“You can choose your friends but not your family.” Old Proverb
There are times when I feel like Dear Abby or Ask Amy or even Miss Manners. Those ladies get all sorts of questions from folks wondering how they should react or handle a myriad of sticky situations. Many involve family and today’s Choral Ethics dilemma also is from a ChoralNetter with a family situation. Many of you will relate to Joshua* and his situation. In fact, I am sure you’ve experienced something very similar; I know I have.
Joshua is a professional church musician; a fine, even virtuosic organist. His step-brother’s grandfather died last January and he was asked by his step-brother, Phil*, to play for the funeral. Of course he agreed because he and Phil are close.
This is where is gets complicated, but please follow along. Josh’s and Phil’s parents were married when they were both children. Josh’s Mom was a widow and Phil’s Dad was a widower, and they blended their families into one large family. All of Josh’s grandparents treated Phil like another grandson, attending his events and gave both similar gifts for birthdays and Christmases. In fact, Phil used to joke he had four sets of grandparents. One set of Phil’s grandparents welcomed Josh into their family but Phil’s late mother’s parents, the Ts*, were awful to him. They made SURE he knew he was not part of their family. It was difficult because both parents wanted all the grandparents in the boys’ lives. They were being raised as brothers, so it was tough when they played favorites.
When Phil’s grandfather died and there was no organist available at his church to play the funeral, he called Josh. Phil took on the burden so his grandmother would not have to find an organist at the last minute and arranged for Josh to play. Together, they chose music and Josh even remembered Grandpa T’s favorite hymns. I should mention Josh gave up a paying gig—a funeral at his own church—to play this funeral. Not that it mattered; family is important and he would do anything for Phil.
After the funeral, all agreed it was one of the most beautiful and moving funeral services they had ever attended. The Pastor was thrilled to have such a fine, collaborative and cooperative musician play in their church. But Phil’s grandmother and aunts were NOT thrilled. They claimed Josh was taking attention away from the deceased, who never liked him, and it was disrespectful. They claimed Josh forced Phil to let him play, though Phil told them over and over he is the one who asked Josh.
Josh contacted me several weeks ago, wanting to know what he should do now. The Pastor of Grandpa T’s church recently sent him a check for playing the funeral; the amount was the church’s standard funeral fee. Pastor said he forgot to give it to him the day of the funeral and gave him a choice, since he is a “family member,” of cashing the check or donating it to a memorial fund. Josh asked me what he should do; believe me, I have opinions.
In my experience, it is always difficult to play for your own family’s life-event. Someone always believes you are “performing” and are doing it for attention. Someone always believes you are not really a “professional” even if you DO make a living from playing or singing or directing in a church. Some family members think you just open your mouth, or put your hands on the keyboard and—POOF—Music! They don’t take into account you’ve studied and worked to get as good as you are. It is also my experience that, after whatever brouhaha occurs, they are pleased because you sound just like a “professional.” They make it miserable for you but then realize hey, you’re not so bad!
I have rules about doing funerals and weddings; I am either paid my going rate or thanked. For a family wedding or funeral, I don’t expect to be paid but DO expect to be thanked. And formally with a written thank-you note. A plant or a gift card from my favorite coffee place would be nice, but not expected. I am still waiting for a thank-you for singing at an In-Law’s wedding in 1991—I am NOT kidding. I have often thought about sending an invoice but perhaps it’s a little too late for that.
My advice for Josh? Cash the check.