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- February 8, 2012 at 2:06 pm #307695Marie Grass AmentaModeratorHi Wayne,To sing better, we have to sing more and you are right about the lack of participation in many congregations. The Warden also thinks his choir should sing less so they can be more perfect. It makes no sense.When he arrived at this job, the choir hadn’t sung with any regularity for several years. I think the congregation and the choir got out of the habit of singing, for whatever reason. He was expected to make a miracle and it’s been a little over a year with him having to fight for the choir to sing, eventho he was hired to revive the choir.The money was good (at the time) so he took the job.The Metrical Index is a good idea….will pass it along.Thank you!MarieMarieFebruary 9, 2012 at 8:22 am #307742David LeeParticipantMarie,My heart goes out to this young man who is in a no-win situation. Having dealt with this attitude multiple times, I believe there is another dynamic at work here. I suspect the Warden is someone who views herself as the “spiritual leader” of that church, and that the music of the church is in competition for dominance. It is a common view of small minded, power obsessed control freaks. With these people there is never any realization, nor even any openness to the realization that the music is chosen to complement and dovetail with the scripture and sermon of the day. They only consider this to be “trying to be too big for your britches,” and yes, I’ve heard these exact words! I once was told by a pastor that I could no longer have the choir sing a communion anthem during communion, because a member had complained to him that she didn’t know when she came to the rail whether she was supposed to listen to the anthem or take communion. Would have been nice for him to have the backbone to say, “Well, you take communion when you come to the rail, of course!” But he was also afraid of the music being valued too highly, thus “diminishing” his place.I agree that looking for another position is probably his best way out of this situation, but another thought occurs to me. Perhaps this would best be handled by someone on the vestry addressing the warden and telling her she’s overstepped her bounds.DavidFebruary 9, 2012 at 8:40 am #307745Marie – I suspect when you gave the missing word to my thought on opinions, he probably guffawed! And that has a lovely double entendre! Perfectionism, as you have pointed out, is another word for “control” – and the problem most of us have (self included) is that we don’t have it, and don’t want to recognize that (I was reminded about this last night at rehearsal – wanted to do a special piece for Offertory – nope! But I think I’m gonna do a hymn we introduced last week that’s new, and follow my own advice about how to get a congregation to go places with a new piece of music – it’s a hymn based on THAXTED (O God, Beyond All Praising) which has a corresponding Holy Week hymn (Three Days) based on the same hymn tune). Give him my encouragement on this one – while sharing another thought: “Keep smiling – it’ll make those around you wonder what you’re up to!”RonFebruary 9, 2012 at 8:58 am #307748Rebecca – You bring up another issue not necessarily directly related to what this young man is facing, but which is real: how to get out of the “same-old-same-old” rut with the hymns. (We’ve often joked in choir that there are some parts of the congregation who would be happy if ONLY we would do the same four hymns just rotated around to the main four positions – Entrance, Offertory, Communion, Recessional/Sending Forth.) The main problem here is satisfying the artist in us who wants to do “new things” and, in our enthusiasm for the great new piece of music we’ve found, we rush to give the gift to an unprepared congregation and expect their enthusiasm to match ours – NOT! You are dead on with the thought of introducing things slooooooooooooooooowly, and one at a time, and not too many times in a year, otherwise the congregation sits there looking at you, dumbfounded. (And can you imagine this Warden’s reaction THEN??!!) Dunno where you are the music minister, but in the Catholic Church it’s a real challenge, sometimes; we have just enough people who are old enough to remember that congregations did NOT sing – that was the choir’s business. Then, on top of it, with the “folk” experience of post-Vatican II songwriting (which has created a really wierd dynamic in our music-making in the church – you have 50-and-60-year-olds who think that “folk” music is the “traditional” music of the church – and do NOT know what were traditional hymns back in 1962 and look at you cross-eyed when you do “Faith of Our Fathers” and “Now Thank We All Our God” and “Holy, Holy, Holy”!!!!) and inevitable developments and return to older forms (lots of chant-based music), is it any wonder that congregations are mum when we introduce a new piece (“What???? A new song? Omigod, I haven’t learned the LAST one….!!!”) in all our wonderful enthusiasms? And this Warden wants “perfect” hymn singing from this congregation, Episcopalian as it may be? I’m sorry, what universe does she inhabit?And so we keep on learning, and he’s got a whole lifetime ahead of him for this….RonFebruary 9, 2012 at 11:45 am #307775Jason E KamrathParticipantWow…I am late to reply to this thread, but it is clearly a case of the warden overstepping her bounds as mentioned by a few other posters. I am an organist and choir director of an Episcopal Church, and according to my priest the only function of a senior warden is to step in and run the place when the priest is not there and to act as consultant and advisor to the priest. All worship areas are the responsibility of the priest. Thanks be to God that my priest defers to me in all matters of music in almost all instances aside from offering suggestions or ideas. Someone needs to hand this warden the little booklet put out by the Episcopal Church that explains what her duties are and she really needs to butt out!Jason Kamrath,Baltimore, MDFebruary 9, 2012 at 5:46 pm #307828Gee, Jason, you wouldn’t happen to have an extra copy of that “little booklet” to send to Marie to hand off to her young friend, do you? (Imagine an evil little grin on my face!)RonFebruary 9, 2012 at 5:48 pm #307829J. Senja – Thank you for reminding us of the whole point of the exercise – praising God. We do forget that sometimes, don’t we? And if we do, and we’re around it all the time, is it any wonder that others do it even more frequently?RonFebruary 9, 2012 at 8:41 pm #307842Edward PalmerParticipantAllen said it succinctly. I agree. Further, I have made a twenty minute talk on “In Ihe Garden.” Many folk shun it thoughtlessly. Who in the New Testament spent saignificant times in a garden? And where did Adam encounter God? Many hymns are sermons ipso facto. As Allen said, a whole sermon/service could be dedicated to learning at least one new hymn. The church where I am helping now repeats some of the same ditties, at least, monthly. (Not my doing) Sad.Oh, by the way, how does one perfectly sing a hymn, or anything else? Surely a cleric would know!EPFebruary 10, 2012 at 1:47 am #307857J. Senja MorganParticipantHi Marie- thanks for the tip on the group “Friends of Joyful Noise…” I will look into it as soon as I get past a Valentine’s show I am accompanying…! I also teach piano lessons to kids and adult with special needs (mostly Autism) through our local park district, and it is an area of my music career I am contemplating expanding. There’s certainly a need for special needs music teachers (and other arts, for that matter) out there, coming from a parent of a special needs child…Hey- some other questions occured to me, back to that original question of “congregational perfect singing;” or (shall we change that language to “improving a congregation’s singing?”) What reason lies at the main ROOT of the problem singing for this congregation?Are they just not used to singing? Are they inhibited? Feeling forced? Being passive? Just not motivated to sing? Any amount of rehearsal, good articulation, or what-have-you is going to make little difference if they are not motivated to sing in the first place. And, what motivates a worshipper to sing? Hmmm…. praising God, as Ron wrote? And the more you grow in your spiritual relationship to God, the more you respond in praise… and who is responsible for the spiritual growth of the parish? Seems like a good discussion topic for BOTH the clergy and musicians together.February 10, 2012 at 7:16 am #307860Edward – Tempting as it may be to put this on the clerics, but in this case, we need to remember that it’s an individual, not a class of individuals, who’s guilty of the sin of perfectionism – and bullying. And from Marie’s description, the one assuredly clerical person in the mix (the priest) seems herself not to be a particularly strong character and may very well be being bullied by this very Warden. No; this Warden needs to demonstrate perfect hymn singing – that’s an exercise I’d like to be a fly on the wall to see and hear!RonFebruary 10, 2012 at 10:26 am #307883Edward PalmerParticipantRon,Do you suppose the Warden (Frankly a new thing to me) spoke entirely on her own or was she speaking the words of a “shy” person of the cloth?Your last sentence is what I was getting at – thanks. That demonstration I would travel miles to witness.EdFebruary 10, 2012 at 11:33 am #307890Marie Grass AmentaModeratorOne of the interesting queries y’all keep bringing up are the hymns in question.My young friend helps choose them with a committee and the Rector can (and sometimes does)change them, sometimes at the last minute with him not knowing in time enough to practice them before hand. Lousy. It is not clear to me if the Warden is on the hymn committee but that could be the whole problem–not him, per se, but the dynamics of who is in the hymn selection group. A power struggle within the church and he’s just an innocent bystander. This didn’t occur to me until I read through this thread.This definitely is a hot button issue for us all. Thanks to all who have responded thus far and keep ’em coming!MarieFebruary 11, 2012 at 12:06 pm #307981Ed – You and me both! But you do bring up a good point about the Warden being a mouthpiece for a rector who might want to avoid conflict about hymn choices, etc., though Marie’s response to you seems to put the lie to that – if the Rector has, even at the last minute, made changes to the hymn selections, I don’t think she’s so shy that she wouldn’t express her opinions about the congregation’s singing style. In addition, Marie also said that this Warden pointed out early on that she’s a perfectionist – no, I think this one’s squarely on the Warden. Marie’s comment below, though, concerns me, because this sort of clerical behavior (“I don’t care what you’ve planned; change it”) at the last minute is, if it happens often enough, an expression of exercising power and reminding everyone around him/her that that power is his/hers. We had something like this happen here at Ft. Belvoir; my predecessor would go downstairs to check things out at the last minute with the celebrant (a particular one, in this case) who would invariably throw this, that, or the other piece out and demand changes – poor her; she’d come upstairs to the loft fuming (I think he did it as much to annoy her as any theological reason). When I became the director, though, he’d ask me right before Mass what we were doing, and he tried to pull the same stunt on me; my answer always was, “Father, hugely unfair to the work the choir’s done preparing this; besides, you might not like the piece, but there are others out there who do. We’re doing it.” (I admit, his position as a contract padre as opposed to being the pastor made it easier to do that, but I’ve always found it interesting that it’s NOT the pastor or the lead cleric who does this nonsense, but always the help! Also me being the closer side of 60 as opposed to 25 also helps, to be honest.)Emily’s points are well-taken as well; there’s something else afoot here, and our poor young director is caught in the middle of something – don’t know what, though. Well, I’ll keep him in my thoughts. Oh, and Ed, IF that demonstration takes place, shall we reserve our seats?RonFebruary 12, 2012 at 5:38 pm #308081Heidi SchnarrParticipantInteresting discussion. In my opinion, particularly when dealing with difficult personalities, it is better to focus on facts than feelings. Difficult people are already insecure and usually will not respond well to confrontation about their behavior. Why not try asking the warden for his/her suggestions? “We practiced these hymns at choir rehearsal this week. What do you suggest we do in addition to that?” Maybe the warden’s agenda from the get-go was to improve congregational singing (even by using the choir), and your young friend, being a music educator/director, had an agenda to improve the choir. Two different goals. Maybe clarity could be reached–via Pastor or committee–on what the actual goal is, then it would be your friend’s responsibility, as their employee, to work toward that goal. To stick to facts, again, as many people have brought up the question is why the congregation is having difficulty. Are there too many new hymns at once? Are there 30 of them sitting in pews meant to hold 200…so they can’t hear each other and don’t get any confidence? Is the balance of the instrument (piano/organ) supportive of congregational singing? Is the warden by any chance right—even the choir is faltering on the hymns? I don’t think your friend should feel threatened by the suggestion to not sing anthems every week. So many church choirs have to produce anthem after anthem, every week, with no chance to really develop a piece and do it really well. Relieved from this pressure, perhaps they would get better! Also, it is wonderful that someone cares about the congregational singing (outside of the music director). One skill that I believe every young (or old) music director needs to learn is to simply smile and nod :). Developing a repertoire of responses like, “That’s a great suggestion!” or “I’ll keep that in mind.” Or just simply, “I see. Uh-huh.” Doesn’t commit you to anything but makes the person think you heard them. (Don’t tell my congregation I said that. 🙂 ) Best of luck to your friend. These are life lessons that I believe people in all lines of work run into. While he’s looking for a better environment in which to work, maybe he will develop some coping skills where he’s at.February 12, 2012 at 7:25 pm #308092Helen DugganParticipantI have being following this discussion from several thousand kilometres away in south eastern Australia, and have been interested (surprised) to notice that the leading and supporting of congregational hymn-singing does not seem to seen as a primary responsibility for church choirs. The congregation where I direct the church choir (mainline protestant — not Anglican) has a clear expectation that this is what the choir will do, and members will let me know if they are not getting the assistance they would like. 🙂 We always practise the hymns and other response — which are always chosen by the minister/worship leader — making sure that the we are singing the familiar well and that we learn the new thoroughly.
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