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- February 5, 2012 at 1:54 pm #307320A young church musician of my very close aquaintance came home from church this morning with a very interesting problem. The Warden of his Anglican congregation told him in an after-worship meeting that the congregation was not singing hymns perfectly. She suggested the choir spend their rehearsal time working on the hymns, and having the choir sing anthems less often. But this week part of the rehearsal was spent with the children's choir, and this music director often does rehearse hymns during choir, and sometimes has congregational rehearsals. How can we encourage her to be less of a control freak, and more importantly, understand congregational singing is more about making a joyful noise than expecting the congregation to sing perfectly.He told me this question was too bizarre for ChoralNet–that no one could possibly have had a problem like this before– and I told him he ain't seen nothing yet!MarieFebruary 5, 2012 at 4:08 pm #307332John HowellParticipantWOW!! A Warden, whether Senior or Junior, has no business acting as music critic! You’re right; this is a sign of a control freak. But my question would be, where is the priest in all this? His or her word is final, even though there is a good deal of self-governance in the Episcopalian demonimation (and perhaps less in the Anglican-Catholic).Sounds as if a meeting of the grownups is in order, with a discussion not only of the perceived problem but with the definition of such vague terms as “perfectly.” But you didn’t say whether your young church musician was the choir director or simply one of the choir.JohnFebruary 5, 2012 at 4:57 pm #307339I’m really not sure what perfectly means. I have never worked with a congregation who sang every hymn perfectly, either. My comment to him was she is being unrealistic and there’s no pleasing her. And taking time from choir rehearsals to do it. He wants his choir to be able to do more difficult music and build it up and can’t because he isn’t allowed to have them sing every week. It’s crazy.The young church musician is the director of music–organist/pianist/choir director. And this is his first church job. As far as the priest is concerned, I think she’s keeping her head down 🙁 He has a meeting in two weeks.MarieFebruary 5, 2012 at 5:10 pm #307341Allen H SimonParticipantSeems like if the congregation doesn’t know the hymns well enough, then more choir rehearsal isn’t going to solve it. What they need is congregational rehearsal. Perhaps that could take place next Sunday in place of the sermon. Maybe your friend could suggest that to this timid priest.February 6, 2012 at 10:14 am #307402Ronald Richard DuquetteParticipantOh, Allen, shame on you! Good idea, though! (One of the comments I make when I hear, “We don’t know this/that/the other hymn you’ve got us singing” is: “When you came out of the womb, you knew NO songs. But you learned, right? Stick with it; it’ll happen; you’ll learn – you have already” – and then, work new songs into the repertoire by letting the choir do it first, then encouraging the congregation’s participation, etc. We would NOT be permitted to take the time before Mass rehearsing a hymn with the congregation – it would disturb people disposing themselves in prayer to participate well at Mass, so, were we faced with that, the options are pretty limited…..)Marie, have someone ask the Warden the following questions:Is every person in this building exactly alike? With exactly the same talents to the same degree? Are they all musically trained? Are you aware of the psalm text that requires us to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord,” not “sing a perfect hymn unto the Lord?” (What a lot of clergy and people around them forget is the wisdom in the Bible!) Does everything in the church happen perfectly, week after week, day after day, moment to moment? No? Well, then; our task is to do it as well as possible; and, incidentally, will you, Mr./Ms. Warden, stand up before that very congregation and demand perfect musical results, since they’re the ones who have to deliver it? No? Go do your job; leave us, with the direction of the rector, to do ours. Amen.The director may very well have an enemy at the end of the “discussion,” but at least there will be some room. AND an opportunity to put a spine in this priest’s back! I suspect she’s being railroaded by this shnook as well. This might come even better from a respected member of the community who ISN’T the director, but is willing to stand the gaffe of this clown and hold his/her own.RonP. S. Yeah, I am a prickly sort! After 40+ years of this, I have no patience for this sort of nonsense – and none of us should, either!February 6, 2012 at 11:19 am #307410Thanks, Ron. And thanks Allen and John and every one who has contacted me off list.This is the kid’s first church job and it’s been a pip….he graduates with a performer’s certificate in piano (and plays organ and harpsichord, too) in June. I told him to hang tough and look for another job.He thinks he can change people and they think he’s just a kid–but he’s the one with degrees in music (with more to come) and they’re not. Do we have to be micro-managed when we have been hired to do a job and they’re just the kibbuzters on the side? Why hire a professional when *they* think they know more?I know what you mean about being prickly—-I’m crabby when it comes to this stuff myself.MarieFebruary 6, 2012 at 12:03 pm #307417Wayne F. MillerParticipantRon,WELL SAID!!! With over 40 years in this work as well, and while my patience has strengthened over time, I still get “prickly” over stuff like this. A more worth goal for congregational singing would be to get more of them to sing! It still amazes me that so many people calling themselves Christian worshipers refuse to participate in the singing of “Psamls, hymns and spiritual songs.” Further, me thinks this “Warden” is taking her title way too seriously!A suggestion: By using the Metrical Index in the back of the hymnal, many wonderful texts can be discovered and experienced by the congregation by singing them to familiar hymn tunes based on the same poetic meter. I have found this exercise to greatly increase participation and enthusiasm for hymn singing. It provides the comfort of familiarity (the tune) with a sense of discovery and relevance to the morning theme (the text/hymn).Marie, continue to give all the personal encouragement and support you can to this aspiring young church musician. The rewards WILL be great – for him and for you!Wayne MillerFebruary 7, 2012 at 2:05 pm #307573J. Senja MorganParticipantNot a bizarre question at all; in fact, perhaps an all-too-common kind of problem in the shared territory (ie. the worship arena) that clergy, church music leaders, and in this case, lay leaders find themselves in.On the bright side, at least some COMMUNICATION was made, even if it looks like (from what I have read) it was inappropriate, and from a control freak. I am not making excuses for this warden, but believe me when I say I have seen situations where a passive-aggressive thing was going on, and NO direct communication was made to the leader about a desired change, complaint, or what-have-you. Thus… resulting in a “quiet party” of dissenters who eventually take control some other way, and in some cases, get the leader ousted! I saw that happen to a fellow youth director, despite glowing annual evaluations from the supervisor, the Pastor! After seeing that sad situation, I made it a point to focus on relationship and communication strategies with the various leaders in all the ministries of the church as they relate to worship (as if we are a team, even though many leaders don’t really like to work that way; takes too much time), so as to not get isolated or compartmentalized in my own ministry, and find a surprise down the road.These are my thoughts, from my experience across 30 years as music director, mostly in the Anglican worship world, where (in my opinion!) opinions tend to run too high and become all-too-personal. It’s nice when the Rector leaves the music director alone, and everyone gets along fine. But I have rarely heard of that happening for very long. I have found that working towards a Win-Win often has to do with the musicians and clergy finding shared worship/music values, agreeable goals, and a positive way to communicate about them, and most importantly- carry them out in a way that doesn’t compromise anyone, and in a way that furthers God’s Kingdom. A lofty achievment indeed, but one worth pursuing even if it feels like one step forward, two steps back…. At least you can always fall back on your shared values and goals to determine your action, rather than giving in to someone’s opinion, or power struggle. Call it building integrity?It could be considered unfortunate that this young leader finds himself in this tough position already. I think it’s almost inevitable in church work. I agree with what someone else wrote- where is the pastor in all of this? It seems that the pastor and music leader should be most closely working together through these rough waters. Also totally agree with a previous comment that the “grown-ups” (and I use that term loosely;-) should prayerfully meet, though they may need some kind of good mediator if it has any chance of being successful.However, in a not-perfect-world, it could also be considered God’s economy for this young leader have this experience now, and begin to figure out a good way through it (as opposed to “fight or flight…”), at least during the time remaining that he feels called to stay in this position. In other words, what good can come out of this? You wrote that this young leader “thinks he can change people…” That will be a hard lesson to work through. Only God can change people, who are willing to be changed, that is… and how many of us are?! Even though the Gospel is supposed to be transforming. But if others you work with don’t/won’t change, there’s not going to be much this young leader is going to be able to do. Probably good advice to get him looking elsewhere for a new job in the meantime…That being said, though, this leader at least has youth, enthusiasm and perhaps the lack of cynicism (that us older, jaded folks can tend to have;-) on his side. At the same time, he should not take any “bullying” from the older leaders, who thinks he’s just a kid who should follow their orders. This young leader does have the authority to shape the goals of the choir and choir rehearsal. That can include training the choir to help lead congregational music, but should not exclude the other goals of the choir (building repertoire, anthems, etc.) I think the warden/clergy understand the need for balance in all of of this.It’s likely that this young leader is already playing keyboard (piano/organ?) quite well, but there are certain hymn-playing techniques he could learn in his keyboard playing that can improve congregational singing, if he isn’t doing them already. It doesn’t all have to be focused on the choir’s singing, though if they breathe well and articulate text well, and… believe it or not, make eye contact, that always helps the congregation. And yes, some congregational rehearsal here and there is appropriate (I like that idea someone else had; in place of the sermon;-)Well, I fear I am starting to ramble. This is a sore subject for me. Does anyone know of a good book out there specifically addressed on how church leaders (eg. clergy and musicians) can learn to relate better, so they can actally minister better, and maybe spend more time making music, rather than having power struggles?!One last piece of advice that I have heard and used successfully that you could pass on to this leader if you wish:If you want to change the situation you’re in for the better, BE the change. Start where you are, first.Maybe start with changing the language of the current situation. The words “perfect singing” for the congregation is inappropriate, I think in this case. I have a teenage son with Down Syndrome who LOVES to sing his praises in the congregation, and in my children’s choir, for that matter. What is his “perfect hymn singing” supposed to sound like?” you might pose to that warden. Well, I will tell you- it does sound exactly like a joyful noise (more like a joyful wail…!) And people from my congregation tell me all the time how they are incredibly blessed when they hear his “joyful noise.” That is all he has to give; his “widow’s mite.” And we do work very hard to help him improve, and not be a distraction to others…But the more important question is: What does it sound like to God? I like to think, for my son’s sake, that it sounds like heavenly voices.February 8, 2012 at 7:11 am #307645Mike EllingsenParticipantHello Marie –When a new hymn is being inroduced in our congregation, it often “mysteriously” appears in the prelude so it somehow sounds a bit more familiar to the congregation. If the hymn is not too long, it also helps for the organist/pianist to play the entire hymn as an introduction, instead of just the last stanza. When we moved to a new liturgy, our congration actually took some time at the beginning of the service for several Sundays to learn the new version. The leader would sing a phrase and then the congregation would repeat that with the leader. Even in our rural Lutheran congregation (where we don’t change a light bulb without a study committee) there weren’t the complaints that we feared – and the congregation seemed quite comfortable when we actually worshiped with the new setting. Not everything was perfect – but that is why we start the service with a confession and the kyrie. Just my two cents.Best wishes,MikeFebruary 8, 2012 at 7:25 am #307648Rebecca MaurerParticipantI agree with J. Senja – at least some communication was made, and directly to him. All the communication that I ever get – except from the pastor when she wants a certain kind of song for the week – is through my church choir, telling me that “someone” doesn’t like the music that I’ve picked, or thinks it was to slow, etc. By then the message is second or third-hand, and when I ask the church choir member to clarify, they can’t! I work in a Methodist church, so I’m not certain what a Warden’s job description is, but I assume it’s something similar to a deacon? A layperson who’s volunteered to help with congregational matters for a year or so? Or is it a hired position, and perhaps that’s why she is taking her job so seriously?I also agree that it’s a good idea to ask the Warden what she means by “perfectly.” When I first arrived at my current church job, I made the mistake of introducing too many new songs at once – the congregation couldn’t keep up. I had to learn that if I wanted to use new songs, I would have to introduce them one at a time, and sing them several weeks in a row until my congregation really understood how they went. It’s tricky when you’re new to a congregation – you don’t know what tunes they do or do not know. Generally I just ask my choir or praise team members if they know the song already. Maybe what the Warden meant to ask (she definitely could have approached this more professionally!) was if your friend could try to use more familiar songs in worship.February 8, 2012 at 8:04 am #307656Ronald Richard DuquetteParticipantMarie – Your comment about him thinking he can change people – sigh; that’ll get knocked out of him with time. Either that, or he’ll end up in another field with the same problem….youth, it’s wonderful, but sometimes wasted on the young! But more to the point: no matter where he goes, and you know this, he’ll always encounter those who are never happy with anything he does or tries to do and, oh, incidentally, the world would spin so much more smoothly if ONLY he would listen to “THEM” and do as “THEY” say. Remember, “THEY” didn’t get to hire him, most likely; “THEY” wish they could have, so they can bully yet one more person (and that’s what this is, bullying); “THEY,” because they have an official position within the worshiping community, are entitled to an opinion on everything, even if they haven’t the foggiest notion of what they’re talking about (the comment about “opinions are like…” er, well, where nasty stuff comes from, “everyone’s got one,” comes to mind). Part of the problem too is that this Warden is likely a much older person and has become very accustomed to treating younger people like idiots – even if their knowledge is far greater than the Warden’s – and if the priest is a weak-kneed sort, that isn’t going to get fixed (I would suspect that much the same dynamic applies there as well).As to looking for another job, probably the sensible thing to do, but he may hesitate to do so because it IS a “bird in the hand” situation, and we all know that it’s tough out there for church musicians. What he needs is a cute, non-threatening way to deliver the message we all know needs delivering – maybe something like, “Well, thank you Warden, for your kind thoughts; perhaps you’d like to show us just how that could be done? Would you like to demonstrate that for us?” Naturally, the likely response would be something like, “Well, I’m not a musician, so you should do that,” to which a sickly sweet reply should be, “But I’m SURE you could show me how to do this so much better.” Time for a disappearing act by a Warden at that moment…What he also needs to know is that this person is not ever likely to become a friend, so not to worry about that.RonFebruary 8, 2012 at 1:28 pm #307687Hey Ron–We’re all idealistic with our first real job in music–and this is his first where he is THE director. It isn’t so much fun in reality, is it?!?!?! I actually articulated aloud your comment about opinions….I guess in this business, we all have to get down and dirty sometimes, even Lady Marie, to tell it how it is!The Warden told him she is a perfectionist this past summer and THAT made me uncomfortable. And you’re right, she is a bully. And being a perfectionist–or having to deal with a perfectionist–is exhausting because you are never satisfied or can never satisfy them. And a *little* person will try to be the*Big Dog* because in every other aspect of their life, they have no control.Looking for a new job…….while trying to hang tough……..is I think what he will do.Sigh. Poor kid.MarieFebruary 8, 2012 at 1:46 pm #307690J. Senja,So many good ideas, thank you!Since I wasn’t at the service in question, I don’t know if the hymn was a new one, or an old one or how he played. I do know this young man has been playing for choirs since he was 10 years old and literally, took his first steps in a church choir loft. He was an accompaniest for another church for several years before getting this job. I do know this is not a *singing* congregation but more of a *mumbling* congregation since I’ve helped him several times as a canter and have worked with his choir. Allen is right–the choir reheasing the hymns won’t make a differecne. And I also know he has had *congregation* practices before worship–possibly, once a month–to introduce new hymns. I think it is more the Warden than anyone and her ideas of what congregational singing is suppose to be.And, as an aside, I have an adult son with autism who loves music and know EXACTLY what you mean. Things that used to be important to me are just not as important since he came into my life! Please consider joining the ChoralNet Community “Friends of Joyful Noise”–this is a place for those who work with choirs with challenges or who are trying to form choirs such as Joyful Noise–a choir of adults with physical and intellectual challenges based in New Jersey– or have music inclusion questions. We would love to have you there!MarieFebruary 8, 2012 at 1:50 pm #307691A good idea–including a new hymn portion of the prelude. Couldn’t hurt!MarieFebruary 8, 2012 at 1:52 pm #307692I think asking what *perfectly* means is a good idea. He was flabbergasted because a congregation normally doesn’t sing perfectly in any situation.Marie
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