -- no more spoon-feeding). For any congregational music not found in the hymnal, print text AND melody in the bulletin or provide a music insert. I think it’s all worth the absolute consistency and demonstration of the highest possible importance placed on a congregation’s singing.

Let’s get our eyes back on the ball. It’s being hit uncontrollably all over the field.

Monday
Jun202011

Screwtape lives on

Looks like I'm not finished with last week's post. A weekend in bed with a summer cold virus can make anyone crabby.

I am no C. S. Lewis. But the voice of his Screwtape character is perfect for some [past, not present] experiences I have had. If you find something here that sounds familiar, it’s because I don’t make any of this up; I only invent the delivery. Enjoy. (On second thought, don’t enjoy – much of this is too sad for words).

Screwtape says:

"Ah, yes, you wish to organize worship. Well, there are many, many things you must do to ensure the most man-centered experience possible. Make your liturgical decisions for convenience, not for liturgy. Then at least someone (you) will be pleased with the services.

"Here is a perfect way to get your organist to cultivate improvisational skills:

1. Allow only fifteen minutes between services.

2. Require three minutes before a given service time for announcements. For example, if a service is published for 9:30, begin making announcements at 9:27. The organ prelude must be concluded by 9:27.

3. Make the previous service run late.

4. Before long, your organist will finally be earning his keep with short, perfectly timed preludes. And when timing becomes less predictable, he will resort to improvising preludes that can be cut off at any time. In some cases, the postlude for the previous service can serve as the prelude for the next. And heaven forbid the organist should ever have time for the restroom.

"As for those announcements themselves, they should not be moved to a more informal moment in the service, such as following the Peace. No, it is much better to add as many speed bumps to the service as possible. And the nature of the announcements should resemble Show & Tell. Under no circumstances should you announce anything that is not already printed in the bulletin. People should never be trusted nor encouraged to read and digest for themselves on their own time.

"When the announcements are over, be sure to say something like, 'Well, it’s time for worship now; let the Holy Spirit prepare your heart as the Choir leads us.' It is vital that you say this, so that no one makes the mistaken assumption that the organ prelude before the announcements had anything to do with worship. And of course, say something about the choir leading. Heaven forbid they should just be allowed to lead. Liturgical flow must be interrupted with play-by-play editorializing.

"Now, for that choral introit. The choir is in the narthex, yes? So, have your media department stick mikes in the narthex to 'pick the choir up.' You and your congregation will be enthralled by the tinny, poorly balanced sound and the inexcusable amount of feedback, week after week. And let’s not forget that the narthex is already abuzz with conversation and mass confusion, all of which is audible from within the sanctuary. And during the processional hymn, make sure there are people elbowing their way through the choir to get to a seat and otherwise beat the choir down the aisle. Have other people lined up to exit up the center aisle while the choir is processing down it. Be sure that your ushers do absolutely nothing about any of that and that they even contribute to it when possible.

"After every hymn, be sure that someone is planted near a microphone to call out, 'Be seated.' Be absolutely certain that those two words are invariably called out while the last chord of the hymn is still ringing throughout the room. And add an awkward 'sit down' gesture, just for good measure. It is folly to think that people could ever get the hint to sit by just observing the clergy and choir being seated or by referring to the bulletin.

"These are just a few ideas to get you started. When in doubt, get in a hurry; proper liturgy has no business 'breathing.' Clumsy and over-planned should carry the day every time."

Monday
Jun132011

What to do with that pesky prelude?

Most churches with a functioning organ and a functioning organist hear organ music just before worship begins.

Or is it more accurate to say that most churches with a functioning organ and a functioning organist hear organ music to begin worship?

Will your prelude/voluntary/pre-service music serve as the first act of worship, or will it merely serve as “Your attention, please” so that worship can get underway? I tend to play concert music on Sundays, rather than hymn/chorale-based. Can my preludes be construed as Recital Hour, or can they be considered worshipful to anyone who will listen?

Both. And both are correct, depending on the listener.

I believe it is more natural for the conscientious observer to consider prelude music part of the service, but the Reformed tradition tends to regard anything before the Call to Worship as peripheral, and by extension, I suppose, dispensable. Well, tell that to the lady who was so blown away by the Walton Crown Imperial one Palm Sunday that she insisted that that piece be played at her funeral. Tell it to the church members who consistently maintain that that organ, that organist, and that choir are the only reasons they attend that church. Tell it to the people who would just as soon hear the prelude, the anthem, and the postlude, call that all the church they need, and ditch the rest. Tell it to the people who nearly left that church but hung around when that new organist started reaching their hearts. Tell the people who love every note that the prelude is not worshipful.

Just this week, I heard of a pastor whose daughter’s wedding will use pop and love ballads during the prelude, even though such music is forbidden in the church’s wedding policies. He is working around that by saying that since it’s part of the prelude, it doesn’t affect the actual ceremony. That is a criminal assessment of the nature of a prelude, and it ought to be writing on the wall for that church’s organist. Organist beware.

I once dealt sternly with a guest minister for a wedding. He insisted that the exit music be stopped after the wedding party exited so that he could invite everyone to the reception, then he wanted to music to resume. My response: “In this church, music is part of worship. While I am glad to stop the music any time you wish, the worship service will then be over, and the music will not resume. And by the way, I am not a CD player with a pause button.” (And let’s be honest – every person who attends a wedding in this country knows about the reception. They don’t need a verbal invitation on top of the engraved invitation they already received.) But he insisted. So he got to make his announcement, and I got to pack up and leave before the room emptied. Early dinner that night was delicious.

Well, why all this discussion? I’m in 'assessment mode' as my tenure as a regular church organist draws to a close on July 17. I’m saying goodbye to church as regular employment in order to focus on my performing and teaching. Substitute playing will always be a welcome activity, and I will always want to share my expertise when possible.

Therefore, I’m currently hyper-sensitive to the comments and thank-yous from church members who will miss my work. This renders my departure bittersweet, but it affirms all those years of experience on the job reaching hearts, edifying the downtrodden, strengthening singing, and thrilling the willing listener.

If we organists worked in a vacuum, we’d have no idea how well we were doing. But the reports we get from people who got just what they needed that day from our music helps keep us on track. Carry on, and let the Prelude be what it wants to be to all who will listen, regardless what a book of laws says about its usefulness.

Monday
May092011

Man is Lord

'Fess up. You know there's a point in history to which you'd like the church to return. Yet you would still like to color that return with modern influence. I’d like liturgy to return to Medieval times, where the pageantry and architecture were all there. Then I’d add a good helping of Lutheran reform, where the congregation can actually see, hear, and understand what’s going on. And I would certainly include an Aeolian-Skinner to play, plus a choir directed by John Yarrington.

I laugh when I hear anyone drag out the same old blanket statement, “We need to get back to the basics,” or, “We need to get back to the way church used to be.” Well, what are the basics? The Ark of the Covenant? Candles? Vestments? Communion? Self-flagellation? Monastic life? And what about “getting back to the way church used to be?” You have a multi-millennial history to wade through there, Jack. Just how far back would you like to go? To last year before your pastor resigned? To 20 years ago, when people dressed up for church? To Luther? To the Upper Room? To the Promised Land? To the Garden of Eden? Or are you going to conveniently pick and choose – taking us back to the Upper Room but with microphones and PowerPoint?

And so I return to the first two words of this post: “’Fess up.” You, like I, would like to pick and choose and build the “perfect” church. That is fun to daydream about but terribly dangerous to try to put into practice. It hasn’t worked yet; if it had, we’d all be members of this perfect church. When you start that in earnest, Man becomes Lord. The creation of Rite II is about as far as I’d be willing to go. But Rite III is on its way, and so the watering down continues.

All of the following happened in the same church. And I’m not making any of this up:

1) ‘God Bless America’ and the National Anthem were sung on Lent I, just because it was also Boy Scout Sunday.
2) The National Anthem was sung on Pentecost, just because it was also Memorial Day weekend.
3) ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ was sung on Advent III, just because it hadn’t been sung in a while.(!)
4) A bride had wonderful classical music including that of harp, boychoir, string quartet, trumpet, organ, and vocalist. But the congregation was assigned a campfire chorus to sing.
5) A family requested The Stars & Stripes Forever for a funeral.

Guess the denomination.

Episcopal.

Yes, Episcopal. If a Mack truck were expected to shift gears as much as that church did, the transmission would fall out. I have asked it before, and I’ll ask it again: just WHOM is being worshipped here?

Let’s all slow down, take a deep breath, and ask ourselves why we do some of these things. And let’s be thankful that none of us with our fickle tastes ever landed the job of being God.

Monday
May022011

Weddings! Part 1: Vocal music

Good morning! Wedding Singer Hotline! How may I help you?

Yes, we always recommend employing either a) a competent soloist or b) no soloist for your wedding.

Oh, you’d like to have as wedding soloist your cousin ‘who sings?’ Well, that’s not very informative. Oh, they sing ‘opera?’ Ah, yes, the Andrew Lloyd Webber Pie Jesu? Um, well, that’s not a wedding song, and it isn’t opera. Perhaps I just need to speak directly with your soloist.

Well, I suppose using an accompaniment track is OK, but the sound system was not installed with that in mind. And since we have a 1949 Aeolian-Skinner and a 9-foot walnut Steinway, plus an above-average musician to play them, it might be more meaningful to use those, instead.

Tradition? No, there is no tradition when it comes to vocal music. If you employ a lousy soloist just to fulfill a tradition, then you’ll have a spoiled wedding video.

As to what music to choose, you’ll need to find out the church’s policies on what is acceptable in that particular church. As you know, a wedding held in a church is a service of worship to God, not an exercise in managing the bridal couple’s taste in public displays. Solos at weddings and solos at receptions are rarely interchangeable. Someone singing John Denver or George Strait in church is the musical equivalent of a bridesmaid processing down the aisle in cutoffs and a halter-top. By the same token, the Lord’s Prayer will probably not fare very well at a reception. The appropriateness of any vocal music may be tested by determining its appropriateness for any service of Christian worship:

We recommend:
-- any text taken directly from the Bible;
-- liturgical prayers set to music;
-- any text which mentions God in some way other than in exclamation;
-- any text which capitalizes the words ‘he’, ‘him’, or ‘his’;
-- any text which illustrates your desire to bring honor to the marriage;
-- any hymn, except one with an obviously non-applicable theme such as funeral comfort, patriotism, etc.;
-- something which may suitably be used in Sunday worship services;
-- any text with applicable, recognizable theology.

We discourage:
-- songs containing the words ‘baby’, ‘darling’, ‘honey’, ‘I swear’, ‘lover’, etc;
-- songs with running themes such as ‘my little girl is all grown up now’, ‘mother’s grief’, ‘daddy’s playfulness’, ‘look how far we’ve come’, ‘how good you make me feel’,  etc.;
-- Pop, Country, Broadway, and movie soundtracks.

Anything falling in the ‘discourage’ category above may be more effective at your reception.

Ah, yes, when to rehearse? Vocal/instrumental rehearsal should occur one hour before the wedding. It is imperative that your soloist have learned all notes and rhythms before arriving for that rehearsal. Have your soloist bring at that time a copy of the printed music for the organist in the soloist’s preferred key. No vocalist should expect two and three meetings with the organist to rehearse. One hour before the wedding will suffice, with one or two runs through. After all, the organist has already played it a thousand times, and if the soloist can’t learn it on his own, then he falls in the ‘incompetent’ category and should never have been asked to sing in the first place.

Many times, a singer wants the organist to make a recording for the singer to rehearse at home with. Those recordings are dangerous. First, the singer will get too used to the recording and will expect the very same thing at the wedding. Second, if soloists must rehearse this way, then they are incompetent and should not be singing in the first place.

Yes, I suppose a lot of this is news to you or has been somewhat discouraging. But many churches are looking to reclaim their houses of worship from the '70s and '80s, when love ballads were the norm in weddings.

I’m sure your wedding will be beautiful, especially if you give music as much thought as you have the dress and the invitations. We are here to help. (And in most cases, ‘help’ means ‘educate.’)

Thank you for calling the Wedding Singer Hotline!

Monday
Mar282011

Join the club

I am utterly fascinated by a church congregation as a sociological body. The behavior of humans in a church setting closely resembles that of an ancient tribe and of a modern-day country club at the same time.

I’m thinking of the church that is fiscally and liturgically conservative. The neo-Gothic building is beautiful and well-tended. The choir is healthy and feeds the congregation on a regular diet of well-written, well-prepared music. The organ is complete and lovely, and the organist is top-notch. And everyone wears suits and dresses to church. But the thick, wall-to-wall carpet in the sanctuary is as sacred as anything God might ever have said. And since that carpet was so expensive, it’s not coming up any time soon. Likewise the pew cushions and the enormous Oriental rug in the chancel. I am way past being horrified to just being fascinated by the sociological implications of such an inconsistent way of doing things. Back in Medieval days, when architecture, acoustics and high liturgical drama took off, there was no such thing as carpet. How is it, then, that carpet became as necessary to tradition and conservatism as formal prayers, despite its acoustical destruction of congregational community?

I’m thinking of the conservative church that begins its services with a contemporary “Good morning” exchange between liturgist and congregation. Now what’s REALLY funny is that when the people have been quieted down to have this exchange and have been told of some important announcements, they are then invited to “stand and greet one another.” But they had already been doing that with great enthusiasm during the organ prelude!! This I find fascinating. How does a conservative congregation allow these informal dinner-party elements into the service without so much as a whimper? A friend of mine always said, “Do something two weeks in a row, and it becomes a tradition.”

I’m thinking of the church that still uses the hymnal published in the 1950s. One hymnal has been published since, and another is in the works. What is it that makes a congregation so resistant to change? And what will happen when those that were resistant before are no longer around? Will resistance to a new hymnal simply become another tradition that must be blindly maintained?

I’m thinking of the church where the old hymnal is sitting pretty in the racks, but the bulletins are being typeset with every word of every hymn text. Fully 98% of the congregation is singing all hymns from that bulletin while the hymnal collects dust. That is a VERY contemporary development in worship, and this conservative congregation apparently sees it not.

But anyone who raises Cain about any of the above gradually gets put out to pasture. People who make excessive waves in a society get the boot; they get voted off the board; they get invited to find somewhere else to go; they get run off the reservation, run out of the tribe, kicked out of the club, blackballed, run out of town, fired. That is a sociological issue; it occurs all the time in business, in fraternities and at the country club. In days of old, it was called Exile on pain of death. And to see it put into practice in these modern ways is at once scary and captivating.

Another conservative/contemporary conflict lies in the training of new members: “This is how we…” “We expect…” “Membership here carries responsibilities in…” Other churches have rejected that, claiming that membership in Christ’s church requires faith, not works. While I understand the argument, I know that every church is a country club of sorts, no matter how one might protest to the contrary. Membership in anything requires certain behavior, certain dress code, an oath, and dues. And the church will administer an oath to new members in front of the congregation.

And membership in anything requires responsibility, which is where the training becomes necessary. Did those new members grow up to understand the importance of tithing? Were they informed of ministry opportunities within the church? Were they informed that the congregation frowns on blue jeans in church?  Do they know the denomination's history and current stance on major issues? How do you know if you don’t ask or train? I don’t think it’s too much to ask a new member of a church to accept the fact that membership carries responsibility and to train them accordingly. Although the worship service is open to all, membership carries a bit of scrutiny for the sake of preserving the body, the group, the denomination. That is sociological. And necessary. Make no apologies for it.