August 2018 Issue
I’ve recently been re-reading Paul Westermeyer’s The Church Musician. It’s been a few years since the first time I read it and I felt urged to be reminded and inspired again about our vocation. He brings to light many important topics but there is one that has stuck out to me the most. It’s a term he calls “musicgrinders.”
We’ve all been in this situation. There is so much going on and our schedules are too full for practice so we resort to pulling out the old standbys. We soon fall into a pattern of repeating preludes, postludes, anthems, etc. I know because I’ve been there myself. I’m too bogged down in administrative work to learn a new piece and therefore recycle an old favorite. Hymns become formulaic rather than thinking outside of the box in new ways to interpret the text and inspire singing. I know one choral version for a particular text and rather than researching for a new one we just sing the one we’ve always done. On its own there certainly isn’t anything wrong with repeating pieces. But when we stop challenging ourselves we may also stop inspiring our congregations. We become “music grinders” who show up and just go through the motions without fully investing ourselves in our ministry.
Westermeyer notes that any blame for this doesn’t fall solely on the musician. Churches continue to reduce funding and benefits for musicians which would allow them to attend conferences and retreats. Many church organists are part-time with another full-time job that takes up most of the week, leaving little time and energy for exploring new music resources. (I, personally, am incredibly inspired by and grateful for those who take on church duties as a second job. Where would so many church music ministries be without them?!) Westermeyer observes that leadership in the church also furthers this situation by not seeing the church musician as a peer and colleague. The musician is often a part-time staff member who is seen as a contracted employee that fulfills assigned duties rather than a partner who is leading ministry (and in many cases knows as much or more about liturgy.)
So how do we avoid becoming music grinders? We need to find opportunities for education and growth. It was fun to see some of you in Kansas City at the AGO convention and I know others attended the OHS convention, but this isn’t feasible for many. Are there regional music clinics you could attend? If your morning is free, consider attending the ALCM day of workshops on September 29. (More information is included in this newsletter.) How about lunch with friends at which you share new pieces that you’ve discovered and plan to use this year? Also, don’t forget to comb through issues of The American Organist for helpful suggestions regarding organ and choral repertoire. I encourage you to use this last slightly slower-paced month to explore some new music and resources. And don’t forget to share with your clergy the many details that you are working on so that they can better see the importance of your ministry.
Easiest of all for finding inspiration, I hope you will attend the great programs coming up for our chapter this year. (You can see the listing in this newsletter.) There will be wonderful opportunities for us to expand our skills and hear new music, as well as social time to interact and learn from one another. Our dues have already covered most of the cost so I hope each of you will take full advantage of our offerings this year and block off the time in your calendar right now so you can attend.
As we head into this new program year we welcome Joy Bauer, Judith Daffer, and Kathie Metz as the Class of 2021. Chris Schroeder joins the board as Registrar and Joe Martenczuk is our Secretary. I am most grateful for the leadership of Sean O’Connor as Sub-Dean and Henry Lowe as Co-Dean, who have already put in a lot of work to build this year’s great programming. If you have ideas for our chapter, I hope you will feel free to share them with anyone on the board.
The AGO is an educational organization meant to be used as a resource for learning and growing. I hope we will all make the most of our member benefits so as not to become “music grinders” but musicians who bring renewed inspiration to our ministry.
Best wishes in these final summer days!
The August 2018 issue of the Pipe and Pedal is now available.