Saturday, March 24, 2012

I Wish I Had the Guts to Send This Letter

A major religious holiday is coming up.  That's a good clue that it's time for my semi-annual Musical Rant.  I'm pretty sure that Satan knows that this is the best way to get to me.  Feel free to tune out if you're not a church musician.

To the Music Director and Pastor at my parish:

I came home from church tonight to find the forwarded email notifying me that, despite the fact that the Folk Group was assigned to sing the noon Mass on Easter at least two months ago, we've been reassigned to a different time and location, two weeks before Easter itself.

It's nice that you "hope this is not a problem."

People do make holiday plans, and in the Folk Group, you've got a very dedicated bunch of musicians and singers whose family holiday plans revolve around our church schedule.  That schedule is already variable because we have been asked to sing that once-a-month Saturday-evening Mass rather than our traditional Sunday noon time slot.  On Christmas and Easter, we do our best to be there at different-than-usual times because of the nature of the Mass schedule on those days.  Two weeks before Easter, most of us have made our holiday plans.

Reassigning us two weeks before the most important event in the Church year tells us exactly where we fit on the musical totem pole (as if we didn't already know.)  It's disrespectful to us personally and professionally.  I feel like the Samaritan woman who asked Jesus to heal her child, only to be refused because of her nationality.  She replied to Jesus, "But Teacher, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master's table."  We are the dogs and you are giving us crumbs.  We're expected, I guess, to be happy with whatever crumbs come our way.

And because we're not proud (or tired) we'll take those crumbs.  We'll rearrange family plans.  The musician who works into the wee hours on a Saturday night will drag himself into church because he--as the rest of us do--believes that singing and playing for the glory of God are what matter.

We are not the world's best musicians.  But we more than make up, in attitude and enthusiasm, for the polish and finesse we lack.  We view our role at Mass as being leaders of song, not performers in a show.  Our goal is to help people sing along, to help them feel comfortable enough to sing along, because singing at Mass is a huge part of prayer.  Most of the time, we achieve that goal.

In the several years since the parish merger, we have made many, many accommodations.  We have learned an entirely new repertoire.  We have used chant settings for psalms and other Mass parts as required, even through chant is extremely challenging with only guitar accompaniment.  We have bent over backwards to follow the "once-a-month Saturday night" schedule, even when it means that most of us can't be there because of work and other obligations.  (That's why we had the late Sunday Mass to begin with.)  We have learned and used the Mass settings we were told to use, again, even though guitar is not the best accompaniment for some of these settings.  We've enjoyed learning some of this new music and tolerated other pieces, but we have always learned and used what we were asked to do.

We are not there to put on a show.  We are there to help people to pray through music, to help them give honor and glory to God through music.  We do this by keeping it simple, approachable, and in a key that's in a comfortable range for most people.  We welcome beginners, teenagers, and our own children; that's our investment in the future (and as a parent, I know very well how much such an investment pays off.)

Being a part of the folk group in this parish is an exercise in humility.  I have to say, it gets old finding humble pie under the Christmas tree and in the Easter basket year after year after year.  My husband says that I should just be thankful that we're being reassigned rather than cancelled altogether.  Any way you slice it, though, it still hurts.

I'm sure we'll take the crumbs and we'll be happy to have them.  And we'll sing our hearts out because it's what we do.  But you should know that it hurts to be treated this way, and that I have carried around this unspoken burden for far too long.


The Estrogen Files said...

Musicians in the church are like the poor cousins. We are never thanked, only criticized for errors. We are not even appreciated until we are missing. We are never given choices, only commanded. And we are eternally grateful for the chance to share ourselves in this way.

Sr. Ann Marie said...

Fantastic letter. Too bad you feel you aren't able to send it--or at least present it and read it to the pastor. Maybe it's what he needs to hear. Or would that make matters worse? Hard choice!

Daria Sockey said...

My sympathy for sure.
Personally, I think the chanted parts should be a capella--no organ, guitar, or anything (assuming the group can stay reasonably on pitch). That is how chant was designed to be done in the first place. It makes the prayerful simplicity and beauty of the voice come through.
If this happened to me I'd just attend the mass I'd originally planned family activities around. (But maybe you're nicer than I am!

Sara said...

I wrote a letter to my choir director last week, but I don't have the guts to send it, either. It needs to go to the pastor, as well. Maybe they'll get it eventually.

I'm sorry your group is getting shuttled around. I know what you mean about doing it anyway because it's what we do as musicians. Many of your sentiments are the same ones I have expressed before. I think that what makes it so difficult is that we pray through our music; the music is a very important part of the Mass for me. I think about quitting the choir and cantoring, but I can't imagine being there and not being part of the music. On the rare occasions I'm not part of the music, the style and presentation (not performance) of it affects how I pray.

I hope it works out for you. You should send your letter; pastors need to hear from us.

Nancy said...

I'll be more than happy to send it for you! Sara is right, pastors do need to hear from us!

Ellen said...

Ugh, parish politics stink. I think you should speak to the pastor. Let him know how you feel.

Mimi said...

I am sorry, hugs and prayers.